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Epiphanies
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Oklahoma City, US
Immortal since Sep 4, 2009
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I am president of the Darwin Student Society of the University of Oklahoma, member of the Center For Inquiry, Secular Student Alliance, Alpha Phi Omega national co-ed service fraternity.
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    Secular Humanism, a Hypocrisy?
    A creationist with whom I was speaking made the following point:

    A humanist believes that human beings have inherent value, and that life is an important, special thing to be cherished and protected in many situations.

    A scientific, secular worldview leads one to the conclusion that even the most sentient and sapient of life is ultimately composed of the same matter that makes up everything else in the universe, and that all value is simply an arbitrary and artificial construct of the human mind.

    So my question is, are these two views compatible?

    Fri, Sep 4, 2009  Permanent link

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    number28     Sun, Sep 6, 2009  Permanent link
    I don't believe they are. Creationism is the churches begrudged answer to Darwin. It is an attempt to give scientific credibility to the Bible by bastardising evolution and Genesis. The result is a theory riddled with pot-holes and contradictions that serves no purpose other than it's attempt to discredit evolution.
    illuminatiscott     Sun, Sep 6, 2009  Permanent link
    I completely understand and agree with your assessment of creationism.

    However, I intended my question to be mostly about the nature of Secular Humanism, and whether a philosophy which views humans as having value is compatible with a philosophy which understands all the constructs of the universe as purely natural physical phenomena. I have a sort of way to reconcile these two views, but I'm waiting for some more input before I speak.
    number28     Sun, Sep 6, 2009  Permanent link
    I don't see how the two can be compatible, as they oppose each other. Unless you didn't exclusively cherish human life and embraced all life as significant.

    What did the creationist think?
    nom the puppet     Sun, Sep 6, 2009  Permanent link
    i believe they are, because you are a human mind. Just cause we're all made of the same stuff doesn't mean that stuff is structured the same way. A rock isn't structured to have a metabolism or cogent thoughts. The value of life is in its function, not its building blocks.

    Being alive as we are, we're biased, but it's a necessary bias to continue living. Living implies a context in which to live. We ascribe value to things according to how conducive they might be for a life to thrive in that context. We value food, water, shelter. We value friendship, love, knowledge, etc. Why? Because they help us to continue living and further enhance the quality of life. Life is a process dedicated to itself (for the most part, e.g. suicide). The values we decide upon are not arbitrary in this sense. The very basics of morality are wired into us—to feel pleasure from stimuli and are further augmented by our capacity to empathize with other creatures (though it is not perfect e.g. sociopaths & masochism).

    "Artificial" however is a word that seems to almost break down when you incorporate humanity as part of the universe. We're a statistical anomaly in a remote part of the universe. How do we distinguish the processes that govern us from the processes that govern the rest of the universe? Simply defined as something human-based, yes, our values are artificial. Morality doesn't need to apply to every entity in the universe to still be valid for living entities, so the artificiality of our values isn't a reason to reject them. Math could be argued as an artificial construct of the mind, but according to the logical systems we operate in, as far as we know, the conclusions we reach in the field are valid.

    So, no, I don't think secular humanism is a hypocrisy. The last premise doesn't follow from the fact that everything in the universe is composed of the same stuff.

    illuminatiscott     Sun, Sep 6, 2009  Permanent link
    I suppose that is exactly how I would rationalize it. Although we are simply made of the same particles as everything else, the specific arrangements and processes of reproductive (on the chemical level) biology are so rare and unlikely (from what we know thus far) that they are valuable and "sacred" solely because of their uniqueness. Additionally, the sapient mind of Humanity is unique even among the uniqueness of life on Earth, so it is valuable to an even higher extreme than the rest of life.

    Using this rationalization, any secular humanist must hold respect for other intelligent forms of life in the universe, as well, which I think for the most part would be true.

    I think, though, that the initial reason why we think that way is rooted in biological altruism, but I needn't get into that here.

    And the creationist was using the argument to say that Christianity is the only belief system without such internal inconsistencies...I suppose my above line of reasoning was a product of esprit de l'escalier.
    nom the puppet     Tue, Sep 8, 2009  Permanent link
    yeah, i thought as much. the words never come to me either in debates.
    Spaceweaver     Tue, Sep 8, 2009  Permanent link
    even the most sentient and sapient of life is ultimately composed of the same matter that makes up everything else in the universe


    A diamond is just a piece of coal. Is it not? So where does the extra value of diamonds come from? The answer is that the extra value is in the molecular organization. It is the organization that makes the difference.

    The point is that the scientific secular view is misrepresented here and hopelessly biased. Matter embodies intelligence in the way and manner it is organized. Not all organizations of matter are equivalent. Matter can indeed self organize into open ended extremely intelligent organizations such as the human organism. So... life is ultimately composed... is really a demagogic reduction of what science discovers about the universe.

    The two views are therefore entirely compatible and coherent.

    If a creationist offers you a two line answer to a deep philosophical question start to be suspicious.
    nagash     Wed, Sep 9, 2009  Permanent link
    if there's something that annoys me is that idea that human live is more valuable because we are intelligent. that's just our point of view, and if we shift it a little, migration birds ar more intelligent, bees are far more intelligent, or even plants (we still can't live on sun power, can we?).

    and what about sapience? why we think it only happens to us? just because we can use words to communicate? from the view of a micro-organism living inside our gut, the idea of our entire body sapience may seem just as unlikely as the gaia-theory.

    I don't think one needs a god to value life, but it takes an anthropomorphed god to value human life over other lifeforms, and that is just shameful. I'm perfectly comfortable with god being mathematical, organic, autophagic, wet, and NOT-human.
    illuminatiscott     Wed, Sep 9, 2009  Permanent link
    @nagash - I would have to disagree. Although I value all life, I do see more value in human life than other life. We are genetically programmed to think this way based on biological altruism. But there is rationale behind it, as well. We as humans have a capacity to care for, protect, and nurture members of other species. We are the most powerful and intelligent species on the planet, if not as individuals than certainly as a whole. We now have, at least in theory, the capacity to create and destroy other species, and to bring back those driven to extinction either by our hand or that of nature. We now have the capacity to affect the planet more than all other species combined. Thus we are more important, thus we are more valuable. I admit I haven't thought through this argument thoroughly, so feel free to knock it down as you see fit.
    nom the puppet     Thu, Sep 10, 2009  Permanent link
    @nagash - your body destroys oodles microbial life on a daily basis. if we are to consider all lifeforms of having equal moral value, then any complex organism with an immune system is just an automated genocide roaming the earth in ignorance.

    i agree that intelligence is becoming a fuzzier term, but i think you're taking much to broad of strokes with it. if intelligence is determined by the capability of an organism, then there are millions of things we can do that those organisms can't and it still wouldn't make sense to call them more intelligent. and though i wish i had chloroplasts underneath my skin, i don't think my lack thereof is a sign of diminished intelligence.





     
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