A few of us began discussing this as a tangent in the "out of the closet" forum. I thought it fitting that since it's gained so much attention that it should get it's own topic. I'll post the last few comments and hopefully get the ball rolling. 

Some of tnt666's remarks about naturalism, humanism, and epistemology misses the mark for me. We are inescapably part of nature, whatever methodology hat we think we put on our brains. This is true for the guy I know who worries about pollution but warms his house with firewood. Regarding knowledge, and our controlled use of fire, honestly, I have to disagree that this knowledge is a bad thing any more than I look at any biological system that runs over anything it can in its path. To suggest that we somehow stop being our polluting biological selves by undoing our knowledge is the essence of escaping nature, which tnt666 opposes. At least I view it that way. So knowing we are inescapably biological allows us to focus on our own survival, which includes the reuse of the natural and biological (also natural) resources on which we depend. Yet, my current state of knowledge puts me square on with most tenets of modern humanism as well, which i don't see out of line with biological naturalism (as if it could be).

~Stephen Herron Buck

I feel the weakest point in your argument is the "focus on our own survival". The human race have taken survival to an extreme, to the exclusion of all other aspects of living... as if we were on the verge of extinction!!! As if ever more humans on the planet is the only proper objective for this race. I see that as an poor objective. As soon as humanity went past the .5 billion mark, (the number estimated by BIOLOGISTS to be the carrying capacity for Homo sapiens on this planet, given the present state of the ecosystem) "survival of the human race" became the least of our concerns. I'm not interested in "survival", which is what we have traded our quality of life for. Homo sapiens now spends 1/3 of its life in old age and medicated... with our focus on outliving our natural lifespans... soon we'll be spending half of of life expectancy in old age and medicated. We were better off living a shorter but more intense life.
This is a problem I see with many in this atheist virtual community. Atheists get all excited about space exploration, but leave the science of biology aside. We accuse bible thumpers of picking and choosing which passages they like, yet so many atheists choose to ignore the most important science relevant to our own lives... biology. To me that is cherry picking science, which is little better than cherry picking the bible... Atheists who declare that they "believe in science" should not be cherry picking... Then again, there are plenty of atheists who aren't too concerned with science, that's a different topic.

~TNT666

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I agree with Stephen. TNT666 seems to be picking on one phrase Stephen used, and seems to miss the point. Now that humanity has far surpassed the .5 billion mark, survival of the species is becoming more and more a primary concern, since our runaway population growth is pushing us towards the brink of a major catastrophe, one capable of wiping us off the face of the planet (and taking a lot of other species along with us). I agree with TNT666 that we should reprioritize and emphasize quality of life rather than number of lives in existence. I do not agree that this means that we necessarily have to live shorter, more intense lives as we can still progress through science to extend the active, healthy parts of our lives along with our age overall, and if we also manage to curb our population at the same time then this could make for long and beautiful lives overall, the ideal towards which we should strive I believe. I'm not sure I get TNT666's point which seems to be that biology should be the primary area of our concern. There is a political situation that needs the most attention as far as I'm concerned, so if you want to put political science in there at number 1... Space exploration and biology are intimately tied together in that if we have life on, say, two planets instead of just one, this mitigates against the chance of life or humanity being wiped out by a single cataclysmic event. TNT666 seems to be ignoring the vast threats to our existence as a species. And as far as humanism and naturalism go, they seem to go walk hand-in-hand.

There are no immediate threats to human existence. Humans, through various technologies, have more than enough know how to ensure the perpetuity of Homo sapiens. The question is at what cost to our quality of life, there is more stress/anxiety/depression in humans than ever before in history. We have an evolutionary biological history, our bodies are proven over time to accomplish certain tasks/lifestyles. Sitting/typing/cubicles/desks are not what we are evolved for. One cute little animation film from last decade, Wall-E had an excellent take on the near future of the daily human lifestyle, a bunch of fatsoes moving around with carts. We are not evolved for the lifestyle we are living today.

The other thing that people forget is that in nature, animals do not go beyond menopausal age. In this context, "youth" as we perceive it would be half a lifespan. Now youth only occupies 1/3-1/4 of a lifespan, but none of our social systems in our societies are set up for this. Free basic education used to take up a much larger percentage of life, and the working career was much shorter. In Canada, lives are lengthening, but the age at which seniors get governmental financial aid is becoming younger (60 instead of 65)!!! In the future, seniors in Canada will be expected to live 30 years without work and with reduced senior income. The more we insist on human longevity, the more our society must adapt to this longevity, and our social systems are simply not doing it. Seniors, more and more, are doomed to live out their excessively LONG end-of-lives in seniors' homes, sitting in front of a tv for the rest of their days, with 1h daily cheap aeorobics sessions.

Of course I am completely against spreading humans to other planets. Colonialism and imperialism are human traits which simply have no redeeming qualities and if we half the brains we pretend to have, we'd stop such behaviour.

