Sunday, February 19, 2006

From Homo Sapiens to Homo Insciens [a] - The Evolution of the Soulless man.

I started writing this at the end of the week that the Church dedicated to Christian Unity (January 25th 2006). I write a day after Pope Benedict issued his first encyclical “Deus Caritas est” – “God is love”. What a simple and yet profound statement that is!!! What an appropriate time to issue such an encyclical relating to the topic of love – a time when the true definition of love has become so distorted – that in practice, especially in the media, and very much so engrained in our society, it has come to mean nothing more then “to use and abuse”.

As I continue to write this (February 19th, 2006 - Yes, it took me a month to come back to writing – much has happened in between!!!) I look at the world and see hatred spreading. I write now a couple of weeks after the publishing of the caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad in the Danish newspapers as well as in several other newspapers of various nations and as the protests, killings, pillaging and destruction including that of Christian churches continues.

It appears to me that as humans we strive to appear balanced, and yet we are not capable of achieving anything but one extreme or another. Like the extremes in politics – where fascism and communism are at both extremes of the political spectrum and neither represents democracy, so one can look at lust and hatred as the two extremes of the spectrum of true love. If one stops to think and observe it is impossible, I feel for one not to ask – ‘is this all we are capable of doing?; Have we no sense?’ However it appears that few, if any, stop and ask this question, or our world would be a much better place. Furthermore fewer still appear to have any sense left. For, who in their right mind would want the world as it is now for themselves and even for their children?

In the Preface of the book “Neuronal Man: The Biology of the Mind” by Jean-Pierre Changeux[1] the writer says “Seen from another planet, human behavior would seem rather surprising. We are one of the rare species that kills our kind deliberately. Even worse, sometimes we condemn an individual murder while rewarding those responsible for collective homicide and the inventors of terrible war machines. This absurd madness has pursued man throughout history, from the invention of the Stone Age ax to the perfecting of thermonuclear bombs.

The writer then continues to say that “It (human behavior) has resisted all religions and all philosophies, even the most magnanimous. As emphasized by Arthur Koestler, it is hard-wired into the organization of the human brain”.

I will weave this particular blog around the statement above since there is so much depth and so much to comment about from the few words quoted above. I will be working backward through the statement as I analyze the truths or lack of and rationality or irrationality behind what it states and what it concludes. From there then I will work back to Pope Benedict’s encyclical and its relevance to our daily life and our world today.

Humans must be the most absurd of all creations. We must be the greatest paradox of God’s creation. Genesis tells us that following His creation of the world “God saw how good it was”[2]. The Holy Scripture than proceeds to tell us that “God created man in his image, in the divine image he created him; male and female he created them”[3]. Two important concepts can be extracted from this sentence – the first being that God created humans in his own image and secondly that he created man and woman equal. Furthermore the scripture continues to tell us that only after God had created man and woman in His own image did He look “at everything he had made, and he found it very good (my emphasis)”[4]. Two important points to be extracted summarizing the scripture quoted above are: 1. the significance/value and sacredness of human life and 2. that humans are NOT intrinsically evil since simple deduction would easily reach the conclusion that if we were so we could not ever be “very good” nor be the “image of God”.

I cannot but agree that human behavior is absurd and that human behavior is also complex. However human behavior is “complicated” by the fact of the existence of the soul which is what makes us the image of God. Nancy Murphy in her introduction to the book “Neuroscience and the Person: Scientific Perspectives on Divine Action”[5] summarized St. Augustine’s concept of the person as being: “a human being is an immortal (not eternal) soul using (not imprisoned in) a mortal body”. Condemning humans to a hard-wired, robotic, reflex dependent and pre-programmed system of life, automatically and intrinsically contradicts reason as well as what the Holy Scriptures tell us about “why” humans exist. It predestines humans to a miserable outcome, irrespective of options. It predestines humans to doom from the womb. The complexity of this argument is further evident in the never ending discussion on the role of genes vs the environment (nature vs nurture). As a neuroscientist I deal on a daily basis with the complexity of the brain, as do thousands of other scientists. No scientist in their right mind and who sincerely wanted to speak the truth about the discoveries of science would ever come to any other conclusion other than that we deal with much that is unexplainable and the little that we know about the human brain contrasts the immensity of what we do not understand. No true scientist would ever refuse to admit or believe that there are concepts that are beyond human understanding. I, for one am sure that, irrespective of the progress in technology and knowledge in the years to come there will remain limitations that are not solely of the temporal order associated with our developing mind, but also limitations that pertain to our finite capacity to understand the infinite.

