This classic document, with added sub-headings, is from Prologue to Controverted Questions' published in 1892. It shows that old arguments repeated by religious scholars today were answered generations ago. Our education system fails to ensure that people are aware that much religious material used today, as if it were incontrovertable fact, is in reality opinion based on weak understanding and lack of knowledge.
The arguments used here by Thomas Henry Huxley are drawn from the Christian tradition, but similar examples could as easily be taken from the Qur’an the Islamic tradition, or of any other religion. The chief difference between the Humanist tradition and that of religious ones is the difference between belief in a natural universe, and belief in a separate superatural one, as discussed here.
Naturalism and Supernaturalism
THERE is a single problem with different aspects of which thinking men have been occupied ever since they began seriously to consider the wonderful frame of things in which their lives are set, and to seek for trustworthy guidance among its intricacies.
Experience speedily taught them that the shifting scenes of the world's stage have a permanent background; that there is order amidst the seeming confusion, and that many events take place according to unchanging rules. To this region of familiar steadiness and customary regularity they gave the name of Nature. But, at the same time, their infantile and untutored reason, little more, as yet, than the playfellow of the imagination, led them to believe that this tangible, commonplace, orderly world of Nature was surrounded and interpenetrated by another intangible and mysterious world, no more bound by fixed rules than, as they fancied, were the thoughts and passions which coursed through their minds and seemed to exercise an intermittent and capricious rule over their bodies. They attributed to the entities with which they peopled this dim and dreadful region an unlimited amount of that power of modifying the course of events of which they themselves possessed a small share, and thus came to regard them as not merely beyond, but above, Nature.
Hence arose the conception of a "Supernature" antithetic to "Nature" - the primitive dualism of a natural world "fixed in fate" and a supernatural, left to the free play of volition - which has pervaded all later speculation, and for thousands of years has exercised a profound influence on practice. For it is obvious that, on this theory of the Universe, the successful conduct of life must demand careful attention to both worlds; and, if either is to be neglected, it may be safer that it should be Nature. In any given contingency, it must doubtless be desirable to know what may be expected to happen in the ordinary course of things; but it must be quite as necessary to have some inkling of the line likely to be taken by supernatural agencies able, and possibly willing, to suspend or reverse that course. Indeed, logically developed, the dualistic theory must needs end in almost exclusive attention to Supernature, and in trust that its over-ruling strength will be exerted in favour of those who stand well with its denizens. On the other hand, the lessons of the great schoolmaster, experience, have hardly seemed to accord with this conclusion. They have taught, with considerable emphasis, that it does not answer to neglect Nature; and that, on the whole, the more attention paid to her dictates the better men fare.
Thus the theoretical antithesis brought about a practical antagonism. From the earliest times of which we have any knowledge, Naturalism and Supernaturalism have, consciously or unconsciously, competed and struggled with one another; and the varying fortunes of the contest are written in the records of the course of civilisation, from those of Egypt and Babylonia, six thousand years ago,down to those of our own time and people.
These records inform us that, so far as men have paid attention to Nature, they have been rewarded for their pains. They have developed the Arts which have furnished the conditions of civilised existence; and the Sciences, which have been a progressive revelation of reality, and have afforded the best discipline of the mind in the methods of discovering truth. They have accumulated a vast body of universally accepted knowledge; and the conceptions of man and of