Debate between Matt Slick and Matt Dilahunty on "Is Secular Humanism superior to Christianity?"

by Matt Slick
10/4/2016

The following is my original written statement from which I read during my debate with Matt Dillahunty on October 2, 2016 in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. If you watch the video and compare at to this opening statement you will slight modifications here and there as I adjusted my opening statement in light of some of the comments that Matt made in his opening statement since he went before me. Nevertheless, this is what I had written beforehand.

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Is Secular Humanism superior to Christianity?

What is important to understand about this debate is that it is philosophical in nature. We are seeking to find truth, meaning, and knowledge as they relate to ideologies. We are comparing two worldviews: secular humanism and Christianity.

So, the Debate Topic is in the form of the question, “Is secular humanism superior to Christianity?” Since Matt Dillahunty has the affirmative position, he went first and his intention was to show the superiority of his secular humanism.

Now, in order for one thing to be superior to another, we must have common categories so that a comparison can be made. And, this comparison should avoid logical fallacies and emotional appeals.

We also need a standard by which we can judge among those categories. But the standard cannot be arbitrary and it must compatible with both worldviews.

Okay, so what is Secular Humanism?

In an email exchange, Mr. Dilahunty defines Secular Humanism as, “A worldview that seeks to discover and utilize the best methods to encourage ethical, robust, productive human interactions and societies by appealing to naturalistic evidence and reasoned arguments instead of religious dogma or supernatural foundations.”

Mr. Dillahunty also told me in a phone conversation that he was a secular humanist and that the website secularhumanism.org, for the most part, represented his position.

On that website it states that secular humanism is

  • A Naturalistic Philosophy: “Secular humanism is philosophically naturalistic. It holds that nature (the world of everyday physical experience) is all there is, and that reliable knowledge is best obtained when we query nature using the scientific method. Naturalism asserts that supernatural entities like God do not exist, and warns us that knowledge gained without appeal to the natural world and without impartial review by multiple observers is unreliable."
  • A cosmic outlook rooted in science: “a world-view in the broadest sense, grounding our lives in the context of our universe and relying on methods demonstrated by science. Secular humanists see themselves as undesigned, unintended beings who arose through evolution, possessing unique attributes of self-awareness and moral agency.”
  • A consequentialist ethical system: “Secular humanists hold that ethics is consequential, to be judged by results…Secular humanists seek to develop and improve their ethical principles by examining the results they yield in the lives of real men and women.”1

Okay so, secular humanism seeks to deal with the issues regarding our realm of existence, our realm of knowledge, and our realm of ethics. So, we have common categories to work with since Christianity also deals with these same issues.

But how do we determine which one is superior to another? This is a philosophical question that is more difficult to answer.

Now, in the physical realm, tests can be developed to discover superiority between phenomena such as finding out which car is faster or which steel beam is stronger. But superiority, to some extent, deals with subjective preference since what may be superior, in my opinion, among objects might not comport with your view of superiority. Therefore, if one thing is to be superior over another, it cannot be based on subjective preferences.

At this point, I propose that one philosophical position cannot be superior to another, no matter what criteria we use to determine superiority, if that philosophical position is self- refuting.

If we agree that a self-refuting system is not superior to a non-self-refuting system, then the issue of superiority becomes somewhat moot. But, not completely, because that which is self-refuting is by definition inferior to that which is not self-refuting. So, whether or not we can come to a specifically accepted, non-subjective definition of “superior”, in the context of our philosophical debate about philosophical positions, that which is self-refuting is automatically inferior to that which is not self-refuting.

Now, as a Christian I affirm that unbelievers can use the laws of logic, though I do not believe they can account for them. But that is an argument for another time. We all should be able to apply logic in our discussions and learn about truth. After all, you all came here to hear a rational discussion.

Internal consistency

To reiterate, if something is self-refuting, it cannot be superior to something that is not self-refuting since that which is self-refuting cannot be true.

A naturalistic philosophy is self-refuting

On the secular humanist website, as I quoted earlier, it says that humanism is “philosophically naturalistic in hopes that nature (the world of everyday physical experience) is all there is...” and that “Naturalism asserts that supernatural entities like God do not exist.”

Notice the use of the word “hope.” So, secular humanism hopes that the natural world is all there is? Why would the subjectivity of “hope” be inserted into a definition of a position if the position is to be philosophically rational?

Furthermore, if the physical world is all there is and, as Matt Dillahunty says, no “religious dogma or supernatural foundations” are allowed, then the physical realm must be said to be controlled by the laws of physics, chemistry, motion, matter, etc. Therefore, when we look at the human brain, some serious issues arise.

