What constitutes the highest form of living matter? Are we correct in assuming Homo sapiens, rational man, is supreme? Further, is there actually such an ultimate supreme state, and by what value is it so determined?
Supremacy of life forms is judged by man with respect to certain phenomena, the natural functions, which they exhibit. We are all aware that certain animals have a keener sense of perception than man; they are stronger and swifter, and their senses of hearing, sight, and smell exceed those of humans.
Therefore, how do we evaluate the acclaimed supremacy of man? Man’s outstanding quality is said to be his intelligence and the traditional supernatural element of soul, which he is likewise said to possess.
Why is one animal fleeter than another, or his hearing and scent more acute? Were such faculties arbitrarily conferred upon him? Would it not be discriminatory to give a preferred advantage to one species and not to another?
The answer to this depends upon which of two concepts one assumes for the existence of life forms. In other words, are all living things the result of spontaneous generation, a coming into existence at one time by a supernatural fiat, an arbitrary order?
Or are the myriad living things and the variations of their functions the result of an evolutionary process? The first of the two concepts cited is primarily supported by religious doctrines which are proclaimed as sacrosanct literature. However, such claims are eristic; they provoke argument as to the authenticity of their source.
In other words, is such literature actually the utterance of a divine decree regarding creation? Or is this literature actually a human interpretation of person revelation and subsequently theological concord?
The opposite concept, evolution, proclaims that life forms have come into existence over eons of time. The myriad variations, the effects of mutations or changes imposed on the life forms, are principally the necessity of each species adaptation to a particular environment. Thus, teeth, hair, claws, wings, the size and form of limbs and body by nature’s persistence of life, thereby developing the characteristics best suited for the species survival.
What is the primary cause of the differences between these two concepts –the religious and the evolutionary? Such is a polemic subject. From a distinctly objective point of view, science presents the more rational viewpoint in its support of the concept of evolution.
It begins its approach inductively and empirically in presenting evidence for its postulations. Such postulations are not as yet conclusive as to the origin of the first living cell, though genetic engineering and molecular biology reveal what transition can occur from alterations of the cell. Further, the results from cattle and poultry breeding, for example, indicate evolutionary changes in the functions of a living organism.
Suppose that evolution is found to be irrefutable? Does that then detract from the majesty of nature? The foundation of science is natural law; there is, in other words, an innate order that prevails throughout the cosmos, the universe as a whole.
Philosophically, one may theorize that such order is not absolute in the universe; in other words, regardless of the uniformity of certain phenomena observed in galaxies millions of light-years from earth, this so-called order may not exist in infinite time as it is now perceived by man.
But since man as yet cannot refute this basic idea of cosmic order, he must accept it as being a universal absolute. Order implies intelligence, a conscious persistence of its kind. If such a phenomena underlies the evolutionary process, is not such an initial cause, then, a concept approximating the religious idea of a cosmic mind or being behind all reality?
The important distinction is that science bases its conclusions on the manifestations of that cosmic cause, the observation of its phenomena rather than the resort to mythology and the vicissitudes of human revelation which have been historically noticeably diverse.
The superiority man ascribes to himself lies in his intelligence. What are the most obvious characteristics of this intelligence? What is the nature of the phenomenon? This intelligence can distinguish externality as apart from the self. The self realizes its own existence, that it is and that other things are as well. To an extent, this first characteristic is also exhibited by other living things.
For example, mammals, birds, and reptiles are attracted to external objects, the result of their natural senses and appetites for which they are instinctively conditioned. They will seek out and recognize water and that which produces food and shelter. However, is this really an example of intelligence? A more exact explanation of intelligence would be the adaptation to things and conditions newly experienced, rather than a mere response to a conditioned stimulus.
The second characteristic of intelligence is the rationalization of experience, that is, to find the cause, the meaning of what is perceived. It is to know, to acquire an understanding. It is also to inquire within, to resort to introspection, to explore the self, and to find for that self a purpose. Simply, I am, but why am I?
We may consider the above-mentioned characteristics as the aptitudes of an intelligent being such as the Homo sapiens –man. But is it quite probable that this “superior” intelligence of man was a necessary evolutionary attribute, rather than a special power conferred upon him?
Has man survived as the result of the gradual development of his brain and nervous systems so as to confront the rigors of his existence? More specifically, is intelligence a defensive characteristic which man has developed, much as other living organisms have developed their specific defensive structures?
Man’s intelligence provides him with a greater versatility than other known living things. He can direct its use to a greater extent than other organisms. Conversely, however, he can destroy more of nature and his environment than can other animate forms.
Whereas other organic beings may use nature exclusively for the essentials, the basic gratification of their physical desires, man has the faculty of mentally conceiving ends for personal satisfaction that are destructive not only to himself but to others as well. This is evident in the aggressive motivation he has for fame, power, and conquest.
