[A]lthough Nietzsche shares his hostility to religion with many Enlightenment free thinkers, he is much more acutely aware of the drastic implications of the widespread loss of faith associated with modernity. Recognition of these implications was, in effect, delayed by the intervention of humanism, which at its most extreme simply replaces belief in God with something akin to worship of humanity. After all, scientists had demonstrated the ability of unaided human reason to discover the laws of the natural universe. The Renaissance expressed a similarly self-confident celebration of the beauty of the human form and of human accomplishments, in its art and architecture, its poetry and philosophy. Humanist theology interpreted religious beliefs in ways that conformed to human conceptions of value and reason. More radically still, some arrived at the conclusion that humanity need no longer subject itself to divine law at all. Feuerbach argued that alienated human capacities, magnified and projected self-abasingly onto a non-existent God, should be reappropriated. Morality should be based directly on the value of human life and its achievements. But the rush of self-confidence that came with the thought that there is no greater being than 'man' had delayed the consequent realization that, without God, humanity's claim to metaphysical primacy no longer has any absolute basis. The self-abasement of humanity before God had always harboured the less modest presumption of a special relationship with the Creator. With the 'death of God', then, humanism finds itself in the precarious position of the cartoon character poised over the precipice, suspended only by its ignorance of the drop. A philosophy still permeated by essentially religious conceptions fails to realize the devastating blow inflicted upon it by the demise of religion. Humanism, like metaphysics, remains a species of faith. Related scientific developments had implications for the status of humanity. Copernican astronomy implied that the earth, and with it humanity, was not at the centre of the universe as had been assumed. The earth moves and its inhabitants are little more than specks of dust upon its surface: 'Since Copernicus man has been rolling from the centre toward "x":' In the nineteenth century, Darwin's theory of evolution confirmed our familial ties with the beasts and brutes. Human beings are simply animals with a number of distinctive attributes, which have evolved by a process of natural selection.
David West, Continental Philosophy: An Introduction, pp. 144-5