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The Roots of Humanism: Part 1
By Doug Berger

One question about Humanism that seems to come up every time is, "Where did Humanism come from?" Humanism, at the root, is a philosophy. It evolved from previous philosophical thought, adopting bits and pieces that worked and made sense, and discarding the stuff that didn't work. Two similar philosophies make up 90% of what we call Humanism; one is called Naturalism and the other is Materialism.

Naturalism explains that nature is the only thing that exists and that anything considered outside of nature, does not exist and is irrelevant. This rule out dualism, the separation of mind and body, that Theism depends on for its belief structure, and of course, immortality is out of the question since that would be outside of nature.

Some expressers of Naturalism include Aristotle, who lived in the 4th century. He developed the laws of logic that we still use today and was the first to recognize that science was made up of an interrelated body of facts. He also developed "Aristotelian" psychology that was based on the unity of mind and body and ruled out immortality.

Benedict Spinoza was a 17th century Dutch atheist who wrote, in his book "Ethics", an entire philosophy of life that did not require any supernaturalism.

One of the best-known Naturalists is Charles Darwin, who wrote the classic "The Origin of Species" in 1859. He showed, through a collection of evidence, that life was part of nature and that supernaturalism had little or no effect on anything.

Two Naturalists of the 20th century include Professors John Dewey and Fredrick J.E. Woodbridge of the United States who developed the ideas that the mind adapted for survival through evolution and that intelligence, reason, and thought made up the scientific method, which is used to investigate and test ideas about how the world works.

Materialism is a philosophy, which explains that everything in the known universe is made up of matter and has an atomic structure. Materialism finds order in Nature, using the scientific method, which it expresses in scientific laws. Like Naturalism, it does not depend on supernaturalism for any of its explanations. Materialists include Democritus who, in 400 B.C.E., developed the Atomic Theory. Epicurus wanted to see people live using reason rather than fear. He added to Democritus' Atomic Theory by forwarding the idea that there were chance deviations which allowed for free choice. Epicurus also said that negation of religious dogma was required for a happy life here on earth. He defined Happiness as pleasure guided by wisdom and adjusted to the hard realities of life.

The French "Encyclopedists" of the late 18th century (La Mettrie, Helvetius, Holbach, and Diderot) used Materialism as a weapon against superstition and the reactionary Catholic Church. In the 19th Century, Germans came to the front of Materialist thought. Jacob Feuerbach proposed that traditional religious mythologies were based on unfulfilled human feelings, longings, and needs. Karl Marx and Frederick Engles, influenced by Feuerbach, developed Dialectical Materialism, which improved on Materialism by recognizing the interrelatedness of things in nature and society.

Humanism has a long history and one can see the influence of Naturalism and Materialism. Each bases its philosophy on science and does not depend on supernaturalism to make sense.

Roots of Humanism: Part 2
In the first part of this essay, I gave the philosophical roots of what we know today as Humanism. Modern Humanism also owes a debt to religious dissenters, who made room to replace faith with critical thinking.
During the Dark be continued...