This essay was submitted as an assignment for ES402 by me at Christian Heritage College, and received a grade of Outstanding. So I hope you find it helpful. Michael
In this essay Christian Theism, Naturalism and Humanism will be described, compared and contrasted. Each of these worldviews provides set of answers to certain questions, for example the 7 basic questions posed in “The Universe Next Door” (Sire, 1997, p. 22). In this essay however I will briefly define these worldviews and then consider how these worldviews answer the question about human origins and identity, the purpose of life, and some of the ways they impact both individuals and the professional world of teaching.
Christian Theism holds that Jesus Christ of Nazareth is a full revelation of the Creator God (John 1:1,14) and that faith in God, love for God and our fellow man are supreme values (1 Corinthians 13:10; Hebrews 11:6; Luke 10:27). In Christian Theism our lives should be guided by the Bible, and the “Fear of the Lord” is considered to be both the beginning of wisdom and knowledge (Proverbs 1:7; Proverbs 9:10). Christian Theism holds that mankind is a special creation of God, made in God’s image and that our purpose as per the Westminster Shorter Confession is to “glorify God and enjoy Him forever” (Centre for Reformed Theology and Apologetic, n.d.). We have the “Creation Mandate” of Genesis 1:26-28 to “fill the earth and subdue it”. Christian educators such as Van Brummelen point out that “God entrusts us with His creation in all its complexity” (Van Brummelen, 1994, p28) and they see in this Mandate the rationale for a broad Christian based education (pp 26-30). In Christian Theism it is believed that God reveals truth both through nature (including, “the heavens” and our own mental processes at times) (Romans 1:19-20; Psalm 19) and by His Word and Spirit – especially the Bible (Psalm 119; Psalm 19). Naturalists, by contrast, believe that human rationality and empirical methods are the only reliable ways to know things. The beliefs of humanists on epistemology vary, as there are different kinds of humanists.
Humanism has been defined as “any system or mode of thought or action in which human interests, values, and dignity predominate” (Dictionary.com, n.d.), and also as “a variety of ethical theory and practice that emphasizes reason, scientific inquiry, and human fulfillment in the natural world and often rejects the importance of belief in God.” (Dictionary.com, n.d.) Humanists have faith in humankind’s goodness and ability to solve our problems and live autonomously. Humanism also makes human happiness, art, culture, thought and development the central goal or purpose of life. Humanism has many branches including “Christian” humanism, Romanticism (which finds meaning in human emotion) and secular humanism (which is naturalistic – see below). Some streams of postmodernist thought are also essentially humanist (Bartholomew and Goheen, 2013, p. 184).
Naturalism as a philosophical system denies the existence of a Creator and the world of spirits. In Naturalism “Prime reality is matter. Matter exists eternally and is all there is. God does not exist.” (Sire, p 68). For the naturalist, we must “clear our minds of gods and souls and spirits” (Council for Secular Humanism, 2016), and “through our innate and autonomous human reason, including the methods of science, we can know the Universe” (Sire, 2009, pg 75). Naturalists like Richard Dawkins often portray believers in God as “Enemies of Reason” (Dawkins, 2003), and would strive to eliminate the consideration of God from education or the public sphere. With no God to lay down the law, human opinion and reason, hopefully based on observations, becomes the ultimate authority for naturalists. So the Naturalists are free to choose whatever ethical system appeals to their own minds. Multiple options exist. They may be secular humanists believing in a “consequentialist ethical system” (Council for Secular Humanism, 2016) in which case they do uphold values which in many cases are similar to the values of Christian theism – like “compassion”, “honesty”, “freedom” and “justice” (Secular Party of Australia, 2016), or they may choose some other goal like “a classless society” (the goal of Communism), which suppress individual freedom for the sake of the State. Both these branches of Naturalism seek to exclude the Bible as an authority in the public sphere of life.
