What is Humanism, and Where is 21st Century Atheism Taking Us, Really?

Just as Unitarianism is the featherbed for catching the falling Christian (Erasmus Darwin), humanism is the featherbed for catching the falling atheist.

What humanism functions to conceal for the squeamish atheist and agnostic (and I am one of those squeamish agnostics) is the radical Darwinian contingency of existence, and its ultimate nihilism and emptiness.

The leadership of China—atheists all, informed by Buddhist emptiness, and unencumbered by Jeffersonian Enlightenment or Western religious concerns about the individual—is taking us down a very different secular path than Western liberal atheists like Paul Kurtz, Jerry Coyne, or Richard Dawkins would have us go. The Chinese leadership is fast leading the world in a eugenic direction—a heightened Darwinian nihilism that we have yet to fathom.

A century from now (if not sooner), the human race will begin to split into two distinct species: the naturals and the (genetically and robotically) enhanced. There may even be artificial intelligence that is conscious and evolving far faster than human beings. And it won’t be religion that will have foisted these effects upon civilization, but the crown jewel of Enlightenment humanism (science) and a Machiavellian pragmatism applied to biology and technology shorn of any humanist veneer.

If, after all, the atheists in China are developing eugenic programs without religious or humanist qualms, it will soon be argued that our very survival dictates that we in the West must follow suit.

And we will.

Eugenics will be the new space race. That’s our future. It’s an atheist one. But not the humanist one Western atheists imagine themselves to be fighting for.

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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25 Responses to What is Humanism, and Where is 21st Century Atheism Taking Us, Really?

  1. noreligion says:

    Eugenics isn’t atheistic. For example, eugenics was practiced by Nazi Germany yet Darwin’s book was banned from Germany (back then) in 1935. By no means were Hitler or the SS atheistic. Did you know their belt buckles said Got Mit Uns?

    • Kubrik says:


      It is well-known that Adolf Hitler was not particularly favourable to Christianity due to its emphasis on concern for the weak – which of course did not go well with his social Darwinism. While atheism at that time was rare enough for the Nazis to not really think about it, many high-ranking Nazis yearned for a new ‘religion’ that would emphasize the survival of the fittest and social regimentation. And at least one top Nazi, Martin Boorman, was a militant atheist.

      And to bring up the subject of ‘Gott Mit Uns’ is to be supremely idiotic; you should know that ‘God is with us’ has been a traditional military slogan since the creation of the German state in the 19th century. Or did your atheist handlers not tell you that.

  2. The quote from Erasmus Darwin is absolutely priceless. It perfectly articulates what I have always found to be so annoying about the wishy-washiness of UU’s. More than possibly any other group of humans, these are the folks Jehovah was talking about when he spake thusly: “because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot,
    I will spue thee out of my mouth.”

  3. andrewclunn says:

    Good for China. Though there are flaws in their approach, they are very much moving in the right direction. One must confront Nietzsche head on to be an honest atheist; something that the disappointingly hypocritical western atheists are consistently failing to do.

    • Kubrik says:

      That wouldn’t really help the atheist cause, though. And I would predict that China will move faster towards the direction of the West rather than the other way around – the invisible allure of western civilization is far greater than any of us realize.

    • Which part of Nietzsche is not being confronted?

      • andrewclunn says:

        Modern western Humanism is flawed in that it presumes that value is derived from being ‘human’ while not really defining what being ‘human’ means. Humanists can’t say it’s sentience or they might have to admit that the mentally retarded are in fact “less human.” They can try to extend it to other animals, but then the whole notion breaks down as people start advocating for the rights of species who have no concept of what the term ‘right’ even means.

        Humanists do not respond to Nietzsche’s charges of existence being ultimately pointless. They do not actually make a claim that anything has real meaning or purpose and then attempt to claim that things have value because… It’s hand waving. It’s not even a bad argument. There is no logical foundation for Humanism, so it continually lends itself to hypocrisy and relying on the the shallowest of emotional appeals. Then it attacks religion in order to present the impression that it represents all of Atheism.

        Humanism wants the moral teachings and values of progressive Christianity / Judaism, while taking the deistic underpinnings and justifications for that morality and tossing them aside. It’s a wishful thinking safe haven for those who no longer believe, but who do not wish to face the consequences of what a deterministic Godless universe means. Humanism is atheism for idiots, a new religion that pretend that it’s not one by claiming to be less spiritual and more rational than it really is.

      • santitafarella says:


        You said it nicely. Well, not nicely, but well.


      • @Andrew-

        Maybe it is that there are a few representations of humanism or maybe it is the fact that much philosophy like this is so open to opinion and how the reader perceives the concepts, but either way, I see a lot wrong with what you wrote.

        First off, sentience and intelligence are not necessarily the same thing. The mentally challenged are still self aware and still meet all the criteria of sentience. Their lack of intellect is does not make them any less human when using sentience as the criteria.

        You look for atheists to respond to Nietzsche’s claim that existence is pointless without a god as if it is an indisputable fact. At its barest bones, the point of life is to survive, feed and procreate. What you and Nietzsche are looking for is a bigger meaning in order to drive perceptions of value (without contingency?). We have learned a not since Nietzsche’s time. That humans are social animals and prosperity of self and society are directly tied to contributing to society (see the Matt Ridley video). This is not only quantifiable in the material aspects of life but in the psychological. Feelings of emptiness & depression are often treated through volunteer and societal contribution. There is a clear link between these emotions and contribution to community.

