My article in Quillette: A rebuttal of John Staddon’s claim that secular...

@Jerry_Coyne on Secular Humanism as a religion:


I read that article yesterday, and I agree with much of what Coyne wrote.

The one overarching question I had when reading Staddon’s article is why is it so important to Staddon that Secular Humanism be described as a religion? The only answer that I can come up with is the same answer that Coyne gave, it is saying “See, they are just as bad as we are”.

Also, Staddon defines religion in such a way that it becomes meaningless. According to Staddon, anyone with a set of moral rules belongs to a religion. Heck, if you follow the set of directions that comes with Ikea furniture then the directions are a religious text because they instruct you on what to do. It makes no sense.

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Exactly correct. I have the same reaction to those who say: “if God uses evolution to create life forms … then it’s not really evolution, it’s Creationism”!

I know a devout atheist, Patrick. :slightly_smiling_face:

And there’s this:

Why do you think there is a constant effort among some theists to define atheism as a religion?

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…atheists to deny it?

The theists just want the atheists to recognize reality.

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That doesn’t seem to be the case, in my estimation. It seems that the theists are projecting their own perceived weaknesses onto atheists.


Of course. (Recognition of reality is not a weakness.)

In order for atheism to be a religion you have to define religion in such a way that it loses all meaning. Do you think golf is a religion simply because it has rules that people follow?

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It was defined quite adequately above.

It was defined quite adequately above… by an academic.

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No, it wasn’t. If having a worldview is the same as being religious then the word “religion” has lost all meaning. Do you like vanilla ice cream more than chocolate? If yes, then you are part of a religion.

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It reminds me that @patrick calls me a “Christian secular humanist,” often saying I deserve an award for it. If an atheist can say that about me, and it is a common sentiment, then secular humanism is not a religion.

I wonder if that award has ever materialized for another Christian, or will for me? Has it? That would be very strong evidence that secular humanism is not a religion.


What an interesting topic! If I may jump in here, too. I think that there may (as is often the case here) be confusion stemming from terms not being completely defined. I say this because, in my mind, religion can be an incredibly broad layer or dimension of belief, but it has nothing to do with a “church” for instance.

So, if one is a pantheist, they may believe that everything is god. They might not have holy books or a meeting place or any structure at all, but this is their religion. I think that, in this way specifically, atheism is a religion too. But this label (religion) is impractical as @T_aquaticus points out, because it has no value, other than to describe a kind of belief that may affect one’s decision-making and analysis.

As a Christian, I rather enjoy it when the Spaghetti Monster people (for instance) engage themselves as a religion that is more in line with a “church.” As a Christian, I am precluded from saying and doing certain things in certain venues. Maybe this is why we over-emphasize the point that atheism is “religion” too… because then the shoe is on the other foot?

To be clear, I agree, technically, with the quote that @DaleCutler shared. I just don’t think that, practically speaking, atheism is a religion at least in the way that Christianity is one.

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Only if you really, really like vanilla.

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Coyne lays out several features that separate secular humanism from religious based moral systems.

  1. Morality among secular humanists varies widely compared to religions which have a defined moral system.

  2. Moral rules in religions are derived directly or indirectly from supernatural claims. This isn’t the case for secular humanism.

  3. Religious morality derives from interpreting God’s will. Obviously, this is not the case for secular humanism.

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That is not really right. That is not how Christian morals are understood.

@Patrick You are always talking about morals that come from your secular humanism. You speak of them as though they are fairly universal among your belief system. What say you here?

@T_aquaticus As for point two, is this not really the same for humanism. When Christians, for instance, claim that atheists have no basis for their morality, don’t humanists reply that they get them from the world? Of course you wouldn’t get them from a god that you deny exists, you would get them from what you claim does exist. I don’t see the real juxtaposition here. (And, I could just be seeing it incorrectly too. :slight_smile: )

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How is this so wrong?