You see, if our physical brains are limited to operating under the laws of physics and chemistry, then we need to ask how such a physical mechanism produces proper logical inference. In other words, how does one chemical state in the brain that leads to another chemical state in the brain produce proper logical inference? When baking soda reacts with vinegar, does it produce logic? Of course not. Now, the brain is far more complex than that for it contains many chemicals and complex wiring. But still, chemical reactions don’t produce logic and complex wiring just means is more complex reactions. But all of them operate under the laws of physics… And, this is important, the laws of logic are not the same thing as the laws of physics.” Not derived from physical laws.

This is a serious problem in secular humanism. It means that in this naturalistic perspective you cannot trust your brain to produce proper logical inference because it’s just reacting chemically. This means that you cannot trust secular humanism to be true because you don’t know if what you believe in secular humanism is anything more than chemical reactions producing a result. Therefore, the secular humanist position which presupposes naturalism without God, which operate on the laws of physics and chemistry, undermines its own position. It is, therefore, inconsistent with itself and refutes itself.

In the Christian Worldview

On the other hand, in the Christian worldview human minds are not limited to the physical realm. We believe that our minds are different than our brains, though our brains affect our minds. In the Christian perspective, since we are made in the image of God (Genesis 1:26), and we are able to think God’s thoughts after him (i.e., be logical), we are able to provide a reason for trusting our logical inferences because we work from the position that we as persons are not limited to the laws of physics and neurochemical wiring. We escape that logical problem.

You may or may not agree with this position, but at least it’s not self-refuting, whereas the Secular Humanist assumption that nature is all there is, without God being part of the equation leads to doubt about one’s own logical abilities, and undermines the validity of secular humanism.

Second Point

As I quoted earlier, regarding the second common category, the secular humanism.org website says that secular humanism holds to...

A cosmic outlook rooted in science: “a world-view in the broadest sense, grounding our lives in the context of our universe and relying on methods demonstrated by science. Secular humanists see themselves as undesigned, unintended beings who arose through evolution, possessing unique attributes of self-awareness and moral agency.” (ibid)

I’d like to state here that before I became a Christian I wanted to be a marine biologist. I have always enjoyed science and still watch science-based documentaries and I regularly read the science section of various news websites.

To me, science is wonderful. I thoroughly enjoy its benefits and I have great faith in the ability of science to produce further technological breakthroughs and improvements of life.

But, science is a philosophy. It is an idea imposed upon the physical realm by people in order to figure things out. The question I want to ask is, can secular humanism justify the imposition of science upon that physical realm as a proper means for acquiring knowledge about our realm? Please understand me. I’m not saying secular humanists can’t use science.

My issue deals with the intellectual justification of science, which I do not believe the secular humanist position can accomplish.

First of all, science, basically defined, is the process of gaining knowledge about our world where observations are made, hypotheses are formed, tests are developed to validate or invalidate the hypotheses, the hypotheses are then modified based on those tests, and in the event that predictability is obtained, the hypotheses becomes a theory, and our knowledge base is expanded.

But this scientific method is based on philosophical assumptions. First of all, it assumes the validity of the laws of logic. Now, the laws of logic are not testable via science. They must be assumed. But if science is the method by which we know things and learn things, then it cannot be the thing we use to validate logic. After all, the scientific method has to presuppose the validity of logic in order to carry out logical experiments. You don’t take a photograph of logical processes. You don’t freeze them. You don’t put them in a jar. Instead the secular humanist, same as a Christian, must presuppose their validity, and to do so is a philosophical undertaking. Therefore, at the very basic level, the scientific method is a philosophical approach to a material world.

Now don’t get me wrong, we Christians also assume the validity the laws of logic. But at least we can justify them. We say that they are rooted in the mind of God who is absolute and omnipresent which is why we can use them with confidence and trust their universal consistency. But, that too, is a subject for another debate.

Second, science presupposes the regularity of nature. Now, no scientist knows the exact nature of reality. He or she can only perform experiments and hope to understand how the properties of matter behave. In doing this, scientists must assume that the universe will behave the same way in different locations at different times because that is how nature works. But, what justifies that assumption? No scientist has experienced the future. No scientist has tested all the physical realm to validate its uniformity and thereby demonstrate that they know how the universe works.

To assume that because things have behaved consistently in the past, they will also behave consistently in the future, is to beg the question. It is to assume the very thing you are trying to prove. Begging the question is a serious logical fallacy in this regard and this demonstrates the philosophical weakness of the secular humanist position.

To summarize, secular humanism, presupposes the validity of the scientific method, presupposes the validity of the laws of logic and the uniformity of nature. But these are assumptions that cannot be justified as being true by the scientific method. At best, secular humanists must have faith in their philosophical assumptions about science.

Christianity has an answer to these problems.

On the other hand, in Christianity since God exists and made the universe, and since we understand that God is the same yesterday today and forever (Malachi 3:6), and since we know that God does not deceive us (Titus 1:2), we can trust that the universe is made in a consistent and predictable manner, and that we can apply the laws of logic (which reflect his absolute perfect and ordered mind) in order to learn about the world we live in. In fact, this very belief was a necessary precondition that it made science possible in the Middle Ages. Scientists, who were Christians, trusted that God would not trick them, that nature was consistent since it was made by God, and that they could use logic.

