Mr Joseph Vempeny
Posted on : 30/07/2008 15:57:56
“In His image and likeness did God create man.” Gen. 1: 27
I remember reading about a chick that grew in the company of a dog, having never seen a fowl of its kind and taking the dog to be its mother. It was said that this chick began to imitate the dog in everything, even trying to bark. We all must have heard stories of human infants brought up by wild animals without any exposure to other humans. These kids grew up without realizing their true identity and without realizing their full potential. Not very different from this is the fate of modern man bewildered by the material advancement of the times, lost in the jungle of technological progress but unaware of the spiritual values and assets essential to a full realization of the self. Modern science has taught man that he is an animal very similar to the apes in everything except the fact that he is more intelligent.
The sages of ancient India said of man: ‘Aham Brahmasmi’ meaning, ‘I am of God.’ What we are taught today is: ‘aham vanarasmi’, meaning, “I am of monkeys.” The questions like, who am I, where did I come from, and where am I going, are not given much importance in today’s world. Today people have no time or leisure to relax and nurture such thoughts.
While I was working in South Africa, a student came to my room with a doubt. His problem was this: “The Bible says God created man but science says that man came from monkeys. Which of these is the truth?” Without pausing for a moment, the instant reply I gave him was this. “Both are right. In each of us there is a divine element and an animal element. By our life and actions each of us prove which is the dominant part in us, the divine or the beastly. When we live in goodness, brotherhood and love we behave as the children of God. When cruelty, envy and evil rule our lives we are being beastly.”
When the student left the room I felt proud of such an immediate solution to such a complex problem by bringing in this concept of dual nature of man and I congratulated myself. But this feeling of elation did not last long. When I thought more about this I detected a flaw in this line of thought. I also realized that the fault was due more to a common error in the language usage than to my line of thinking - the use of the word beastly. We liberally use the word beastly to mean anything cruel, abusive or in general, evil. But this usage is completely wrong as it assumes that cruelty or evil is synonymous with animal behavior. In no way can this be justified as there is and there can be no evil in animal nature. All animals live and act according to the laws of nature. They never break the laws. If a lion kills an antelope for food there is nothing wrong or evil in it. It is according to the law of nature. If we expect a lion to eat grass, that is against nature. The use of the word beastly as meaning cruel or evil is quite unfair towards animals. I wonder why organizations like the SPCA (Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) do not take a stand against this particular usage, equating evil to animals.
If the evil in us is not of animal origin, where did it come from? It cannot be from God as God is goodness. There must be a third source. My pet concept of dual nature of man has to be abandoned in favor of a triune nature. Over and above the natural laws man has also moral laws. The tempter who forces man to break these moral laws is this third factor. We may call him the demon or devil. The word beastly in our language must be replaced by the word devilish or something like that. And the three aspects of human nature may be summed up as follows.
• Godly - A life firmly based on moral and spiritual values, a life of love, brotherhood and goodness.
• Beastly - A life concerned with the material needs only. Solely concerned with eating, propagation of species or survival. Its vocabulary won’t have the words good or evil.
• Devilish - A life where both natural and moral laws have no meaning and where passions of lust, hatred, envy and greed rules the life.
Animal Origins - Primate Evolution
Let us get back to the question of the origin of man. Some people still find it hard to believe that we are the result of evolution. I firmly believe that this is mainly due to the way the concept of evolution had been misrepresented. Late in the sixties, the moderator of a church study group in Pondichery ridiculed the idea of evolution saying that evolutionists believe that “elephants came from cats”. In Tamil the words rhymed well and people laughed as he anticipated.
First, we must distinguish between what it is, that the evolutionists say and what is not. For example they do not say that the dog evolved from the cat, the horse from the cow or man from monkey. The organism or the being from which an animal or bird or fish evolved does not exist today. But we have enough scientific evidence to believe that there was evolution. We get information about the existence of these forerunners or predecessors from the fossil records, from the bones and miraculously preserved other signs like footprints. Modern science has today at its disposal reliable means of determining the age of these fossils. When scientists study these fossils they consider as our forerunners only those primates who could walk erect on two legs. Interestingly enough there is no shortage of such fossils today. A detailed discussion of these is beyond the scope of this book but a summary of what we know today could be attempted.
Let us begin with a 45 million year old fossil found from central China around the turn of the millennium. Named Eosimias or dawn monkey, this species could very well be the common ancestor for the lower and the higher primates. The higher primates branched off from the mainline of primates around this time, may be the same species. Then, 35 million years ago the South American monkeys, 25 million years ago the old world monkeys, 15 million years ago the gibbons, 10 million years ago the orangutans branched off. Finally guerrillas and chimpanzees branched off around 8 million years ago.
So far, the earliest fossil find of what could be considered a human ancestor, of a species that walked on two legs, is the millennium man, so named because the finding was published in December 2000. The fossil had been dated as being 6 million years old. This one called the Orrorin Tugenensis as well as all the various species that followed had their origin in Africa. The rift valley of East Africa is the place where most of the finds we made. One of the reasons for this is the fact that the geological process that caused the rift system exposed conveniently layers of the earth that had been submerged for millions of years. Lake Turkana and Olduvai gorge areas of East Africa, the Omo valley, Awash and Hadar regions of Ethiopia and the Sterksfontein caves in South Africa have yielded plenty of fossils during the second half of the twentieth century to help our understanding of the long and tortuous route travelled by our ancestors to bring us to where we are today.
Our Immediate Ancestors
We notice in the dozen or so species that lived in the past six million years gradual changes in structure, shape of the skull, nature of teeth and most important, the skull cavity or size of the brain. All these walked on two feet and are distinctly different from the apes. The species that evolved from the millennium man could most likely be what is named Ardipithecus ramidus kadabba. This was found in the middle Awash region of Ethiopia and is dated to have lived between 5.8 and 5.2 million years ago. Ardipithecus ramidus ramidus, also of Awash, Ethiopia, dated 4.4 million years old is obviously the successor to the kadabba man. Australopithecus anamansis dating 4.3 to 3.8 million years found in the regions around lake Turkana of Kenya must be the next in the line of succession. This species evolved into Australopithecus Afarensis whose fossils of the period 3.6 to 2.8 million years are found around Hadar in Ethiopia. This species included the much- publicized individual ‘Lucy’, once considered the African Eve. Lucy’s fame was partly due to the fact that hers was an almost complete skeleton, the only one of its kind to date. The other factor was that at the time of its discovery this was the oldest one known. Lucy’s descendants then evolved into Australopithecus Aethiopicus that lived between 2.8 and 2.3 million years ago.
This must have been the last of the Australopithecines, the second stage in our evolutionary march away from the apes. One branch of the Aethiopicus evolved into Homo Rudolphensis while the other branches became extinct. Three other Australopithecines also had become extinct around this region in time. They are the A. Africanus, A. bosei, and A. robustus. The discovery, in Taung of South Africa, of the fossil skeleton of a child was a turning point in the study of paleoanthropology. This fossil known as the Taung child was Christened Australopithecus meaning southern apes. This discovery was followed by the discovery of various other species of our possible ancestors in the Streksfontein caves very near Johannesburg. Homo Rudolphensis, most probably the first in a line of homo species, lived from 2.4 to 1.7 million years ago. These were followed by the Homo habilis and soon by Homo erectus. Homo Erectus lived from 1.6 million years to as close as 40 000 years ago. Three homo species also had become extinct during the last two million years. These are, Homo Heidelbergensis, Homo Ergaster and Homo Neandrathalensis or the Neandrathal man.
