Lifelong humanist Lionel Elvin died in 2005. This is his final testament
Claiming that something is or was or will be is what I call a propositional statement. The only criterion for judging whether such statements are true is whether they are based on evidence. New evidence can change things. While the truth of a propositional statement is never absolute, the method of testing its truth with evidence is always absolute. Evidence proves that supernatural beings do not exist. There is no more evidence for any one god than another yet religious people reject other beliefs while maintaining that their own is right. The conclusion is compelling. They are all creations of the mind, used to process hopes and fears in a world of threatening forces. Philosopher Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, the former President of India, reasons that gods are all different aspects of one God, but this strains credulity to breaking point. How could any one suppose that, say, Moloch the Carthaginian god who demanded sacrifices of children was simply another aspect of the Christian god who said, with quite the opposite intent, "Let the little ones come unto me"? Reliance on so-called revealed knowledge is foolish, as historical examples show. Nor is it any justification for a belief that it is 'comforting'. A person may die more serenely if he believes that he will have a blessed future life, but that is no proof that he will. To accept and propagate beliefs that cannot be shown to be valid or at least highly probable seems to me to me intellectually, and even morally, wrong.
Early Christians said in their clever-silly phrase credo quia impossible est, and for religious believers it is faith, not evidence or reason that they turn to. Faith is a word that demands a predicate. People have faith in something or someone and it is possible to have faith in a statement as true even if there is no adequate evidence to show that it is.
Faith is a dangerous basis for an argument because it can be countered, equally validly, with an opposing faith. A Hindu may tell a Christian that our souls may enter the bodies of animals after death, and that this belief is not a matter of evidence but of religious faith. The Christian has no answer, for it is the very same argument that he uses to defend his own beliefs. Religious beliefs are irrational to people who don't share them, and yet religious people still see the credibility in their own faith. Faith appears to render people incapable of distinguishing between myth and fact.
What is our situation then? We live on a small planet that goes round a sun that is just one of an immense number of stars. Our sun will eventually blow up and its planets and inhabitants will disappear with it. Until then humans will continue to live and die, and when we die we will just cease to be, like members of any other species. It is better to face these facts than to use myths and stories as refuge. Those with little imagination will not bother much about this, for Earth will last their lifetime unless we destroy it first.
We cannot change the certainty of death. So what should our attitude to life be? There seems to be two possibilities. We can rise above it in our own minds by taking the advice of Omar Khayyam: "Make game of that that makes as much of thee."
Smile wryly and show that we will not be defeated. I have some sympathy with this attitude, but there is a better way. Accept that life will end, but realise that we have an immense tract of time to make life good for us and our descendents.
This may involve only a small corner of the total cosmos, but within the scale of our own time and space what a huge task it is! It means taking seriously the responsibility for life on this planet and doing all we can to make things good for mankind. If we have done a little towards making life better we shall die more satisfied than if we had just sought pleasure for ourselves.
Morals should be based on knowledge and reason, not absolutes and dogma. That is why, in addition to my rejection of supernaturalism in relation to Man's place in the cosmos, ethically I am a humanist.