Monday, December 17, 2007

Breaking Old Moulds...Be an Iconoclast.

"It seems there has been a disconnect between the clever human brain and the compassionate human heart. We are moving even further from the belief of most indigenous people: that the natural world and everything in it is sacred."
Dr. Jane Goodall

" is likely that our parents found us in our cribs long before we found ourselves there, and that we were merely led by their gaze, and their pointing fingers, to coalesce around an implied center of cognition that does not, in fact, exist."
Sam Harris

Excerpt: "The Language of God"
Author Francis Collins Shares Personal Testimony to Explain Reasoning
July 14, 2006 —
ON A WARM SUMMER DAY just six months into the new millennium, humankind crossed a bridge into a momentous new era. An announcement beamed around the world, highlighted in virtually all major newspapers, trumpeted that the first draft of the human genome, our own instruction book, had been assembled.

The human genome consists of all the DNA of our species, the hereditary code of life. This newly revealed text was 3 billion letters long, and written in a strange and cryptographic four-letter code. Such is the amazing complexity of the information carried within each cell of the human body, that a live reading of that code at a rate of one letter per second would take thirty-one years, even if reading continued day and night.

"The argument that most caught my attention, and most rocked my ideas about science and spirit down to their foundation, was right there in the title of Book One: "Right and Wrong as a Clue to the Meaning of the Universe." While in many ways the "Moral Law" that Lewis described was a universal feature of human existence, in other ways it was as if I was recognizing it for the first time.

What we have here is very peculiar: the concept of right and wrong appears to be universal among all members of the human species (though its application may result in wildly different outcomes). It thus seems to be a phenomenon approaching that of a law, like the law of gravitation or of special relativity. Yet in this instance, it is a law that, if we are honest with ourselves, is broken with astounding regularity.

As best as I can tell, this law appears to apply peculiarly to human beings. Though other animals may at times appear to show glimmerings of a moral sense, they are certainly not widespread, and in many instances other species' behavior seems to be in dramatic contrast to any sense of universal rightness. It is the awareness of right and wrong, along with the development of language, awareness of self, and the ability to imagine the future, to which scientists generally refer when trying to enumerate the special qualities of Homo sapiens.

But is this sense of right and wrong an intrinsic quality of being human, or just a consequence of cultural traditions? Some have argued that cultures have such widely differing norms for behavior that any conclusion about a shared Moral Law is unfounded. Lewis, a student of many cultures, calls this "a lie, a good resounding lie. If a man will go into a library and spend a few days with the Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics, he will soon discover the massive unanimity of the practical reason in man. From the Babylonian Hymn to Samos, from the laws of Manu, the Book of the Dead, the Analects, the Stoics, the Platonists, from Australian aborigines and Redskins, he will collect the same triumphantly monotonous denunciations of oppression, murder, treachery and falsehood; the same injunctions of kindness to the aged, the young, and the weak, of almsgiving and impartiality and honesty."
Let me stop here to point out that the conclusion that the Moral Law exists is in serious conflict with the current postmodernist philosophy, which argues that there are no absolute rights or wrongs, and all ethical decisions are relative. This view, which seems widespread among modern philosophers but which mystifies most members of the general public, faces a series of logical Catch-22s. If there is no absolute truth, can postmodernism itself be true? Indeed, if there is no right or wrong, then there is no reason to argue for the discipline of ethics in the first place.

Consider a major example of the force we feel from the Moral Law -- the altruistic impulse, the voice of conscience calling us to help others even if nothing is received in return. Not all of the requirements of the Moral Law reduce to altruism, of course; for instance, the pang of conscience one feels after a minor distortion of the facts on a tax return can hardly be ascribed to a sense of having damaged another identifiable human being.

Once upon a time there was an old woman who used to meditate on the bank of the Ganges. One morning, finishing her meditation, she saw a scorpion floating helplessly in the strong current. As the scorpion was pulled closer, it got caught in roots that branched out far into the river. The scorpion struggled frantically to free itself but got more and more entangled. She immediately reached out to the drowning scorpion, which, as soon as she touched it, stung her. The old woman withdrew her hand but, having regained her balance, once again tried to save the creature. Every time she tried, however, the scorpion's tail stung her so badly that her hands became bloody and her face distorted with pain. A passerby who saw the old woman struggling with the scorpion shouted, "What's wrong with you, fool! Do you want to kill yourself to save that ugly thing?" Looking into the stranger's eyes, she answered, "Because it is the nature of the scorpion to sting, why should I deny my own nature to save it?"

This may seem a rather drastic example -- not very many of us can relate to putting ourselves in danger to save a scorpion. But surely most of us have at one time felt the inner calling to help a stranger in need, even with no likelihood of personal benefit. And if we have actually acted on that impulse, the consequence was often a warm sense of "having done the right thing."

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