Friday, November 11, 2011

Alone in the Cosmos?

It has been suggested that the universe of science is a lonelier place than that of religion.  Religious people live in a universe crowded with spirits (spirits oddly concerned about human activity); science posits a universe free of such spirits, and thus lonelier.   

What it is missing from this idea is consideration of the other animals.  While the scientific view has excluded the notion of free-floating spirits, it has also recognized (thanks to Darwin) that we are one animal amongst many – that we have much in common with our fellow creatures.  True, we cannot hold an intelligent conversation with them (nor with most other people, unfortunately), but we can relate to them in a variety of ways.  

To many of the major religions, particularly those that arose in the Levant, humans belong to a fundamentally different category of existence than other animals, and thus such animals are not worthy of a relationship.  For a person who takes animals seriously, however, other animals can be wonderful company, and thus the world we live in is a very lively place.  The religious person may pray to the heavenly spirits to “give us this day our daily bread,” but the animal lover can carry bread to the pond and give unto the ducks some daily bread.  How much better to be an angel to other creatures, than to muck around wondering when and if the angels will give us ours.  

Someone might remind me here that in the view of science the great expanse of the cosmos is empty.  I spend many a night gazing up at the distant, silent stars.  Not infrequently the silence is broken by a flock of geese, swans, cranes or some lone songbird – and that singular living sound makes angst over the emptiness of space seems absurd.  For the person with no fellow feeling for animals, the loss of spirits may make the world seem lonelier, but such a person has missed one of the really joyful ideas of modern science.

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