The Human Condition
We humans are animals. We have animal needs and animal sentiments. To a casual observer that much is clear. But a more detailed examination of humans reveals that we have unique dexterity among the life forms of the Earth. No other animal can draw splendid pictures on cave walls, sculpt rock to represent objects real and imagined or fashion sophisticated tools and decorative vessels for its use.
Certainly some animals show signs of dexterity, as for instance do bower birds in weaving intricate nests with their beaks, or monkeys in using sticks to fish out termites for a meal, or prairie dogs in building underground cities for their kind. But none of this compares with what our hands can fashion. Add to this our mastery of fire and it becomes clear that we are unique in our capabilities and in the prospect of further evolution of our capacity to shape things to our satisfaction. We are more than animals; we are highly capable, versatile humans who are increasingly masters of our fate.
Our dexterity is backed up by our ability to think in the abstract and to follow up our abstract thoughts in order to implement many of our ideas. In doing this we have become capable of steering nature to our ends. We are bound by the possibilities outlined in my essay on Possibilities and Probabilities earlier in this blog but we have been able to create many improbable things: we can alter the probabilities. It is highly improbable that nature on its own would have built the pyramids, although it is possible at some very low probability. We have engineered aircraft for transportation, something that is possible according to the fundamental parameters of the universe but is highly unlikely to arise from random events in nature.
Our capabilities are such that we have initiated a new era of the Earthâ€™s development: the Anthropocene Era. We are systematically taking control of the activities of our ecology. Sometimes it seems we ourselves do not yet understand this and want to go back to our caves and hide, but the reality is inescapable: we are making the Earth into our space ship and will use it as we see fit. Clearly we all hope that we will be wise in doing this to our best advantage. Â In general, history shows we behave wisely, although with errors here and there along the way. So far none of our errors has been fatal to humanity.
So, are we simply clever animals? Or is there more to us than we see at this point? To examine this question we must go back to the Big Bang. At this time the Big Bang is our best take on how the universe began, but we must not ignore the possibility that other theories will be presented in the future. We simply need to examine the consequences of what we currently know. I do not foresee that greater understanding of nature, and the theories this will spawn, will soon change what I am about to discuss.
The most important consequence of our current understanding is that the universe has an origin. It came about due to the activity of an unknown initiator. We know of no other way that things can be initiated than by the sequence of cause-and-effect, and science so far has been unable to explain the cause which resulted in the Big Bang. Since science is silent as to the cause of the Big Bang, it is reasonable to consider the existence of an influence beyond our ken which made the universe â€œBangâ€ into existence. In English, many call this influence or initiator â€œGodâ€. But what is such a God doing, and how does this affect us humans?Â This question has been debated for centuries.
Some concepts of God posit an all-knowing being for whom time does not exist and who therefore knows everything: past, present and future. Moreover this God can do anything He wishes with his universe, overriding the fundamental parameters of our cosmos as we know them. Such a universe, overseen by such a God, implies predestination of all that is to come but introduces a fundamental uncertainty as to what may happen to those who inhabit it. If God can make things happen that do not obey the fundamental parameters of the universe, then it becomes impossible for humanity to construct a science which depends on the known and deduced possibilities and probabilities of the universe. We would be doomed to eternal misunderstandings because a whimsical God could change the rules we so diligently formulate as our science develops. Moreover, if God knows the future, then any striving on our part to shape our future is futile: que sera, sera.
All that we do and expect to be possible as we gain more understanding and capabilities is based on our understanding of the fundamental parameters of the universe and the use of them to shape our reality and fashion our technology. If, on the other hand, the universe were irrational, governed by the whims of an all-powerful God, then we would be merely chaff blowing in a wind forever doomed to dwell in unpredictability. This is not the world that I prefer, nor is it the world many would like to inhabit. We prefer to believe in systematic understanding-driven logical progress, although the goals we pursue may vary. Local chaos may reign but the universe is governed by laws. The God of our universe is surely just and rational.
I believe that God does not know all that the future holds: he is an experimentalist. He initiated an experiment with a Bang and now observes the consequences. He set up the Bang to generate the possibilities he calculated would give interesting results, but does not, or maybe even cannot, change the fundamental parameters once the experiment was started. He can, however, influence the probabilities to steer events in the direction He finds interesting. After all, we humans have steered the available probabilities in the direction we wish by building pyramids and aircraft. God can surely do as much.