The question of human identity is tied up with the question of what is really real and human origins. Christian Theism follows the Biblical teaching that mankind, both male and female, is a special creation of God, made in the image of God (Genesis 1:27) . This means that man is a spirit with godlike characteristics of consciousness, rationality, emotion and volition. Humans live in a body which is also important because the breath of God together with the dust of the earth made man a “living soul” (Genesis 2:7). It follows that mankind is incredibly valuable and must be treated with respect and love, since “God is love” (1 John 4:8) and you must treat the image of God with respect. However, in Christian Theism, mankind is fallen and sinful from birth, needing salvation and God’s forgiveness. Naturalism has no room for such concepts. Humanists, who pursue the glory of mankind, feel that Christianity can devalue mankind as “pond scum” (Olson, R., 2012), yet Schaeffer points out that “man is magnificent, even in his ruin” (Schaeffer, 1969, pg 104). For Schaeffer, this validates the exploration of human culture as developed by sinful people.
The Bible teaches that God intervenes in human affairs at times to work justice and salvation, so prayer has value (Romans 10:13), both personally and publicly. Christians and Christian educators will therefore give time for prayer and communicating the biblical story. In my own experience, prayer works and miracles, including dramatic healing miracles, happen in the name of Jesus.
The Naturalist and thus the Secular Humanist believe that man came about through unguided naturalistic processes, probably some form of Darwinian evolution. We see this in the Australian Science curriculum which teaches “The theory of evolution by natural selection explains the diversity of living things and is supported by a range of scientific evidence” (Australian Curriculum, n.d). Though I was taught this at school and university I find this implausible and some of my reasons – such as the mathematical unlikelihood of it – are given elsewhere (Fackerell, M., 2016). But in naturalism and especially secular humanism, humans are therefore just clever animals, special only because of their rationality, but with no need of divine salvation. Darwin is quoted even as saying, “there is no fundamental difference between man and the higher mammals in their mental faculties” (Darwin, C., 1871, p. 34). The naturalist sees no point in praying because for him there is no God to answer or intervene. They are not usually impressed by the multitudes of Christian testimonies to answered prayer, because (following David Hume) their minds are shut on the issue, being committed to the assumptions of philosophical materialism which a priori rule out the spiritual dimension of mankind or the universe. Some humanists might see prayer as having limited value based on some kind of placebo effect or personal reflection opportunity, but most would not think there is Someone Important listening to prayer.
If individuals really embrace Christian Theism, it will cause them to make Jesus Christ central, and align their personal and educational mission with the stated agenda of Jesus Christ to “make disciples” (Matthew 28:19), “do the will of My Father in Heaven” (Matthew 7:21) and “destroy the works of the devil” (1 John 3:8). This causes Christians collectively not only to propagate and demonstrate Christ’s teachings about love, righteousness and social justice, but also amongst other things to oppose the liberal agenda of sexual permissiveness, whereas humanists or naturalists might have no issue even with promoting sexual permissiveness. Christian norms about sexuality are rejected by humanist educators – the rise of the “Safe Schools” project in Australian education being a case in point (Safe Schools Coalition, 2016). The person who is principally a humanist is always thinking about human concerns, pleasures, culture and values. Humanists are concerned with making the world a better place – by human efforts. In education, humanists (secular and other) can happily talk about “values education”, and uphold high aspirations for human development, as does the Melbourne Declaration (Curriculum Corporation, MCEETYA, 2008) without mentioning Jesus Christ at all. The presence of the former but absence of the latter in the Australian Curriculum website also supports this (Australiancurriculum.com, 2016). Convinced naturalists, believing that God does not exist, generally see Christianity as a harmful superstition which has no place in an enlightened education system, and in the west there is an often unspoken social pressure to leave God out of the discussion.
Historically, many leading scientists were Christian theists – such as Isaac Newton, Kepler and Boyle (Wikipedia. 2016). Today, Christian theists continue to do science to glorify God and explore His world, yet often do so in a hostile environment which insists on the “just so” meta-narratives of Darwinian evolution and suppress academic freedom on the subject. Many Naturalistic Scientists such as Richard Lewontin have a reductionistic, scientistic agenda in which they admit that do not wish to “let a divine foot in the door” (Richard Lewontin, 1997 as cited in creation.com).
