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Who are we? God, Science, and Humanity



Quotes of the day:

"The human brain is a most unusual instrument of elegant as yet unknown capacity" - Stuart Seaton

"The greatness of humanity is not in being human, but in being humane" - Gandhi

"A human being is a single being, unique and unrepeatable" - Eileen Caddy


God, Science, and Humanity 


This blog is a response to the following knowledge question:

“Knowledge gives us a sense of who we are.” To what extent is this true in the human sciences and one other area of knowledge?



For the past century,  scientists had been using animals for medical trials, surgical procedure practices, and cosmetic testing. This brought about many new benefits for the human race, including insulin treatments for diabetes patients, and heart valve transplants from pigs to humans. However, with the new scientific era came new ethical, social, and scientific questions for humanity. Do animals have feelings? As human beings, what are our responsibilities to other living creatures? What makes us any special, any different from other animals? But, from all of these questions, the token question of all time was clearly highlighted: what does it mean to be human?

For thousands of years, we have looked to areas of knowledge to explain what it is that makes us different from other species. Our curiosity, imagination, and intelligence brought us religion, astronomy, other natural sciences, history, and the human sciences to explain "who we are" or what makes us human.

Modern natural sciences have often looked at human beings objectively as other mammals, and in many recent studies have tried to explain the power of the human mind as a simple evolutionary coincidence. This area of knowledge gives a secular view to what makes us human, and while it may seem to degrade the status of humanity, in many cases it explains the uniqueness of human beings through studies of the brain and our reasoning abilities.

Meanwhile, the human sciences give us a sense of who we are through our collective history, this area of knowledge is a living, breathing example of how our complex and scientific brains adapt and react to change. They show how we are affected by our surroundings and how we affect them.

From atoms to homo sapiens sapiens

In 2012, a declaration was signed by the Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness. It stated that animals have a conscious understanding to the same degree as humans do. Since recent years there has been a lot of evidence and studies that prove that we share pain and emotions and genetic features with other animals. Biology and other areas of science give us a sense of who we are by explaining how our bodies work, how we have evolved, how our brain learns and makes connections, and also what our place is in the universe. 

God and Science: not a binary


Image source 
Many people find science to be discouraging, it can show us how tiny we are compared to the grandeur of the universe. It can tell us that we are nothing but about eleven elements (and a few sprinkles of others) mixed together in just the right amount, and just the right conditions. Science places humanity in context with its surroundings in a way that frightens many people, especially those of certain beliefs. In fact, for people who have been raised in families of strict Christian faith, for example, may find that science does not give them a sense of who they are. It instead challenges their beliefs and their ideas of what makes them human. Theories of evolution, the origin of feelings and emotions,  theories of creation and origins of life are challenging to biblical stories such as Genesis. In addition, many religions with concepts of the soul, heaven, earth, hell, and sin often find science as contradictory to their ideas of where they come from and who they are.


But while the natural sciences can make some feel uncomfortable, it can also strengthen the faith of others. In fact, many people of strong faith have actually contributed to many scientific discoveries, and many argue that it bring their faith and their sense of who they are closer to God. As an example, many of the early scientists that supported and helped come up with the theories of evolution were devout Christians; they felt that it helped understand God's methods of creation better. Furthermore, many things in science are taken as miracles by people who believe. Numbers such as the mass of the Higgs Boson or the force of gravity in the universe are so perfect that if they were any different it is highly unlikely the universe could exist.

You're special... but you're not...


So how does any of this give human beings a sense of who they are?

1. Gratitude and amazement

In order for you to get here, millions of random coincidences had to happen. First of all, the universe had to be created with just the right amount of everything from gravitational force, to matter, and strong and weak forces. The universe had to have exactly the laws of physics it has now,  and the right elements. Then, millions of collisions of atoms must have happened in just the right way to create this galaxy and this solar system. After that, the earth had to be formed at the perfect distance from the sun, with just the right amount of water, the perfect atmosphere, and the right size. After this, life had to be formed, and it had to evolve exactly the way it did to create humans. But even so, your ancestors had to meet each other, and live long enough to have kids and care for them long enough to have their own kids for generation after generation. Your parents then had to meet, and be in the exact same circumstances for you to be born, and develop exactly the way you did. All of this may sound kind of simple if you just say it, but in real life, it is an estimated one in 700 trillion chance of you being here at exactly this place, and exactly this time. By the way, this is not very far from the one in 400 trillion chance calculated by Buddhists hundreds of years ago. This can put in context how thankful we should really be to be alive, and how special this world is


2.  Humility
Even though the existence of the human race is almost a miracle, science can also give us a sense of unison and humility with other people, as well as with animals and other living creatures. Genetic studies have shown that we share about 98.8 percent of our DNA with chimpanzees, and we even share a lot of our DNA with plants and other animals. Furthermore, each one of us shares about 99.9% of our DNA with every single other human in the world. We share many of our behavior traits with other species, including feelings, thought processes, and (to a smaller scale), warfare, social structures, and communication. Knowing these facts, it is easy to tolerate other people, and other animals, and care for them.


The living, talking, breathing experiment: Social Sciences

So, if we share so many traits with other animals, what really makes us different? Well, science can tell why our brain has developed differently, how our anatomy makes us differently, how our genome compares to that of other animals, and what sorts of hormones and chemical reactions are responsible for who we are as people. However, to really see and explain why a human is a human, the social sciences are what we look into. They attempt to study and explain large-scale warfare, human interactions,  and the unpredictability of the human mind in different kinds of environments.


Something key to being human is the ability to think and reflect upon our actions, to have deep thoughts, and to influence other human beings at a large, global scale. That is what the social sciences study, human interactions and how they have developed over time. It studies exactly what the Natural Sciences say sets us apart.


Of course, the Human Sciences are a lot more abstract. They are subject to unpredictability, and they are also subject to bias as many parts of the Social Sciences deal with the stories and interactions of humans. They all have different opinions and ways of seeing the world.


The symbiotic relationship:



One thing that is very interesting is the human ability to use science to our favor. Our imagination and reason come together to find ways to understand science, and in turn impact humanity. The natural Sciences impact the Social Sciences, creating new ways of living, communicating, and thinking, as well as higher standards of living, and higer progress. In turn, people impact nature and science by changing the world around them, creating materials that were non-existent or barely existent before such as some elements in the periodic table, and impacting the earth and all the living species within it.


Finally, we must also be aware that with humanity come ethics. We are the only species in the planet with clearly defined, and clearly communicated ethical codes. We must remember to use them to use science and our discoveries to the favor of other people and the world in general,





















Comments

  1. I like this response a lot. In an essay, more formal attention would need to be paid to pacing and voice, but as a blog it reads quite nicely. Your treatment of the Natural Sciences is really nice, and I like that you take the opportunity early on to make clear that by "a sense of who we are" you are talking about that deep-seated understanding of what it means to be human. Interesting that you feel compelled to bring Religion in here. Is it from Religious Knowledge ("faith"?) that we have traditionally drawn our "sense of who we are?"

    Your treatment of Human Sciences, though, is greatly lacking in complexity. Your attempt to link (HS help explain the parts of us that NS say are different?) is confusing and also probably inaccurate (much of what HS studies are probably, deep down, still genetic -- IE, war is linked very clearly with aggressiveness that is seen across the animal kingdom...as are gender roles)...Remember that this essay best operates through compare/contrast...demonstrate the ways that Human Sciences is similar/different from Natural sciences. What new/different "sense of who we are" does it offer?

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