Betteridge’s law of headlines, part 2


Still no.

Do religious people realize how obvious their insecurities become when they try to define everything they don’t like as religion? I’ve previously written about one example here (“Evolution is religion; intelligent design is science“), and John Staddon, James B. Duke Professor of Psychology and Professor of Biology, Emeritus, at Duke University, has provided another.

As I wrote in part 1, Dr. Staddon is oblivious to the fact that his own argument refutes his central thesis, that secular humanism is a religion:

All religions have three elements. Secular humanism lacks one of those elements. This is the point at which an intellectually honest writer who was not committed to his thesis would reconsider his position. Dr. Staddon chooses another route: ignore the contradiction and stay the course.

I also said that Dr. Staddon’s article was “a hot mess of unsupported assertions, innuendos, and self-contradictions,” but I didn’t go into detail. This post is to give examples of what I meant.

The core of Dr. Staddon’s thesis is

Secular humanism makes moral claims as strong as any other faith. It is therefore as much a religion as any other.

Support for this thesis is mainly in the form of a series of unsupported assertions. Evidence is never given that the moral claims he attributes to secular humanism are actually part of its core beliefs, ascribed to by all its adherents, or treated as dogma by anyone at all.

He identifies some of these positions:

…belief in the innocence of abortion or the value of homosexuality, the “normality” of the LGBTQ+ community, [and] the essential sameness of men and women…

…a secular-humanist commandment as powerful as any of the familiar 10: the omnipotence of personal passions. The different status and social value of same-and different-sex liaisons, for example, is dwarfed by this personal imperative…

Secular humanists also have blasphemy rules. Dressing in blackface as a teenager or actually saying the N-word, even in an educational context, can lead to severe consequences…

Evidently toleration is not one of the secular humanist commandments, but Christianity as anathema is.

No evidence is given that these positions constitute “commandments”, “blasphemy rules”, or are otherwise essential to secular humanism. Certainly some secular humanists believe some of these things, at least when you tone down the hysterical hyperbole. Yes, some secular humanists believe that abortion should be legal. So do some Christians. Yes, some secular humanists believe that members of the LGBTQ+ community should have the same legal and societal rights as other humans. So do some Christians. I could go on, but I trust that you get the point. Dr. Staddon’s central claims in support of his thesis are themselves unsupported assertions.

I also said the article included innuendos. Here’s what I meant:

…both religion and secular humanism provide motives, explicit in one case, but covert in the other…

The covert nature of these [secular-humanist] principles is a disadvantage in some ways, but a great advantage in the political/legal context.

and later,

As it is, many passionate, “religious” beliefs of secular candidates go undetected and unquestioned. Thus, they become law by stealth.

This is some conspiracy-theory level bullshit. Secular humanists pull society’s strings, hiding from scrutiny by keeping our beliefs secret. In reality, what has happened in each of these cases is that compelling arguments from people with diverse backgrounds and points of view have won out in the free marketplace of ideas. Sounds a lot less sinister when you put it that way, doesn’t it.

Finally, I said that there were self-contradictions in Dr. Staddon’s article. Part 1 was entirely about one of these self-contradictions: secular humanism fails, by his own account, one of Dr. Staddon’s own criteria for religions, but he still concludes that it is a religion. That contradiction is the more important one, as it effectively undercuts his core argument. This one is just funny:

Because secular-humanist morals cannot be easily identified, they cannot be easily attacked.

But Dr. Staddon has identified them! The article spends five paragraphs describing secular-humanist morals, and then complains that secular humanist’s political and social power derives from the secrecy of our beliefs.

What I want to know is how Dr. Staddon knows all of this. Is he a former secular humanist, or is someone within the organization leaking our secret documents? We don’t usually reveal our core beliefs to anyone below OI (Operating Instar) 8, long after we’ve forced initiates to cut ties with anyone outside of CSH (Church of Secular Humanism). Obviously, Dr. Staddon is an OP (Oppressive Person), but we need to investigate and have anyone who aided him declared OP as well. He has blasphemed against BAWR (Bertrand A. W. Russell), and he should be “handled” by ODE (Office of Doctrinal Enforcement).


  1. brucegee1962 says

    I particularly like this article side-by-side with the ones that you talked about a few weeks ago (“Intelligent design advocates tell me what I believe”). So apparently atheism has two major problems. One, we have no moral code whatsoever. And two, we have a moral code that is rigidly enforced on all our members.

    These people need to get together and figure out what we believe so they can inform us once and for all.

  2. says

    Those assertions were hilarious. I just love it when Christians tell me what I believe.

    A few months ago I made a poster with words “Religions are nothing special.” The idea was that the legal status of various religious organizations shouldn’t differ from the legal status of secular organizations, in other words, religions shouldn’t be given any privileges, because they aren’t in any way more special than various other ideas behind which humans create organizations.

    A Lutheran guy censored my poster, claiming that I’m objectively wrong, because religions are special. He tried to make an argument that atheism must be special for me; that for me my lack of belief must be as important as religion is for a believer. That was amusing, I just love being told what I believe or how I feel about things in my life, after all, others know better what’s important for me.

    I sometimes get the feeling that religious people cannot even comprehend how their silly superstitions might be unimportant for nonbelievers. Or how somebody could have no religion. Thus they keep on insisting that atheism must be a religion.

  3. brucegee1962 says

    The comments on that Quilette article are amusing. Lots of libertarian bros saying “butbutbut…I’m an atheist, and I don’t believe any of that stuff! And, and, Pinker and Harris don’t either!” Well, I guess for once they have a point. Maybe we can let them and the theist types fight it out, and just eat popcorn in the corner.

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