Christian Theists, Naturalists and Humanists may all engage in cultural, educational and philanthropic enterprises but for different reasons. Van Brummelen (1994, p 28) says that “Our pupils need to be imbued with a sense of God calling them to be royal servants as they play and discover and work in His world”. Christian Theists and Naturalists both belief in the existence of “truth”, “logic” and “the Law of the Excluded Middle” but they disagree about what is real, who we are and what our purposes should be. Humanism is where mainstream consensus is in Western Society. It overlaps with both Naturalism and Christian Theism. Humanism, like Christian Theism, seeks to provide a motivation for great achievement, but provides only a shifting and relativistic system of ethics, based on changing human tastes and priorities. Humanism is broad and embraces diversity of opinion, not just the naturalism of Secular Humanism. Some “Christian humanists” such as Roger Olson (Olson, 2012) would seek the glory of man primarily, but place certain biblical restraints on the activity of humans in fulfilling their quest to be exalted – this is just another option humanism offers. Bartholomew and Goheen argue that certain streams of the Postmodern movement which seek to avoid the Nihilism of Nietzsche are essentially humanist (Batholomew, C. and Goheen, M., 2013). Humanism
Christian Educationalist Philosophers such as Harro Van Brummelen see Christian Theism as guiding human activity and especially education through “The Great Mandate” (Van Brummelen, 1994, pp 26-31) (stewarding God’s world), “The Great Commission” (pp 31-36) (discipleship and evangelism), “The Great Commandment” (pp. 36-40), which is about loving God and people, and “The Great Community” (pp. 41-45). For Van Brummelen, Christian purpose is tied up in pleasing God through respect for these mandates. The humanist and naturalist educator might choose any purpose for education – for example, the development of individual potential or society at large. It will generally be guided by current social consensus. In Australia it is currently to make students “successful learners”, “confident and creative individuals” and “active and informed citizens” (Curriculum Corporation, 2008). For Marxists (who are also naturalists), education’s goal are to indoctrinate students in Marxist views such as “scientific materialism” and Marxist economic theory. It believes in using “the means of ideological influence to educate people in the spirit of scientific materialism and to overcome religious prejudices..” (Gerhard Simon (1974), p. 64, cited in Wikipedia.). It seeks to promote an equal “classless society” with “Universal Free Access to education for all”. “Emphasis is laid on vocational and technological education” ( Ghosh, P., 2013) to enhance “man as the productive animal” (Kamfjord, S., 2015). Naturalists tie a person’s identity closely with his work or function in society. Christians following the Bible believe their identity comes by the New Birth (John 3:3-7) not by their performance or function.
Because naturalism per se offers no ultimate ethical reference point ultimately but only different philosophies, this can lead to social conflict and ideological warfare – for example between Communists and those seeking a liberal democracy.
In both the classroom and personal life, Naturalists feels free to construct their own meaning and purpose, and often turn to secular humanism or some form of existentialism to avoid the despair, darkness and cynicism of Nihilism. Naturalists generally depend on the narrative of Darwinism/evolution to explain human origins and weave it into their science teaching at times. Humanists sees themselves essentially as an autonomous self-directed people in the community who individually or collectively construct purposes they feel will lead to the betterment of humanity. Christian theists, however must give TIME to Christ-centred thinking and perspectives. We need to give thanks to God (Colossians 3:17) and glory to God (1 Corinthians 10:31) in all things. We must “love the Lord with our minds” (Luke 10:27). We see ourselves as servants and sons of God, and this will mean that our lives must seek to be engaged in loving service to God and humanity under biblical norms. As such we can pursue the “Great Mandate”, “Great Commission”, “Great Commandment” and “Great Community” (Van Brummelen, 1994, pp. 31-44) under the leadership of a wise and loving Eternal God who revealed Himself to us through Jesus Christ.
Dawkins, R. (2013). Enemies of Reason – Retrieved April 1, 2016 (April Fool’s Day) from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z1N1bGH1gb8
Van Brummelen, H. (1994) Steppingstones to curriculum: A biblical path. Alta Vista College Press, Seattle Washington.
