Man is above Nature

I feel the need to follow my last post with this one, because – in my mind – they are inextricably linked to each other.  So, here’s a little more philosophy for you to chew on over the weekend.

Let’s start with the assumption that the secular humanists are correct: nothing exist but this universe and the set laws of physics which govern all matter within it.  Now, answer me this question:

How is it you can understand my words?

That is not a trivial question.  In fact, it is a profoundly complicated question, and the implications of the answer undermine the humanist position – which is probably why those with enough wisdom to understand it usually avoid it.  Those who understand it and embrace it usually end up in the pages of history…as figures the majority of us consider to be monsters.

You see, the implication of this question and its answer implies that man – or some aspect of what it is to be human – is outside of, above the nature of this universe.  For those who believe in God, this is self-evident and, usually, it doesn’t present much of a problem.  Quite the contrary: it usually humbles us and keeps us in our rightful place in relation to each other and society.  However, for the humanist, those who believe that there is nothing but matter, the four dimensions and the laws governing them, this question is either an affront to their sensibilities, or an open license to declare themselves a god (small g).  Those who believe they are god(s) and can “perfect” humanity are the ones who inevitably become the monsters of history.  But, either way, I understand that the question and its answer are reality: there is some aspect of mankind that is set outside of and above this physical universe, and the fact that you can understand these words is proof of it.

Let’s see if I can explain this to you.  Pretend that you are the number 4 and that you represent the answer to 2+2=.  Now, you have no control over what you are: you are a number.  Nor do you have control over the equation.  You are the answer because you must be the answer.  There is no other rational possibility.  But do you know that you are a number, or that you are the necessary answer to the equation?  How could you?  You don’t even know that the equation is an equation, or that it is governed by rules that it cannot know, understand or control – the rules of mathematics.  Are you still with me?  Well, it is the same way for the planets.  They do what the physical forces governing their solar system mandate that they must do and they have no understanding of what they are, why they do what they do or of the forces governing the whole mechanism.  But there is a crucial difference.  If the universe were to suddenly disappear, and there was nothing again – no matter, no energy, not even space – then the laws governing the planets would be gone too, but not the laws governing mathematics.  Those are eternal: they exist everywhere, for all time, no matter what — yet you not only can understand them, you can manipulate them.  Why?  Language is the same way: the laws governing the English language are eternal, and because I can manipulate them, I can use them to convey a message that you will be able to decipher because you understand those same laws.  Why can you do that?

Humanists have tried to find a material explanation for this for as long as “science” has existed, and they have yet to figure it out.  There are many theories, but they are just that: theories.  But neurosurgeon have done work that conclusively demonstrated that thought, memories and decision making are independent of the body.  In other words, they are not connected to anything material.  In fact, their discoveries astonished them so much that they concluded the only plausible explanation was that there is some aspect to being human that is best described as a soul.  But I would take their findings one step further and concluded that this aspect of humanity they called a soul must also be eternal.  You see, it is a philosophical maxim that the finite cannot understand the infinite.  So the number cannot understand the rules of mathematics, nor can your pet understand the laws of logic that govern the English language – but you can.  And that, not the many theories of “consciousness” or what it means to be “sentient,” is the explanation for why humans are unique in their ability to use language.

Now, there are those who would argue that animals cannot reason, but they can.  Anyone who has ever had a pet understands that there are animals that can figure out simple problems on their own.  The difference between them and you is that they are reasoning based solely on experience.  They must rely on observation or chance to solve those problems whereas you can reason through complex problems for which you have no previous knowledge or experience simply because you understand basic logic.  This is also why animals cannot learn to use language.  And no, signing gorillas are not using language in the same context as you and I do, they are just expanding on experience.  This is also why animals are not self aware but we are.  That understanding demands knowledge of the infinite – as do questions of morality.  All of these attributes have one common denominator.  They rest upon eternal principles: principles that would exist even if the universe did not.

