A popular anti-humanist argument
[bit of upcomoing OUP Humanism book – for comment]
Religious people sometimes present humanists with a challenge. Religion, they say, provides answers to some profound questions about the nature of morality and how knowledge of moral truths is possible. Where did morality come from? From God! How can we know what’s morally right and wrong? By turning to religion! Indeed, many religious people offer these answers as certainties.
But what, then, is the humanist’s answer to these questions? If no answer is forthcoming, many religionists conclude that this is an excellent reason for preferring their own religious position over humanism.
But this is poor reasoning. True, there are several thorny philosophical puzzles about both the nature of morality and how moral knowledge is possible.
However, on closer examination, appeals to God and religion do not provide satisfactory answers to these questions. Indeed, the religious solutions on offer typically provide little more than a convenient carpet under which such puzzles can be swept.
Many humanists, by contrast, honestly admit they don’t have all the answers. But of course, the admission that the humanist does not have all the answers is hardly a reason to favour a religious answer if the religious answers on offer are clearly inadequate.
Those who argue against humanism in this way are committing a version of the fallacy known as argument from ignorance: “You can’t answer this question? Then you should accept mine!” For example: “You can’t explain these exquisite crop circles? Then you should accept my answer that they were made by aliens!”