Ethics

Again let me quote the secular humanist website regarding ethics. It says that “Secular humanists hold that ethics is consequential, to be judged by results…Secular humanists seek to develop and improve their ethical principles by examining the results they yield in the lives of real men and women.”

Now, I know that Mr. Dillahunty affirms consequentialism because it states on his wiki.ironchariots site that, “Actions are judged based on their likely consequences (consequentialism).”

Okay, so consequentialist ethics says that you must judge the consequences of an action in order to determine its ethical value. But, how do you do that? What criteria do you use to judge which consequences are good or bad? If, for example, the consequentialist says that the standard of good and bad is that which reduces harm, then consequentialism is refuted since it assumes the evaluation of harm is the standard by which consequentialism is justified. But this is to appeal to something other than itself. It’s a vicious circle. It’s like saying the consequences of an action are judged by how much harm it causes, and we use harm to judge whether consequences are good or bad. This his begging the question. It says that it is immoral to cause harm and that causing harm is immoral.

Now, generally speaking, in consequentialism the reduction of harm is the standard by which the proper result is determined. How do we know that the reduction of harm is good, because we say that it is good, because that is what people want? But, this is subjective since it is a standard based on opinions. Therefore, it is arbitrary. Therefore, it is not rational. Therefore, should not be trusted.

Just because people say something is true doesn’t mean it is true. Just because a majority of people agree that something is true does not make it true, either. Therefore, the arguments for consequentialism distill down to arbitrary subjectivism and that is not the basis of rational justification.

Furthermore, consequentialism can lead to immorality. For example, let’s say that there is a woman who is in a coma in a hospital. A man is working at the hospital, and he rapes her. No one ever finds out and the woman is not injured emotionally, mentally, or physically. After all, she is completely unaware of the event. So, since the consequences were not harmful and since he was sexually satisfied, there is, so to speak, a positive overall effect where no harm is done and pleasure is increased. From the consequentialist perspective, was that rape right or wrong? If the consequences were good for the man and no harm suffered to the woman, then such a rape is morally good. In this, consequentialism can support immorality… In this case, rape.

But if a secular humanist says that the rape is morally wrong, then he is abandoning consequentialism, because he is appealing to the inherent immorality of that particular action. But inherent immorality is not consequentialist. So, that’s a problem and it exposes yet another inconsistency in secular humanism.

In Christianity we have an answer

Rape is wrong in Christianity because God has revealed that to rape a woman in such a case is inherently immoral - whether or not anyone finds out about it. It is wrong because it goes against the holy nature of God who tells us that since we are made in his image, we are to grant honor and respect to one another. Rape, of course, is not honorable.

Conclusion

In three critical areas of philosophical importance, secular humanism has been shown to be weak and even self-refuting.

First of all, it undermines rationality when it restricts the human brain to the laws of physics and chemistry. Since the laws of logic are not the same thing as the laws of physics and chemistry, and since it does not seem possible to demonstrate that one chemical state that changes to another chemical state in the brain produces proper logical inference, then the very basis of secular humanism is undermined because it implies you cannot trust your physical brain to produce proper logical inference. It only produces neuro-chemical reactions governed by the laws of physics and chemistry. So, you can’t know if its true or not.

Second, secular humanism begs the question by presupposing the validity of the scientific method as a proper approach for determining knowledge. You can’t use the scientific method to validate the scientific method without begging the question. Furthermore, those who use the scientific method, must presuppose the validity and universality of the laws of logic as well as the uniformity of nature. But, these are philosophical assumptions not determined by the scientific method. Therefore, the very scientific method secular humanism espouses to determine truth, cannot determine its own truth. It must be held on faith since no scientist has tested all possible events in the future by which you can determine that future in all areas of the universe, will behave in the same way as present events at his location. Therefore, he enters the intellectual arena with philosophical assumptions he cannot validate. This also weakens the secular humanist position.

Third, the philosophical position of consequentialist ethics can lead to the promotion of immorality as I illustrated in the case of the comatose woman being raped. Furthermore, it begs the question, which is a logical fallacy, by assuming the consequences are what should be judged for right and wrong. In other words, it assumes right and wrong by the consequences and the consequences are what determine right and wrong. This is circular, self-refuting, and begging the question. It is invalid.

Finally, since secular humanism is philosophically self-refuting in these ways, it cannot be philosophically true. Since our debate is a philosophical one, and since self-refuting systems cannot be true, then secular humanism fails to demonstrate superiority since it refutes itself. Yet, Christianity can provide the philosophical foundation to justify our rationality, knowledge, science, ethics, and more. Secular humanism, therefore, is not superior to Christianity.

  

 

 

  • 1. https://www.secularhumanism.org/index.php/3260
 
 

About The Author

Matt Slick is the President and Founder of the Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry.