Out From Under the Umbrella

playing in the rain

Are We Necessary?

22 Comments

Fundamentalist Christianity says we were put here by God exactly the way it is described in Genesis(whichever creation account you want to use) for a purpose.  That purpose is to be in relationship with him.  We are the only creatures capable of consciousness, abstract thought, and self-awareness.  We are the only creatures capable of that relationship. 

Phil_style commented on A Self-Centered World:

The idea of not being necessary is marvelously humbling, but not really at odds with most religious thought.

Another question I like to think about is not whether we are necessary, but whether or not we were inevitable. This question is scientific, (in a way; given what we know about natural process reliability) philosophical (contingency), and theological.

So I’d like to ponder that a little.  If our purpose here is to be in a relationship with God, who most Christians believe to be our creator in one sense or another, is the thought of not being necessary at odds with religious thought?  Beyond being placed here to be in a relationship with said creator the creation account has this to say:

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.  God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”  ~Genesis 1:26-28
Whether this passage is intended to be allegory or literal, it states man’s superiority over other created things.  It clearly says that rather than being merely inevitable we were intentional.  Does this make us necessary?  I don’t think it does.  What I do think is that it makes us feel necessary.  If we have purpose then we feel needed. 
According to a 2010 Gallup Poll 40% of Americans believe in a literal six-day creation. Another 30% believe in theistic evolution.  Seventy percent of Americans believe that God fashioned them.  Forty percent believe it was to “be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth and subdue it, and to rule over it”- literally.  How is that for feeling necessary?  
Naturalistic evolution posits that we were merely inevitable.  Through evolutionary processes we have developed consciousness, abstract thought and self-awareness.  Are humans the only beings capable of complex society?  I guess it depends on your definition of complex society.  We are not the only beings capable of community.  What do you think?
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*I am in no way saying that we are necessary.  I think we as a species want to feel necessary.  What I’m pondering here is really the point of our creation, if indeed we were created by God.   
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22 thoughts on “Are We Necessary?

  1. Interesting, I always thought our purpose was to glorify God (and no I don't just mean singing hallelujah in the clouds – please). I never considered us necessary as in a requirement. I also think the "rule over" piece has more to do with being responsible for, but I imagine it wouldn't need taking care of if we were not here (which can be interpreted in several ways 😉 )I think insects have pretty complex societies, but I don't think they (or any other creature on the planet) are capable of the same level of complexity as humans so I would have to say our societies are orders of magnitude more complex than any other (for an example of complex primate society http://www.amazon.com/Primates-Memoir-Neuroscientists-Unconventional-Baboons/product-reviews/0743202414 is an interesting and entertaining read.) For the record, I can't rationally believe in evolution (at least not yet) see http://ittakes30.wordpress.com/2011/03/11/the-random-walk-of-evolution/#comment-736 for my latest understanding if you are interested. Too many things don't work? It's like a rock falling up. That said I understand there are some very smart people who do believe it, but as history proves that isn't 100% :-)Anyway that's what I think.

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  2. More excellent questions! Let's recall that the Judaic tradition has a wide range of things to say about this issue. Ecclesiastes, for example, goes on a long rant about life being apparently meaningless and the fleeting nature of human existence. Meaning, (for whoever wrote the last section of that book) is found in understanding the other, the divine, rather than in discovering one's own "necessary" value. This conclusion also appears to have come from a time when the Jewish faith(s) was not convinced in an afterlife – so the writer, in all likelihood, was working with the assumption that when you died – that's was it.There's also the Psalmists question "what is man that you are mindful of him?" – this doesn't sound like the words of someone who believes in human supremacy. The suggestion is that humans are really lucky that the divine has paid any heed to us at all!The obsession with a few chapters in genesis seems to have the interesting side-effect of blocking out other biblical voices. Using the word "purpose" with respect to humans comes with it a lot of cultural assumptions, and it's hard to find those assumptions in the biblical text. We tend to think of purpose in a similar way to the machines we build – i.e. what task was this thing built for? Is that kind of thinking appropriate with respect to any kind of divine/human relationalityness-ism-dotcom? I dunno….