All the species mentioned above from Orrorin to Homo Rudolphensis originated and died in Africa. Homo erectus also evolved in Africa but was not confined to that continent. Fossils of Homo erectus belonging more or less to the same period had been discovered from various parts of the earth including Java, China, Europe, Middle East and Africa. This has led many scientists to believe that the evolution from the early primates to humans had taken place simultaneously in many places. But genetic studies including the D.N.A. analysis of the various races of people all over the world has shown that all of us are descendants of one individual or one couple of Homo sapiens.
Today the out-of-Africa theory is widely accepted and as an explanation of the presence of Homo erectus in many parts of the world before the appearance of modern man, scientists talk of two separate migrations from Africa. About two million years ago Homo erectus migrated out of Africa and reached various parts of Asia and Europe. The last ice age seems to have caused the extinction of all these forerunners of man along with many other species of animals north of the equator. Only those who lived in the central and southern part of Africa survived this attack of ice. Even if some of these survived this ice age they later became extinct, as had many of their forerunners.
There is evidence of a people who lived in caves close to the Indian Ocean coast of South Africa about 130 thousand years ago who had all the characteristics of modern man. This is the Homo sapiens, our species or modern man that evolved from the Homo erectus branch that remained in southern Africa during the Ice age. The climate change around this period in a way opened the gates that trapped the homos in southern Africa and again they began moving up north. By this time the advancement in the use of tools and other survival skills had made them much more efficient and they began to multiply and spread fast, reaching remote corners of the landmasses linked together. This second migration is the migration of Homo sapiens, the modern man, the story of our origins.
The painstaking, patient and persistent efforts of many individuals who had spent most of their time and energy in search of answers to these questions that had interested us since Darwin’s time have made all this information available to us. Among these a few who stand out prominent should be mentioned here. We owe most of our knowledge of the fossil finds of East Africa, especially Kenya, to the Leaky family, three generations of them. In South Africa, the discoveries and studies at Taung and the Streksfontein Caves had begun with the works of Robert Broom and Richard Dart and today Lee Burger and others continue the good work. To Donald Johnson belongs the credit of most of the outstanding work in Ethiopia.
Among the evolutionary changes that have taken place during the last 6 to 10 million years whereby we changed from one of the anthropoids to the present form, the most notable is the change in the brain size. According to the scientists we had to pay a price or many prices for this. They call it a trade-in. As the scull capacity increased the gastro intestinal capacity decreased. It seems that the increased brainpower makes it possible for us to manage with a much smaller stomach and intestines. We have been able to use our intelligence to manage with the minimum quantity of the right kinds of foods.
There seems to have been a genetic trade-in too. There is not much more chance for the process of mutation to take place. Mutation of the genes is the main process that guides evolution. The results or findings in the year 2001 at the gene sequencing labs tell us that as far as humans are concerned we have reached the limit of mutations. There is not much more room for evolution. Does this mean that there was an end of the process of evolution some 100 000 years ago with the appearance of Homo sapiens? I do not think so. Actually the process of evolution continues at a faster rate but not in the field of physiological changes. It is more intellectual, scientific, technological, philosophical and spiritual.
What does this story of evolution tell us? Does it not depend on what you want to hear? Do you want to listen to the rhetoric of those T.V evangelists who vehemently deny the concept of evolution? Do you want to listen to the scientists who say that man is just an ape with bigger brain? Or would you rather put your brain to better use, study all the facts available, use reasoning and arrive at a proper balance between these two views. Any one view gives you a distorted picture or an incomplete picture like that of the blind man who, after feeling the leg of an elephant, declared that an elephant is like a pillar.