Granted, almost completely irrespective of what catastrophe strikes humanity, whether caused by us or not, there will likely be enough of us left over to begin again. The question, however, is not merely "at what cost to our quality of life", but also, "and how much death, destruction, and suffering will our species have to go through". I think this is also quite a morally-relevant question. If there are things we can be doing which will relieve the suffering which is still to come, whether it be for humans or for any species on our planet, we should be doing it.

 

I've seen Wall-E. I do not "forget" that our species is quite different from other species in this regard. I am against this policy of Canada's, if what you say about it is true. And I completely agree with you that "The more we insist on human longevity, the more our society must adapt to this longevity, and our social systems are simply not doing it". No problems there.

 

Where I do have a problem with what you've said is the completely unintelligible position you take against spreading humans to other planets. Firstly, spreading our societies into new places certainly has redeeming qualities. To say otherwise is to argue against the biological imperative. Either you think that it is wrong for all living things to spread to wherever they can find an ecological niche which will support them, or you think it is just wrong for humans to do so. I don't think you hate life. But you do seem to hold a serious grudge against humanity. If we were to "behave", and to be caretakers of our world and the other species that inhabit it, instead of mindlessly using whoever and whatever we can for our own short-sighted desires, would you have a different opinion of humanity? Would you think then that it is wrong for us to bring life to otherwise lifeless planets?

 

Further, the only thing wrong with colonialism and imperialism, as you put it, is the oppression caused by them to the people (or, under a broader definition, the species) who were already there. There is no life on Mars, excepting perhaps some microbes, for whom this would apply. Besides acting as an insurance policy against life being wiped off of our own planet, we could terraform Mars, bringing life there as well, and new species could evolve, and interplanetary trade and mutual support could begin. We could create two wondrous worlds whereas before we could create but one. Or, we could create two hellish worlds whereas before we could create but one. It is not a question of whether it should be done or not - it should. It is only a question of how it should be done, whether it should be done well or poorly. I think, given these arguments, you will realize that it is not humanity that is the problem, but rather how we define that humanity. We can define it much as we have done, with all the consequent short-sightedness and destruction and oppression caused to others, and completely ignorant of our effect on other species and out of touch with the natural world and all that, or we could define it in a more sustainable, symbiotic, organismic, naturalistic, healthy, creative, nurturing, protective of others, etc. I'm sure if we did the latter you would be happy. So again, the question is not whether or not the human species should survive - it should. The question is, how should it survive? And the answer is, in tune with nature, not opposed to it. The only real questions are what is in our interests and what is not. It is not in our interests to wipe out all other species and create a universe in which we are like slave-owners and all other life exists only to serve us. It is in our interests to coexist with all life and to live more naturalistic lives. And as SHB said in the OP, there is no necessary antagonism between humanism and naturalism. We just need to make sure we are going about our humanism in the right ways.

Great idea! Thanks! We had a wonderful string about atheist vs. theism, gnosticism vs. agnisticism and I learned a great deal from these distinctions. I look forward to further opinions about Humanism vs. Naturalism.

Humanism appeals to me because of the role of observation, experimentation, exploration and rational analysis. I look at cause and effect, intended or unintended. I like the focus of questioning, and being skeptical of traditions and values handed down from previous generations and defined by scripture and dogma. 

Naturalism appeals because I believe I am evolved through a natural progression through Africa, am a part of the ape line, having come from cells at the start of living things. There is no spirit world on which I can rely, and if it is strength or comfort I need, I will not find it by praying or bribing some etherial spirit. There is no hierarchy of value of homo sapiens; all of the universe is part of the same stuff. I am not created to be obedient, but rather to participate in life, care about the elements of air, fire, water, and soils. It is not my responsibility to own or control, but to be part of the larger whole. 

I look forward to others' answers and hope to broaden my own understanding of the terms. 

You don't need to be a Humanist to do "observation, experimentation, exploration and rational analysis". Anyone can do that without placing any ism at the end of their title. The foundation of Humanism is that those behaviours be to placed in the service of Homo sapiens... which is EXACTLY the same thing we've been doing for several millennia. Humanism is a dogma which places the advancement of humans as the grand priority of life.

Of course one does not have to be a Humanist to do the things I mentioned. However, what is the probable method of solving problems if one holds a belief in a personal god. Any and all human beings can be loved, celebrate, exaltate, examine, explore, feast, grieve, have compassion, help a person in need, love, play, question, raise funds, reason, rejoice, rest, share knowledge, sleep, and teach.

However, because humans have been doing these things for years, we do not need a "higher power" to do them, and we certainly can no long think only of homo sapiens. There are other elements of existence that need to be kept in mind. We can do that, too. Breathable air, drinkable water, tillable and fertile soils, cooperation with neighbors have all suffered under the influence of the notion of domination. 

Again, you seem to think that it is a choice between one or the other, between humanism or naturalism. I am saying no, we just need to define our humanism so that it includes the advancement of all life, not just human life to the exclusion of all other life, which would not be in our long-term interests.

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