Zion Ravescene wrote:
Funnily enough, tonight's edition of Horizon is entitled "What Makes Us Human?"
I'd be watching it, but Wednesday night is Apprentice night. But hey, I'm only human.
It's a common question of both biology and philosophy. I would love to see this. But I have watched "Ape Genius" on NOVA this past month, and read a book called "The Bonobo and the Atheist: In Search of Humanism Among the Primates" that was the impetus of this thread (we debated this a little in the "What are you Reading?" Thread).
My personal opinion, which is shaped by Frans De Waal among others, is that our capacity for emotion, our ability to deal in abstractions, opposable thumbs, reason (although sometimes it justifies what we naturally do), all lead to what makes us human. Also, our brain's ability to visualize is not uniquely human, but it is used in combination with dealing in abstractions to be able to see something before it happens in our life.
I think it's just as important to understand what happens to us when the brain is damaged to see what we would be as a primitive primate. We become belligerent. We become selfish and violent. Autism, a lack of empathy, and Sociopaths (I know Antisocial Personality Disorder), show us what happens when our emotions aren't regulated in our brains. We have the capacity to do great things. This includes both the good and the bad. We can help someone who can do nothing for us, and we can kill for fun or out of prejudice. Knowledge, by itself, cannot explain what makes us human. Our humanity comes from social rules internalized and the mechanisms that allow us to internalize them. Our social order.
I think God is a creation to allow us to have a king of our community without anointing a flawed human being. And, as De Waal points out, we cannot simply get rid of religion. It is both impractical and dangerous. We need something to replace religion first. That is what atheism should do--science has been used to justify as much genocide as conquering under the cross. We cannot get a moral structure from the raw data of science or the data is being misused. It should be open to new knowledge, but we need to satisfy the needs of religion without the dogma. Humanism brings that to life. I, personally believe, that we need an ultimate respect for human life. I think if we empathized more, it would lead to less war and killing. We think ourselves, individually, too important and others are secondary. We are the same. As an atheist, a moral man, that is what I want.
But religion is as old as civilization. It serves needs of the animal. We cannot cut off our arm and still function. And I brought it up in this thread because it is also a part of the human experience. And our humanity is linked to morality.