Sunday, April 24, 2011

Humanity's hubris

I'm often struck by the absolutely absurd notion that this planet was created for humans. What incredibly arrogant nonsense! We're only the latecomers on the block -- the last few seconds of the 24-h geological and astronomical clock marking the history of the Earth -- if you actually accept the scientific notions of geological deep time and evolution. Of course, if you choose not to accept those ideas, it may be because you're living under the self-centered delusions of religious fundamentalism. In that fundamentalist view, we humans are created by an omnipotent and omniscient deity to have "dominion" over the planet and everything on it. But humble in the face of the overwhelming power of this presumed deity (Might makes right? Pretty tough to challenge a being who is omnipotent, after all. Better bow down and kiss ass.).

No serious scientist would ever subscribe to such an silly notion. Every year, our planet demonstrates to us mere humans how pathetic and weak we are in the face of the meteorological, geological, and astronomical forces that can easily and without malice -- only indifference -- sweep us from existence on this planet. Natural hazards occur, such as the recent earthquake and tsunami in Japan, that should make it clear to any rational creature that we are not the masters of this world! Of course, you can choose to attribute these hazards to an angry deity, punishing us for our transgressions, as did our ignorant ancestors who knew nothing of science. This is, of course, associated with the species-centric and pre-eminently religious notion that the putative deity, who presumably loves us above all of his/her/its creations, controls the processes that are responsible for devastation and destruction here on Earth. This deity, whose ways are mysterious (especially when no one can can offer a reasonable explanation for why he/she/it visits destruction on us, his chosen favorites), apparently uses natural processes to remind us of our place - subservient to the omniscient and omnipotent deity (which would seem pretty evident - why does he/she/it need to remind us of our insignificance in comparison to him/her/it?).

But leaving the religious nonsense aside, we humans seem only inclined to be worried about the planet and what we might be doing to it, when we ourselves are threatened. The late George Carlin noted that the planet doesn't need "saving" from the things we're doing to it. The Earth will return to its natural state quite nicely without us, should we be stupid enough to pollute ourselves into extinction. We depend on the processes ongoing here on Earth, but the Earth doesn't depend on us for anything!

Nevertheless, the only way to make any human care about what's going on seems to be to call attention to what we're doing to ourselves. What we might be doing to polar bears, or desert pupfish, or owls, or frogs, or spiders, or snakes, ... who cares? They're only lesser creatures, made by the mythical "creator" for our exploitation or indifference. "Let 'em go extinct. Who needs 'em?" says the species-centric idiot. Never mind the complex web of life on which we ourselves depend in the most critical ways. Endanger that web at our peril!

One of the most noble activities humans engage in is the rescue and rehabilitation of non-human creatures. When the Birds of Prey Foundation releases a healed raptor back to the wild, my sense of the ultimate value of humanity soars with them! This is an ultimate act by a thinking human being -- to seek to save the life of a member of a non-human species. Such acts on behalf of humans are magnificent, of course, but to do so for another species -- this is truly transcendental of your human arrogance. There are many advocates for non-human species who toil away in obscurity and indifference, but they tend to be drowned out by those who believe that all creatures are under our dominion! Must all species bow to our arrogance? Can we treat them all as disposable?

In the long run, it seems likely that humans are transients on this planet, not the chosen species of a mythical deity. Only our own hubris allows us to see ourselves as the crown of creation. We are nothing more than another step along a path that leads to a destination inconceivable and unknown to us. And that destination is not foreordained by some mythical deity who favors us above all other species. We'll be extremely fortunate to last as long as the dinosaurs, for instance. Our civilization and all its supposedly noble accomplishments (we're legends in our own minds) is meaningless in the context of deep time and evolution. We humans right now teeter on the brink of extinction from our own ignorance and arrogance. And the Earth would easily shake us off like a bad case of fleas (as noted by George Carlin) and go on its own way.


Anonymous said...


I'm always rather amused by your rants against religion. Why? Because they merely poo-poo the idea of religion, and ideas derived from religion, without actually proposing any concrete arguments against whatever religious belief you have chosen to ridicule.

For example, take your main premise in this post: the notion that this planet was created by humans is "absolutely absurd" and "incredibly arrogant nonsense". Despite all your ridicule, appeals to what notions a "serious scientist" would subscribe to, and name-dropping of big scientific concepts such as "geological deep time" and "evolution", you still do not show a convincing and concrete argument against the idea that this planet was created primarily for humans.

I'm sorry, but I expect better from anyone who takes themselves seriously as a scientist. To take an idea and attempt to discredit it by ridicule is a sure sign of mediocrity and a lax intellect. Indeed, it's also a sure step down the road towards militant fundamentalism.

Chuck Doswell said...

Anon ... and I, in turn, am amused at your efforts to lecture me about what is a "scientific" argument. Let me ask you .. just what would you consider to be a "convincing and concrete argument"? Since you claim to know so much of what is and isn't scientific, perhaps you can describe in detail just what scientific arguments you require from me (or anyone else) to convince you that this planet wasn't created for humans.

Chuck Doswell said...

I suggest you think about the discussion here:

The Queen Mother said...

I prefer to think that every process has a purpose, humans included. Just that I don't know what that is but I think hopefully it's more than causing one of the great mass extinctions in the history of our biosphere. Nevertheless, there's still a chance that we'll learn to be good stewards of the Earth before it's too late and then maybe we'll discover our purpose when we're at a maturity level to find it.

In the meantime, here's an interesting read from Stephen Baxter called 'Evolution'

Chuck Doswell said...

Queen ... what we prefer to think about the world and our relationship to it may not be consistent with what we have learned about such things. Yes, there's a chance we could manage eventually to become good stewards, but not so long as so many of us see ourselves as the apex of creation, such that our needs and interests always trump those of other species. And I see the Abrahamic religious viewpoint as encouraging that species-centric view.

Chuck Doswell said...

Hmmmm ... no response from Anon ... I take this silence to infer that NO argument could convince him/her that the the Earth wasn't created for humans.