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This Week in Humanism 2018–05–06


Author(s): Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Publication (Outlet/Website): Medium (Humanist Voices)

Publication Date (yyyy/mm/dd): 2018/05/06

“One of the significant shifts of our time is towards social liberalism and humanism. Liberalism is premised on the principle of unregulated individual discretion, so long as there is consent and no threat of harm to anyone else. Humanism is the primacy attached to the human agency; the belief that humans can, in and of themselves, establish normative laws, codes of ethics, and value systems without recourse to divine authority. Both these trends are products of the enlightenment period that extolled human intellect and scientific empiricism as necessary instruments to raise the quality of the human condition.

The fruits from this reason-driven enlightened view of the world are undeniable. It lifted Europe, hitherto sunk in ancient feuds of antiquity, out of the dark ages, while the rest of the planet staggered from the ball and chain of medieval thinking. Over time, the ‘Western’ way of life became the grand template against which all else was compared. Today, people in developing countries stretch their inherited identities as far as the laws of physics and biology allow, simply to pass off as Western.

Without a doubt, the deliverances of a system that elevates the virtues of human rights, liberties, and rational thought are tempting. The US declaration of independence captures this as much: ‘life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness’. Surprising then, despite such heady declarations, the US is nowhere in sight among the world’s happiest countries. A single glance at this ‘city on a hill’ reveals a range of pathologies: school shootings, angry white cops doing target practice on blacks, deaths by medication overdose, deaths by suicide, high rates of depression, hyper-anxiety, and a chilling endemic of loneliness.”


Scottish TV presenter Carol Smillie has been confirmed as a new Humanist Society Scotland celebrant.

The 56-year-old former Changing Rooms and Postcode Challenge host is one of seven new celebrants to join the society to provide Humanist funerals and naming ceremonies.

She will join a network of over 125 celebrants across Scotland as part the national Humanist charity.

Carol, who led her first funeral on Wednesday, is delighted to be part of the team.

She said: “I am delighted to be part of the Humanist Society Scotland celebrant team.

“I have already found the experience of delivering the first funeral a real privilege in supporting the family involved.”


“Members of the House of Representatives and organizations promoting atheism, agnosticism and humanism announced the creation this week of the Congressional Freethought Caucus.

The new caucus comes as the religious “nones” — those who claim no religious affiliation — jumped from 16 percent of the U.S. population in 2007 to nearly 23 percent in 2014, according to the latest Pew data

“Our democracy is impoverished, and the quality of our political candidates is diminished, if a quarter of the population is effectively banned from the electoral arena,” said Ron Millar, political and PAC coordinator at the Center for Freethought Equality.

“This caucus will help end discrimination against nontheist candidates and elected officials, allow candidates and elected officials to be authentic about their religious beliefs” — and encourage atheists, agnostics and humanists to consider runs for political office, he said.”


“ Sir: A case for the promotion of humanist values in Jos cannot be overemphasized because, for over a decade, the value of humanity in this central Nigerian city and its neighbourhoods has been under vicious assault.

This assault has scared the social conscience and greatly undermined the idea of a common humanity.

A case for a re-discovery or better a restoration of humanity has become so compelling. Unfortunately, religious extremists and ethnic bigots, blinded by their dark and destructive visions have been on the offensive.”


“Big Tech is sorry. After decades of rarely apologising for anything, Silicon Valley suddenly seems to be apologising for everything. They are sorry about the trolls. They are sorry about the bots. They are sorry about the fake news and the Russians, and the cartoons that are terrifying your kids on YouTube. But they are especially sorry about our brains.

Sean Parker, the former president of Facebook — who was played by Justin Timberlake in The Social Network — has publicly lamented the “unintended consequences” of the platform he helped create: “God only knows what it’s doing to our children’s brains.” Justin Rosenstein, an engineer who helped build Facebook’s “like” button and Gchat, regrets having contributed to technology that he now considers psychologically damaging, too. “Everyone is distracted,” Rosenstein says. “All of the time.”

Ever since the internet became widely used by the public in the 1990s, users have heard warnings that it is bad for us. In the early years, many commentators described cyberspace as a parallel universe that could swallow enthusiasts whole. The media fretted about kids talking to strangers and finding porn. A prominent 1998 study from Carnegie Mellon University claimed that spending time online made you lonely, depressed and antisocial.”


“My other books have generated interest — The Better Angels of Our Nature, and The Blank Slate — but nothing like this.’ Steven Pinker is in the middle of an afternoon of back-to-back interviews. Again. It is fair to say his new book Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism and Progress has touched a cultural nerve. Some, such as Microsoft founder and philanthropist Bill Gates who declared it ‘my new favourite book of all time’, have been inspired, while others have been piqued. One prominent Guardian columnist even went so far as to declare it ‘contrary to reason’.

It is not hard to see why it has proved so polarising. Pinker, a cognitive psychologist and linguist by training, and a public intellectual by inclination, has mounted a defence of what he identifies as the key Enlightenment principles of reason, science and humanism — and he has done so on practical and evidential as much as philosophical ground. They are important, he argues, because they have worked to our collective betterment. Thanks to our adherence to ideas first formulated during the Enlightenment, our lives over the past 250 years have improved by every conceivable measure — we are wealthier, healthier; we are more equal, more knowledgeable; we enjoy greater peace, greater security. We are therefore in the midst of and enjoying clear, quantifiable progress. To those loyal to reason, humanism and indeed liberalism Enlightenment Now reads like a vindication. To adherents of environmentalism and identity-obsessed particularism, it reads like a reprimand.

Look beyond the polemics, however, and you will find Enlightenment Now to be an edifying, quietly impassioned book. And, while it contains an element of uplift, its impetus is principally critical — critical of the resurgent counter-Enlightenment, of those who would sacrifice the pursuit of truth at the altar of politics, of the anti-science sentiments now gaining ground. To discuss some of these elements of Enlightenment Now, we spoke to the man himself.”



In-Sight Publishing by Scott Douglas Jacobsen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. Based on a work at


© Scott Douglas Jacobsen and In-Sight Publishing 2012-Present. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Scott Douglas Jacobsen and In-Sight Publishing with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. All interviewees and authors co-copyright their material and may disseminate for their independent purposes.

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