The End of a Species 

By Roy Hanu Hart, M.D., aka Doctor Faith, on Mar. 6, 2017

We Homo sapiens are the only humans on Earth. Half a dozen species of humans, including H. neanderthalensis, H. erectus, and H. soloensis, have come and gone. But for the last 10,000 years, the planet has been ours alone. Homo erectus was around for 2-million years. How long are we good for?

We live in a universe whose dimensions are beyond comprehension. The professional star gazers say there are 10 trillion galaxies in the observable universe. Our galaxy, the Milky Way, has 100 billion stars. Thus, the number of stars in the universe is 1 followed by 24 zeros. What’s more, astrophysicists discovered that all ordinary, or baryonic, matter account for less than 5 percent of the mass of the universe. The rest -- over 95% -- is made up of a mysterious, invisible something-or-another called dark matter and an anti-gravity force called dark energy.

Recently, a group of 7 Earth-sized planets orbiting TRAPPIST-1, a dwarf star 40 light years from us, was discovered by NASA astronomers. Three of these rocky exoplanets (planets that orbit a star outside our solar system) are in the habitable zone (where there may be surface liquid water and even life). Other solar systems, and astronomers can now say there are many out there, may also harbor life forms. In other words, we may not be alone in the universe.

Since 1992, the 500th anniversary of Columbus’ voyage to the New World, SETI (search for extraterrestrial intelligence) has been listening for radio or optical signals originating from other worlds. We haven’t heard from anybody yet and probably won’t. That doesn’t rule out the possibility intelligent life has existed beyond Earth. Note the choice of tense. As psychiatrist and political commentator Charles Krauthammer has astutely pointed out, intelligent beings have probably evolved on faraway planets, only to have destroyed themselves in the end. If life follows a pattern, we humans on Earth, with our own self-destructive flair, are destined for the same fate.

I turn to a critical event that occurred in 1991. A black taxi driver named Rodney King was brutally beaten by a quartet of white Los Angeles police officers after a high-speed auto chase, which set off a series of riots the following year, leaving 55 dead and some 2000 injured. King emerged from the deplorable incident with a memorable quote: “People, I just want to say, can we all get along? Can we get along?” The answer to his question is no. We can’t all get along. 

For some, Satan, the monarch of hell, is the answer to why we can’t all get along. Then there are those who blame Adam and Eve, who, by sinning against God, saddled our species with a sinful nature. Science has yet to identify a sin gene in the human genome, although, I might add, I don’t know if anyone is working on the project. But neuroscience does offer a reasonable explanation for humanity’s proclivity to lie, cheat, steal, rage, brutalize others, murder.   

In the 1960s, neuroscientist Paul MacLean developed the idea that the human brain is actually three brains in one. This hypothetical “triune brain” consists of a reptilian core overlaid by a paleomammalian layer and topped by a third layer, the neomammalian, with its highly developed neocortex in humans. For us, life is a tug of war between the older, more primitive parts of our brain and the more recent ratiocinating layering. 

I haven’ forgotten Adam and Eve, babes in the woods (i.e., the Garden of Eden). This original, guileless pair was no match for polymorphic Satan, whom they encountered in the Garden in serpentine, that is, reptilian, form.  It was time to leave paradise, and Satan was there to cut the umbilical cord that connected us to Mother Earth. Adam and Eve now entered the real world, where their descendants have been walloping and killing one another ever since.

We have come far in our development as a species but not far enough to overcome our animal heritage. Many have tried and continue to try to bring out the best in us – to prove that we are closer to the angels than to reptilian dinosaurs, those Mesozoic  Era creatures that left us a residue which is part of our brain.

A rabbi living two thousand years ago, Jesus the Galilean Pietist (aka Jesus of Nazareth), defined the good life. He distilled the Ten Commandments of his forefathers down to two statements: love God with everything in you, and love your fellow human beings as yourself. Some have succeeded in guiding their life according to his two precepts – the Catholic Church calls them saints. Many try, and their success can be judged on a scale of 0.1-10.

Too many of our species are still living at the tooth-and-claw level, and they are the ones who will bring about humanity’s downfall. If I had to summarize what we as a species are in the 21st century, I would say we are a high-class mammal (borrowing language from the late Christopher Hitchens) with all the latent ferocity of the beast. Man’s history of repeated genocide is condemnation enough to justify Plautus’ assessment of us. Titus Maccius Plautus was a 3rd-century BC Roman comedic playwright. His most famous play, Asinaria (“The Ass-Dealer”), contains a line that has assured Plautus his immortality. There is nothing comical about that line: “Homo homini lupus est.” (Man is a wolf to man.)

Since the 1960s, we have been living in the postmodern world, highly secularized, dominated by a population fixated in adolescence, and atavistic. Anything goes as long as it is not traditional. God has been shoved into a corner, for postmoderns understand only too well Dostoevsky’s truism from The Brothers Karamazov, “If there is no God, everything is permitted.” For them, the door to a life of self-abandonment is wide open.

Ever since the dawn of civilization, man has had his gods. The ancient Jews consolidated the gods into one, the LORD God, who stood behind all creation. Life goes better with God. Without God, life, that is, human life, will not go on at all.  

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