Is Humanism a Religion

The beginnings of Humanism

Ethics and relationship to religious belief.

“modern, organized Humanism began, in the minds of its founders, as nothing more nor less than a religion without a God”

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The Starry Messenger


The Galileo affair was a sequence of events, beginning around 1610, culminating with the trial and condemnation of Galileo Galilei by the Roman Catholic Inquisition in 1616 and 1633 for his support of heliocentrism.

In 1610, Galileo published his Sidereus Nuncius (Starry Messenger), describing the surprising observations that he had made with the new telescope, namely the phases of Venus and the Galilean moons of Jupiter. With these observations he promoted the heliocentric theory of Nicolaus Copernicus (published in De revolutionibus orbium coelestium in 1543). Galileo’s initial discoveries were met with opposition within the Catholic Church, and in 1616 the Inquisition declared heliocentrism to be formally heretical. Heliocentric books were banned and Galileo was ordered to refrain from holding, teaching or defending heliocentric ideas.

Galileo went on to propose a theory of tides in 1616, and of comets in 1619; he argued that the tides were evidence for the motion of the Earth. In 1632 Galileo, now an old man, published his Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems, which implicitly defended heliocentrism, and was immensely popular. Responding to mounting controversy over theology, astronomy and philosophy, the Roman Inquisition tried Galileo in 1633 and found him “gravely suspect of heresy“, sentencing him to indefinite imprisonment. Galileo was kept under house arrest until his death in 1642.

Galileo began his telescopic observations in the later part of 1609, and by March 1610 was able to publish a small book, The Starry Messenger (Sidereus Nuncius), relating some discoveries that had not been dreamed of in the philosophy of the time: mountains on the Moon, lesser moons in orbit around Jupiter, and the resolution of what had been thought to be very cloudy masses in the sky (nebulae) into collections of stars too faint to see individually without a telescope. Other observations followed, including the phases of Venus and the existence of sunspots.

Galileo’s contributions caused difficulties for theologians and natural philosophers of the time, as they contradicted scientific and philosophical ideas based on those of Aristotle and Ptolemy and closely associated with the Catholic Church (despite their being pagans). In particular, Galileo’s observations of the phases of Venus, which showed it to circle the sun, and the observation of moons orbiting Jupiter, contradicted the geocentric model of Ptolemy and supported the Copernican model advanced by Galileo.

Jesuit astronomers, experts both in Church teachings, science, and in natural philosophy, were at first skeptical and hostile to the new ideas; however, within a year or two the availability of good telescopes enabled them to repeat the observations. In 1611, Galileo visited the Collegium Romanum in Rome, where the Jesuit astronomers by that time had repeated his observations. Christoph Grienberger, one of the Jesuit scholars on the faculty, sympathized with Galileo’s theories, but was asked to defend the Aristotelian viewpoint by Claudio Acquaviva, the Father General of the Jesuits. Not all of Galileo’s claims were completely accepted: Christopher Clavius, the most distinguished astronomer of his age, never was reconciled to the idea of mountains on the Moon, and outside the collegium many still disputed the reality of the observations. In a letter to Kepler of August 1610, Galileo complained that some of the philosophers who opposed his discoveries had refused even to look through a telescope:

My dear Kepler, I wish that we might laugh at the remarkable stupidity of the common herd. What do you have to say about the principal philosophers of this academy who are filled with the stubbornness of an asp and do not want to look at either the planets, the moon or the telescope, even though I have freely and deliberately offered them the opportunity a thousand times? Truly, just as the asp stops its ears, so do these philosophers shut their eyes to the light of truth.

Geocentrists who did verify and accept Galileo’s findings had an alternative to Ptolemy’s model in an alternative geocentric (or “geo-heliocentric”) model proposed some decades earlier by Tycho Brahe—a model, in which, for example, Venus circled the sun.

Galileo became involved in a dispute over priority in the discovery of sunspots with Christoph Scheiner, a Jesuit. This became a bitter lifelong feud. Neither of them, however, was the first to recognise sunspots—the Chinese had already been familiar with them for centuries.

