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Advancing Humanism


Author(s): Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Publication (Outlet/Website): HerbSilverman.Com

Publication Date (yyyy/mm/dd): 2022/11/15

Scott Douglas Jacobsen: Are there any civilizations or periods in which humanist beliefs were simply not present in any way?

Dr. Herb Silverman: I think Humanist beliefs and values have always been present in every society, long before Humanism was defined. Many people have been and are humanists who hadn’t heard of Humanism. I used to be one of those people, as I suspect most Humanists were. Unfortunately, Humanism has not and does not dominate most cultures (think Nazi Germany, and authoritarian regimes today). 

Jacobsen: It claims Humanism as a culmination of these traditions of meaning, ethics, and reason. What does Humanism shed from other less effective traditions in the light of this culmination mentioned?

Silverman: Humanism sheds religious beliefs based on so-called “holy” books written thousands of years ago. Many well-meaning religious people pick and choose from their preferred ancient book and ignore embarrassing parts. They haven’t taken one addition step of rejecting their holy book and treating it as any other book where we keep the good parts and reject the bad parts. A friend who supports gay marriage pointed out that that the Bible has countless passages about social justice and only five that condemn homosexuality. He didn’t have a good answer when I asked how many condemnations of homosexuality it would take to reverse his position. Humanists don’t have rules etched in stone. We have principles and values written on paper, and some of our ideas might change through a continuing process of observation, learning, and rethinking. Reason usually hasn’t been present in religious traditions, and our ethics sometimes change as we learn more about how better to interact with and treat others. 

Jacobsen: As science is an epistemology and technology is ethically neutral, but comes out of discoveries from science, they followed in the footsteps of the other declarations about never using science and technology “callously or destructively”. How important is this note for human wellbeing and the species’ survival?

Silverman: Science and technology can be used wisely by Humanists, while considering human values. I first thought about this as a child when I read about Frankenstein (an example of science and technology gone haywire). We need to use science and technology to enhance human well-being, not simply because we have the technical know-how. Though we have lethal weapons, we should try to avoid using them. We should promote peace and peaceful negotiations whenever we can. I consider myself a pacifist, except for World War II.

Jacobsen: They emphasize something dear to me: The pursuit of a creative life. To me, this is core. I value the pursuit of creative and enjoyable pursuits of open discovery more than most things. For a life of fulfillment, have you found any limits in humanists known to you? 

Silverman: I think some Humanists can be too woke for me. Some insist that everybody proclaim which pronoun they identify with, and they criticize those who say “Black” instead of African-Americans. Those who try to restrict people from using language that others might find offensive should know that the antidote to offensive speech is your free speech right to rebut. I think Humanists acting too woke can be counterproductive when we try to bring others into the Humanist camp. I’m also concerned when Humanists publicly criticize other Humanists unfairly. One recent example is when the American Humanist Society took back the 1996 award to Richard Dawkins as Humanist of the Year, mostly because they disliked some of his tweets that they felt demeaned some marginalized groups. I think Dawkins has done more to bring atheism and humanism to countless Americans than any other individual. If the AHA stopped respecting Dawkins, they could just not give him any more awards. Such public rebuke, in my mind, was unconscionable. 

Jacobsen: The declaration ends on a fourth point. This is a shortlist, but comprehensive: ethics, rationality, fulfillment, and alternative meaning (signification) and purpose. They mention Humanism as an antidote to “dogmatic religion, authoritarian nationalism, tribal sectarianism, and selfish nihilism.” This is a full list. The demands on oneself are high with Humanism, but humane. That’s what I gather from this. The building of the better world is a recognition of both human refinement by oneself and others, and human fallibility to make mistakes and then to work to be better the next time around. How do you view this fourth point, especially in relation to the other points about ethics, rationality, and fulfillment? 

Silverman: I especially agree with the point that all humans, including Humanists, are fallible. That is why we try to learn from our mistakes, exchange ideas with other Humanists and people who are not (yet) Humanists. We can learn from others and sometimes change our own ideas. I like when this happens to me. By sharing our values with others, I think we can help build a better world.


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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