Our evolutionary response is to kill our neighbor and take his stuff. It is our reason from which we learn to get along. Our reason serves no identifiable evolutionary purpose. It destroys the natural balance sought by the evolutionary process by so biasing the survivability of a single species that all are endangered…including us. Reason not only has nothing to do with our ability to survive, it creates burdens unnecessary for survival, as is proven by the quadriplegics and others who may live long lives. No animal will suffer one among them who cannot fend for itself. Only Man.
This reason is so profoundly part of us that the Eskimo elderly, when they found they could not contribute to the family, would walk away and expose themselves on the ice for the better welfare of family and tribe. Find an animal who will do that.
So, what is the “reason” that, alone in all the universe we can see, sets us apart from all things? I maintain it is that which is referred to in the ancient writings when it is said that we were created “…in His image.” To think this refers to someone who looks like George Burns and smokes cigars is, well, a bit of a stretch. The first story is that of how we recognized our ability to reason. Eve saw the fruit, and that it was good. Recognizing that they have been willfully disobedient…an ability not known in nature…they cover themselves, yet another thing no other creature would understand. In the introduction to “2001, A Space Odyssey” we see a distant ancestor at the moment he transits from pure animal to “cogito ergo sum.” I find it interesting that the last word in English translates as “I AM,” which is the name God provides Moses to explain who sent him to Pharaoh.
In Principia Philosophiae (1644), Rene Descartes says:
“While we thus reject all of which we can entertain the smallest doubt, and even imagine that it is false, we easily indeed suppose that there is neither God, nor sky, nor bodies, and that we ourselves even have neither hands nor feet, nor, finally, a body; but we cannot in the same way suppose that we are not while we doubt of the truth of these things; for there is a repugnance in conceiving that what thinks does not exist at the very time when it thinks. Accordingly, the knowledge, I think, therefore I am, is the first and most certain that occurs to one who philosophizes orderly.”
He was not the first to make that argument.
Many have heard “cogito ego sum” and in most cases it’s attributed to Descartes. However, if “A Guide to Modern Revision” had been required back then he’d either have properly footnoted it or been kicked out of class as a plagiarist.
Plato spoke about the “knowledge of knowledge” (Greek νόησις νοήσεως – nóesis noéseos) and Aristotle explains the idea in full length:
“But if life itself is good and pleasant … and if one who sees is conscious that he sees, one who hears that he hears, one who walks that he walks and similarly for all the other human activities there is a faculty that is conscious of their exercise, so that whenever we perceive, we are conscious that we perceive, and whenever we think, we are conscious that we think, and to be conscious that we are perceiving or thinking is to be conscious that we exist… (Nicomachean Ethics.)
In De Civitate Dei Augustine of Hippo writes “Si fallor, sum” (“If I am mistaken, I am”) (book XI, 26), and deals with some of the modern arguments of it being a syllogism in advance. He also states “dubito, ergo sum or “I doubt, therefor I am.” Gotta love that one!
In the Enchiridion Augustine further states, “By not positively affirming that they are alive, the skeptics ward off the appearance of error in themselves, yet they do make errors simply by showing themselves alive; one cannot err who is not alive. That we live is therefore not only true, but it is altogether certain as well” Here it is well to substitute “human” for “alive” as he is making that distinction between a horse and a human.
In the 8th century, the Hindu philosopher Adi Shankara wrote: No one thinks, ‘I am not’, arguing that one’s existence cannot be doubted, as there must be someone there to doubt.
The story of humanity begins with the recognition that we are not of this earth and are set apart. Thousands of years pass and much of our time is spent trying to puzzle this out.
“God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. Yet his shadow still looms. How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers? What was holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet owned has bled to death under our knives: who will wipe this blood off us? What water is there for us to clean ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we have to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we ourselves not become gods simply to appear worthy of it?”
—Nietzsche, Die fröhliche Wissenschaft
In the last line, Nietzsche alludes to that which I have felt at times is our destiny and God’s plan. Clarks Third Law: “Any sufficiently advanced science will appear as magic.” I do not believe in the supernatural. I believe in a 100% organic God with no additives. Even our own crude science has developed means to rapidly cure conditions that would have resulted in a lingering and painful death for the majority of all who have ever lived. Is it so hard to believe that He might cure with a gesture that virtually instantly caused cells to resume normal function and wounds to close before one’s eyes? Even what we see as “routine” pit stops at the Indianapolis 500 today would be viewed with awe by those mechanics at an auto race in 1910. How have we developed these utterly contra- indicatory to evolution abilities?
During my period of wandering agnosticism as I looked for some reason, any reason, to place faith in the values I was taught as a child. The study of German 19th century philosophers brought me to Nietzsche, Hegel and others who mooted the “God is dead” movement. These people were proponents of dialectic as the key process of the universe. That last line in Nietzsche and similar allusions by others brought me to the concept of creation and humanity being the process of God “working Himself out.” At the moment of creation when He said “…let there be light” he spread Himself throughout all of us as divine sparks processing a question whose answer may be “42” as per Douglas Adams or something even more incomprehensible. It was something that required TIME to process, something God didn’t have as a non-temporal being.
Consider the process of human reproduction. Millions of sperm, each with the potential for an Einstein, a Hitler, or a Lao Tzu. But only one will successfully penetrate the egg. However, and it’s a big HOWEVER, the success of one is the success of all. In miniature, it is the moment of “…let there be light” repeated over millennia and eons to continue the process. The yin/yang can readily be interpreted as a symbol of this great dialect, and even the cross carries an ancient interpretation as the quartering of the universe into active and passive elements…fundamental requirements for the difference between “something” and “nothing.”
Back to the Germans… One must not confuse the “God is dead…” concept with atheism. It’s more of an Arthurian “once and future king” concept at its logical end. To massively oversimplify and bring this mental meandering to a close, it points to a human destiny to keep learning, to spread to the stars in search of “…strange new worlds…” and, eventually, reach a point at which a single human reaches out for the last piece of the puzzle, gazes upon it, and says “LET THERE BE LIGHT.”
I must stop, as I hear a mob approaching bearing torches and ropes…