These thoughts lead us to the following idea: we humans are also the improbable result of the highly-unlikely coincidence of many probabilities enumerated in the essay on Possibilities and Probabilities. We can reasonably come to believe that God steered the probabilities to this end, just as we do in creating the marvels of technology we use. Is God fostering our existence in the experiment He is conducting? If so, what does he expect to achieve?
I believe that the God I have described has certain goals in mind. He is working to achieve these goals in his experiment. Religions try to define what His goals are but, as with all hypotheses, there are many lines of thought to follow and errors to be made. The time for a definitive answer is far in the future ahead of us. That does not negate the need for theological hypotheses to be constructed, tweaked and improved, or abandoned. A currently popular theology, for example, is that there is no God. It is to be expected that more or less vigorous debates between the many possible theologians will take place.
Let me propose one line of thought, although I hesitate to call it a theology. God is a powerful, intelligent entity residing in a realm beyond our comprehension. He is interested in developing intelligent beings in the universe He has created. He lives in a different time frame than we do, so the need for 13+ trillion years to arrive at our level of intelligent development is not an issue for God. In His search for the optimum formula for intelligent beings, we may not be the only beings being fostered. But we ourselves have a free will and considerable latitude in how we will proceed. We can engage in the experiment and be helpful. Our efforts may even lead to the desired result in the eyes of God.
This is a debate that seems to have merit in making rational decisions about our future. How should we proceed, to prove ourselves worthy of further consideration? What should we be doing? We must begin by trying to discover Godâ€™s plan. We already have argued that the development of intelligence seems to be a goal; what else is there? The ability to survive without divine intervention seems to be important. If God is to keep saving us from our own follies, He may find it tiresome at some point. Concern for Godâ€™s creation as a whole could be added. Vigor in not only studying but in exploring and exploiting the cosmos may be an item. Other items can be added and then the total culled for significance, but there will remain some residual issues that need attention. These residuals will guide us in formulating or accepting an existing theology.
How does all this impact us humans of today? Several points jump out: for example, we are still trying to conquer and destroy one another. This is dangerous for our survival at this stage of our technological development.Â Although we now have the capability to overdo it, we remain animals who feel the need to eliminate the weak or malformed in body or ideology. A time of such overdoing may be near and I tackle this in my book â€œThe Regression.â€ Hopefully humanity will survive and a new era of progress will follow, as it has after previous social collapses.
We have also shown concern for Godâ€™s creation. This is a newly-recognized undertaking for humans, and its proponents follow a well-trodden path of extremism common among the newly-aware. This should subside as we realize that we are the stewards, not only of our ecology, but also of our own progress. We need to reconcile these goals without taking extreme positions one way or the other. In fact, our progress should be a priority over ecological consideration as long as we avoid irreparable harm to our resources and so our future.
Our technology will soon allow us to preserve any and all species that exist, but it is not clear that we need to foster the survival of all at any cost. The Earth has been home to many life forms that are no longer with us. We did not cause their demise. We do not miss them and, even if we were to discover their virtues, it may not matter. I doubt that resurrecting any extinct species would add much to our wellbeing or progress.
We are on the cusp of exploring the cosmos. What we lack is a suitable form of energy. An earlier blog entitled â€œThe Future of Space Flightâ€ addresses this point. Once we have â€œslipped the surly bondsâ€ of our Solar System, to paraphrase John Gillespie Mageeâ€™s poem, we will explore our Galaxy and later the universe. Along the way we may be able to assure our species of immortality, wisdom and power. That should please a God who values intelligence, wisdom and the search for understanding.
The travails of humans have long been punctuated by successes followed by disasters. The Roman Empire built the foundations of the modern world, but things got out of hand socially, and their mighty Empire collapsed. Despite the achievements of its engineers, the accomplishments of its artists and the contributions of its orators and thinkers, their society was unable to remain cohesive and purposeful. Today we stand in danger of a similar episode. Our societies are unable to deal rationally with the achievements of our science and technology. A social collapse might again be necessary to clear the decks. That would be a great pity.
If God is carrying out an experiment seeking a life form that embraces understanding and intelligence, then we humans should concentrate on how to proceed in order to make sure that we will contribute to the desired result and avoid disasters without disappointing a God who may have other options. Remember: we now know that we do not inhabit the center of the universe. That requires an appropriate theology.
See my books from the Amazon ebook series â€œZamora Textsâ€. In particular, have a look at â€œThe Regressionâ€, â€˜Space Explorationâ€, â€œA Chronicle of Mars Colonizationâ€™ and â€œRegion of Lunaâ€.
 The oldest known writings of humanity ascribe a masculine pronoun to God, and I will follow this convention.