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  3. David,If, indeed, God created us there seem to be multiple purposes – which is what I was getting at with this article. I also have been taught that God created us glorify him. But before we were created, to glorify him to whom? The angels? Was he trying to prove something to Lucifer? Did he need to prove something to himself? What kind of being creates things just to glorify himself? Seems kind of narcissistic to me. =================================================phil,I see everything you're saying here. I'm very familiar with the Psalmist's question. I'm very familiar with Ecclesiastes. The word "purpose" is bandied about, at least here in the states, in evangelical speak. We were created for a "purpose" that suited God. Else why create us at all? Whether that purpose be glorifying him, a relationship with him, or tending the earth. For the record, I've spent most of my life feeling like I didn't have any value apart from God. I took to heart "what is man that you are mindful of him?". The Psalmist, assuming it is David, also took a lot of liberties. Actions speak louder than words. You also mention that is in the sense that we are lucky that God paid any heed to us at all. Are you lucky your parents had you? Would you have known the difference if they hadn't? Are you lucky that when they had you they decided to pay attention to you?As for the question of purpose, I think most people come to a point where they ask: "Why am I here?".

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  4. "You also mention that is in the sense that we are lucky that God paid any heed to us at all."Just to clarify, these aren't my words, just the impression I get of the psalmist. My point is just to point out that there is a diversity of view – even within the faith tradition, we don't have to sell-all-out on a single concept here, especially the evangelical one. "I've spent most of my life feeling like I didn't have any value apart from God."I don't want to presume too much, but I expect you mean to shed light on this thinking as a generally negative experience? Unpacking the issues surrounding value takes alot of space. But it bears thinking about what we mean by value, and whether or not we think intrinsic value is possible, and whether or not we think infinite value is possible.

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  5. I don't want to presume too much, but I expect you mean to shed light on this thinking as a generally negative experience?Quite the contrary. I was quite happy to go on thinking that. It was no bother to me to feel that way until I started to question the very existence of that God.

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  6. My problem with the whole "man was created in god's image" blah blah blah is the way that belief has a natural tendency to encourage human arrogance and short-sightedness and no small sense of entitlement. The end result is more often than not demonstrably foolish and completely irresponsible behavior and a lesser ability to respect nature and other living creatures.In contrast, people with the courage and honesty — and humility — to admit what they don't know generally appear to have a higher moral standard when it comes to respecting other people, other living creatures, and the environment. Our species is barely a blip in the grand scheme of geologic time.

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  7. Thank you, Cognitive Dissenter. You said what I was trying to say much more eloquently. Human beings tend to feel their importance.

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  8. CD, I am sneakily suspicious that this issue of "created in god's image" is way too overblown. Just about any philosophical position about the nature of humans can be used to justify any behavior. One can jump off the same platform in any number of directions.

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  9. @D'Ma – You know where I am coming from so you can probably anticipate the answer, but here it is…I can only guess at His purpose (as opposed to ours which I already proposed), but if His nature is both creative and loving I suppose it would be in some sense reproductive. There are echos of this in scripture. As God I don't imagine He feels the need to "prove" anything.Also we may have different ideas of the meaning of glorification (kind of what I was anticipating with my first aside). We tend to think of glory as praise, but it means more than that. Illuminate is another nuance, and I think that fits quite nicely with the reproductive idea if you think about it.@Cognitive – Not sure man needs any encouragement to act badly. I think he needs encouragement to act otherwise 😉 People with courage honesty and humility learned it somewhere (IMO)

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  10. David,I'm going to need you to elaborate that illumination nuance. il·lu·mi·nate (-lm-nt)v. il·lu·mi·nat·ed, il·lu·mi·nat·ing, il·lu·mi·natesv.tr.1. To provide or brighten with light.2. To decorate or hang with lights.3. To make understandable; clarify: "Cleverly made attacks can . . . serve to illuminate important differences between candidates" (New Republic).4. To enlighten intellectually or spiritually; enable to understand.5. To endow with fame or splendor; celebrate.6. To adorn (a page of a book, for example) with ornamental designs, miniatures, or lettering in brilliant colors or precious metals.7. To expose to or reveal by radiation.v.intr.1. To become lighted; glow.2. To provide intellectual or spiritual enlightenment and understanding: "Once you decide to titillate instead of illuminate, you're on a slippery slope" (Bill Moyers).3. To be exposed to or revealed by radiation.n. (-nt)One who has or professes to have an unusual degree of enlightenment.Which one of these definitions of illuminate are we using? And again, even if this supposed creation were to illuminate himself, to what end?

