Key Lines from Reviews of
Steps, Faith to Reason
"White examines how men from Abraham and Seneca to Voltaire and Thomas Paine helped 'establish the use of reason rather than faith as a guide for mankind.'"
"...Steps, Faith to Reason is nothing short of the history of Western thought condensed into a single, easily understood volume."
[Steps, Faith to Reason]..."represents the author's sober assessment of the intellectual path humanity has taken from theocracy to secularity, from the ubiquity of religion to the use of scientific thought."
[Steps, Faith to Reason]..."offers a guide to the ways mankind has used faith and reason as a guiding light over the past four millennia."
Paragraph Constructed from Three Reviews by ForeWord Clarion, BlueInk and Kirkus Indie of the Book, Steps, Faith to Reason
Fear, with fear of death above all others, was the first mother of the gods. From this line, credited to Lucretius (a Roman philosopher in the century just before Christ), Steps, Faith to Reason provides a very readable history of increments of progress (steps) by mankind in the past four millennia in shifting from faith to reason as the facility to guide one's life. The steps of progress described begin with the Biblical account of Abraham, continuing with descriptions of progress by ten notable philosophers, from Socrates to Thomas Paine. The author, realizing that the choice between these two faculties is for each human, does not deride religious faith. He describes the progress by mankind in preferring rational thought, thereby, facilitating the march of rationalism...utilizing reason as the guide for life.
|Product dimensions:||5.00(w) x 8.00(h) x 1.01(d)|
Read an Excerpt
STEPS, FAITH TO REASON
By William C. White
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2009 William C. White
All right reserved.
Chapter OneTHE JOURNEY
An appropriate "beginning" for a review of some steps from religious faith to reason by mankind is to examine our planet, that spherical mass providing both the origin and journey of mankind. The purpose of this examination is to provide a view of the scales of time and mass of the planet we call earth, and to sketch the path of mankind's origin as a creature of nature.
By some measures, an account of the earth is a long one. By other measures, such an account is a short one. And, by some comparisons, the earth is but a speck of matter.
Using the earthly year (the 365 days the earth takes to complete an orbit around the sun), astrophysicists calculate that the earth and its companion planets in our solar system are 4.54 Ga, giga annun, or 4.54 billion years old. As the centerpiece of a solar system, the sun performs two key roles: through its gravitational pull it keeps the planets in order orbiting the sun; and as a giant thermonuclear fusion furnace converting hydrogen to helium, it emits light energy for the solar space.
Compared with a calculated age of 13.7 billion years for the universe, this solar system with one star and eight planets (with Pluto removed in 2006 CE) is relatively young. Likewise, in the Milky Way galaxy, (a cluster of stars,including our sun, held together by gravity), our solar system is relatively young compared with an age of 11 to 13 billion years for the Milky Way. This single galaxy is enormous, containing countless solar systems and measuring approximately 150,000 light years across. With what may be a senseless effort, we try to imagine the magnitude of the universe that contains countless galaxies consisting of ordinary matter, plus much more unseen dark matter, and lots of space-stretching "dark energy".
Thus, compared with the age of other masses in our galaxy and other matter in the universe, the planet earth is a relatively young bit of mass. Yet, just very recently, it has produced mankind, a minuscule bit of thinking matter with thousands of proteins optimized over billions of years. Strikingly different from any other known matter, this human matter has the capability of understanding, ranging from the nature of stars in the sky to molecules of living matter in the sea.
Our star, the sun, compared with the earth is enormously huge. The celestial ball we call earth has a diameter of 12,740 km, 7,918 miles. The diameter of the sun, however, is on the order 1,380,000 km ... 108 times that of the earth. This star, approximately 93 million miles from earth, is also huge on the scale of mass. Compared with its eight twirling planets, their many moons and other solar debris (now including Pluto), approximately 98 percent of the total mass of our solar system is in a single body, the sun. As a large gravitational thermonuclear furnace, the mass of the sun is approximately 92 percent hydrogen, the most abundant chemical element in the universe.