Divine Origins - Creation of Man
The conclusions of the scientists or those who blindly follow the idea of evolution is that man is one of the apes, the difference being erect posture, larger brain, language skills, artistic and tool-making skills and the like. To the scientist the difference between a frog and a chimp is much greater than the difference between a chimp and a man. To me, a believer, it is the other way round. To me a chimp, a frog, an ant, even an earthworm all belongs to one group, the animal group, whereas man belongs to an entirely different group of his own. Of course there is some similarity between a man and an ape. But then one could say that there is a similarity between a clay model of a frog and a real frog. The similarity here is that both are made up of the same three elementary particles, namely, proton, neutron and electron and of course the fact that they look alike. Yet there is a marked difference between the clay model and the real frog. This - what the real frog has and what the model does not have - is ‘life’. In a similar vein, we may say that man has something, which the chimp or frog or any other animal does not have. That something that we possess and that the other animals do not have, that which makes us different from the other animals is the soul, the spirit or the self of man.
The words soul or spirit is familiar to every one and is very much bandied about by all sorts of people for all sorts of purposes without giving much thought about its significance or rather without a real understanding of what it really is. What I like to underscore here is that the soul is not one of our faculties like mind or intellect, or one of our organs like heart or brain. It is the true self of a person. In other words, it isn’t proper for one to say, “I have a soul.” One should rather say, “I have a body.” The spirit or the self is what you are and the body is what you possess. The imagery of the body as a boat used by the self to cross the sea of life or the comparison of the body to a packing case in which the precious cargo is the soul may to some extent explain what I am trying to bring out. But one thing must be remembered. The two, body and soul together make up this complex being called man. It is not just one or the other.
The idea that the true self of a person is the spirit and not the body is not something new that I am trying to introduce here. Some 2400 years ago there was a man who knew this fact and tried to teach this. The authorities of the day condemned him to death by poison for the offence of misleading the youth. The man was none other than the Greek scholar Socrates. On the eve of his execution his disciples asked him how he wished to be buried. His response to this question is what is relevant to us in this context. He said, “They cannot kill me as I am immortal and you cannot bury me as I will not be confined by space. But if you are referring to this body, that is not what I am. They can do what they want with it, and you can dispose of it the way you want.” Socrates in those days tried to teach us of the immortality of the human soul and the fact that man is not just an animal. You cannot expect to read about soul or spirit in text books of science even as you cannot expect to learn about the existence of God from books of science, simply because these do not fall within the scope of science. Science can deal with matter, space, energy and time and related matters. Human soul is not limited by space or time, as it is not of matter.
Nor was Socrates the first one to think and teach that the soul is our true self and not the body. More than a thousand years before Socrates there were sages in India who held similar views. According to them this identity crisis is the root cause of all evil. Upanishads, the philosophic part of the Hindu Holy Scriptures, declare that Avidya (ignorance of absolute truth) is the fundamental human predicament and the cause of suffering. The primary manifestation of Avidya is the erroneous identification of the self with the body. Swami Vivekananda illustrates this with a story. A pregnant lioness chasing a flock of sheep gave birth to a cub and died in the process. The cub grew up with the sheep, eating grass and even bleating like the sheep. A lion noticed this cub and tried to get him out of the flock. But whenever the lion approached this cub it ran in terror with the rest of the sheep. Finally, once it isolated the cub and tried to convince it of its true identity with little success. Then the lion took the sheep- lion to the edge of a lake and pointed out the resemblance. Then only was it convinced. Avidya is the lion feeling that it is a sheep or a human being not realizing his true self. Vidya is the sheep- lion at the lakeside being convinced of its true identity as a lion or a human being realizing that the body is only something that the self possesses.
Accepting the story of evolution, recognizing the fact that over the last few million years, a being, not quite ape yet not quite human, has evolved into the modern man, we must remember that what resulted from this evolutionary process is the mortal, perishable body and not the immortal, imperishable soul. If we believe that evolution is a continuing act of creation, if we believe that evolution is fully controlled and directed by God, can’t we assume that the soul is also the result of evolution? To get an answer to this we must recognize the basic difference between creation and evolution. Whereas evolution is the gradual change taking place in an organism or matter that already exists, creation is making something that never existed before. Creation is not something that science or scientists, or chemical or biological processes, can produce. Only God does creation in that sense, making something out of nothing.
