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Written by Australian biologist Jeremy Griffith, 2011
BUT that is a truth we couldn’t safely admit until we could EXPLAIN that condition, until we could explain our present seemingly-highly-imperfect, guilty conscience-producing behaviour!!
MOST WONDERFULLY, however, biology is now finally able to provide this dreamed-of, exonerating, ‘’-reconciling, ‘burden-of-guilt’-lifting, clear-conscience-producing, human-race-transforming EXPLANATION of the –as well as the explanation of how we acquired our original in the first place! (It should be mentioned that this explanation of our species’ present deeply psychologically troubled, ‘good-and-evil’-afflicted condition is not the psychosis-avoiding, trivialising, dishonest account of it that the biologist E.O. Wilson has put forward in his theory of Eusociality, but the psychosis-addressing-and-solving, real explanation of it.)
The Concise Oxford Dictionary defines ‘conscience’ as our ‘moral sense of right and wrong’. Yes, on the subject of our moral conscience the philosopher John Fiske observed that ‘We approve of certain actions and disapprove of certain actions quite instinctively. We shrink from stealing or lying as we shrink from burning our fingers’ (Outlines of Cosmic Philosophy, 1874, Vol. iv, Part ii, p.126). The philosopher Immanuel Kant was so impressed by our instinctive moral conscience that he had the following words inscribed on his tomb: ‘there are two things which fill me with awe: the starry heavens above us, and the moral law within us’. And Charles Darwin was similarly awed by the existence of our conscience, writing that ‘the moral sense affords the best and highest distinction between man and the lower animals’ (The Descent of Man, 1871, p.495). The poet Alexander Pope, however, was not so impressed by our instinctive moral nature, pointing out that ‘our nature [is]…A sharp accuser, but a helpless friend!’ (An Essay on Man, Epistle ii, 1733). And he was right–our conscience has been ‘a sharp accuser, but a helpless friend’; it has criticised us aplenty when what we really needed was sympathetic, compassionate, reconciling, redeeming and rehabilitating understanding of our ‘good-and-evil’-afflicted condition. why, when the ideals of life are clearly to be cooperative, , are we humans the complete opposite, namely competitive, selfish and aggressive? In fact, why are we so ruthlessly competitive, selfish and brutal that human life has become all but unbearable and we have nearly destroyed our own planet?! Why have we moved from a state of morality to a state of immorality? In short, how do we explain the human condition??
Thus, the two great questions about our conscience–which can now at last be truthfully answered–are how did we acquire our ‘awe’-inspiring but ‘[un]friend[ly]’, mercilessly-critical conscience; and why don’t we still live in accordance with our moral instincts–why did the human race ‘fall from grace’, become corrupted, lose its innocence, become immoral, stop obeying our instinctive moral conscience?