So here is what the answer to my question implies:

Yes, man can manipulate the laws of this universe for his purposes, and this implies that there is some aspect of his being that is outside of and above those laws.  And if we are outside of and above finite laws (the laws governing this universe will end with the universe, therefore, they are finite), then that aspect must also be eternal.

I’ll leave you with one last thought that the monsters of history never bother to consider (or reject).  Just because there is an aspect of our nature that is eternal and above the confines of this universe, that does not mean we are omnipotent.  In order for that to be true, we would have to also have control over the eternal; an ability to bend, alter or abolish those eternal laws according to our will.  But we don’t have that ability, and, therefore, we can deduce that there exists a higher power than ourselves.

[Note: none of this is original.  It can all be derived from the book of Job This is also the foundation of the “constrained” and “unconstrained” views of human nature, and of natural law.]

12 thoughts on “Man is above Nature

  1. “When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.”

    One of my observations about complex systems – like life – is that we never know the entire rule book. If you look at physics and mathematics, we are constantly learning about more and more “rules” with every particle that we slam into another one. There are only three entities (actually one) who understand all – the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost.

    I wouldn’t say that we are above nature – humans just have been touched by the Divine and are able to understand the language that the rules are written in. Being created in the image of God gave the gift of some of His capacity to investigate, know and understand. The benchmark of being above nature is the creation of actual human life – we say that we do it now but we are just combining the same raw materials that God gave us using different processes.

    • God gave man dominion over nature. He gave us the unique ability to create, which requires that we have command of nature and her laws.

      That said, I never intended to imply that we are greater than God, only that there is “some aspect” of our being that exists outside of the confines of this universe. In this sense, “above” does not and was not meant to imply “greater than,” just not confined by.

      Hope that helps clarify things. 🙂

      • I see your point, I just disagree slightly with the premise.

        Genesis Chapter 1, v.24-30 notes that God gave man dominion (control) over living things, not “nature”. He never gave man the ability to control the sun, the weather or geology. We can’t change day into night, stop a hurricane or change lead into gold. In my furry mind, these are all aspects of “nature”. We can bend it to our benefit but we are only stewards of “nature”, not kings of it.

        24 ¶ And God said, Let the earth bring forth the living creature after his kind, cattle, and creeping thing, and beast of the earth after his kind: and it was so.
        25 And God made the beast of the earth after his kind, and cattle after their kind, and every thing that creepeth upon the earth after his kind: and God saw that it was good.
        26 ¶ And God said, Let us make man in our image, 1 Cor. 11.7 after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.
        27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them. Mt. 19.4 · Mk. 10.6
        28 And God blessed them, Gen. 5.1, 2 and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.
        29 And God said, Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in the which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for meat.
        30 And to every beast of the earth, and to every fowl of the air, and to every thing that creepeth upon the earth, wherein there is life, I have given every green herb for meat: and it was so.

        Thank Him that he made animals out of meat – tasty, tasty meat. Mmmmmmmmm.

        It is a semantic point to be sure but that is where I was coming from.

        • Keep reading. He gave man control over the earth, to be subdued.

          Gen 1:28

          28 God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”

          You cannot subdue that which you are beneath — at least, not to my way of thinking, and in this context.

          Now, if you will note, I was careful to differentiate between being over the universe but NOT being over the Creator. We can manipulate the laws that govern this world, so we must have some aspect of ourselves that is over them. But we cannot create or abolish them (I had hoped I was clear on this). Which means that we are not above the eternal, which is what infers God.

          Still, in all honesty, I think we’re arguing slightly different conceptualizations of the same point. But, just to be sure, I want to be specifically clear on this: I am NOT arguing a humanist view point. I do NOT believe man is a god unto himself, nor that he is perfectible. Quite the opposite. We are hopelessly flawed and, as Job said, without a redeemer, we are doomed. Thank God for Jesus, Christ — my redeemer.


