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June 28, 2006

Three World Views?

Edward O. Wilson writes that today...

Global culture is divided into three opposing images of the human condition, each logically consistent within its own, independent premises.

The first is familiar and expected:

The dominant of these hypotheses, exemplified by the creation myths of the Abrahamic monotheistic religions (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam), sees humanity as a creation of God. He brought us into being and He guides us still as father, judge, and friend. We interpret his will from sacred scriptures and the wisdom of ecclesiastical authorities.

But the division between his second and third categories -- the secular approaches -- is problematic and interesting:

The second worldview is that of political behaviorism. Still beloved by the now rapidly fading Marxist-Leninist states, it says that the brain is largely a blank state devoid of any inborn inscription beyond reflexes and primitive bodily urges. As a consequence the mind originates almost wholly as a result of learning, and it is the product of a culture that itself evolves by historical contingency. Because there is no biologically based "human nature," people can be molded to the best possible political and economic system, namely, as urged upon the world through most of the twentieth century, communism. In practical politics, this belief has been repeatedly tested and, after economic collapses and tens of millions of deaths in a dozen dysfunctional states, is generally deemed a failure.
Both of these worldviews, God-centered religion and atheistic communism, are opposed by a third and in some ways more radical worldview, scientific humanism. Still held by only a tiny minority of the world's population, it considers humanity to be a biological species that evolved over millions of years in a biological world, acquiring unprecedented intelligence yet still guided by complex inherited emotions and biased channels of learning. Human nature exists, and it was self-assembled. It is the commonality of the hereditary responses and propensities that define our species. Having arisen by evolution during the far simpler conditions in which humanity lived during more than 99 percent of its existence, it forms the behavioral part of what, in The Descent of Man, Darwin called the indelible stamp of our lowly origin.

From this perspective the move from behavioral psychology to Wilson's own sociobiology, from nurture to nature, qualifies as a new Enlightenment.

Posted by Mitchell Stephens at June 28, 2006 11:13 PM


I like his definition of Scientific Humanism. Yeah, maybe I am one of those thingies.

I think if you look deeper you find this "Enlightenment" has been around just about as long as God. Like the man said, "Still held by only a tiny minority of the world's population" this point of view is just as biologically predetermined as the others.

Changing human nature, long the hallowed ground of ideologies, is now becoming the playground of biologists and their ilk. Real Enlightenment will be coming out of the laboratory. Scary or not. Look Ma, I can jump ten feet high as I think in twelve languages at once!

Posted by: Jay Saul at June 29, 2006 7:47 PM

Jay Saul projects "Look Ma, I can jump ten feet high as I think in twelve languages at once!"

Ahh, but Jay Saul, will you also call elderly Ma every day, and will you see to it that her life is of the highest quality possible all of her days, even when it requires sacrificial love as age brings inevitable need?

Now I ask this in the editorial sense, to make the point that Real Enlightenment is found in love and comes out of each person.

Much can be discovered and 'created' in a laboratory. And man can advance in amazing ways. But life is more than the next acquisition or the next advancement whether individually or for corporate mankind.

Religion has its own limitations, as does science. In one Book it says " And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing."

Is there any Book of Science that puts forth the limitations of science without love as truly the Bible sets forth the limitations of faith without love?

Thank you to the site owner for letting me post here from time to time. I do no doubt, stick out like a sore thumb at times...

Posted by: Bonnie Kim at July 1, 2006 1:23 AM

There is no way to know what creatures with mental powers far beyond our own will/do think about. I am guessing they will have a deeper understanding and awareness of love just as they will space/time. But we can only speculate. Just as one of my bone cells has no idea why I play tennis or what a TV is, we have no idea what our future self-designed conscious beings will contemplate.

There are passages in the Bible that are beautiful poetry about love, yes. But there are passages in the Bible that put arbitrary limits on all kinds of crazy shit as well.

The book of science is studying the mind, how it creates consciousness and emotions, etc. The book of science is never finished and always open to revisions.

And, though we may be "nothing" without love, we would not be human without fear. There are many things we do not understand and the Bible does not make them any clearer. Our minds are not the end of the evolutionary journey; we have a very hard time accepting that reality because we cannot understand what we do not have the capacity to understand.

I believe love is the answer to human suffering. I also know I know little about how that works. Awareness is a good thing. And more awareness is a human goal. The need to know will push us to build more aware beings. We are machine builders and we are machines.

Posted by: Jay Saul at July 1, 2006 7:13 AM

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