Dictionary.com. The definition of humanism. (n.d.). Retrieved April 20, 2016, from http://www.dictionary.com/browse/humanism
Curriculum Corporation as legal entity for Ministerial Council on Education, Employment, Training and Youth Affairs (MCEETYA) (2008). National Declaration on the Educational Goals for Young Australians (Melbourne Declaration). Retrieve April 21, 2016 from http://www.curriculum.edu.au/verve/_resources/National_Declaration_on_the_Educational_Goals_for_Young_Australians.pdf
Council for Secular Humanism (2016). Home Page, Council for Secular Humanism. Retrieved April 21, 2016 from https://www.secularhumanism.org
Batholomew, C. and Goheen, M. (2013). Christian Philosophy. A Systematic and Narrative Introduction. Baker Academic, Grand Rapids, MI.
Council for Secular Humanism (2016). What is Secular Humanism?. Retrieved March 15, 2016 from https://www.secularhumanism.org/index.php/3260
Secular Party of Australia. Secular Party of Australia. Home Page. Retrieved 31st March, 2016 from https://www.secular.org.au/
Ghosh, P. Essay on the Aims of Education (According to Marxism). (2013, March 18). Retrieved April 20, 2016, from http://www.shareyouressays.com/116648/essay-on-the-aims-of-education-according-to-marxism
Gerhard Simon (1974). Church, State, and Opposition in the U.S.S.R., University of California Press, Berkeley and Los Angeles (1974) cited in Wikipedia. Retrieved 21st April, 2014 from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marxist%E2%80%93Leninist_atheism
Fackerell, M (2016). Scientific Problems with Naturalism or Rejecting Belief in God. Retrieved 18th March, 2016 from http://www.christian-faith.com/scientific-problems-with-naturalism-or-rejecting-belief-in-god/
Fackerell, M (2016). Why I am a Christian and not a Naturalist. Retrieved 18th March, 2016 from http://www.christian-faith.com/why-i-am-a-christian-theist-and-not-a-naturalist/
Richard Lewontin, Billions and billions of demons (review of The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark by Carl Sagan, 1997), The New York Review, p. 31, 9 January 1997 as cited in creation.com. Retrieved 21st April, 2016 from http://creation.com/amazing-admission-lewontin-quote
Kamfjord, S (2015). Karl Marx, History and Context of Journalism. Retrieved 21st April, 2016 from http://www.journalism-now.co.uk/karl-marx-history-and-context-of-journalism/
Australian Curriculum (2016). Retrieved 21st April, 2014 from http://www.australiancurriculum.edu.au/science/curriculum/f-10?layout=1#cdcode=ACSSU185&level=10
Schaeffer, F. A. (1969). Death in the city. Chicago: Inter-varsity Press.
Roger Olson. God is most satisfied with us when we are most glorified by Him. Retrieved 16 March, 2016 from (http://www.patheos.com/blogs/rogereolson/2012/11/a-christian-humanist-manifesto-god-is-most-satisfied-with-us-when-we-are-most-glorified-by-him-part-1/
Safe Schools Coalition (2016). Home page. Retrieved 21st April, 2016 from http://www.safeschoolscoalition.org.au/
Australian Curriculum (2016). Search results. Retrieved 30th March, 2015 from http://www.australiancurriculum.edu.au/Search?q=%22Jesus+Christ%22
Centre for Reformed Theology and Apologetics (n.d.). Westminster Shorter Confession. Retrieved 18th March, 2016 from http://www.reformed.org/documents/WSC.html
Wikipedia (2016). List of Christians in Science and Technology. Retrieved 21st April, 2016 from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Christians_in_science_and_technology
Darwin, C. 1871. The descent of man, and selection in relation to sex. London: John Murray. Volume 1. 1st edition. Online version retrieved 3/5/2016 from http://darwin-online.org.uk/converted/published/1871_Descent_F937/1871_Descent_F937.1.h