Secular Humanism and Evolution

The Illustrated Oxford Dictionary defines humanism as “a system of thought concerned with human rather than divine or supernatural matters,” and secular as “concerned with the affairs of this world; not spiritual nor sacred…not concerned with religion nor religious belief” (2003, pp. 397, 744). The stated purpose of secular humanism is “furnishing adequate social goals and personal satisfactions” (Preface, Humanist Manifesto I, 1933). Webber confirmed: “One of the special features of secular humanism is its evangelistic fervor for atheism” (1982, p. 37). Secular humanism, then, is a theory of ethics and human fulfillment devoid of spirituality, the supernatural, or God. Man becomes the measure of all things.

In Luke 24:49, Jesus promised that the apostles would be “endued with power from on high,” i.e., they would receive the miraculous gift of the Holy Spirit (see Acts 2:1-4; cf. Joel 2:28). This implies the existence of a power greater than humanity—a power capable of bestowing power upon humans and even orchestrating human events. Of course, the Bible identifies this “power on high” as being the one eternal, omnipotent Creator of the Universe—God (see Colley, 2004a; Colley, 2004b ).

The very idea of such miraculous power is antithetical to secular humanism. According to secular humanism, there is no identifiable “power from on high,” at least no power relevant to humanity. The first and second articles of the first Humanist Manifesto make these points plainly: “FIRST: Religious humanists regard the universe as self-existing and not created. SECOND: Humanism believes that man is a part of nature and that he has emerged as a result of a continuous process” (1933; cf. Romans 1:25-28). The authors of the Secular Humanist Declaration further argue that evolutionary theory is “supported impressively by the findings of many sciences” (1980).

Humanist Manifesto II makes the argument more bluntly: “As non-theists, we begin with humans, not God, nature not deity…. [H]umans are responsible for what we are or will become. No deity will save us; we must save ourselves” (Section 1, 1973). Then, “[a]s in 1933 (the publication date of the first Manifesto—CC), humanists still believe that traditional theism, especially faith in the prayer-hearing God, assumed to love and care for persons…is an unproved and outmoded faith” (Preface, 1973).

The secular humanists’ progression leads directly from a denial of God to an affirmation of naturalistic evolution. Special creation by God, and random evolution absent any divine guidance, are the only two possible accounts of human origins (Thompson, 2004, pp. 1-4). And while there are certain differences between various stripes of non-Christian humanists, virtually all secular humanists side with Darwinism (Geisler, 1999, pp. 337-338). According to this approach, there is no good reason for any religion other than humanism to exist, and “Salvationism” is pernicious (Preface, Humanist…, 1973). In fact, secular humanists realize that religion poses a threat to the propagation of evolutionary theory:

Today the theory of evolution is again under heavy attack by religious fundamentalists…. There may be some significant differences among scientists concerning the mechanics of evolution; yet the evolution of the species is supported so strongly by the weight of evidence that it is difficult to reject it. Accordingly, we deplore the efforts by fundamentalists (especially in the United States) to invade the science classrooms, requiring that creationist theory be taught to students and requiring that it be included in biology textbooks. This is a serious threat both to academic freedom and to the integrity of the educational process. We believe that creationists surely should have the freedom to express their viewpoint in society. Moreover, we do not deny the value of examining theories of creation in educational courses on religion and the history of ideas; but it is a sham to mask an article of religious faith as a scientific truth and to inflict that doctrine on the scientific curriculum. If successful, creationists may seriously undermine the credibility of science itself (A Secular…, 1980, Section 9, parenthetical item in orig.).

The secular humanist would agree with the late, eminent evolutionist of Harvard, George Gaylord Simpson: “Man is the result of a purposeless and natural process that did not have him in mind. He was not planned. He is a state of matter, a form of life, a sort of animal, and a species of the Order Primates, akin nearly or remotely to all of life and indeed to all that is material” (1967, p. 345). However, the secular humanist recognizes the special abilities of man that differentiates him from other animal life (for an overview of these abilities, see Harrub and Thompson, 2003, pp. viii-ix).

The humanist position is contradictory in that it proposes to extol the value and significance of humanity, while promoting a theory which weakens the inherent worth of humanity. As secular humanists insist that humanity descended from animal life via evolution, they impart, however unwittingly, the concept that humans are of no more appreciable ultimate value than animals. Consider the words of internationally renowned psychiatrist Viktor E. Frankl, witness to numerous horrors in Nazi prison camps:

Under the influence of a world which no longer recognized the value of human life and human dignity, which had robbed man of his will and had made him an object to be exterminated (having planned, however, to make full use of him first—to the last ounce of his physical resources)—under this influence the personal ego finally suffered a loss of values. If the man in the concentration camp did not struggle against this in a last effort to save his self-respect, he lost the feeling of being an individual, a being with a mind, with inner freedom and personal value. He thought of himself then as only a part of an enormous mass of people; his existence descended to the level of animal life (1984, p. 70, emp. added).

Secular humanism, logically, is doomed to reach the unhappy conclusion that, due to its unbreakable tie to Darwinism, it guarantees failure in accomplishing its stated purpose.


First, consider whether evolution provides philosophical grounds for adequate social goals. A social goal is one that, if accomplished, will benefit a group of people. The only social goal of evolution is more evolution—that the species may continue to improve. Evolutionists cannot logically impose any other social goals because evolution is profited solely by time and chance, neither of which are subject to human influence. It is nonsensical to speak of creating time or chance, and just as ridiculous to speak of people controlling their own rate of evolution.