Therefore there remains the unknown, the spiritual, which we cannot truly ever understand fully. However this spiritual side of mankind is what makes any theory proposing “hard-wiring” even less supportable as the explanation of human behavior. Some sort of “hard-wiring” is obviously necessary as nature follows its course through the centuries. However unlike the rest of creation humans have a choice. We can choose right from wrong. We can refrain from doing wrong and work actively to do the right thing or we can choose to do the opposite. The choice is ours. We are NOT driven simply by instinct.

With the above thoughts in mind, the following four sections endeavor to investigate the following concepts:

1. The relationship between the soul and human reason

2. The relationship between human reason and the capacity for humans to love
3. The current disintegration of human behavior
4. The importance of Pope Benedict XVI’s encyclical in light of the current situation in our world.


The Soul and Knowledge


[N.B. I return to writing on April 16th, 2006 – Easter Sunday. As I write I see that this topic is truly complicated – not that I did not know it when I set out to do it – I just feel sorry for the reader!!! I came to the conclusion that at least if no one else understood what I wrote, which I hope is not the case because that was not the scope of the blog, at least it would serve or have served as an aid for myself towards understanding more where I stand and what I understand of my faith.]

The spiritual aspect of mankind is in fact what truly defines us from the rest of creation. I proceed in this topic with caution due to its profoundness and complexity and of course due to the limited knowledge I myself have about this topic.

To discuss this matter I wish to mostly draw on the Summa Theologica of St. Thomas Aquinas (Treatise on Man) and follow the logic presented in this document. I wish to expand on the topic beyond the two key words in the heading of this section (i.e. soul and knowledge) for the simple reason that I believe that the more we look at something in its entirety (or as close as we can to it) the closer we are to coming to some sort of understanding of it.

Firstly we must comprehend/accept that the life, soul, movement and knowledge are so very intimately linked that they make the essence of who we are and why we are here. I hope that the following will somehow bring that out.

Life: St. Thomas commences his arguments by defining the soul as the “first principle of life” using simple logic and reasoning that we utilize in our daily lives for the classification of objects i.e. animate (anima [Lat] = soul) or inanimate objects being those objects which have life or do not have life respectively. He also tells us that life “is shown principally by two actions, knowledge and movement” – which I will explain in more detail below.

Soul: St. Thomas tells us that the soul is “is not a body, but the act of a body”. My humble interpretation of this (and I stand to be corrected) is that the soul comes into existence to give life to the body however it is not in existence before it. I found that the simplest way of understanding the chronology of this or grasping this concept is to refer to the scriptures. In Genesis, relative to the creation of man it says “…the LORD God formed (my emphasis) the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life (my emphasis), and the man became a living being.” (Genesis 2:7). Thus the creation of the body (“formed”) precedes the principle of life (“breath of life”) which is the soul.

Movement: St. Thomas concisely summarizes movement as the transition from “potentiality” to “actuality”. For movement to take place, “movers” are necessary. A mover, as can be perceived from the word itself, is that which causes a movement. A mover, through giving “what it has to the thing moved” induces the transition from potentiality to actuality – i.e. it causes that which has a potential to move to actually move (“to be in act”). There are however, different types of movers.

First and foremost there is the “Unmoved mover” – This is by definition God. He simply IS – Yahweh – “I am who am” – He is NOT a creaTURE but IS the creaTOR. He therefore is the cause of “movement” however he himself simply IS.

Without going into excessive detail, we need to understand that an object can be moved either “accidentally” or “essentially”. The former implies movements that are in succession where the presence of the mover is not essential for the “moved” to continue moving (e.g. the egg requires a chicken to come into existence however the egg does not require the continued presence of the chicken to hatch). The latter implies a movement where the “moved” requires the continued presence of the mover to continue moving. God being the “unmoved mover” is neither moved essentially nor accidentally. The soul is an example of a mover that is moved accidentally (continues to exist even after the death of the body). The body is an example of a mover that is moved essentially (i.e. requires soul to be present to be alive).

I went into the detail that I did about movers as I feel that it is essential to have some understanding of the “causal relationship” that exists between the body and the soul.

Knowledge: I left this for last even though it was the aspect that related most to what I was discussing in terms of the distinction between humans and the other creatures.