At this time, Galileo also engaged in a dispute over the reasons that objects float or sink in water, siding with Archimedes against Aristotle. The debate was unfriendly, and Galileo’s blunt and sometimes sarcastic style, though not extraordinary in academic debates of the time, made him enemies. During this controversy one of Galileo’s friends, the painter, Lodovico Cardi da Cigoli, informed him that a group of malicious opponents, which Cigoli subsequently referred to derisively as “the Pigeon league,” was plotting to cause him trouble over the motion of the earth, or anything else that would serve the purpose. According to Cigoli, one of the plotters had asked a priest to denounce Galileo’s views from the pulpit, but the latter had refused. Nevertheless, three years later another priest, Tommaso Caccini, did in fact do precisely that.

When Myth Caved in to Science

Image diagram of Heliocentrism.
Heliocentric Solar System

Earth is not at the Center

Heliocentrism, or heliocentricism, is the astronomical model in which the Earth and planets revolve around a relatively stationary Sun at the center of the Solar System. The word comes from the Greek (ἥλιος helios “sun” and κέντρον kentron “center”). Historically, heliocentrism was opposed to geocentrism, which placed the Earth at the center. The notion that the Earth revolves around the Sun had been proposed as early as the 3rd century BC by Aristarchus of Samos, but at least in the post-Ancient world Aristarchus’s heliocentrism attracted little attention—possibly because of the loss of scientific works of the Hellenistic Era —until Copernicus revived and elaborated it.

It was not until the 16th century that a fully predictive mathematical model of a heliocentric system was presented, by the Renaissance mathematician, astronomer, and Catholic cleric Nicolaus Copernicus, leading to the Copernican Revolution. In the following century, Johannes Kepler elaborated upon and expanded this model to include elliptical orbits, and supporting observations made using a telescope were presented by Galileo Galilei.

With the observations of William Herschel, Friedrich Bessel, and others, astronomers realized that the sun was not the center of the universe as heliocentrists at the time of Copernicus had supposed. By the 1920s Edwin Hubble had shown that it was part of a galaxy (the Milky Way) that was only one of many billions.


Epistemology is the branch of philosophy which studies the nature, origin, and scope of knowledge. Knowledge is, from an epistemological standpoint, distinguished from mere belief by justification, warrant, or other such property the having of which is conducive to getting at the truth.

Knowledge in the sense of “understanding of a fact or truth” can be divided into a posteriori knowledge, based on experience or deduction and a priori knowledge from introspection, axioms, or self-evidence. Knowledge can also be described as a psychological state, since in a strict sense there can never be a posteriori knowledge proper (see relativism). Much of the disagreement about “proofs” of God’s existence is due to different conceptions not only of the term “God” but also the terms “proof”, “truth”, and “knowledge”.

Religious belief from revelation or enlightenment (satori) can fall into either the first category, a posteriori knowledge, if rooted in deduction or personal revelation, or the second, a priori class of knowledge, if based on introspection.

Different conclusions as to the existence of God often rest on different criteria for deciding what methods are appropriate for deciding if something is true or not, including:

  • whether logic counts as evidence concerning the quality of existence
  • whether subjective experience counts as evidence for objective reality
  • whether either logic or evidence can rule in or out the supernatural
  • whether an object of the mind is accepted for existence
  • whether a truthbearer can justify.
Arguments grounded in personal experiences
  • An argument for God is often made from an unlikely complete reversal in lifestyle by an individual towards God. Paul of Tarsus, a persecutor of the early Church, became a pillar of the Church after his conversion on the road to Damascus. Modern day examples in Evangelical Protestantism are sometimes called “Born-Again Christians“.
  • The Scottish School of Common Sense led by Thomas Reid taught that the fact of the existence of God is accepted by people without knowledge of reasons but simply by a natural impulse. That God exists, this school said, is one of the chief metaphysical principles that people accept not because they are evident in themselves or because they can be proved, but because common sense obliges people to accept them.
  • The Argument from a Proper Basis argues that belief in God is “properly basic”; that it is similar to statements like “I see a chair” or “I feel pain”. Such beliefs are non-falsifiable and, thus, neither provable nor disprovable; they concern perceptual beliefs or indisputable mental states.
  • In Germany, the School of Friedrich Heinrich Jacobi taught that human reason is able to perceive the suprasensible. Jacobi distinguished three faculties: sense, reason, and understanding. Just as sense has immediate perception of the material so has reason immediate perception of the immaterial, while the understanding brings these perceptions to a person’s consciousness and unites them to one another.
  • God’s existence, then, cannot be proven (Jacobi, like Immanuel Kant, rejected the absolute value of the principle of causality), it must be felt by the mind.
  • In Emile, Jean-Jacques Rousseau asserted that when a person’s understanding ponders over the existence of God it encounters nothing but contradictions; the impulses of people’s hearts, however, are of more value than the understanding, and these proclaim clearly the truths of natural religion, namely, the existence of God and the immortality of the soul.
  • The same theory was advocated in Germany by Friedrich Schleiermacher, who assumed an inner religious sense by means of which people feel religious truths. According to Schleiermacher, religion consists solely in this inner perception, and dogmatic doctrines are inessential.
  • Many modern Protestant theologians follow in Schleiermacher’s footsteps, and teach that the existence of God cannot be demonstrated; certainty as to this truth is only furnished to people by inner experience, feeling, and perception.
  • Modernist Christianity also denies the demonstrability of the existence of God. According to them, one can only know something of God by means of the vital immanence, that is, under favorable circumstances the need of the divine dormant in one’s subconsciousness becomes conscious and arouses that religious feeling or experience in which God reveals himself. In condemnation of this view the Oath Against Modernism formulated by Pius X, a Pope of the Catholic Church, says: “Deum … naturali rationis lumine per ea quae facta sunt, hoc est per visibilia creationis opera, tanquam causam per effectus certo cognosci adeoque demostrari etiam posse, profiteor.” (“I declare that by the natural light of reason, God can be certainly known and therefore his existence demonstrated through the things that are made, i.e., through the visible works of creation, as the cause is known through its effects.”)

