Origins of Humanism
Religion is humanity’s pre-scientific attempt to answer questions like: How did the world develop? What causes the sun to rise in the morning? What causes birth, death, storms, droughts and illness?
To answer these questions, ancient cultures developed creation myths along with the idea that supernatural gods controlled life and death and that by providing gifts to them we could influence the gods to favor us and our loved ones.
Religious myths provided absolute but incorrect answers to life’s questions. They also led to religious wars, persecution and the torture of those who simply questioned religious teachings.
Humans have questioned the existence of the supernatural for the past 2,500 years. The following are examples of the humanist quest for truth.
Protagoras (481 – 411 B.C.E.) "As to the gods, I have no means of knowing either that they exist or that they do not exist."
Thucydides (471 – 400 B.C.E.) When discussing the plague in ancient Athens wrote "As for the gods, it seemed to be the same thing whether one worshiped them or not, when one saw the good and the bad dying indiscriminately.”
Socrates in 399 B.C.E. Was condemned to death on vague charges, including an accusation that he was guilty of not worshiping the gods and corrupting the youth with his disbelief.
Copernicus (1473 – 1543) While not the first astronomer to postulate that the sun, not the earth was the center of the universe, his theory clashed with church teachings and resulted in his books being banned.
Galileo (1564 – 1642) His writings that the earth moved around the sun led to his house arrest and the banning of his books.
Giordano Bruno, A devout monk was burned at the stake, in 1600 for contending that the earth circles the sun.
Charles Darwin (1809 – 1882) In his search for the truth concluded that humanity evolved over time. His reward was denouncement by the religious leaders of his day.
Robert Ingersoll (1833 – 1899) “I am an unbeliever and a believer,… I do not believe the Mosaic account of creation, or in the flood, or the Tower of Babel…I do believe in the nobility of human nature. I believe in love and home, and kindness and humanity. I believe in good fellowship and cheerfulness, in making wife and children happy.”
Even in the 21st century blasphemy remains punishable by death in some Muslim dominated countries. As late as the 20th century, Americans saw neighbors imprisoned for questioning the validity of religious teachings, and American disbelievers were burned at the stake as late as the 19th century.