Religion, Science and Truth: The Future of Man and Earth
Animals: Tradition - Philosophy


Dr. Michael W. Fox

My wife Deanna Krantz read out loud to me excerpts from C. S. Lewis’ book The Problem of Pain, in which this renowned Christian philosopher explored the capacity of animals to experience pain, and if, as sentient beings, they possess a sense of selfhood, and have souls. From his anthropocentric theology, with its anthropomorphic vision of divinity, he tilted against anthropomorphizing animals, and reconstructed the ladder of a worldview of divine hierarchy, with man below god, animals below man, and man above woman.

Such a cosmic-comic view and interpretation of reality, backed by creationists and many evolutionists, has become the dominant world view of this modern Anthropocene Epoch and Anthropozoic Era. This contemporary Epoch evolved from the Pleistocene Epoch, with the ‘Stone’ age of human emergence. The dominant world- view is a belief system that has become part of the very fabric of society, from its institutions of learning, inculcated from infancy on, to its economic, legal, and political arenas, and practices and professions, like chemical, and genetic engineering, and human and veterinary medicine. It gives divinely ordained, and legally condoned, sanction to biocide, ecocide, the rape of Nature, and the enslavement and mistreatment of animals.

Aside from the fact that neither of these two medical professions are advanced in dealing effectively with patients’ pain and sufferings, about which more will be said shortly, an objective and impartial evaluation of C.S.Lewis’ attitude toward non-human life would lead to the inevitable conclusion that it is part of the reason why we are destroying the natural world as the Anthropocene Epoch advances, and causing so much suffering to each other and to other sentient beings. Greed, ignorance, poverty, material and spiritual, coupled with human overpopulation and over-consumption, are additional reasons and causes.

The obscene and the Anthropocene converge and the Earth darkens when the dominant culture lays waste to weaker cultures, tribes, traditions and indigenous knowledge, and to forests, tribal lands, and elephant and tiger kingdoms. Climate change, increasing economic chaos, and loss of cultural and biological diversity, as well as common sense and sensibility, are all self-evident. As the Paleolithic or Stone age evolved during the late Pleistocene Epoch, the copper, bronze, and iron ages of pyrotechnology emerged during the so called post-glacial Holocene Epoch. Then a new geological epoch began with the evolution of the Anthropocene Epoch and the emergence of climate and Earth-changing agriculture and other world-changing human activities including the petrochemical, atomic, and genetic and information ages.

While humans were first like other animals, having to adapt to the world in order to survive, we must now learn to adapt to world-changes that we have brought upon ourselves. In other words, man has to adapt to man, establishing a new world order, not as a global predator, parasite, or infestation, but as a symbiote with the a living Earth whose life community needs CPR---conservation, preservation, and restoration. Otherwise, our humanity---all that makes us human in terms of our capacity to care, and to put compassion and respect for all life into meaningful action--- will become extinct.

This chaotic reality that the Anthropozoic Era has created resonates with the illusory belief in human superiority over all other life on Earth that was thought to be divinely decreed, and therefore good. The attitude of human superiority, like the illusion of the evolutionary ladder from lowly beast, to man, to god, is in large measure responsible for the tragedy of reality that we experience every day.

To become insensible may be sensible, considering the extent of our collective specie’s desecration of this living Earth, ravaging of natural resources and ecosystems, and exploitation and suffering of animals. The wanton destruction of the planet’s, and therefore our own, life support systems, especially the climate/atmosphere, and the once regenerative ecology of the biosphere, mean that clean air (and oxygen content), pure water, wholesome food, and sufficient and sustainable fuel/energy supplies to meet our basic needs, must become the top priorities of every nation. Along with family planning to curtail overpopulation, we must also curtail our appetites for more, be it meat or money, petroleum or plutonium, if we are to survive the consequences of this Anthropozoic era. We must all acknowledge that consumerism is one of the cancers of this Era in human evolution, along with non-sustainable industrial growth, as we face a failing world market economies, and a significant decline in public health, mental as well as physical.

The converging beliefs and actions of secular materialists and religious fundamentalists, like those who respectively advocate continued industrial ‘growth’, and who oppose any regulation of population growth, are leading to what some see as the end of days, or end time. The consequences of such beliefs are indeed as lamentable as the conflicts between followers of different religious traditions and political ideologies that have now put us on the threshold of World War 111. But the day is dawning, as we evolve ethically and morally, when we all see the rape of Nature, the annihilation of forests, and the wholesale abuse, suffering and slaughter of animals for human consumption as psychotic behaviors no different from rape, incest, and ethnic cleansing. Genocide, speciesicide, and ecocide are coins of the same currency. But as the saying goes, when there is no such vision, ‘the people shall perish’.

When religious beliefs blind adherents to the nature of reality, and to the reality of nature in which being human finds its true ethos and telos, then their own inner nature can never blossom, and instead may become corrupted and poisoned. Then their spiritual and biological development and evolution are arrested. If they were not blind, then how, in the name of religion, or their god’s will, can they continue to do to others of non-human form that which they would not have these other sentient earth subjects ever do unto them? The Golden Rule has been inverted to mean those with the gold, rule.

Religions should not become the prison of the spirit. Where religions promote the Golden rule and become the wings of compassion and courageous action, and loving kindness toward all sentient beings, a life of spiritual awakening and joyous service, the birthright of all human offspring, could become a reality. “To thine own self be true’ is an ancient aphorism that acknowledges the element that we call truth as being of central significance to human existence, and to the human experience.

