Friday, 17 October 2014
(Please bear with me while I discuss philosophy and religion on a Poul Anderson Appreciation blog. It is relevant.)
Human beings were active social organisms long before they became reflective individual subjects. Motivations precede morality. Immature and insensitive behavior existed long before the ability to feel any guilt about it. I think that this fact is the truth behind the myths of original sin or of karmic consequences from previous lives.
Each of us is born with baggage that is not of our choosing but I think that the baggage comes from biology and society, not from a "soul," whether created bearing original sin or transmigrating with bad karma - although "karma," meaning action and its consequences, certainly operates both in individual lives and in world history. Our origin as a species was a Darwinian ascent from animality, not a Biblical descent from innocence.
I discuss these profound issues here because that famous religious philosopher, Nicholas van Rijn, discusses them profoundly in "Territory," where he points out that our animal ancestors were arboreal herbivores before they became plains carnivores whereas t'Kelan animal ancestry was entirely carnivore. This explains otherwise puzzling t'Kelan behavior. They have more powerful killing instincts and are less gregarious:
"'Carnivores can't be. You get a big concentration of hunters in one spot, and by damn, the game goes away.'" (David Falkayn: Star Trader, New York, 2010, p. 56)
They never built nations. Individuals and small groups fight but larger groups, even when they exist, organize no wars. Prides wage no vendettas because one individual killing another is not regarded as bad. In fact, those who do not fight or own and defend territory for hunting are regarded as odd. Human beings who deny that they come to invade must be either lying or weak so van Rijn must prove his strength and courage before he can even begin to negotiate and trade. (Like PG Wodehouse's Jeeves, although in a completely different context, van Rijn has the knack of doing what looks like precisely the wrong thing, for example insulting a native leader, then turns out to have been precisely the necessary thing to do.)
"'We was animals long before we became thinkers and, uh -' van Rijn's beady eyes rolled piously ceilingward - 'and was given souls. You got to think how a race evolved before you can take them...I mean understand them.'" (p. 55)
But I think the evolution rules out the need to postulate souls. I have come to accept that van Rijn's Catholic faith is sincere - his dickering with St Dismas being merely the humorous expression of his mercantilism - but he thinks about business, leaving theologians to do what, as he says in "The Master Key," they are paid to do, for example to think about whether aliens have souls.