When I was in high-school my friend played soccer. He was one of the fastest runners on the team, but due to a particular set of circumstances, he was considered untrustworthy with the ball. One situation, in particular, cemented his role as anything but a ball handler.
He had recently joined the team without ever having played before. His team was in control of the ball after the half. When the ball was kicked to him, he drove it downfield without any opposition. Proud of himself, thinking it was because of his wicked speed, he took it right to the edge of the goal box and shot for a point. It went he made the shot and turned to celebrate but immediately saw that something was wrong. The befuddled look on his teammate’s faces and the cheering from the opposition let him know that he had just scored, not for his team but the other.
Unfortunately, he had misunderstood that the teams change directions at the half. The goal he scored stood and, in fact, cost his team the game. He was considered a self-defeating player and hardly ever got the ball again.
In a similar way, there are Secular Humanist statements that are self-defeating. It might be valuable to know what it means to be self-defeating like it would have been valuable to know that the teams change directions at the half. Here are some examples of self-defeating statements.
Sally says in English, “I don’t know a word of English,”
Bob claims, “There is absolutely nothing absolute.”
Beth says, “Stop making noise, I’m asleep.”
John declares, “I’m not speaking to you right now.”
One such self-contradictory statement is this: “Knowledge of the world is derived by observation, experimentation, and rational analysis. Humanists find that science is the best method for determining this knowledge…”1 This claim may seem reasonable on the surface but is self-defeating when turned in on itself.
First we must recognize, that for the Secular Humanist the material world is all that is known to exist. Therefore, “knowledge of the world,” as the manifesto puts it, is the only kind of knowledge that is available. This means that “of the world” is redundant and can be rendered as simply, “knowledge.”
Secondly, Science can be defined as, observation, experimentation, and rational analysis. Once again, the second line, “Science is the best method for determining this knowledge,” is redundant. This dual layered statement is basically saying, “Knowledge is derived by science, and science is the best method for gaining this knowledge.” Since the second line is a repeat, in less definite terms, of the first, it can be removed. Once we’ve reduced this statement to it’s basic parts it can be rendered the following way:
Science is the source of knowledge.
How do we know this? From where came the knowledge, that science is the source of knowledge? What scientific experiment could be done to demonstrate this? The scientific method can only analyze that which is subordinate to it. Science cannot be subordinate to itself. There could be no scientific experiments able to prove this statement. Therefore, since it could not have come from science, it should not be considered “knowledge.”
The scientific process is subordinate to humans. It takes a human to do the observation and analysis. What is the nature, then, of the statement, science is the only source of knowledge? It is a statement of metaphysics, not science. It is a statement that falls into the realm of philosophy. It could even be called a statement of faith.
While it may be all of these things, it is primarily an opinion and lies in a place where pure science can not tread. So, while an individual may state his opinion, that opinion cannot come from the scientific method, because the statement lies outside the scope of what science can do. Since this rule can only come from somewhere other than the “best” source of knowledge, which is science, it should be considered dubious. Therefore, there is no assurance that science is the best source of reliable knowledge, because the statement is self-defeating.
We should remember that everything a scientist says, is not science. When a scientists speaks on subjects that fall into his field of expertise, and have been experimented upon that can well be considered science. However, when a scientists talks about his favorite football team, or beer, or pizza topping it should be recognized as something other than science. Even if that scientist brings his scientific sensibilities to the conversation, it does not necessarily make his statements science. For something to be science, it must abide by the methods laid out by the scientific method. Everything else is an opinion. Even if a scientist says that “science is the only source of knowledge,” we must recognize that, since this statement lies outside the boundaries of the scientific method, it is an opinion of metaphysical nature, not science.
There is a deeper problem with this statement still. Science is not an autonomous entity. Science is only animated by the hands and minds of people. Therefore, science is subject to humankind. Humankind is subject to limitations, and opinions.
I have a friend named Justin Ray who received his Ph.D. from Carnegie Mellon years ago. While he was a Ph. D. student he who once told me, “if you get any two experts in a given field, in the same room, they will quickly find that they disagree on everything.” Obviously, Dr. Ray is not the first to notice this. Often to the general public, science presented as a unified front of agreement. However, the molten core of scientific development is driven by disagreement. This is ultimately what we want. Debate and reconsideration of every idea is good for the scientific process. However, it’s important that we understand that this is the nature of scientific study. This is especially true of the researchers who are on the cutting edge.
As far as we know, science is solely a human pursuit. Until we discover cats doing fur experiments we will assume that only Humans do science. That means that science is subject to Humans alone. If science is subject to man, and naturalism is true, it means that what the pre-Socratic philosopher Protagoras said is true, “Man is the measure of all things.”
This obviously renders Secular Humanism’s claim to truth subjective. Although the Secular Humanist may claim some form of objectivity, there is not foundation for this claim. The epistemological foundation of Secular Humanism is flawed, because it can only ensure subjective reality as measured by humans, even if it otherwise.
1 Humanist Manifesto III