        As for humanism “wanting the moral teachings and values of Christianity” I guess that depends on whose explanation you read. Humanism has many derivative views – the basics I live by are: ethics and justice that balance the individual with the effectiveness of society and the implicit value of human life. These are not goals with no basis that do not face the hard questions. Quite the opposite really. Start with an individual who does not buy the myth of an immortal soul and simply work backwards. Self value, societal value, reciprocation, etc. We can even quantify our social needs, social evolution and the value of society now days in ways that were impossible when Nietzsche was writing.

      • santitafarella says:


        I agree with you that science gives some reasons for cooperativeness, based in evolutionary psychology, that nineteenth century people like Nietzsche would not have had access to. But Nietzsche would, I think, not have folded his hand and left the card game on learning about primate sociality. Instead, he would simply point to the shark and the psychopath. There is no reason, grounded in science, that can ever tell you, specifically, whether you should be a shark or a bonobo (in your survival strategy). It is the creative will, not the logic of the tribe or its history, that can (in Nietzsche’s terms) determine your next move.

        So if atheist humanists want to be bonobos, great! The atheist leadership of China consists of sharks. Nature rewards sharks too.


      • andrewclunn says:


        Humanism does value survival and existence, but of the group, with no firm or agreed upon boundaries regarding who and what are in that group. And no means for conflict resolution between members of the group is found either. Nietzsche places the value as self-declared and existing solely within the will of the individual.

        As to my own personal views, I trace my own intellectual philosophical heritage to:

        Myself building on Rand, who built on Nietzsche, who built on Descartes, who built on Aristotle.

      • @Santi- I agree, Nietzsche would not have given up. I always wish we could know what brilliant minds of the past would make with modern technology and knowledge. Particularly with the newness of sociobiology. How much of our morality, values and fitting into society are genetic and how much is learned. We do not yet know. there is evidence that some good portion is genetic, which makes sense. So, depending upon the degree that is genetic, is the degree to which you cannot choose shark or bonobo. That is what is so interesting. At some point, we may get to try to tinker with genetics to change some of this, but that is a long way off. Of all the genetic tinkering we are capable of, psychopathy is going to be one of the tougher ones.

        It will be interesting to see. And the actions of each of us today will influence the directions we take tomorrow.

      • @Andrew – Humanism has some of the worst marketing and worst overall vision I have seen. But some of its core tenets are great. I think that is what people find appealing. no where in the few humanism sites that I just visited does it give a grounding for the tenets though .. as you pointed out. Although we have reached a point where we can start to supply some scientific data as a means of grounding. It is a shame that humanist groups have not taken any action here. Individual researchers seem to be paving the way without any support from humanist groups at all.

      • andrewclunn says:

        In my mind, if you put an ‘ism’ after a word before you’ve even worked out the core values of that system, you’ve got nothing. I have no great hope that humanism will become something valuable, mainly because it is so very very worried about offending anyone.

  4. Paradigm says:

    The Chinese will weed out all the low-IQ and impulsive people only to find that among these lie the initiative and creativity they already lacked and need now more than ever as more and more of the skills reflected in IQ-scores can be handled by computers and robots. It’s just a matter of how deep a hole they will dig for themselves before realizing their mistake.

    • Isn’t that theme in the Ender’s Game Series as well? They wreck themselves by gender selection through manipulation and have a 90% male population 🙂

      I do think that most people realize that creativity is as important as sheer intellect. If you could engineer a person with massive quantities of both, then great. There is also a lot we do not know about our genome. This kind of engineering needs to occur at an almost glacial pace.

  5. concerned christian says:

    Various countries tried similar methods, actually some parents in the States do the same to prepare their children for either talent shows or sports, remember the tragedy of Jon Benet Ramsey. Sadly some of these child prodigies fall apart and become underachievers when they grow up.
    Santi, I hope I am not intruding or changing the subject when I post this video from Egypt, it shows a teacher beating up little kids, it went viral the last few days, but the end was even more astonishing. It turns out that this teacher was asked by the parents of these kids to teach them the Koran, and the parents allowed the teacher to beat the kids they don’t meet his standards! The parents defended the teacher when he was arrested, h was fined about $400 and given a three year suspended sentence. And the parents celebrate his release.
    I was planning to post it as news from Egypt but I noticed that somehow it relates to the video you posted. The difference is that while those Chinese kids may be psychologically abused, these Egyptian kids are simply physically abused!
    WARNING Sensitive people should not watch this video

  6. concerned christian says:

    Sory, as expected the video was blocked probably by youtube, if you are curios google “Egyptian teacher beating kids”

  7. Pingback: Atheism’s Real Problem Going Forward: Universal Humanism vs. Johann Gottfried Herder, Niccolo Machiavelli, and Friedrich Nietzsche | Prometheus Unbound

  8. conservative says:

    Determinism makes it easy to blame God for everything and to reject His existence.

  9. conservative says:

    That thing about determinism, “you are not free” is really funny. That means you are not an atheist by your own free will. 🙂

  10. Pingback: Empires and Supermen » My Blog

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