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Free of Charge 5 – “Humanist Manifesto III,” Humanism, Humaneness, and Meaning


Author(s): Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Publication (Outlet/Website): In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal

Publication Date (yyyy/mm/dd): 2020/12/08


Dr. Herb Silverman is the Founder of the Secular Coalition for America, the Founder of the Secular Humanists of the Lowcountry, and the Founder of the Atheist/Humanist Alliance student group at the College of Charleston. He authored Complex variables (1975), Candidate Without a Prayer: An Autobiography of a Jewish Atheist in the Bible Belt (2012) and An Atheist Stranger in a Strange Religious Land: Selected Writings from the Bible Belt (2017). He co-authored The Fundamentals of Extremism: The Christian Right in America (2003) with Kimberley Blaker and Edward S. Buckner, Complex Variables with Applications (2007) with Saminathan Ponnusamy, and Short Reflections on Secularism (2019), Short Reflections on American Secularism’s History and Philosophy (2020), and Short Reflections on Age and Youth (2020). He discusses: Humanist Manifesto III; a “progressive philosophy of life”; negating consideration of the supernatural; the core principles of Humanism; “consensus of what we do believe” as part of the orientation of the document; a “critical intelligence”; “nature as self-existing”; limiting human ethics to human experience; and our life is “ours and ours alone.”

Keywords: Herb Silverman, Free of Charge, freethought, Humanism, Humanist Manifesto III.

Free of Charge 5 – “Humanist Manifesto III,” Humanism, Humaneness, and Meaning

*Please see the footnotes, bibliography, and citation style listing after the interview.*

Scott Douglas Jacobsen: Humanist Manifesto III (2003) provided a succinct manifestation of modern Humanism. In turn, this both represents a more well-understood philosophical stance and a more concise statement as to the core of the concept “Humanism.” In this interview, I want to cover some of the modern conceptualizations of modern Humanism, as an evolution from 1933 to 2003. What was the inspiration for this updated document?

Dr. Herb Silverman[1],[2]: The updated third document was expected, as was the updated second document, without knowing in advance what dates they would come. The first Manifesto was written in 1933, the second in 1973, and the third in 2003. Similarly, the founders who wrote the US Constitution understood that their document was not perfect and allowed for future amendments. As we learn more about the world and best practices for humans, we update manifestos. After all, these manifestos are written on paper by humans, not written on stone tablets by an alleged deity. There undoubtedly will be a fourth manifesto, but I can’t say when.

Jacobsen: What does “without supernaturalism” mean in the context of a “progressive philosophy of life”?

Silverman: “Without supernaturalism” means no belief in any gods. It also includes no belief in reincarnation or magic crystals, not fearing black cats crossing your path or dread of Friday the 13th or the number 666. A rabbit’s foot or knocking on wood does not bring good luck. In other words, no superstitious beliefs of any kind. So we need a philosophy of life without superstition. One can have such a philosophy without being a progressive, but the humanist philosophy incorporates progressivism. It is based on the idea of progress, incorporating advances in science and technology, and advocating for social reforms and social organizations, all vital to improve the human condition.

Jacobsen: How does negating consideration of the supernatural change thinking about “our ability and responsibility to lead ethical lives of personal fulfillment that aspire to the greater good of humanity”?

Silverman: Most people want to lead ethical lives, but folks disagree about how best to do it. Some rely on so-called “holy” books written during the Bronze Age by scientifically ignorant men. Their ideas of ethics might include discriminating against gays, beating disobedient children, not allowing women to have responsible positions, punishing blasphemers and heretics, and advocating for holy wars to capture land promised by “God.” Being free of the supernatural, we can use available evidence to help decide what actions might be for the greater good of humanity.

Jacobsen: Why are the core principles of Humanism reason, compassion, and experience? Why is non-dogmatism, as in “values and ideals… subject to change as our knowledge and understandings advance,” a key distinction from most religious stances?

