Secular History – Introduction
Secular history is summed-up by Julian Huxley as follows, “Man’s destiny is to be the sole agent for the future evolution of this planet.”1
In 1933, Secular Humanists were positively elated about human potential. Humanist Manifesto I, released that year, described history as one long story of humanity’s progress to paradise. Then came World War II, followed by the discovery of the atrocities of Joseph Stalin. Suddenly the unbounded optimism of the Humanists seemed farcical. Humanist Manifesto II (published in 1973) admitted, “Nazism has shown the depths of brutality of which humanity is capable. Other totalitarian regimes have suppressed human rights without ending poverty. Science has sometimes brought evil as well as good.”2
Today, it seems impossible that Humanists view secular history with optimism although Humanist Manifesto 2000 certainly tries. Assuming an atheistic stance, Secular Humanists must view history as a bumbling, uncertain, often immoral enterprise, with little hope for improvement in the future. Humanist Manifesto II seems to describe modern Humanism’s rejection of historical optimism in some places, yet follows with a declaration of incomparable historical optimism: “Using technology wisely, we can control our environment, conquer poverty, markedly reduce disease, extend our life-span, significantly modify our behavior, alter the course of human evolution and cultural development, unlock vast new powers, and provide humankind with unparalleled opportunity for achieving an abundant and meaningful life.”3
Secular Humanism claims to take a realistic view of history, but this is belied by statement after statement reflecting an insistence that our future will outshine our past.
Secular History – Humanists Must Be Optimistic
When viewing the past, present, and future of secular history, Secular Humanists remain unrealistically optimistic for two reasons. The first and most telling is the belief that all life evolved from non-life and has been evolving upward and onward for 3.6 billion years.4 This evolutionary perspective colors Humanism’s attitude toward all reality, especially history. If, as Humanists believe, all reality is an evolutionary pattern that moves upward step by step to create rational thought and morality in the highest species, then our history also must be a progressive march toward a better world. As the evolutionary process continues, so must progress continue. History is the story of development from non-life to life, from simple to more complex, from mindless to mind, from animal to human, from amoral to moral.
John Dietrich explains, “There never has been any Garden of Eden or perfect condition in the past, there never has been any fall, and there has been a constant rise. Man has been climbing slowly up the ages from the most primitive condition to the present civilization.”5 Secular Humanism sees the whole process of history as the evolution of people, cultures, and civilizations into more advanced people, cultures, and civilizations. Julian Huxley insists that the “rise and fall of empires and cultures is a natural phenomenon, just as much as the succession of dominant groups in biological evolution.”6 The future will improve on the past and the present because evolution demands progress.
The second reason Humanists adhere to an optimistic view of secular history is because they deny the existence of God. Huxley best summarizes this sentiment: “In the evolutionary pattern of thought there is no longer either need or room for the supernatural.”7 Leaving no room for the supernatural greatly reduces the importance of human actions since in this view, as Bertrand Russell notes, “The universe is vast and men are but tiny specks on an insignificant planet.”8
Secular Humanist atheism, instead of leading into the trap of nihilism, creates dependence on the progress of human history to provide meaning for life. Secular Humanists believe that the progress of historical evolution is inevitable.
Secular History – Humanity’s Role in Shaping the Future
When it comes to the forward-looking view of secular history, Corliss Lamont boldly claims, “Humanism assigns to man nothing less than the task of being his own savior and redeemer.”9 Erich Fromm explains the Secular Humanist view of our role in history by saying, “Man creates himself in the historical process.”10 Fromm describes our role as our own redeemer when he says, “The messianic time is the next step in history, not its abolition. The messianic time is the time when man will have been fully born. When man was expelled from Paradise he lost his home; in the messianic time he will be at home again—in the world.”11
Secular Humanists strive to affect our redemption by creating a heaven on earth. Lamont’s view sees an evolving species even more advanced than humans: “Men can find plenty of scope and meaning in their lives through...helping to evolve a new species surpassing Man.”12 In this vein, Victor J. Stenger also sees the possibility of a species higher than humans—computers created by humans. He says this new species will not come about “by the painfully slow and largely random process of biological evolution,” but through the rapid and guided advances of technology. “This new form of ‘life’ I will call, for historical reasons, the computer.”13 Stenger believes that computers will eventually prove more capable than humans in every meaningful realm of life, saying, “If there is anything we do that computers cannot, be patient. In time they will do it better, if it is worth doing at all.”14
When Secular Humanists speak of human beings controlling their own evolution, they are not speaking of common humans, but of elite humans, called “the Conditioners”15 by C.S. Lewis in The Abolition of Man. Lewis comments about those who believe they can create their own destiny: “Either we are rational spirit obliged forever to obey the absolute values of the Tao [moral order], or else we are mere nature to be kneaded and cut into new shapes for the pleasures of masters who must, by hypothesis, have no motive but their own ‘natural’ impulses . . . The Conditioners, then, are to choose what kind of artificial Tao they will, for their own good reason, produce in the human race. It is not that they are bad men. They are not men at all. Stepping outside of the Tao they have stepped into the void.”16
Secular History – Conclusion
In the Secular Humanist worldview, history is not only about the past; it also concerns a future heaven on earth. Secular Humanism declares that at some future time, humanity will redeem itself by creating the ultimate social order, and eventually humans will perfect themselves (possibly in some form of computer technology). This optimistic view is consistent with the evolutionary perspective Secular Humanists employ that sees humans moving ever closer to perfection.
In their denial of God as the guide to history, Secular Humanists see instead humanity’s emerging ideology as the dynamic force in history, and the elite who embrace Humanist ideology as the one who will lead us to save and perfect ourselves. The creed of Secular Humanism seems to be that Secular Humanism is the plan of salvation to ensure a future heaven on earth in the form of a global community.
Richard Carrier actually ends his book with a chapter entitled “The Secular Humanist’s Heaven.” He says that one of the first orders of business will be to abolish death or as he puts it, “We might even make immortality possible. It may even happen that, in the fullness of time, we will be able to transfer our minds, by transferring the patterns of our brains, into computer-simulated worlds that are in even more perfect regulation than the physical world, a true paradise…It is possible it will never die.”17