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Our Place in the World

July 10, 2016

What is our, we humans I mean, what is our attitude to other forms of life?  No doubt most of us see animals and plants either as posessions or pests.  We say “my dog” or “my lawn” or even “those dandelions”.  Some of us see them as decorations or amusements.  We see “cute squirrels” or “pretty flowers”.  A few of us see them as objects of study, like “my first warbler” or “a new tree species”.

What’s the religious attitude?  The Hebrew bible, called the old testament by Christians, is revered by all three Abrahamic religions.  In the first chapter of Genesis, you can read this at the culmination of the first creation myth:

And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.

That’s pretty clear.  This is followed by the Adam and Eve story.  According to Wikipedia, this story is not really another creation myth, but is more like a parable describing what happens when you disobey God.  It also does little to refine our place in the world.

Science, ever since Darwin, tells a different story.  Evolution, with the mechanism that Darwin discovered, has become the basis for all biological science.  Evolution is a random process, with no direction and no goal to it.  All life forms on earth are the result of evolution.  We are not special, but just an animal, like all the other animals.

What are we to believe, religion or science?  Stephen Jay Gould, in his book Dinosaur in a Haystack, is able to identify our beliefs about evolution by the questions that he most often gets.  People do seem to believe that one animal species can transform into another, in the fullness of time.  They seem to believe too that we evolved from monkeys.  However, they also seem to believe that we humans are the pinacle of evolution, and that the direction of evolution is towards us, and that its goal is the creation of humans.  These last are erroneous beliefs, as so stated by Gould.

We seem to mash together religious ideas and scientific ideas, with a large dollop of wishful thinking.  I suppose we do this in order to make sense of conflicting ideas.  I suppose also that it’s too frightening for us to abandon some ideas that we hold dear.  Maybe doing it this way is how we accomodate and grasp new ideas.


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