Twentieth-Century Skeptical Humanisms
Early Attacks on Traditional Religion
A New Way of Understanding Reality
The Scientific Method
The End of Dogmatism in Science
Is Science Based on Faith?
A New Way of Understanding the Self
Two Skeptical Philosophies
The Deepest Challenge to Basic Faith
century was marked by a large-scale increase in doubts that there is any
ultimate intelligibility to human existence. Though proponents of
this doubt have been traced to the axial age, the development of religious
skepticism is a very recent phenomenon.
EARLY ATTACKS ON
Some thinkers went beyond skepticism to claim that religion is not only
mistaken but also dangerous. Much of this criticism came from
scientific thinkers who challenged the authority of religion to explain
the natural world. Science also encouraged the free exchange of
ideas, which some religious leaders saw as a threat to traditional
authority. Skeptics also charge religion with superstition, as in the seventeenth
century witch-hunts, or of irrationality in the general willingness to
believe things without adequate evidence.
A NEW WAY OF UNDERSTANDING REALITY
The birth of modern science marked the beginning of a transition into an
empirical worldview in which every truth-claim requires evidence in its
support. The scientific method requires public testing and retesting
of theories. When a theory is supported by years of testing and
application, it probably contains reliable truth. Early science was sometimes
rather dogmatic. Some scientists have been called reductionists
because they "reduce" everything to physical events.
But 20th century science is more open to challenge and more appreciative
of the complexity of life and consciousness.
Is Science Based on Faith?
Some argue that the scientific method relies a
great deal on faith. Scientists express implicit faith in the
intelligibility of the world and in the scientific method to reliably
discern some of that intelligibility. But it is a faith that has
been successfully tested by the ongoing practices of science.
A NEW WAY OF
UNDERSTANDING THE SELF
Humans are capable of making their own decisions and taking responsibility
for the actions and ideas of their lives, a potential called inner freedom
or autonomy. Following socially conditioned rules does not
constitute autonomy; true autonomy requires the conscious selection of
which moral standards to follow. A fully autonomous person accepts
full responsibility for his or her moral standards and decisions.
American pragmatism is a generally
agnostic, humanistic school of thought. This philosophy, exemplified
by John Dewey, claims that reality is too vast and complex for us to
achieve final answers about it all. The best course of action is to learn what we can and
make the best possible use of this knowledge, seeking to make life better
for all people.
Existentialists in general take questions of ultimate reality very
seriously in their search to define who we humans are. Atheistic
existentialists such as Jean-Paul Sartre believe that the universe is
ultimately purposeless, but humans are free, autonomous beings, with a
need for purpose in their lives. Therefore we must courageously
choose to affirm our selfhood as free beings, even as we recognize there
is no ultimate meaning to it all..
The Deepest Challenge to
Questions about the ultimate
meaning of reality can shake the foundations of faith and belief.
The possibility that the universe is meaningless fits with scientific theories of a random universe.
We can ignore these questions. Or we can have religious trust there is
ultimate meaningfulness anyway.
End of notes to Chapter 13
This page last changed
Sunday November 16, 2003