Volume 85 Issue 15 | p. 5 | Letters
Issue Date: April 9, 2007

Belief is up to us

Department: Letters

RANDALL DAVY makes a common mistake in assuming that lack of belief in a higher being necessarily means lack of belief in a larger purpose (C&EN, Feb. 5, page 4). For me, it is quite the opposite. Believing that there is no higher being means to me that it is therefore entirely up to us to decide what sort of world we wish to live in, and entirely up to us to make it so. If we want to live in a world that is safe, pleasant, sustainable, and so on, it is we who must work together to make it happen. I have no problem with doing so in cooperation with those who have different beliefs. I do object, however, when someone claims that their belief system is the only legitimate source of morals, ethics, or purpose and that those who have different belief systems must therefore be lacking in those qualities.

E. O. Wilson's assertion that "the species lacks any goal external to its own biological nature" does not automatically lead to Davy's proposed response of "Let the future generations adjust to a biologically impoverished world! I'll be dead and won't know or care." Our biological nature as humans includes the same impulse as all species have: to survive and procreate to the carrying capacity of our environment. In addition, the intelligence of our species gives us an unprecedented and unique capacity to alter that environment and a similarly unique capacity for foresight and planning. These qualities naturally will eventually result in values and larger causes that further the survival and spread of our species, for our good and that of our offspring.

As we reach populations that approach the carrying capacity of our environment, such values and causes would rationally include those that will sustain and improve that environment as well as those that will further peaceful and safe societies for us all to live in within that environment. For those are the goals, inherent in our own biological nature, that will best facilitate the survival of our species.

People who disagree about what the world is for can easily agree about "any of the minutiae of daily conduct." If we are in agreement about the goals of having peaceful and safe societies in a clean and healthy environment, then we can work together to achieve those goals. It matters not why we have chosen those goals.

Philip Boncer
San Diego

 
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