Science, especially in the areas of molecular biology, biochemistry, and neuroscience, is changing the way we in western culture view human beings, human nature, and the human experience. Some claim that this may prove a much more serious challenge to Christian faith than the science surrounding the age of the earth or evolution and common descent. To explore these issues related to neuroscience we’ve been looking at books by Malcolm Jeeves, a Professor of Psychology Emeritus at the University of St. Andrews, and a Christian. It is wise, however, to consider what non-Christians as well as Christians have to say about these topics.
Recently I’ve begun reading a short book Neither Gods Nor Beasts by Elof Axel Carlson (a good Scandinavian name). Carlson is a geneticist who taught biology for decades at UCLA and at Stony Brook. He calls himself a non-theist, and has little appreciation for religious faith. He is not, however, a militant atheist. The premise of his book is that humans are distinct from other animals in possessing reason and his argument is one for science, science education, and the use of reason. The post today looks at his introduction, before he moves into the details of his arguments.
Human Nature, Human Reason. Carlson makes the point that the human condition is not human nature, and that the human condition has changed, and improved, throughout time as we have accumulated knowledge.
In one sense, humans are no smarter than they were 20,000 years ago. But knowledge is cumulative, and with the development of language, humans could store that knowledge and pass it on from parent to child, from guild member to guild apprentice, and from schoolteacher to schoolchild. In general, what worked and what was useful was preserved and what was false or harmful was rejected and forgotten or served as a cautionary tale. (p. 2-3)
He argues that “what makes us human is our capacity to reason.“
We learn poorly, if at all, from revelation, from intuition, from hearsay, or from superstition. What distinguishes the human mind from the minds of most animals is our capacity to use our reason to figure out how the universe works, what our place in the universe is, and how we can provide a world more humane for our children than what we ourselves experienced. (p. 3)