Sunday, May 15, 2011

Humanism: A Very Short Introduction by Stephen Law

An excellent introduction to humanism, primarily as it contrasts with standard religious beliefs. Law concisely and smartly covers a brief history, the arguments for existence of God, the arguments against existence of God, religious vs. humanist morality, the meaning of life, and other related social and cultural issues. Humanism is rigorous on the philosophical arguments and logical implications of different beliefs as well as related complexities, despite the brevity of the work.
That said, it wasn’t quite what I was seeking; most of the content was well-worn territory given my other readings, so there was some disappointment. I wanted more about humanism itself, a history of actions and people and its changes over time. The work was not without merit as I appreciated having some nuance added to my argumentative repertoire. For example, Law provides a deeper examination of the ‘Evil God’ hypothesis and contrasts it with the refutations the religious often use to support the notion of an Omnipotent, Omni-benevolent God. By showing one could make a (still-flawed) case either way, he highlights the problematic nature of the entire argument. Further, the idea of not being able to be good without God dismisses hundreds of millions of Asian people who are not atheists proper but who have a conception of God that similarly disqualifies them from typical assumptions of Christian Goodness.
Law was right to point out the whole ‘meaning of life’ question is often a category error (i.e., is ‘life’ such a thing that can have ‘meaning’) but I thought his treatment could have been better.
This would be a great introduction for those with less of a background or perhaps even as a gift to that religious friend who wonders how the non-religious can be moral or why they may not believe there is a god.


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