The genesis of our universe whence cosmic evolution began, the creation of life whence the biologic evolution began and the creation of man, the true self of man, whence the spiritual and scientific evolution began are three epochs in our history, in the life of the universe. These three, the creation of the universe, the creation of life and the creation of the soul of man are above and beyond the understanding of science. In an article about cosmic evolution, I happened to read, “Scientists leave to poets and priests the question of how, whence and why the primordial matter of the big bang appeared”.
Some three thousand years ago Moses, whom we could consider a poet, priest, prophet or philosopher, gave the simplest and most sensible answer to the questions of how or whence all these came. Let us see what he has to say about the origin of man. In the first chapter of Genesis, after the creation of the universe, life in water then on land and air, God finally decides to create man. The relevant words are as follows. “God said: Let us create man in our image and likeness…………….. And God created man in His image and likeness.” We had been reading this passage for the last three millennia. But have we really understood the meaning, the significance of this passage? Was it this body with head, trunk and four limbs that was made in the likeness of God? Is this misconception that led our ancestors to make the images or pictures of God in the likeness of our body? What I am trying to emphasize here is the fact that what God created in His image and likeness, man, is not this body, which is material, but the soul that is beyond matter and space. Even as ‘life’ was something unique put by God into the combination of molecules at one of the epochs of creation, “the soul” was something new created into the ultimate product of evolution, the Homo sapiens.
Even scientists agree today that the change from hominids or our ancestors to Homo sapiens did not happen simultaneously at various places. The Mitochondrial D.N.A. analysis of the various races of people all over the world has shown that all of us, black and white, brown and yellow, all are descended from one mother, whom the scientists call the mitochondrial Eve. Hence we can strongly believe that one day God did create a man and woman. In chapter 2 of Genesis there is reference to God shaping man out of clay and breathing the breath of life into its nostrils.
By this man became alive. This passage can have a wealth of meaning if you read it in the right spirit of faith. The process of molding the clay is the process of evolution that reached the stage of the Homo sapiens. Even as the clay model lacks life, the Homo sapiens lacked the spirit that makes man what he is. What he breathed into man is the spirit, the immortal soul. Throughout the Bible, in the new and old Testaments there are references to life and death that has nothing to do with the life of the material body. We read passages like; ‘He who believes in me never shall die”; “If you eat of this you shall die.” The reference in these cases is to the life of the spirit that is found only in the human being and not the life of the body.
The fact that we are created in the image and likeness of God gives another dimension to our status, another difference between humans and other animals – the status of ‘ the children of God’. This was one of the important messages that Jesus tried to give us, that God is our Father and that all of us are his children. Other primates or other animals do not share this status. Children are those who resemble the father in some way. In a household you may have children as well as dogs, cats and fowls. But the pets or domestic animals do not resemble the master, only the children do. Even so the status of the children of God belongs only to us human beings and not to the whole creation. God created all living things but only the soul of a human being is created to be in his likeness and deserve the title, ‘child of God’. God is also the supreme ruler or king according to most of the faiths. When we take this fact into consideration our status becomes that of a prince or a princess. This realization leads to one very important and significant aspect of faith, what I like to term the three dimensions of faith. These are: faith in God as my king and my father, faith in me as a child of God, a prince of the kingdom and faith in others - all human beings - as children of God, princes and princesses of the Kingdom and thereby deserving my love and respect.
The Free Fall
Why is there so much evil in the world? Where does the evil come from? As pointed out earlier, we cannot ascribe all the cruelty and evil in us to the animal origins. In the animal there is no good or evil. No one can even suspect that evil is of divine origin. God is goodness itself. What is the third source from which evil could have become a part and parcel of human nature? The idea of the tempter or devil as a person working full time to make you fall is too simplistic. At the same time we cannot rule out the significance of temptation in causing evil. What is important is to get a clear idea of the nature of this tempter or temptation. One of the differences between humans and other animals that we have pointed out earlier is that of an elevation of status. Man has the status of a child of God and a prince of the kingdom.