Thus, the planet earth is just a small bit of matter compared with its sun and with other bodies in the Milky Way galaxy and in the universe. Planet earth, however, is home to mankind, Homo sapiens, Latin for "wise man". This planet, with a finite mass, also has a finite lifespan dictating that it, like all creations of nature, eventually will slip into the abyss of oblivion. The lifespan of mankind's planet is unknown, but there are somewhat sobering estimates by scientists, that the sun, the crown jewel of our solar system, will cease to exist as a star in approximately five billion years. Projections are that as the sun "burns out", it will consume the earth, leaving quite a lot of time for mankind to cut some more paths.
Shifting to the scale of time for the earth's existence, there is abundant evidence that of the creatures evolving on earth, mankind is a new-comer. Information on his evolution points to his existence of only several hundred thousand years, and that of his earliest ancestors to several million years. Some mileposts may help illustrate how recently mankind's existence has been.
Precambrian Era 4.54 billion years to 542 million years ago. This geologic period, the oldest and longest, covers nearly 90 percent of the earth's history, from formation 4.54 billion years to 542 million years ago. In this Era, the oceans, continents and atmosphere formed and single-celled bacteria and multi-celled microorganisms appeared. Perhaps the most notable development in this Era was that of photosynthetic bacteria between ca.3.2 and ca.2.4 billion years ago. These remarkable single-cell organisms could convert energy of sunlight into chemical energy and simultaneously oxidize water to oxygen, extracting four electrons from two molecules of water to form free oxygen, [O.sub.2]. (The electrons produced in photosynthesis are used to reduce C[O.sub.2] to carbohydrates, beginning the process of packing energy in organic compounds. The free oxygen produced provides for our aerobic atmosphere.) How these organisms evolved with this signal achievement, including the generation of that marvelous molecule chlorophyll remains one of the great mysteries in the evolution of life as we understand it today. Such organisms long preceded terrestrial plants that did not appear until some 430 million years ago ... early in the next Era.
Paleozoic Era 542 to 248 million years ago. This Era has been divided into six Periods, Cambrian being the oldest and Permian the youngest. In the Devonian Period, early plants developed, and in the following Carboniferous Period of 60 million years maximum coal formation occurred, resulting from photosynthetic fixation of carbon from the atmosphere. Large reptiles and amphibians marked the Permian Period. At the end of this Period, one of the greatest extinctions of life on earth occurred as evidenced with fossils.
Mesozoic Era 248 to 65 million years ago. The Triassic Period, the first of three in this Era, saw development of the first dinosaurs, crocodiles, turtles and mammals. In the succeeding Jurassic Period, the earliest birds developed along with early large dinosaurs. In the Cretaceous Period, the last of the Mesozoic Era, seed bearing plants likely are the development of key distinction. Another significant event close to the end of this Era was development of symbiotic fixation of atmospheric nitrogen. In this symbiotic system, special bacteria enter roots of legume plants where the bacteria utilize chemical energy of the plant to convert nitrogen of the air into metabolic nitrogen for plants. This symbiotic relationship continues today, providing a major source of nitrogen in the food chain.
Cenozoic Era 65 million years to present. This Era is known as the "age of mammals," those creatures with a backbone and that nourish their young with milk. It is also the Era in which mankind appeared. Some data on climatic changes in this Era are worthy of review as a beneficial lesson for mankind. Early in this Era, some 50 million years ago, there is evidence that the level of C[0.sub.2] in the atmosphere may have topped 1,000 ppm (or 0.1 percent) by volume. With such a level of C[O.sub.2], one of the greenhouse gases, it is not surprising that global warmth fairly early in this Era resulted in sea levels approximately 50 meters higher than today. Later in this Era, however, marine organisms fixed much of the atmospheric carbon through photosynthesis burying it in the ocean basins. Four connected results of this carbon fixation were: sharply reduced levels of C[O.sub.2] in the atmosphere to 0.029 percent by three to four million years ago, lower global temperatures, development of ice sheets in Antarctica, and lower sea levels. Such a record of swings of atmospheric C[O.sub.2] levels in this Era provides a warning to mankind, Homo sapiens, whose existence during just the last several millennia is associated with increasing levels of C[O.sub.2] in the atmosphere, currently at 0.038 percent.
Some landmarks in the evolution of mankind and his ancestors beginning in the latter part of the Cenozoic Era are useful in visualizing the path leading to Homo sapiens.