Silverman: As with most people, humanists appreciate the ability to reason. Part of what we want to do with our reason is learn how to help make the world a better place. This entails empathizing with others and showing compassion toward those less fortunate than ourselves. We learn from our mistakes and, hopefully, improve on how best to act. When tied to a never changing, dogmatic, religious book, principles become more difficult to change or improve.

Jacobsen: It stipulates “consensus of what we do believe” as part of the orientation of the document. How does this universality differ from the other ethics devoted to the transcendent? How does this universality still permit individual deviance of expression?

Silverman: Humanists are not all required to believe the same thing, which explains individual deviance of expression. However, there does seems to be a consensus about certain things that most humanists agree on. They include these beliefs: Knowledge of the world is derived by observation, experimentation, and rational analysis; humans are an integral part of nature, the result of unguided evolutionary change; ethical values are derived from human need and interest as tested by experience; working to benefit society maximizes individual happiness.

“Transcendent” usually refers to religion, where a transcendent god has powers independent of the material universe and outside of nature. Some people feel they have experienced transcendence by overcoming the limitations of physical existence through things like prayer, meditation, psychedelics, and paranormal visions. Such transcendent experiences, which can’t be measured, do bring some comfort to many people.

Jacobsen: Why is science “the best method for determining this knowledge as well as for solving problems and developing beneficial technologies”? What is a “critical intelligence” in this sense? How does freedom of thought work better, or more freely rather, in this humanistic framework?

Silverman: Science is empirical, meaning based on observations of nature, and it is potentially falsifiable by new observations of nature. In other words, new evidence can lead us to revise scientific theories. We know how to distinguish good scientific ideas from bad ones. Science relies on experimentation, testing, and skepticism. It thrives on disagreement and on a willingness to question assumptions critically, while we search for evidence until a consensus is reached. That’s why scientific truths are the same in Pakistan, the United States, Israel, or India, though their citizens may have very different religious beliefs. And scientists will change their views when the evidence warrants. To me, critical intelligence means we should carefully and critically examine our reasoning and our conclusions to eliminate errors. We should be free to pose any questions, regardless of how counter they are to what others might think, and then try to provide answers based on evidence.

Jacobsen: Why do humanists posit “nature as self-existing” rather than existing contingent on some transcendent object or metaphysical being?

Silverman: There is absolutely no evidence for a transcendent object or metaphysical being, and we have a pretty good understanding of nature through Darwin’s theory of evolution. We know how nature can exist without the need of a transcendent object or metaphysical being

Jacobsen: How does limiting human ethics to human experience help simplify and clarify a humane ethic in Humanism? Why are “peace, justice, and opportunity for all,” more attainable by this methodology, of ethics, than their transcendentalist counterparts? Does this include an opportunity for all to speak their mind or write down their thoughts?

Silverman: Basing human ethics on what we know from experience, rather than on what we don’t know, certainly makes more sense. Applying certain transcendent or religious precepts to everyone is too limiting, since we have no objective way to test if we have the one “true” religion. We learn through human experience and the efforts of thoughtful people throughout history how to work toward the ideals we hope to achieve. We also know that some of our values might change as our knowledge and understandings advance.

Jacobsen: Ultimately, why does this mean our life is “ours and ours alone,” our mind’s ability for freethought of thought?

Silverman: No one else, certainly no transcendent being, is responsible for our life. We must take personal responsibility for how we live, not give credit to an imagined deity for our good fortune or blame satanic forces when we behave poorly. We are free to think about whatever comes into our mind, but we are not necessarily free to act out all our thoughts. We can choose our actions as long as they don’t infringe on the freedoms of others. As the saying goes, your freedom to swing your fist ends at my nose.

Jacobsen: Thank you for the opportunity and your time, Dr. Silverman.

Silverman: Thank you.

Appendix I: Footnotes

[1] Founder, Secular Coalition for America;Founder, Secular Humanists of the Low Country; Founder, Atheist/Humanist Alliance, College of Charleston.

[2] Individual Publication Date: December 8, 2020:; Full Issue Publication Date: January 1, 2021:


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


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