25 Jun 2006

Man, Nature, God.

Nature is one of those concepts that seems to slide about all over the place and tends to become problematic. I’ve been tramping about cyberspace, particularly blogland and the province of philosophy, and I think it’s time to marshal a few thoughts. I, (you, we, one,) is/ are/ am ‘man’. At this point I haven’t decided what exactly that is: toolmaker, language-user, conscious being, or whatever. There is me, or the people, and then there is the world.
I am fairly familiar with the world, and to the extent that I am, it is natural. For example, I live by the sea; the tide comes in and goes out on a regular basis; it acts as expected by and large. Then there is a tsunami. This is unexpected and therefore unnatural; therefore it is supernatural. This is in barest outline, a ‘natural history’ of the way that Nature comes to be defined in a dual opposition to Man and God.
It is fairly obvious to me at least that nature is defined as being known or at least knowable, while God is the unknown, unpredictable. Of course there is always someone ready to come forward to interpret these unnatural events for me, or I can invent my own story to explain them, the point is that they need some explaining, as opposed to the tide, which is ‘natural’.
Now along comes science and says well here’s a better explanation for tsunami, or eclipses or whatever unnatural thing you may wish to consider, and actually if you look carefully you will see that all these things are perfectly natural, and are only to be expected. In fact as it happens, everything, including man, is quite natural – it was quite natural for us to have thought of God as an explanation in the old days, and it is quite natural for people to be reluctant to give up old ideas, but these explanations are not needed any more, and have no real meaning or value.
But to say that something is natural is not to explain anything, it is simply to say that no explanation is needed. ‘Man’ is ‘naturally’ selfish, as is ‘Nature’ itself. And this is somehow more satisfying, more useful, and more rational than a ‘religious’ explanation?


TrampledbyGeese said...

There seems to be several meanings of the word 'natural' going on here.

natural, as in being contained within nature - or having it's existence within the universe (or more specifically, within the physical universe).

Natural, as in having within its essence the quality of nature - being non synthetic.

natural, as in man is naturally selfish, refers to an essential (necessary) quality of a man. The list of essential qualities are the necessary and sufficient conditions which are required to define said object as a human.

Natural is an over used and abused word, I am often confused as to the author's intent.

unenlightened said...

Yes indeed, several meanings. But still one nature, I want to say; Confusion is the business of philosophers. When words are unproblematic, they have a single, clear definition, and this is they way we like to think that we think. One makes a clear(ish) distinction between figure and background such that when I talk about 'humanity' my meaning is clear, even if at the embryonic, or moronic margins, there is room for argument. But I suspect, and I'm just exploring here, that in order to sustain a 'meaningful' distinction between the figure of 'human' and the ground of 'nature', a third term is needed - a place to stand as it were. If, like Dawkins for example, one tries to eliminate God from the equation, one is left with no real difference between man and nature, even science becomes another 'meme' which may well not be fit to survive in the long run; but never mind it's all nature really. I'm not being as clear as I want here, I wonder if it would help if I started to talk instead of 'Man, Nature, God', about 'Ethics, Ontology, Metaphysics'. I'm trying to suggest that at some level of understanding, more is needed than a digital, on/off conceptualisation of the world; a third term that accounts for perhaps the undivided aspect of the world is essential... not division, but trivision - left, right, and the whole. Does this make any kind of sense?

TrampledbyGeese said...

Just a thought, but are you saying that Nature is an absolute concept?

You are definitely on to something here. I always think of this as The Big Question of our Age. But I just like to give things titles.

If these descendents of Darwin's theories are correct (I'm talking Dawkins and social Darwinists as much as every day person who is influenced by the media and education in favour of evolution) then our behaviour and our beliefs as humans, must be subject to the same patterns and laws that the rest of nature is dominated by. But what will come of our advancements of science and technology? Will we like wolves who have multiplied beyond the ecosystems ability to support them, die out to a more manageable population size? Or, perhaps, will our technology develop new opportunities?

I cited a book on my blog a couple of days ago, it's called Planet U. If you have a chance, I think it might interest you.

unenlightened said...

Help! What the **** is an absolute concept? I shall attempt to pour some toxic scorn on Dawkins et al in a new post shortly... My delicate, questioning, (and ignorant) comments on Planet U are at your site.

Anonymous said...

Hi, Im from Melbourne Oz.
Please check out these references re man, nature and Real God.

1. www.dabase.net/dht7.htm
2. www.realgod.org
3. www.fearnomorezoo.org
4. www.dabase.net/truthfrl.htm

unenlightened said...

Thanks, but no thanks.
My song is love unknown. All your knowing and practicing and transcending and organising and realising is of no interest to me. I use the word 'God' to refer to that which is beyond all that. Whatever you are talking about that you know about is not the same thing, and I reserve the right to use the word the way I want.