Brahma Kumaris religion was established in 1936, when God was said to enter the body of diamond merchant Lekhraj Kripalani (1876–1969) in Hyderabad, Sindh and started to speak through him.

Further Reading

Intelligent Design

Intell I.D.

Intelligent design (ID) is the pseudoscientific view that “certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause, not an undirected process such as natural selection.” Educators, philosophers, and the scientific community have demonstrated that ID is a religious argument, a form of creationism which lacks empirical support and offers no tenable hypotheses. Proponents argue that it is “an evidence-based scientific theory about life’s origins” that challenges the methodological naturalism inherent in modern science, while conceding that they have yet to produce a scientific theory. The leading proponents of ID are associated with the Discovery Institute, a politically conservative think tank based in the United States. Although they state that ID is not creationism and deliberately avoid assigning a personality to the designer, many of these proponents express belief that the designer is the Christian deity.

ID presents negative arguments against evolutionary explanations, and its positive argument is an analogy between natural systems and human artifacts, a version of the theological argument from design for the existence of God. Both irreducible complexity and specified complexity present detailed negative assertions that certain features (biological and informational, respectively) are too complex to be the result of natural processes. Proponents then conclude by analogy that these features are evidence of design. Detailed scientific examination has rebutted the claims that evolutionary explanations are inadequate, and this premise of intelligent design—that evidence against evolution constitutes evidence for design—has been criticized as a false dichotomy.

Though the phrase “intelligent design” had featured previously in theological discussions of the design argument, the first publication of the term intelligent design in its present use as an alternative term for creationism was in Of Pandas and People, a 1989 textbook intended for high school biology classes. The term was substituted into drafts of the book after the 1987 United States Supreme Court‘s Edwards v. Aguillard decision, which barred the teaching of creation science in public schools on constitutional grounds. From the mid-1990s, the intelligent design movement (IDM), supported by the Discovery Institute, advocated inclusion of intelligent design in public school biology curricula. This led to the 2005 Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District trial in which U.S. District Judge John E. Jones III ruled that intelligent design is not science, that it “cannot uncouple itself from its creationist, and thus religious, antecedents,” and that the school district’s promotion of it therefore violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.



Dogma is a principle or set of principles laid down by an authority as incontrovertibly true. It serves as part of the primary basis of an ideology or belief system, and it cannot be changed or discarded without affecting the very system’s paradigm, or the ideology itself.

They can refer to acceptable opinions of philosophers or philosophical schools, public decrees, religion, or issued decisions of political authorities.
The term derives from Greek δόγμα “that which seems to one, opinion or belief” and that from δοκέω (dokeo), “to think, to suppose, to imagine”.

Dogma came to signify laws or ordinances adjudged and imposed upon others by the First Century. The plural is either dogmas or dogmata, from Greek δόγματα.

