Several Types of Criticism.
Peter C. Grosvenor's review (J/F 2019) of John Gray's book, Seven Types of Atheism, fails to set the record straight. Gray's chapter on secular humanism doesn't begin to accurately describe its subject. For example, he describes "the central article of faith of modern humanism" as the "belief that humans are gradually improving." But as the interview with Steven Pinker in these pages (M/A 2018) showed, humanists don't "believe" humans are improving, we know it based on the vast evidence proving it. Further, humanists by no means think that progress is inevitable. Indeed, since the early days of modern American humanism, humanists have argued that those not following humanist principles are in danger of destroying the progress humanity has made.
More egregiously, the review fails to point out that Gray flatly misunderstands humanism. Gray says that the relativism of humanism means that there cannot be universal truth in ethics. As shown in my own book (The Best of the Humanist: Humanist Philosophy 1928-1973, reviewed in the same issue), modern humanism rejects the notion of truth in ethics. Gray's lapses get worse with Nietzche and Ayn Rand portrayed as the most influential humanists. While egoists like Rand may qualify as humanists in Europe, humanist values in the United States exclude them. Those values have always been progressive and, as Gray seems to deny, dependent on "human needs and decisions."
Charles Murn | Washington, DC
Peter C. Grosvenor, reviewing John Gray's Seven Types of Atheism, is generally favorable. He quotes Gray saying the humanist conviction that we control our own destiny is a dangerous "quasi-religious illusion" and that we should "seek counsel in the myths and allegories of religion rather than in the axioms of rationalist philosophy." Seriously?
Humanists don't actually believe we control our destiny--only that it's not controlled by mysterious mystical forces--and instead contend that our actions matter and will produce better outcomes if guided by reason rather than superstition. It is Gray's disdain for such rationalism that's dangerous.
Frank S. Robinson | Albany, NY