David M. Brown's Blog

July 27, 2016

False alternative: Humans as ants or history as playing out of providential plan

Filed under: Bible stories,History,Philosophy,Religion — davidmbrowndotcom @ 11:24 pm

Here is eminent and eminently readable historian Paul Johnson in  A History of the Jews (the Kindle e-book edition of which is, as I write, on sale from Amazon for $1.99):

Is history merely a series of events whose sum is meaningless? Is there no fundamental moral difference between the history of the human race and history of, say, ants? Or is there a providential plan of which we are, however humbly, the agents?

How about this: human beings are not agents of a providential plan, because there is no Providence, i.e., no Jupiter, no Zeus, no Odin, no Amun, no Jehovah. But there is indeed a fundamental moral difference between ants and human beings. Ants act automatically. Ants do not choose what they value, have no capacity to reason and have no morality. They are extremely ant-like; and this is a matter of observation, not of theological supposition. Human beings, by contrast, do possess a faculty of reason and the ability to choose the values that guide their lives, and hence can act in accordance with a good, bad, or mixed morality. These facts about human beings are also observable.

Furthermore, it is okay for human beings squash ants. It is not okay for human beings to squash other human beings

Why does Johnson implicitly assume, by presenting the alternatives as he does, that chosen human purposes have no moral significance unless that significance is injected outside of human moral agency by an unfathomable, unknowable, in fact mythical agency? The act of imputing a significance-endowing power to a fictional entity itself has moral significance, but a significance entirely human-generated. The imputing demeans human agency and  treats it as insufficient, partial or unreal except insofar as bolstered or enabled by an occupant of an alleged super-real dimension.


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