But in this mid-Anthropocene Epoch, science vies with religion for monopoly on truth, making reason a prisoner of objectivity. In banishing superstitious and magical beliefs, science can make all mystery profane. Then unreasonable men rule the world. Psychologist E. T. Hall observed that “The dazzling success of our technology, as well as our understanding of the physical world, has blinded Europeans and Americans alike to the complexities of their own lives and given them a false sense of superiority over those who have not evolved their mechanical extensions to the same degree. Science is our new religion, and in many ways, like old religions, it has served man well up to a point. But it has been put on a pedestal, and its pronouncements and rituals are commonly taken as dogma." ( from Beyond Culture, Anchor Press/Doubleday, Garden City, NY, 1976)

When science puts the service of truth before the vested, material, financial and political interests of man, then there is hope in such renunciation. When religion puts the service of truth before all gods in man’s image and self-interests, then there is joy in such redemptive liberation.

Science and religion working together, weaving the secular and spiritual realms of the collective reality of human experience and existence into a cohesive matrix of bioethical principles and moral codes for a sustainable Earth community for generations to come, is the critical evolutionary challenge of these times. This Anthropocentric Age, with its technocratic materialism and industrialism, will become history, extinct, because the Earth cannot sustain our living presence and harmful impacts.

What form the surviving offspring of humankind will take one millennium from now as the Anthopocene Epoch unfolds, will be shaped by human will, as well as by circumstance---the consequences of our own actions, and those of our ancestors.

Will we be well? --- Beautiful, with an inner grace and dignity, like the wolf and lion? Or will we become what we make of many animals today; like the writhing, suicidal panther, incessantly pacing and self-mutilating against the bars and walls of her small zoo cage: the Asian elephant, made a circus slave, rocking in her chains to find some altered state more free; the experimental Rhesus monkey, alone in a cold laboratory cage, tearing out her fur and biting off her fingers for want of contact with reality---the great jungle, and her family troop; the billions of overcrowded, stressed-out chickens and pigs being fattened for slaughter, and becoming the incubators of human disease epidemics and pandemics.

Will the generations to come have no tribes, and yet be of one heart and mind, like the Blue whale and the albatross, at one in their realms of being? Or will the last of the wild and the fully compassionate, pan-empathic human be extinct, along with the jungle, the ‘fearful symmetry’ of the tiger being a forgotten symbol of spiritual and poetic significance, and of once incalculable ecological value and biological significance. Henry David Thoreau opined in his book Walking, that ‘In wildness is the preservation of the world.”

In an essay Science and the Sense of the Holy, anthropologist and paleontologist Loren Eiseley gives a statement that the great biologist Charles Darwin wrote during the beginning of his illustrious career: “If we choose to let conjecture run wild, then animals, our fellow brethren in pain, disease, suffering and famine---our slaves in the most laborious works, our companions in our amusements---they may partake of our origin in one common ancestor---we may all be netted together.” (p 187 in The Star Thrower. New York, Times Books, 1978).

Religion can give us the will to live for others’ better future, and science can help us find the way, under the guidance of bioethics. The basic principles of global bioethics, that provide the foundation for world healing, and world peace, are in the core teachings of all the world’s religions are egalitarianism; equalitarianism; compassion in action; ahimsa (not harming), reverential respect for all life, and living in accord with the Golden rule.

As I and others have reasoned, such basic principles need to be integrated into all segments of secular society, from the educational and legal systems, to those of justice, and the economy. It is a challenge to the professions, like the legal and the medical, to incorporate bioethics into their practice. I see it as their professional duty; a moral obligation, as it is for every member of the clergy, the synagogue, church, temple, and corporate towers of Babylon. So it is for every citizen and home-maker, parent and teacher, tax payer and consumer. Without bioethical sensibility, we cannot hope for a sane and sustainable society.

Coupled with bioethics, human and veterinary medicine can become one medicine that addresses fundamental environmental factors contributing to animal and human disease and suffering, and their economic and political ramifications. A primarily ‘science based’ human and veterinary medicine will fail, as it does now, to more effectively prevent disease and suffering until such science is balanced by bioethics, to better serve the greater good.

This healing integration of science and ethics,---that calls for the incorporation of empathy and compassion into praxis,---will herald the emergence of the Ethicozoic era, or what Thomas Berry calls the Ecozoic Age, both terms implying the awakening of ethical, ecological, ‘holistic’ sensibility. The ethics are no longer anthropocentric, but rather are eco-centric, embracing the biospheric ecology, and all biological forms of existence; the life community. Hence we identify such ethics as bioethics, as did the late Van Rensellaer Potter, MD, who first coined this term in the currency of what he contended to be much needed in human progress---evolution if you wish: And particularly, if there were to be any significant medical progress in the prevention and treatment of disease, and the alleviation of human suffering. The same can be said for the praxis of veterinary medicine, agriculture, and all forms of human industry and commerce.

As a number of faith communities, spurred by the looming crisis of climate change, are now focusing on environmental stewardship and ‘Eco-justice,’ the Vatican made a proclamation in March, 2008 that included environmental pollution---and social and economic injustice---in a list of sinful behavior for today’s believers. The pessimist might say ‘Too little too late’. But the realist says---‘Evolve or perish!’ And we should all consider the profound significance of the cure for many of the world’s ills as prescribed by Albert Schweitzer, MD,---reverence for all life. In practical terms this means not putting people before other animals, and is a call to equalitarianism and respect for the Golden Rule. If we are ever to save us from ourselves,---from the harms of our collective narcissism and anthropocentrism---we must first consider others before ourselves and in the process become panempathetic. This would be revolutionary for the betterment of society, and evolutionary for the advancement of our species, whose extinction in these times might be inevitable, if such a metanioa is not accomplished soon.

Dr. Michael W. Fox is a well-known veterinarian, former vice president of The Humane Society of the United States, former vice president of Humane Society International and the author of more than 40 adult and children’s books on animal care, animal behavior and bioethics.

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