ENVIRONMENTAL ETHICS – MORE THAN SCIENCE
As a scientist and philosopher, I write to see what I think. Here’s what I think, for what it’s worth. You decide.
I’ve been trying to reconcile science with spirituality for some time now and found that it can’t be done from either end—it requires that we go up a level (to philosophy, their source). I’m lucky to have had a peak experience in 1992, www.extremeethics.org/ethics-peak-experiences/ an unexpected but true enlightenment that set me on a promising track and caused me to write a book about ethics. Writing To Tell The Truth provided me with plenty of opportunity to “see what I think” and show that much of it is well-founded. One of the things I’ve found is that we all have faith whether or not we want it or even admit to it. Want an example? We fall asleep at night fully expecting to wake up. That’s faith. Don’t believe it? You don’t have to—it’s there anyway…
Faith is based in reason (not religion), and man is gifted with intellect that enables him to reason—it’s what identifies mankind. Rationality provides us with the means to shape our individual destinies in accordance with the way we should live our lives, but we don’t always do this. We forget that while we all create our own individual lives as we live them, we do not create nature. That’s already been done—nature created us. Witness the Universe and the living Earth of which we are a product.
Science dates the Universe at some 13.7 billion years, but in order for it to have happened, there had to be a cause. Something (this something being the basis for many religions) had to precede it, even though we can’t identify it because it’s literally beyond our dimension—metaphysical rather than physical. Our innate spirituality is given of this dynamis (a metaphysical term; science has no such concept).
I’ve often made the point that an effect can’t prove its cause, a result can’t prove its origin, a conclusion can’t confirm its grounds, an outcome can’t define its input nor can an end justify its means. These are all ways of saying the same thing: that the answer to the origin of anything always lies outside of the thing itself (Gödel’s mathematically-proven Incompleteness Theorem).
I submit that Consciousness is that base, and Truth its manifestation. Our intellect is a divine gift that we often accept without acknowledgment, perhaps because we tend to associate ‘divine’ with religion. But religion isn’t a factor. Truth precedes religions and even the universe, and intelligence is based in truth—a given available to you whenever you decide to use it–and the answer lies in the givens.
We possess faith/spirituality because it’s an ethical given integral to reality, and givens aren’t an issue because they’re already in place no matter what. But when we seek to rationally understand reality we must remember that there’s more to it than what we see. To truly understand reality we must consider as well its spiritual dimension which enables the intellect we use without even thinking about it. In the absence of scientific proof this requires faith and, as we’ve seen, faith is a given that can be discerned rationally, available for use at any time.
OK–so what? What does all of this mean to us? What’s the practical application? Environmental ethics, that’s what.
Reason calls for recognizing limits to our power over nature; WE HAVE NONE because the Universe (nature itself) has that spiritual dimension which we often don’t acknowledge much less understand or hope to control. Whatever we do, nature bats last. We are products—effects—of nature (the cause of our own existence), and as such we can neither prove nor control it. Being powerless to direct it obliges us to respect it as our mentor and acknowledge its source. We must have faith in what we can’t know (and we’ve seen that we have faith—a priori—even if we don’t realize it). Again: It’s spiritual, but not religious.
[In case this doesn’t jump right out at you, think “Global Warming” or, more properly, climate control; and know this: We don’t control climate—we adapt to it as best we can. CLIMATE IS INTEGRAL WITH NATURE, and it so happens that Earth is in an interglacial (warming) trend (this is a fact, not supposition).www.extremeethics.org/ethical-issues-climate]
It’s too bad that our innate intelligence enables (and may even cause) us to shun faith in favor of science (because faith, too, is a fact). We make this mistake when we fail to go back far enough. We forget that our beginnings reach back 13.7 Billion years. We might think that we don’t need faith because we can figure out reality using science alone, but science can’t handle it. Spirituality has to be considered, and science can’t handle spirituality at this stage of the game.
But spiritualty doesn’t mean religion. Religions are artifacts created by man in an attempt to explain the unknown—to deal with the metaphysical in a concrete way. In this effort many of us have fashioned our image of God so as to put the concept in a more or less physical form. But of course God cannot be a man. (Think of it: What does God need with gonads?) The Universe was not created by a man, himself a product of the Universe. Whatever ‘God’ may be is beyond our knowing; we’ve simply created a word and image to acknowledge an all-knowing omnipresent source. www.extremeethics.org/ethics-and-the-supernatural/
Our language gives us the illusion of power. We believe that if we can describe it we can understand it, but we can’t describe what we don’t know. Words don’t suffice—they are artifacts by which we try to describe what we really can’t, like truth and perfection. Our cognition is limited by our senses and experience, which cannot include perfection.
But if divine perfection is unattainable it is nonetheless real, clearly revealed to us through nature; the concept of God is omnipresent in nature. The reality behind what we see is limited by what we choose to look at, and we can’t begin to understand the big picture until we can appreciate it for what it is.
All progress is not necessarily positive, sometimes even appearing to work against us. The Enlightenment of the 18th Century effectively canceled tradition and religion (and thereby many reference points for the intellect) out of existence, substituting pragmatism, subjectivism and moral relativism in the pursuit of knowledge. “Free at last,” we could then insert our own ideas of truth, and the language to describe it, to fit any situation. The metaphysical God was laid to rest (and with it our all-knowing Source); we could now define our own gods (such as science) with impunity and make the world as we would have it. The only problem: we effectively threw out the baby with the bathwater by (incorrectly) canceling out spiritualty along with religion, and our world became a ship without a keel. To quote George Wiegel (April, 2013): “To imagine that we live in…a self-created world is not only to imagine that we owe nothing to our given nature (italics mine) but also to believe that we owe no attention or response to the problems that arise when we ignore that nature. Such a warped sensibility…makes any moral order impossible…” And so it is. We developed the false belief (because moral relativism is an oxymoron, a contradiction of terms) that we can control nature.
So despite the new world that we fashioned, our lives are still influenced by forces beyond our understanding and control, and we still have the responsibility to live them ethically. Our spiritual roots remain in nature despite our hopeless efforts to ignore or sever them.
The infinite and eternal dynamis (by whatever name) remains our anchor to reality, but it won’t solve our self-made problems nor will it respond to our wishes (it’s timeless, after all). It’s been left to us to respect nature for the reality that it is—to adapt to nature, not control it. We do this by way of ethics, morality, integrity and intelligence. We all have the capacity to think for ourselves. Being led to believe is not the answer.
For lots more information on science, spirituality, and environmental ethics, visit www.extremeethics.org and any or all of the following entries:www.extremeethics.org/the-ethics-of-faith/www.extremeethics.org/ethics-truth-and-facts-of-life/www.extremeethics.org/ethics-issues-science-religion/