Many people in the UK today have humanist beliefs and base their worldview and ethics on reason, experience and empathy rather than on religious beliefs. For example, an Ipsos MORI poll of 2006 showed that:
- 62% of people believe that ‘Scientific and other evidence provides the best way to understand the universe’ as against 22% believing that ‘Religious beliefs are needed for a complete understanding of the universe.’
- 62% of people believe that ‘Human nature by itself gives us an understanding of what is right and wrong’ as against 27% believing that ‘People need religious teachings in order to understand what is right and wrong.’
- 65% believed that ‘What is right and wrong depends on the effects on people and the consequences for society and the world’ as against 15% believing that ‘What is right and wrong is basically just a matter of personal preference’ or 13% believing that ‘What is right and wrong is unchanging and should never be challenged.’
Humanism is an approach to life that is found throughout time and across the world in many different cultures. You can find out more about what humanists believe by clicking on ‘What Humanists Believe’ in the left hand menu and take our quiz ‘Are you a Humanist?’ to match your own beliefs against humanist ones.
What Humanists Believe
The humanist ethical tradition in western Europe alone has a history of more than 2,500 years and it is impossible to give a full account of it here! On this page, however, we give a summary of Humanism, and some links to pages where you can learn more. Don’t forget to also take our quiz!
Humanists are atheists or agnostics who try to live good lives based on reason, experience and shared human values.
We believe we only have one life and we should make the best of it, creating meaning and purpose for ourselves and trying to live happy and fulfilled lives while helping others to do the same.
We believe the way to achieve this is to live responsibly, thinking rationally about right and wrong, considering the consequences of our actions and trying to do the right thing.
The ‘Amsterdam Declaration’
At the 50th World Humanist Congress in Amsterdam 2002, the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU) adopted the ‘Amsterdam Declaration’ as the international statement of humanist beliefs and values:
“Humanism is the outcome of a long tradition of free thought that has inspired many of the world's great thinkers and creative artists and gave rise to science itself.
The fundamentals of modern Humanism are as follows:
1. Humanism is ethical. It affirms the worth, dignity and autonomy of the individual and the right of every human being to the greatest possible freedom compatible with the rights of others. Humanists have a duty of care to all of humanity including future generations. Humanists believe that morality is an intrinsic part of human nature based on understanding and a concern for others, needing no external sanction.
2. Humanism is rational. It seeks to use science creatively, not destructively. Humanists believe that the solutions to the world's problems lie in human thought and action rather than divine intervention. Humanism advocates the application of the methods of science and free inquiry to the problems of human welfare. But Humanists also believe that the application of science and technology must be tempered by human values. Science gives us the means but human values must propose the ends.
3. Humanism supports democracy and human rights. Humanism aims at the fullest possible development of every human being. It holds that democracy and human development are matters of right. The principles of democracy and human rights can be applied to many human relationships and are not restricted to methods of government.
4. Humanism insists that personal liberty must be combined with social responsibility. Humanism ventures to build a world on the idea of the free person responsible to society, and recognises our dependence on and responsibility for the natural world. Humanism is undogmatic, imposing no creed upon its adherents. It is thus committed to education free from indoctrination.
5. Humanism is a response to the widespread demand for an alternative to dogmatic religion. The world's major religions claim to be based on revelations fixed for all time, and many seek to impose their world-views on all of humanity. Humanism recognises that reliable knowledge of the world and ourselves arises through a continuing process. of observation, evaluation and revision.
6. Humanism values artistic creativity and imagination and recognises the transforming power of art. Humanism affirms the importance of literature, music, and the visual and performing arts for personal development and fulfilment.
7. Humanism is a lifestance aiming at the maximum possible fulfilment through the cultivation of ethical and creative living and offers an ethical and rational means of addressing the challenges of our times. Humanism can be a way of life for everyone everywhere.
Our primary task is to make human beings aware in the simplest terms of what Humanism can mean to them and what it commits them to. By utilising free inquiry, the power of science and creative imagination for the furtherance of peace and in the service of compassion, we have confidence that we have the means to solve the problems that confront us all. We call upon all who share this conviction to associate themselves with us in this endeavour.”
- World Humanist Congress and IHEU General Assembly, Amsterdam 2002
You can learn more about Humanism and humanists at the website of the British Humanist Association.
Humanist philosopher A C Grayling (who spoke at a Labour Humanist fringe event at Party Conference 2007) has this to say on the Comment is Free blog about Humanism.
There are many excellent books on Humanism, the most recent concise wok for the general reader is ‘On Humanism’ by Richard Norman. Click here to buy it from Amazon.