The secular humanist may be allowed only such goals as are inherent in nature itself, for he asserts that man is merely a part of nature and the product of evolution. So, what of the “social” purposes of various creatures in the animal kingdom? Surely even the most strident Darwinist would refuse to normalize or universalize the “social goals” of, say, the lion. Social responsibility is not a leonine strength. The lion has no better social goals than killing and eating other animals (even people) when he is hungry. He merely acts in accordance with his “selfish genes,” which tell him that he is hungry. The hungry lion feels no further ethical or moral obligation to any larger social goals. For a Darwinist, the social reality is that “plants and animals prey on each other to survive,” and humans have no grounds to establish any higher standard of life (see Ridenour, 2001, p. 170).

Secular humanists “envision values and morals having a basis in whatever makes us human” (apart from our spiritual self, of course, Major, 1999b). However, studies in genetics have produced no evidence of any moral code within human or animal genes (1999b). There is a sense of urgency in the secular humanists’ appeals because they wish to bring an end to Judeo-Christian ethics and any other religious influences on society (1999b; for a further consideration of evolution and ethics, see Major, 1999a). Without any ethical foundation in human genetics, the atheistic humanist is left without any basis for adequate social goals.

Next, we must ask whether evolution allows the secular humanist to acquire personal satisfaction or fulfillment. The secular humanist insists that a man must reach his full human potential by self-actualization in order to achieve ultimate personal satisfaction. There are many diverse theories concerning the path to human fulfillment, and it is impossible to prove scientifically whether any one plan is better than others. However, we may objectively assess how well a particular approach accounts for and explains the circumstances and how much understanding and hope it offers.

Secular humanists claim that knowledge comes through reason with scientific experimentation (never through divine revelation). “The assumption in this approach is that we as human beings are in control of the whole process of gaining knowledge” (Goldsworthy, 1991, p. 38). This is “autonomous reason,” seeking to understand the world apart from a Creator. The Declaration of 1980 encouraged its readers to resist “unthinking efforts to limit technological or scientific advances” (Section 8). But science and reason, alone, do not fulfill humanity. Consider Ridenour’s words: “Manifesto II trustingly claims that man’s goodness will guide him in using technology for the good of humankind by carefully avoiding harmful and destructive changes. But again, the humanist faces the problem of who is to determine what is really good for humankind” (2001, p. 194).

This problem is due to naturalism. “What governs the ‘reasonable’ in humanistic thinking is not the idea that we know it all now, but the assumption that man’s knowledge-gaining is completely independent of any outside or supernatural help. The only world to be known is the natural world which is open to our senses” (Goldsworthy, pp. 38-39). Because of secular humanism’s abhorrence of the supernatural and consequential attachment to naturalistic evolution, it is inadequate to fulfill us—it offers nothing outside the realm of natural human experience to give meaning to life. Secular humanism gives us no hope to understand or contextualize the often bewildering crisscross of events that coerce human lives to take various directions. Just as the theory of evolution leaves the biologist with more confounding questions than comforting answers, secular humanism leaves the individual with no foundation for understanding his existence, purpose, future, and fulfillment. Therefore, the earnest enquirer should look for another solution.


We have shown that secular humanism, by necessarily evoking naturalistic evolution, is at war with itself. Christianity, in contrast to secular humanism, is fully consistent with itself and human experience. While there are non-theistic forms of Christian humanism (see “Welcome to…,” 2006), we may label as “Christian humanist” the follower of Christ who believes that a relationship with God is the only means to authentic human fulfillment. In so believing, the Christian attaches great value to humanity (both physical and spiritual parts), because God does (Genesis 1:26ff; Matthew 16:26; cf. Harrub, 2002). Christianity never cheapens the value of humanity.

As McDowell stated: “Sometimes humanism is defined as the study of the worth and dignity of man as such worth is given to him by God…. [W]e must be careful not to build a false case about all uses of the word humanism and then attempt to refute that false case.” (1993, pp. 316-317). Or, as Packer and Howard put it: “…Christianity is the true humanism, since it has for its purpose the forming and freeing and exalting of our true humanness. The Christian story is ordinarily said to be about salvation from sin. But that means nothing different from what we are saying, for it is sin that dehumanizes, and it is only in the matrix of holiness that authentic humanness takes shape” (1985, p. 52). One need look no further than the tragic third chapter of Genesis to see the accuracy of this assessment.

In Jesus, we see the glory of humanity at its fullest potential. Again, from Packer and Howard: “Morally and spiritually, intellectually and experientially, motivationally and relationally, the incarnate Son of God stands before us as perfect man, the one totally human being that history knows” (p. 53). In fact, the Christian humanist and the secular humanist share a desire for humanity to be fulfilled, but differ concerning the path to fulfillment and how to define “fulfillment,” i.e., spiritual oneness with God vs. physical, fleshly gratification. The Christian humanist believes that the keys to understanding existence, and the role of humanity in the world, are found in the Bible. He believes in the potency of the Bible because of the powerful evidence of its supernatural origins (“The Inspiration…,” 2001). The Bible reveals specific information about the God Who has revealed Himself in a limited way via His natural creation (Psalm 19:1; Romans 1:20-21).

Despite the secular humanists’ prediction that the 21st century “can and should be the humanistic century,” (Humanist…, Preface, 1973), there is a growing recognition that secular humanism is devoid of hope for eternity and fulfillment during physical life. Regardless, two things undeniably are true: First, that “the clash of systems between Christianity and secular humanism is building” (Webber, 1982, p. 55), and second, that the Gospel of Christ still has the best answer to man’s problems: “I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly” (John 10:10).


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