The Other I

October 18, 2011

Did something really go wrong?,

Following my post yesterday, Sanstorm commented that,”yes, the whole caboodle is fallen.”   Although this view that something has gone terribly wrong with the world is one that I grew up with, I was taken aback by Sanstorm’s conclusion.

For her, nature’s predatory behaviors confirm that indeed, there was a terrible Fall.  I look at the natural world, including its predatory behaviors, and conclude just the opposite.


Yes, if we judge all behavior in terms of our moral codes,  animals, including humans, are often immoral, greedy, selfish, thieving reprobates.

But what if, instead, we look at the universe as evolving, if we look at everything that happens in the universe as a thrust toward greater life?  Then our apparently selfish behaviors are a manifestation of that thrust toward greater life which most of us recognize in ourselves.  We are born with this drive to live, to stay alive, to be more.

This drive toward greater life isn’t just manifest in our apparently self-serving, however.  It is also manifest in the altruistic behaviors, the sharing, the putting oneself in danger or even sacrificing ones own life for the sake of others.   Animal studies confirm what I suspect many societies have understood for thousands of years – that although other animals hunt and kill other organisms in order to survive, they also engage in a heartening array of altruistic and surprisingly intelligent behaviors.

The mistake of sociobiology is not to suggest that all our genes are “selfish” in the sense we seek to preserve and expand our own genetic heritage.  The mistake is not to recognize that caring for others, even those not of our own species, even for those things which are not manifestly alive (like the environment), is also part of this thust for life.

So we look at the universe and we have a choice.  We may decide that something has gone terribly wrong.  Christian theology opts for this choice – we are all sinners living in a material world which is not our true spiritual home and from which we must strive to free ourselves.  Or we can conclude that we are part of a great ongoing evolution of life which has continued for millions of years.

Depending on which explanation one opts for, one will conclude either  that our theory is wrong or that creation itself is intrinsically badly messed up.

Given the fallacy of human reasoning, I’m much more inclined to think that it is our understanding of the universe that is wrong rather than the universe which is running amuck.

I think the essence of morality is to choose life.  Sometimes we make terrible mistakes so that what we think is a choice for life is a choice for death.  Sometimes these choices are so catastrophic that we look back on them with horror, and we can see no explanation for them save that they are sinful.

And yet we know that there are times when the truly moral choice is to lie, or steal, or even kill.  Societies tell us that these things are wrong and under normal circumstances life will be better served by truth, by care, by mutual respect.  But not always.

So I look at that penguin “stealing” stones from his neighbour’s nest, and it gives me hope.

It gives me hope that the drive, the thirst for life pervades the universe.  And even when things seem to go horribly wrong, it may be our lack of vision that is the limitation.

It might not be that the whole of creation has somehow become screwed up.

As someone wiser than I put it, the universe is unfolding as it should.



1 Comment »

  1. I don’t know the first thing about Evolution, having dropped out of Science by the age of sixteen. I think that it is to do with “the survival of the fittest” in that those that are most fitting/most appropriate/ most well adapted for the environment are going to survive and continue, and those that can’t adapt/fit will die out.
    You argued that,” It doesn’t look to me as if the innocent and naive are going to flourish.” I am immediately thrown into HG Wells’ time machine, looking at the Morlocks and the Eloi – and although the Eloi looked as if they were flourishing, they were pawns in the Morlock life cycle and were morally vacant. So, it looks as if you are on the same page with HG Wells.
    However, I have always thought that it is odd that children are born to be so selfish and self-serving – and that through life, people tend to learn that selflessness is ‘the way forward’. My son cannot understand why my mum does not want birthday presents – he would go wild for the acquisition of “stuff” – but I assume he will eventually learn. I’d be sad if he didn’t.
    Maybe I have lived in a civilisation whose veneer has been successful – I have never yet been in the dog-eat-dog chaos of a power vacuum or aftermath of a natural disaster.
    As for the innocent and naive – they perhaps won’t flourish – but I would hope there was a space for the flourishing for the wise but selfless??
    The other thing I can’t get out of my head is the apostle Paul’s monologue about being a wretched man: “What I want to do I do not to and what I do not what to do I do” – or something approximate to that. That although morality is apparent to humankind, the ability to put it into practice is not always possible.
    You argue ” apparently selfish behaviours are a manifestation of that thrust toward greater life” but I think in practice selfishness leads to deprivation, depravity and isolation. As “we” become more selfish, we create more poverty, climate change, inequality – and perhaps more luxury, comfort and obesity also.
    As for ” the universe is unfolding as it should” – I find that interesting. I think it is unfolding the way it is unfolding. The use of “should” implies a plan?

    I like the images in the bible about the kingdom of heaven – most of which give a picture that things are mixed, things are not all well, things are generally unsatisfactory – but there is the idea that there is a core justice which supersedes the present reality. I find that this idea makes sense, in that so much of life is a joy – with glimpses of perfection, windows into what could be. At the same time there is the hell of poverty, human trafficking, tsunamis….

    We are in constant flux, and creation is on a journey for sure. But I think that unless humankind get over Paul’s morality crisis, putting the right plans into action for the world will be very difficult.


    Comment by sanstorm — October 24, 2011 @ 9:24 pm | Reply

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