Guest Author - Daniel LeBoeuf
As much as I don’t want this area to be a bash religion forum, there are some essential principles which must be understood in order for the nontheist position to be clearly defined. So let’s go back to the beginning, to the dawn of time, as it were. Human time, anyway. Before designer shoes, before telephones, before air conditioning, before electricity was harnessed, before sailing ships, before cultivated land, before the wheel, before fire, before the first crude shelter was built.
The Bible gives us Adam and Eve, a story that purports to explain not only the creation of the entire universe, but also why we are no longer living the lives of bliss and plenty that our God created us to enjoy and tend (the snake and fruit story).
Science gives us something different. Humans were just another species roaming the planet, scratching out existence as best we could. Which wasn’t very good. As a species, we lack many natural advantage to survive in the wild.
We have no fur, so we were relegated to a relatively narrow band of suitable climate zones in which to live. There is a reason why the earliest human remains so far found are in desert climates. (Up until 2010, it was believed that the earliest remains were in Africa and dated about 200,000 years ago. However, an Israeli team believes they’ve found human remains in Israel that date back over 400,000 years (discovery.com, “World’s Oldest Human Remains?”, December 28, 2010))
The list of things we don’t have goes on and on. We have no offensive weapons like fangs, talons, claws, venom, tusks, or spikes. We have no defensive ability like flight, great speed, camouflaging color, tough hide, or, again, dense fur. We’re not particularly large animals - bigger than squirrels and wolves, but smaller than most predatory animals like bears and lions. We’re not particularly strong animals, either. So scratching out existence primarily meant running away from big animals while trying to catch and eat small animals. In between we slept and made more humans.
At least, that’s what it would have been if we had not developed the one natural advantage we have – our minds. We have two natural abilities that other species don’t have, or, at least, don’t have in such abundance: memory and reason.
With memory we can learn how the world around us works through our five senses, categorize those data, store them away, and retrieve them later. We’re not even conscious of this process most of the time. Our brains store an incredible amount of information, most of which we’ll never use again.
It’s the reasoning ability that sets us apart and allows us not only to survive, but to thrive. We can take the information in our memories and use two processes to make those memories into concepts useful to survival (we’ll discuss percepts and concepts in another article, which I’ll link to here as soon as I post it). Those processes are inductive and deductive reasoning.
Inductive reasoning involves taking a sampling of personal experiences or observations and deriving general principles from them. Deductive reasoning is taking general principles or laws and working through a series of “if…then” statements (usually) to derive conclusions, often in an effort to synthesize prior learning and create new knowledge.
So we can see that reason is a primary cause for our survival as a species. Using both reasoning processes, we have created all those things that make our lives more secure (medicine, fire, shelter, central air and heating) but also more fun (games, literature, art). We’ve taken previously hard, laborious tasks like washing clothes and turned them into more opportunities to sit on our behinds and watch TV and get fat. Okay, so we haven’t created a utopia with reasoning.
Notice, though, that the Adam and Eve story has the exact opposite moral. What did the fruit represent? Knowledge. Specifically, the knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 2:16), though the Bible is frustratingly unclear on what that means. In the Quran, Allah merely warns the duo not to eat from the tree lest they become wrongdoers (7:19), not surprising given as how knowledge was more highly developed and revered in the Muslim world than in Christendom at the time the Quran was written.
The portrayal of human reasoning is a key difference between religion and science, and one of the things non-theists of all stripes must understand. To be fully human, we must use our minds and reasoning abilities to observe and test our environments and to interact with each other. It is the basis for human survival and life.