The Origin of Humanism

By Rodney Kirby (around 1980)

For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil (Genesis 3:5).

In the recent state meetings of the White House Conference on Families, one word has been brought to the forefront of attention —the word “humanism”. The conservative, pro-family groups accuse the “opposition” of being humanists. The term is also brought up often in court cases involving Christian ministries (schools, boys’ homes, etc.). Humanism is not a new concept, however. It has its origins here in our text for this month. Satan here tempts Adam and Eve to become like God,” knowing good and evil.

What does it mean here, to “know” good and evil? The word “know” in Hebrew (yada) often merely refers to an intellectual apprehension — as in, “I know Columbus discovered America,” However, that could not be the case here. Adam and Eve already knew good and evil this way — they knew that “good” was obedience to God, and evil was eating the forbidden fruit (disobedience). ‘Obviously, this would be no temptation.

The key phrase for an understanding of this is “like God.” How does God know anything? Does He look at an already existing universe and then learn about it, as man does? God’s knowing is on a different plane than man’s knowing. God knows all things (omniscience) because He created all things and determined all things. God’s knowledge thus has the force of determining. God does not know Columbus discovered America because He watched him do it, but because He planned for him to do it. See, in this regard, Gen. 18:19, Exo. 3:19 (cf. 4:21); Exo. 4:14 (cf. vs. 11); II Sam. 7:20 (cf. vs. 18); II Kings 19:27 (cf. vs. 25); Jer. 1:5; and Amos 3:2 (cf. vs. 1).

And so here Adam and Eve were tempted to know good and evil like God knows good and evil — determining it. They desired to make their own laws, to set themselves up as the lawgivers over creation. This is the essence of Humanism — man is his own god. There is no God above man who defines good and evil. Man defines right and wrong according to his own desires.

Also in Humanism is an emphasis on human experience. All things are to be judged by experience (e.g., “You can’t condemn homosexuality unless you’ve tried it”). This thought underlies Satan’s temptation — “God has his hypothesis, and I have mine; you try it and see who is right.”

Let us look briefly at how Humanism works itself out in the classroom. By looking at the Humanistic approach, we may be better able to develop a Christian educational alternative.


In every subject area, Humanism shows itself in the idea that there are no pre-established rules to follow. Any rules must be those which the student himself has formulated.

In reading, this is seen in many of the non-phonics programs used today. Phonics is usually not discarded completely; it is merely used as one of many methods for learning how to read (along with sight words, configuration clues, contextual clues, and, if all else fails, “looking at the pictures”). When phonics is taught in such a program, it is not taught as a series of rules, such as “M says mmm as in milk,” or, “igh says i as in night.” Rather, the children are expected to generalize for themselves such rules. The child is expected to think, “Every time I see this letter with two Mumps in it, I hear the sound mmm. I wonder if there is some connection?” See Rudolf Flesch’s classic Why Johnny Can’t Read, chapter 6, for more information.

In Mathematics, Humanism does the same thing as in reading. Bare facts are presented to the children, who are expected to formulate their own rules (such as the associative property). Another way Humanism is seen in mathematics is in seeing mathematical laws as man-made laws, and thus as having no relation to reality. Mathematics is thus seen as a sort of game — not as a way of exercising dominion over God’s creation by discovering laws created by God. (See Larry Zimmerman’s article, “Mathematics: Is God Silent?” in the (January, February and March 1980 issue of this periodical.)

In music and art, Humanism would say again that rules about “good” music are merely man’s conventions; beauty is in the eye of the beholder. What I think is good music (Bach, etc.) is merely my personal taste. I have no grounds for recommending it as “better” than John Cage, Elvis Presley, or even Dolly Parton.


As mentioned above, Humanism places experience in a central position; this has implications for classroom methods. Modern educators (including Christian ones — pick up almost any issue of Christian Home and School) have little good to say about a strictly scheduled class day. To set up a tight schedule is to say that the teacher knows more than the student what he should be studying (say, Phonics from 8:30 until 9:10). According to Humanist educators, the only effective learning is that which arises out of the child’s experience. The teacher is to structure education around experiences the children may have (a visit to a dairy farm, a tornado, a new pet, or a car wreck). The teacher is to use these experiences as the basis of art projects, reading assignments, and creative writing projects.

Now, there is an element of truth to this approach — note the “situational” teaching in Deut. 6. — but the Humanist makes it the center of his teaching method, not one among many useful tools. The Humanist says, “You must experience something to truly understand it,” and thus does not really take education beyond the realm of the child’s experience.


The serpent-inspired Humanist rejects the imposition of classroom rules from without (by the teacher, administrator, or school board). Students must have an equal voice in establishing codes of conduct4ted This is seen in the establishment of classroom and playground rules and the proper punishments (“What do you think is fair?”). It has been seen in the last decade on college campuses, with student organizations setting up codes of conduct (dorm visitation rules, alcohol use, etc.) and throwing down those given by the administration.

Again, there is a proper way of using this technique — giving and explaining the relevant Biblical data, and then asking the students to help find ways to implement that. But this is not how the Humanist goes about it. Biblical norms are offered as one among several options (if they are considered at all), which are to be evaluated by the autonomous (“self-law”) student.

Humanistic educational theories have swept American education, including much Christian education. Of course, since we as Christians are not yet perfected in holiness, we all lapse into one form or another of Humanism. Let us seek diligently to root it out wherever it appears, that our schools may not reflect the Tempter’s wiles, but may show forth the glories of our sovereign Lord.

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