          • Still semantics but to me “dominion” is permanent and total, “subdued” is temporary and limited. When I think about this, I think about Shelley’s poem, Ozymandias:

            I MET a Traveler from an antique land,
            Who said, “Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
            Stand in the desart. Near them, on the sand,
            Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
            And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
            Tell that its sculptor well those passions read,
            Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
            The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed:
            And on the pedestal these words appear:
            “My name is OZYMANDIAS, King of Kings.”
            Look on my works ye Mighty, and despair!
            No thing beside remains. Round the decay
            Of that Colossal Wreck, boundless and bare,
            The lone and level sands stretch far away.

            Man still has dominion as he is still at the top of the food chain, but like Ozymandias, our constructions are but a temporary state – “nature” eventually overcomes them.

            • Our constructions, yes. But you are missing a key point to my argument: not that ALL of man is above nature, but that there is some aspect of man that is. Most often, people refer to this aspect as the soul (though I believe the Biblical term would be the Spirit — if you were using the understanding of the words in original Hebrew).

              Either way, the point is, if we are 100% finite, then it is impossible for us to have dominion (or to be created in God’s image, for that matter). The finite cannot understand or master the infinite, but we can understand and master the infinite (as you already pointed out). Therefore, SOME part of us exists outside the laws of this universe, and thus, “above” it. Like the student is above the math equation on his test: he can control it, but that does not mean he is master of the laws he is using.

              I still think we are both on the same page here. I sense we’re just reading the punctuation slightly different.

            • Squatch,

              I think I see your point.

              You are arguing that we are given authority over certain aspects of nature, but not control, or at least, not total control. We cannot change the laws of nature to suit our will, only use them. Is this correct?

              Because, if it is, I see that I have failed to clearly define the manner in which I am using the word “above.” If I understand you now, yes, “dominion” or “stewardship” is the better Biblical term for the concept we’re discussing. My apologies, I was stuck in “philosopher mode,” in which, “above” holds the same meaning.

              And here is the flaw I try to point out in discussing the Left (unconstrained view of man): those who hold that view think we ARE in 100% control over the laws of nature — that we CAN change them to suit our desires. You should know by now I am NOT in that camp. That is the camp that believes man is god (small g).

              Does this help any, or am I still chasing my tail with you? (I note that the responsibility to make one’s self understood clearly lies on the writer, and am accepting that I am not being clear enough for you. This is my attempt to resolve this issue as I still think we are on the same page — but I could be wrong).

  2. This is why I do not understand Atheists. It seems as if there their logic is illogical. At least Agnostics are (as the sexy beast pointed out) taking a baby step in the right direction. But let’s be realistic; the world would be a much happier place if we were all Lutheran.

      • Okay, this had me crying:

        Eye of a Storm

        Over the past five years, the volatile Midwest has produced violent rage like the knockwurst output at Milwaukee’s venerable Usinger’s — sudden, repeated, and in long unbroken strings. One of the principle catalysts was the rise the Uff Da insurgency, led by the enigmatic Pastor Duane Gunderson, who seek a unified Lutheran caliphate stretching from the Great Plains to Lake Huron, and the banning of non-Big 10/Pac 10 apostates from the Rose Bowl. Gunderson remains in hiding, but his influence was seen last year in the widely publicized Lutefisk desecration riots that rocked the Heartland amid the pancake breakfast holidays.

        Still, outside of the Dells and a handful of violent outposts near its western Mississippi River border, Wisconsin remained a relatively calm exception to the Midwestern maelstrom surrounding it — a fact that experts attribute to subtle differences in culture and religion.

        “Unlike the ultra-extreme, radical Lutheran sectarians of Iowa and Minnesota, most ethnic Wisconsinites belong to the Wisconsin Lutheran Synod,” said Joseph Killian, a Midwestern Studies professor at Emory University in Atlanta. “And if you add in three Super Bowl titles, easier access to beer, and walleye fishing, and you’re going to have a much calmer and more stable culture.”

        All that would change in November with the publication of four cartoons in a Texas office newsletter — cartoons that today have brought this once happily beer-goggled society to the precipice of all-out culture war.

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