As a secular humanist who accepts the findings of astrophysics and evolutionary biology, I take exception to Ross Douthat’s claim that, unlike religion, the secular view suffers from “intellectual incoherence” because “its cosmology does not harmonize at all with its moral picture” (“Three ways of looking at the manger,” Dec. 24).
First, contrary to Douthat’s opinion, religious cosmology is not so obviously coherent. For instance, millions of children under the age of 7 die every year of diseases that some survive, yet religion, according to Douthat, claims that “the divine is active in human affairs.”
Apparently this divine power is a fickle one. If I were able to save three people’s lives; proceeded to save one but allowed two to die, and justified my decisions by some vague cosmic plan beyond human understanding, I would rightly be charged with depraved indifference and would be considered deranged. How does the comparable form of divine intervention equate to, as Douthat puts it, “every person is precious in God’s sight?”
Second, a secular worldview is not inherently incoherent. The secular worldview recognizes that the universe is vast and mostly empty, and that our species evolved from other species through a long series of fortuitous genetic mutations. So secularists seek a morality based on the preciousness of human life made all the more precious because the universe, apart from humanity, does not care about or guarantee our continued existence.
Secularists recognize it is people living in ever-changing cultures, and not divine intervention, that enabled the historical progress that has rid the world of state-sponsored (and biblically condoned) slavery and many other moral atrocities, has turned respect for the individual into democratic governments, and has extended and enriched human life. Succinctly, it is the potential of human-caused progress that fuses the secularist’s worldview with its morality.
R. KIM GUENTHER
The writer is professor emeritus at Hamline University in St. Paul.