St. Thomas describes the soul as being “incorporeal” i.e. not composed of matter. At this point we need to tie in the three points I have mention above before we proceed. Here is the logic we need to remember: Life is given through the presence of the Soul. If life is defined by “knowledge and movement”, then to me it appears to follow that the soul can equally be defined by “knowledge and movement” [compare to the math equation: If L (life) =S (soul) and L = k (knowledge) + m (movement); then it also follows that S = k + m]

The reason St. Thomas gives for the soul being incorporeal (again – meaning not composed of matter) is that through our intellect, we “can have knowledge of all corporeal [composed of matter] things”. This follows from the logic that given the body has a “determinate nature” i.e. is limited in time, space or character, it is by it own nature, limited in what it can know. I guess the best example I can give would be that of the fact that it is impossible for us to comprehend infinity. Another example is that of animals – since they do not a soul in the same way as humans do, they do not have any knowledge/understanding beyond their instinct (which is nothing more than pre-programmed behavior for a given situation – it does NOT imply understanding). Irrespective of what some scientists would like to say this is the TRUTH. No animal in recorded or prerecorded history has ever expressed emotions or feelings or expressed knowledge through paintings, music, writing etc. as humans have done from the earliest records. Also, for the record, there have been many co-existent humans and animals for thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands of years and maybe even more and neither has evolved into each other (although it goes without saying that some human behavior is worse than what some animals do). For more arguments in this respect read G.K. Chesterton’s “The Everlasting Man”.

Thus, as St. Thomas concludes: “the intellectual principle which we call the mind or the intellect has an operation "per se" apart from the body.”

I could go on quite a bit more, however I have gone into this topic more than I ever anticipated. To summarize the whole argument and concept into a simple single sentence I have to use a quote from the Summa itself and that is “that man understands through the soul.”


Knowledge and Love


[N.B. I return to writing on June 25th, 2006. Unfortunately given the hoohaa about “The Da Vinci Code” I had to postpone continuing this blog until I finalized the one about the same book/movie]


One may ask how these two could even be related. However one has to keep in mind that the ultimate TRUTH lies in God as Pope John Paul II put it in “Veritatis Spendor”: “The spendor of the truth shines forth in the works of the Creator……Truth enlightens man’s intelligence and shapes his freedom….” God is omniscient. God is also the ultimate definition of LOVE. Pope Benedict XVI in “Deus Caritas Est” tells us: “God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God and God abides in him”. The relationship between truth and knowledge may be obvious, however the two are also intricately linked to love since they make the “substance” of God – who God truly is (in mathematical terms – if A, B and C are a subset of X then it is possible to conclude that while they the three entities are different they influence each other and essentially make up the definition of X).

We have in the previous sections linked the soul to knowledge. To explain the link between Knowledge and Love I wish to use the writings in Saint Faustina’s diary which in her simplicity truly explains this link:

God makes known to me, even now, the immensity of the love He already had for me before time began; and as for me, I have just begun to love Him, in time. His love was [ever] great, pure and disinterested, and my love for Him comes from the fact that I am beginning to know Him. The more I come to know Him, the more ardently, the more fiercely I love Him, and the more perfect my acts become…….From the very first time that I came to know the Lord, the gaze of my soul became drowned in Him for all eternity. Each time the Lord draws close to me and my knowledge of Him grows deeper, a more perfect love grows within my soul” (231)

I feel that in this paragraph Sr. Faustina truly links God to knowledge and knowledge to love. Of course this would mean little to anyone who does not comprehend that the ultimate TRUTH, LOVE and KNOWLEDGE lie in God.

How all of this becomes intertwined into human behavior and its deterioration is the aim of the discussion of the next section.


The Evolution of the Soulless Man


In the discussion so far we have observed that: understanding comes through the soul (St. Augustine) – meaning that knowledge ultimately comes through the soul. Knowledge and love are intricately linked IN God and both find their fulfillment IN God.

Simple deduction would lead us to the following conclusion:

Conclusion 1: Denial of the role of the soul in our daily life – acting as if there was no soul, no spiritual aspect in our lives, leads to a deprivation of knowledge and worse still of TRUE knowledge that comes from God. In doing so, our actions become nothing more than mere instinct i.e. thoughtless and irrational acts.

Conclusion 2: In denying the spirit in us, in denying the higher responsibility that we have as humans created in the image of God, in denying the knowledge that reaches out to us from God through the soul, we ultimately deny the love of God. Once you reach this point, very little intelligence is required to conclude that in denying the love of God, we are unable to love our neighbor. This leads to the deterioration and ultimate degeneration of the moral fabric of society ultimately leading to the disorder that we observe around us - the hatred, the disarray, laws outlawing God, laws legalizing abortion, the pill, promiscuity, permissiveness in general - the mentality that nurtures the “culture of death”.

Referring to the opening quote around which I am weaving this commentary, at this point it becomes clear that this “absurd madness” that Jean-Pierre Changeux claims to have “pursued us throughout history” has in reality NOT pursued us at all. It has been a madness that WE have actively fostered and nurtured and potentially sought/pursued through our self-glorifying and hence self-destructive behavior. It also becomes clear that this “absurd madness” is in NO way “hard-wired” in us, since hard-wiring implies a behavior over which we
have no control, a behavior that is innate.