The rights and privileges of such a status are naturally accompanied by duties and responsibilities. Man is charged with the authority of ruling over the rest of the living world. To rule over a kingdom means to look after, protect and defend it and care for the inhabitants. In short, man is a caretaker and not an undertaker. As all humans are the children of the same father, the same king, we must respect each other as such. It is the duty of each one of us to help those of us in need of help or in some form of trouble. We cannot close our eyes to the sufferings of others. To the question, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” the answer is in the affirmative. That is why Christ as well as a host of other teachers told us to love one another. Recently I read somewhere that the opposite of love is not hatred but indifference. We cannot be indifferent to the plight of the children of God. This is part of the responsibility associated with our elevated status. It is our selfishness that prevents us from performing these duties and this is the prime cause of the evil around us.
The first fall and all the subsequent falls come from our freedom, freedom to chose what we want, freedom to act as we wish. This is what is commonly known as free will, something that the other animals do not have. This freedom also is part of the privilege of our enhanced status. We are not slaves who have to obey unquestioningly the rules or laws set down. As rulers we are free to follow the regulations for the welfare of the others or we can give priority to satisfy our own selfish interests at the cost of the interest of others, exploit others and destroy others for the fulfillment of our selfish pleasures. From this conflict of interest and selfishness comes evil.
So it would seem that the tempter is not an external agency, but something internal, a result of the freedom of choice, which, if used properly is a great thing in itself. Are we hence to understand that the free will, if it is the cause of evil, is evil in itself? Will we be better off without it? Just imagine what we will be without this faculty called free will. We will just be like any other animal, leading a day-to-day life led by instinct. We will be just one of the other primates. We won’t be human. So, one of the faculties that make us human is the free will. We cannot fool ourselves saying that this is also the result of evolution. Not at all, I would say. This is one of the faculties of the self of man, a spiritual one - not a biological faculty like those possessed by other animals.
A very interesting question relevant in this connection is about the degree of freedom. How free are we in this context? Do we really have any freedom of choice? Is the concept of free will just a myth? These and similar questions arise out of what we might call the fatalistic attitude or determinism, the belief that we are not responsible for our actions, that our destinies were already decided at our birth. Practices of palmistry and astrology may be brought in as justification of such an attitude. Some others attribute the responsibility of our behavior to heredity, the genes, or the way the molecules are organized in the D.N.A. If this is the case, if we are what we are, depending on the molecular structure of the chromosomes, then we are no better than animals. What Francis Collins, Head of Human Genome project, the official U.S. agency that helped unravel the D.N.A. sequencing, said in January 2001 while publishing the results of the project is very enlightening and quite relevant in this context. He said: “We will not understand important things like ‘love’ by knowing the D.N.A. sequence of Homo sapiens. If man begins to view himself as a machine, programmed by this D.N.A. sequence, we have lost something really important.” So we cannot put the blame for our failures on the genetic makeup either.
To the question, ‘to what degree is our genetic makeup or the D N A sequence responsible for our actions?’ one could say this: In a human being, the genes are fully responsible for all his/her actions as an animal. But as far as your actions as a human being are concerned, where the question of right and wrong, of good and evil, arises you are not an animal but a being endowed with free will, and the blame or the credit cannot be placed on the genes, but on your free will. Yes we are, each one of us responsible for our actions. We cannot blame the stars or the genes for our failures. We are free to do or not to do something good or bad. We have the free will. Good and evil, found only in the human species, arise out of the way we exercise the free will. Misuse of the free will is the cause of evil, the cause of our fall. It may be correct to say that evil arises from selfishness and good from selflessness. It is our selfishness that causes us to inflict harm on others or to be indifferent to the suffering of others. This is the cause of evil. Out of selflessness arises true love, which is the font of goodness.