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  11. phil said:Just about any philosophical position about the nature of humans can be used to justify any behavior.Touche. I suppose when it comes to being an ass in ginormous proportions any old excuse will do. *grin*

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  12. D'ma I suppose when it comes to being an ass in ginormous proportions any old excuse will dohuzzah! spoken like a true observer of the human condition!and now onto the ramblings of my messy mind:I'm keen to explore this idea that David proposes regarding "illumination" as a possible interpretation of "glorification". And it's important that you listed the possible definitions, because as with all these things, understanding the common terms we use is critical to understanding each other.I like this third definition "To make understandable; clarify". Perhaps divine intentionality towards the universe we inhabit is connected to this notion of "being made known". At first, it sounds like god is needy, and suffers from loneliness at first, but why should we find fault with the innate desire to relate – which requires being known?

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  13. phil,He had already created the angels. What would the need for man be? Are angels not capable of knowledge? Are they not capable of love? And I see what you're saying about divine intentionality, but if without creating humans(or something of the like) he couldn't be known does that then go to necessity? That takes away a bit from your theory of inevitablility and tends toward intentionality in my mind. Then where does evolution fit into all of that? Even theistic evolution? And for someone who believes in the literal(not speaking of myself)interpretation of scripture how does hell fit into that? It's as if the creator has created an imperfect being and then said, "I love you, but if you don't love me back to hell with you." – quite literally. These are my messy mind ramblings. 😉

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  14. Exrelayman said"Naturalistic evolution posits that we were merely inevitable."I would not even go that far. We have occurred. Being inevitable means to me we had to occur. Naturalistic evolution, to my best understanding, elucidates processes involved in change but does not indicate the direction in which change will or should go.Of course, with or without a God, a completely deterministic universe may be the case, in which case everything we observe, including ourselves, is inevitable. (I had to say that!)Philosophy kind of makes my head hurt. Many things are conceivable. No real world tests adjudicate between these various ideas.But my dad used to say that I'm a real smart feller. I'm almost sure that's what he said.

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  15. Exrelayman said:"Philosophy kind of makes my head hurt. Many things are conceivable. No real world tests adjudicate between these various ideas."I was about to cue up Zoe's favorite song. "Here we go round the mulberry bush". LOL!This post was spawned from comments from my article yesterday about purpose, inevitability, necessity and the like. We could go on and on all day long with these philosophical questions and I'm sure I'd still be wondering, "Is Christianity true?", "Is there really a God?". I find these discussions interesting but it gets me no closer to an answer to the fundamental question of what is true."We have occurred. Being inevitable means to me we had to occur. Naturalistic evolution, to my best understanding, elucidates processes involved in change but does not indicate the direction in which change will or should go."Agreed and thank you for pointing that out. That really is a much better explanation. We certainly didn't "have" to occur. We simply did.

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  16. This is a very interesting exploration. For my part, I am a determinist. Consequently, I have quite a bit of common ground with stict Calvinist Christians. The biggest difference between us – and my (pardon the pun) "saving grace" – is that I don't find a definite purposefulness in my God (nature). This allows me to concentrate soley on the fact that I am here and what I should do about it.