Hence – to summarize all that has been said so far – we come to the infamous “Soulless man” – the human who was NOT created soulless, but EVOLVED INTO BEING soulless through his own choice, obstinacy, proud, egocentric, and narcissistic behavior and his efforts to obliterate God from the daily fabric of human life.



Deus Caritas Est – The Light at the End of the Tunnel


This part of the blog is long overdue for closure. So, rather than get into a fresh discussion I wish to focus more on summarizing some points that are highlighted in the encylical "Deus Caritas Est" - God is Love.


To give an overall summary of what this encyclical stands for - there could be no better antithesis to the overall attitude of modern society, than the words written in this encyclical which obviously reflect the words of Christ. What the encyclical teaches us stands out as a contrast to modern social behavior as black stands out from white. This will be clear as you read through the summary points I have below [bold or [comments in square brackets] are my emphasis/addition]:


Eros vs Agape ?

"An intoxicated and undisciplined eros, then is not an ascent in "ecstacy" towar the Divine, but a fall, a degredation of man"

"...there is a certain relationship between love and the Divine: love promises infinity, eternity......to attain this goal is not simply by submitting to instinct. Purification and growth in maturity are called for.....Far from rejecting or "poisoning" eros [which is what Friedrich Neitzsche claimed Christianity did], they heal it and restore its true grandeur."

"...it is neither the spirit alone nor the body alone that loves: it is man, the person, a unified crature composed of body and soul, who loves. Only when both dimensions are truly united does man attain his full stature."

"Eros, reduced to pure "sex," has become a commodity, a mere "thing" to be bought and sold, or rather, man himself becomes a commodity"

"Christian faith....has always considered man a unity in duality, a reality in which spirit matter compenetrate, and in which each is brought to a new nobility."

"...eros and agape...can never be completely separated. The more the two,, in their different aspects, find a proper unity in the one reality of love, the more the true nature of love in general is realized.....eros which seeks God and agape whcih passes on the gift received...."love" is a single reality, but with different dimensions"

Following the detailed discussion on love the first part of the encyclical continues by describing how God expressed and expresses His love towards humanity (through Jesus Christ - the incarnate love of God) and Jesus through his giving of himself with the ultimate sacrifice of himself on the cross and of course in his presence the holy Eucharist. The document continues to relate love of neighbor to love of God and how the two interrelate.

In the second part of the encylical the role of the Church is this expression of true love is described.

"Love is therefore the service that the Church carries out in order to attend constantly to man's sufferings and his needs, including material needs....."The Church's deepest nature is expressed in her three-fold responsibility: of proclaiming the Word of God (kerygma-martryria), celebrating the sacraments (leitourgia), and exercising the ministry of charity (diakonia)."

The expression of charity also involves an aspect of social justice that many other encylicals and church documents such as Rerum Novarum, Populorum Progressio, Laborem Exercens deal with in detail.

To conclude the Church directs us to the example of the saints. In particular and above all towars our Blessed Mother Mary "Mother of the Lord and mirror of all holiness.....[whose] greatness consists in the fact that she wants to magnify God, not herself. She is lowly: her only desire is to be the handmaid of the Lord...She speaks and thinks with the Word of God...Mary is a woman who loves...We sense this in her quiet gestures....delicacy...[and] humility...."

Thus "Mary, Virgin and Mother, shows us what love is and whence it draws its origin and its constantly renewed power. To her we entrust the Church and her mission in the service of love.."

Thus this encylical stands out as a guide towards unmaking the degradation into what I referred to earlier as the "soulless man". It gives the direction to build us as humans into truly mature and loving human beings. The choice is ours now....The church has done her bit!

May God bless you (+) and keep you

Stephen

[a] Homo Sapiens – Latin for “wise man”; Homo Insciens – Latin for “ignorant man”
[1] Neuronal Man: The Biology of Mind. Jean-Pierre Changeux. Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ
[2] Gen 1:25
[3] Gen 1:27
[4] Gen 1:31 [At this point I do not wish to get into the evolution vs intelligent design argument as I will do so at a later time. However I do want to say that the role of the Holy Scriptures is to tell us the “why” while the role of science is to tell us the “how”. Thus the whole point of the creation narrative in Genesis and the context in which I am using it here is solely to acknowledge the relationship between God and humans from the very beginning – and that humans ARE a creation of God (i.e. the “why”)]
[5] Neuroscience and the Person: Scientific Perspectives on Divine Action. Eds RJ Russell, N Murphy, TC Meyering, MA Arbib. Vatican Observatory – Center for Theology and the Natural Sciences. Notre Dame, IN.

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