Secular humanism is a relatively new reality theory compared to the centuries that philosophical and religious theories have been in existence. The term secularism was originally introduced in the 19th century. The central position of the concept is that real-life experiences and testing are necessary to establish reality. Opinions are based on empirical evidence. The concept of secular humanism was introduced during the 1930s by the Pope, suggesting that the movement was attempting to undermine the Church by adhering to the principles of distributive justice and ethical morality without the concept of a deity. The first Humanist Manifesto was published in 1933, affirming 15 conditions of the human experience.
Humanism is the theory that individuals have a social and moral responsibility to act and respond in a socially positive manner. The term is ambiguous in that its ethical premises can be applied in combination with many other philosophical theories. The ideas associated with humanism have been in existence since the pre-Socratics but it is essentially a theory from the Aristotelian school of being exacted by an individual desire to act within the definitional scope of moral virtue. Aristotle stated that virtue is a result of an individual acting rationally, according to reason and properly feeling the emotions and desires associated with the action. The process of action is an individual moral requirement.
The combination of terms presents a philosophical theory that resembles religion in many ways, but is minus the concept of a supreme being or any acceptance of supernatural impact on reality. Secular humanism requires that every valid opinion should be testable in this dimension and a product of human experience. The philosophy advances reason, ethics and distributive justice. Secular humanism is the antithesis of Religious Humanism, which requires a belief in a supernatural omnipotent being in oversight of humanity. In many ways, secular humanism has evolved as scientific technology has evolved and literacy has become a norm as opposed to an exception.
The contemporary secular humanism movement is characterized much differently from the past. There are various groups of secular humanists around the world including the Council for Secular Humanism and the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU), which is the central organization. The IHEU represents more than 100 atheist organizations in over 40 countries. Actual numbers on the worldwide movement away from traditional deity religions is difficult to quantify, often because secular humanism does not actually qualify as a religion on polling samples. Secular humanism has seen a significant rise since the 1973 publication of Humanist Manifesto II and has been impacted positively with the rise of the Internet during the 1990s.
Based in North America, the Council for Secular Humanism is the largest organization involved in the international matrix. The mission statement for the council states that they are a "non-profit educational corporation (the Council) supporting a wide range of activities to meet the needs of people who find meaning and value in life without looking to a religion." The council supports the right of individual self-determination and implements a combination of programs designed to assist those who have not experienced positive results with traditional theist religions.
Secular humanism has not been without its critics. Organized religions, and in particular the Religious Right, attacked the humanist movement heavily from the 1980s era in the advancement of scientific technology as a basis for truth. Organized religions soundly rejected the requirement that empirical evidence is necessary to determine any advancement of theological theory. This claim has had a particular impact on public education. Many fundamentalists expect the traditional supernatural concept of God to be taught in public education but the humanistic view has been upheld as the proper separation of church and state.
In addition, many organized religions claim that secular humanism is an organized religion also, merely denying the existence of a deity. The international organization is the religious fundamentalist's claim of proof. The fundamentalist claim has been addressed in several court cases, often involving public display of Judeo-Christian symbols on public property or required participation in deity references in the school systems. The human secularist response to the religious fundamentalist claim has been that the controversy is not about whether anyone believes in God, but whether everyone believes in the separation of church and state.