Sunday, December 9, 2012

The Greatest

Due to an unwise level of incaution on my part, I was roped into a "debate" about the existence of God. And one of the debaters threw out an charge that I'd heard many time before.

"So," he'd said to one of the participants who'd claimed disbelief, "you're arrogant enough to claim that there is nothing in the Universe greater than yourself?"

This escalation in the rhetoric of the "debate" was interesting, mainly because it was the first time in my experience that the charge of "arrogance" had been made explicit - normally the "nothing greater in the Universe" question stood on its own, and if it was charged that an accusation of arrogance had been made, it could be plausibly denied. Of course, it's a common facet of human nature to attribute a failure to understand something a given individual sees as self-evident to a certain level of moral deficiency, even as it's common to deny having made such an attribution.

I've always found upshot of this common Christian rhetorical device, the idea that of all the things in the Universe, mankind is second only to God, to be curious, mainly because it seems to me to be so clearly incorrect. Consider - were I to snap my fingers right now, and the Sun were to be immediately reduced to a cold, dark mass in the center of our solar system, life on Earth would start to suck - a lot - in about the next eight minutes. And, as clever a species as we are, we'd be completely and utterly boned - the Extinction Express would be rolling along. On the other hand, were I to snap my fingers and trigger Life After People, eight minutes in, the Sun would be completely unperturbed. Winner: Sun. If that doesn't count as being greater than humanity, I could always ramp it up a notch - or twelve. Gamma-ray bursts, anyone? Of course, I try to avoid assigning any moral, ethical or intellectual weight to this (not that I was successful the other day), as it's really just a way of looking at the world, and in the grand scheme of things, our opinions are pretty worthless things.

The place that we see for ourselves in the Universe is one of those things that goes beyond science and religion. To a degree, it's part of the emotionally freighted concepts that we have of what it means to be "human," and all that this entails. As such, it's never the objective thing that we often present it as, whether or not we realize it.

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