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  17. Something to keep in mind: All of this talk about purpose is really a modern concept. Paul in 1 Timothy 2:7 claims his purpose was to be an apostle to the Gentiles, but he never goes so far as to say everybody has a specific purpose. It's all pretty vague.The book "The Purpose Driven Life" may not have been the start of seeking individual Christian purpose, but it sure has helped bring it to the forefront where it is today.It's interesting to do a search on "purpose" at Bible Gateway. The overwhelming majority of hits are in regards to God's purpose, and not for specific people. Very, very few specific people are assigned a purpose from God. In fact, the first one who was assign a purpose (according to Biblical record) was the Pharaoh of the Exodus (Exodus 9:16). We all know how well that purpose turned out…

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  18. TWF,When I'm speaking of purpose I mean for the whole of mankind. Not individually speaking. I'm not one who's really ever bought into the whole "God has a wonderful plan just for you" bit. I'm pretty sure,if the Bible is God's word, we pretty much have free reign within it's confines. Not that that's saying much. 😉

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  19. D'Ma,Pretty simple really… God is light.The plan is we become like Him.We are light.We illuminate (glorify) God.I imagine a force and power in that light that makes the process richer than the description, but I'm daft.You asked.

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  20. David,I'm going to need you to elaborate that illumination nuance. il·lu·mi·nate (-lm-nt)v. il·lu·mi·nat·ed, il·lu·mi·nat·ing, il·lu·mi·natesv.tr.1. To provide or brighten with light.2. To decorate or hang with lights.3. To make understandable; clarify: "Cleverly made attacks can . . . serve to illuminate important differences between candidates" (New Republic).4. To enlighten intellectually or spiritually; enable to understand.5. To endow with fame or splendor; celebrate.6. To adorn (a page of a book, for example) with ornamental designs, miniatures, or lettering in brilliant colors or precious metals.7. To expose to or reveal by radiation.v.intr.1. To become lighted; glow.2. To provide intellectual or spiritual enlightenment and understanding: "Once you decide to titillate instead of illuminate, you're on a slippery slope" (Bill Moyers).3. To be exposed to or revealed by radiation.n. (-nt)One who has or professes to have an unusual degree of enlightenment.Which one of these definitions of illuminate are we using? And again, even if this supposed creation were to illuminate himself, to what end?

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  21. David,If, indeed, God created us there seem to be multiple purposes – which is what I was getting at with this article. I also have been taught that God created us glorify him. But before we were created, to glorify him to whom? The angels? Was he trying to prove something to Lucifer? Did he need to prove something to himself? What kind of being creates things just to glorify himself? Seems kind of narcissistic to me. =================================================phil,I see everything you're saying here. I'm very familiar with the Psalmist's question. I'm very familiar with Ecclesiastes. The word "purpose" is bandied about, at least here in the states, in evangelical speak. We were created for a "purpose" that suited God. Else why create us at all? Whether that purpose be glorifying him, a relationship with him, or tending the earth. For the record, I've spent most of my life feeling like I didn't have any value apart from God. I took to heart "what is man that you are mindful of him?". The Psalmist, assuming it is David, also took a lot of liberties. Actions speak louder than words. You also mention that is in the sense that we are lucky that God paid any heed to us at all. Are you lucky your parents had you? Would you have known the difference if they hadn't? Are you lucky that when they had you they decided to pay attention to you?As for the question of purpose, I think most people come to a point where they ask: "Why am I here?".

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  22. More excellent questions! Let's recall that the Judaic tradition has a wide range of things to say about this issue. Ecclesiastes, for example, goes on a long rant about life being apparently meaningless and the fleeting nature of human existence. Meaning, (for whoever wrote the last section of that book) is found in understanding the other, the divine, rather than in discovering one's own "necessary" value. This conclusion also appears to have come from a time when the Jewish faith(s) was not convinced in an afterlife – so the writer, in all likelihood, was working with the assumption that when you died – that's was it.There's also the Psalmists question "what is man that you are mindful of him?" – this doesn't sound like the words of someone who believes in human supremacy. The suggestion is that humans are really lucky that the divine has paid any heed to us at all!The obsession with a few chapters in genesis seems to have the interesting side-effect of blocking out other biblical voices. Using the word "purpose" with respect to humans comes with it a lot of cultural assumptions, and it's hard to find those assumptions in the biblical text. We tend to think of purpose in a similar way to the machines we build – i.e. what task was this thing built for? Is that kind of thinking appropriate with respect to any kind of divine/human relationalityness-ism-dotcom? I dunno….

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