Man has exaggerated two of his instincts to point of perversion far exceeding their display in any other species. One of these is CUPIDITY, that is, love of possessions; and the other is AGGRANDIZEMENT of the self.
For example, rodents, birds, and certain other animals will collect a food supply for storage. This is an instinctive drive impelled by hunger and a habitual adaptation to the need of acquiring food in seasons when it is available.
What the animals acquire may exceed the necessary amount; however, an inborn impulse compels the continuation of gathering as long as the food is available. The animal does not have the reason for determining when the quantity is sufficient for its needs.
Humans often find pleasure just in possession itself. In other words, the realization that what they gather may far exceed what others need and have attained, is gratifying to the ego. Possession is an extension of the self. Simply, the self is given eminence –superiority is conferred upon it by the enlargement of its acquisitions.
This extreme exaltation of the ego often compels man to acquire possessions by using whatever method he can, without regard for the legal or moral rights of others. The individual, then, often attempts to justify his motivation by resorting to a false claim of his “right” to do so. On a larger scale, nations may say that they engaged in hostile actions by the necessity of “defending the homeland.”
The other frequently perverted instinct of man is personal esteem, self-aggrandizement. The self is a collective consciousness of the whole being, the physical aspect and all personal attributes of which it is aware.
Therefore, the wholeness of being must have its gratification as well as the organic desires. If the ego does not assert itself, individuality is suppressed. To such an intelligent being as man, the physical and mental desires are subordinate to whatever concept or ideal the self has of itself. There is, therefore, the impulse to emphasize, to display those characteristics which the individual particularly distinguishes as the self.
Some of the higher animals, such as dogs, birds, and primates, for example, particularly express some aspect of their being, which is an example of a rudimentary self. Man, however, is commonly known to pervert this self-esteem by striving for fame at the forfeiture of recognized virtues and without regard for the welfare of others. This destructive excess of self-esteem is not found among the animals.
The superiority ascribed to man is particularly emphasized with regard to his possession of soul. This element is generally defined by religion and moral philosophy, metaphysics, and mysticism as an innate, immaterial quality of a supernatural source. It is generally expounded that man is the sole recipient of the ethereal entity of soul.
This conclusion is arrived at by categorizing certain sentiments, emotional feelings, stimuli, and ideation which man cannot directly relate to his organic or physical self; for example, the sense of rectitude and what he defines as conscience, the evaluation of right and wrong behavior, and compassion.
There is also the awareness of self, a consciousness which seems to be set apart from any sensual experience. Simply, this “I Am” and its judgment, in moral terms of its behavior, is considered to be the expression of the soul. The empathy of self, which experiences a sympathy for others similar to that had for itself, is considered a non-physical motivation, a function of this inner, immaterial substance called soul.
These qualities attributed to soul are so unlike the demands, desires, and drives of the body, and so often produce such a state of euphoria and ecstasy that they are given a divine status. These experiences appear exalted because of their contrast to the physical nature of man. It is difficult, then, to make a simple analytical distinction between those qualities we relate to the whole self, to the “I Am,” on the one hand, and the nature of soul on the other hand.
In most religious doctrines, man has considered the soul in a substantive sense, that is, as having a particular, unique substance. Such a substance is said to be divinely implanted in man. It is further contended that the soul is a special endowment of man. This conclusion is reached by the fact that man has no knowledge of any other being possessing the same qualities which he designates as the human soul.
However, the phenomenon known as soul can be explained otherwise without diminishing its status as “divine.” If we presume that order underlies all cosmic phenomena and that order is conscious in its constancy of manifestations, then it would be reasonable to assume that the primary energy which infuses nature and generates life is likewise an innate intelligence, a consciousness. Such would have the same divine quality that all reality has, if we accept the concept of a divine causation behind all existence.
This cosmic, divine energy, with its consciousness, uses the physical organism, the body, for the expression of sensations, that awareness which is termed soul. It has not a separate existence in the primary cosmic essence, but does have individual expression in the consciousness of man. This universal cosmic essence imbuing all life forms is metaphorically known as “the soul of the universe.” Metaphorically, we can liken the physical body of man unto a harp, which, being played upon by the universal consciousness of the cosmic, produces the melody which man realizes as soul.
However, this cosmic conscious energy accompanying life is not confined to man alone. It pervades all animate and inanimate things in the orderly phenomena of the laws of the material world. All living things have the same instrument, that is the same capability of producing that state of consciousness of self and its counterpart, the soul, as does man.
The difference is that man has the highest known expression of that phenomenon of consciousness and of those virtues which he attributes to it. This, however, is not indicative that man alone possesses such potentialities, or that he has attained the pinnacle of such development.