The term “dogmatics” is used as a synonym for systematic theology, as in Karl Barth’s defining textbook of neo-orthodoxy, the 14-volume Church Dogmatics.
Dogmata are found in religions such as Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, and Islam, where they are considered core principles that must be upheld by all believers of that religion.

As a fundamental element of religion, the term “dogma” is assigned to those theological tenets which are considered to be well demonstrated, such that their proposed disputation or revision effectively means that a person no longer accepts the given religion as his or her own, or has entered into a period of personal doubt.

Dogma is distinguished from theological opinion regarding those things considered less well-known. Dogmata may be clarified and elaborated but not contradicted in novel teachings .Rejection of dogma may lead to expulsion from a religious group.
In Christianity, religious beliefs are defined by the Church. It is usually on scripture or communicated by church authority. It is believed that these dogmas will lead human beings towards redemption and thus the “paths which lead to God”.
For Catholicism and Eastern and Oriental Orthodox Christianity, the dogmata are contained in the Nicene Creed and the canon laws of two, three, seven, or twenty ecumenical councils(depending on whether one is Nestorian, Oriental Orthodox, Eastern Orthodox, or Roman Catholic). These tenets are summarized by St. John of Damascus in his Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith, which is the third book of his main work, titled The Fount of Knowledge.

In this book he takes a dual approach in explaining each article of the faith: one, for Christians, where he uses quotes from the Bible and, occasionally, from works of other Fathers of the Church, and the second, directed both at non-Christians (but who, nevertheless, hold some sort of religious belief) and at atheists, for whom he employs Aristotelian logic and dialectics.
The decisions of fourteen later councils that Catholics hold as dogmatic and numerous decrees promulgated by Popes’ exercising papal infallibility (for examples, see Immaculate Conception and Assumption of Mary) are considered as being a part of the Church’s sacred body of doctrine.
Roman Catholic dogmata are a distinct form of doctrine taught by the Church.
Protestants to differing degrees affirm portions of these dogmata, and often rely on denomination-specific “Statements of Faith” which summarize their chosen dogmata (see, e.g., Eucharist).
In Islam, the dogmatic principles are contained in the aqidah. Within many Christian denominations, dogma is referred to as “doctrine”.

David Hume

Scottish philosopher

Hume – Statue


David Hume was a Scottish philosopher, historian, economist, and essayist known especially for his philosophical empiricism and scepticism. He was one of the most important figures in the history of Western philosophy and the Scottish Enlightenment. Hume is often grouped with John LockeGeorge Berkeley, and a handful of others as a British Empiricist.


Beginning with his A Treatise of Human Nature (1739), Hume strove to create a total naturalistic “science of man” that examined the psychological basis of human nature. In stark opposition to the rationalists who preceded him, most notably Descartes, he concluded that desire rather than reason governed human behaviour, saying: “Reason is, and ought only to be the slave of the passions”.A prominent figure in the sceptical philosophical tradition and a strong empiricist, he argued against the existence of innate ideas, concluding instead that humans have knowledge only of things they directly experience. Thus he divides perceptions between strong and lively “impressions” or direct sensations and fainter “ideas”, which are copied from impressions. He developed the position that mental behaviour is governed by “custom”, that is acquired ability; our use of induction, for example, is justified only by our idea of the “constant conjunction” of causes and effects. Without direct impressions of a metaphysical “self”, he concluded that humans have no actual conception of the self, only of a bundle of sensations associated with the self.



Hume advocated a compatibilist theory of free will that proved extremely influential on subsequent moral philosophy. He was also a sentimentalist who held that ethics are based on feelings rather than abstract moral principles. Hume also examined the normative is–ought problem. He held notoriously ambiguous views of Christianity, but famously challenged the argument from design in his Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion (1777).

Kant credited Hume with waking him up from his “dogmatic slumbers” and Hume has proved extremely influential on subsequent philosophy, especially on utilitarianismlogical positivismWilliam Jamesphilosophy of science, early analytic philosophy, cognitive philosophy, and other movements and thinkers. The philosopher Jerry Fodor proclaimed Hume’s Treatise “the founding document of cognitive science“. Also famous as a prose stylist, Hume pioneered the essay as a literary genre and engaged with contemporary intellectual luminaries such as Jean-Jacques RousseauAdam Smith (who acknowledged Hume’s influence on his economics and political philosophy), James BoswellJoseph Butler, and Thomas Reid.