Some Early Tracks
Weaving bits of evidence from geology and genetics, anthropologists point to the earliest ancestors of mankind appearing ca. seven million years ago in east Africa. These creatures, given the anthropological name of Australopithecus anamensis, likely were bipedal great apes that walked upright on two feet. Developing this upright stance may have been the result of forest cover disappearing, forcing these creatures to survive in the savannah ... perhaps one of the early examples of mankind's ancestors complying with the principle of "challenge and response". Changing from a horizontal position of movement to an upright, vertical position was one of the giant steps of our early ancestors.
This early bipedal creature had two appendages - hands - no longer needed for locomotion which provided a new, highly significant, capability. With hands, handling stones as tools and harvesting nuts, seeds, fruits and tubers propelled further significant developments. Such bipeds may have been the first hunter-gatherers resulting in more versatile and perhaps better diets that, in turn, resulted in larger brain sizes.
Evolutionary progress with this ancestor, however, was rather slow. This feral ancestor took approximately 2 million years to leave the tree completely and to evolve into Homo habilis (handy man, skilled person), the earliest species of the genus Homo, the first human species. A significant increase in brain size was a notable mark of Homo habilis that existed from ca. 2.2 to 1.6 million years ago in east Africa.
A successive link to mankind was Homo egaster, appearing ca. 1.9 million years ago. It represented progress in use of stone tools as axes and cleavers.
Homo heidelbergensis (nicknamed "Goliath"), one of the successors of Homo egaster, existed in the period of ca. 600,000 to 250,000 years ago. Sources of fossils of this creature include Germany, France and Greece. Homo heidelbergensis, and a related species, Homo erectus, are the closest relatives to Homo sapiens, the earliest forms of which appeared in Africa ca. 400,000 to 200,000 years ago.
Returning to the Precambrian Era, some comparative numbers may be useful. With a scale of one mile being equivalent to 4.5 billion years, a representative age of the earth, and a period of 300,000 years marking existence of Homo sapiens, such a period for this species is equivalent to only 4.2 inches on this time scale for the earth. And, with the same scale, a period of 8,000 years (6000 BCE) dating the beginning of city-states in the Middle East, represents approximately 0.1 of an inch on a time scale of one mile equaling 4.5 billion years, the age of the earth.
From these early tracks, the pace of developments by mankind accelerated where time is measured in thousands, and more recently in hundreds of years. Representative strides of progress by the bipedal mammal, Homo sapiens, up to the early centuries of the Common Era include:
Years Before Common Era (BCE)
500,000 Simple speech may have developed.
300,000-250,000 Use of fire began, possibly using flint in the Stone Age.
50,000-40,000 Human behavior, as we would recognize it, and creativity.
24,000 Oldest known carvings.
17,000 Cave paintings by Cro-Magnons in Lascaux, France.
10,000 Domestication of cereal crops for food in Syria and in southeast Turkey. Development of villages in the Near East.
8,000 Cave paintings in Australia.
7,000 Domestication of plants for fiber, linen.
6,000 City-states in the Middle East. Use of a "plow" to open the soil to plant seed.
5,000-4,000 Invention of the wheel in Mesopotamia.
3,200 Cuneiform (use of a stylus or wedge to mark records, ideas in wet clay) by Sumerians in Mesopotamia.
2,700 Hieroglyphics, a pictorial means to mark records, ideas by Egyptians.
2,000 Alphabetical script by Semitic workers in Egypt. Hinduism in India.
1,500-1,350 Judaism in Near East.
Years of Common Era (CE)
1455 Printing used for the Gutenberg Bible in vulgate Latin.
Of the innumerable steps by mankind since about 500,000 years ago, Will Durant has identified three critical ones that led from beast to civilization - speech, agriculture and writing. Of these, speech and writing deserve special attention because of their dependence on combined mental and physical capabilities.
For speech, the vocal means of communication, we simply lack evidence of its origin. When this step occurred our ancestors were without means of recording that oral achievement. The one substantial historical fact about speech is that it came long before writing. Anthropologists consider that the origin of simple speech by mankind traces back to animal vocalization, howls, grunts, etc. This capability may have developed as early as 500,000 BCE, likely as a result of interpersonal contacts such as mothers with their infants. Simultaneously, development of vocal cords, the larynx and other structures of our throats, plus the sense of perceiving various sounds, were necessary for speech as we know it today.
After developing speech, hundreds of millennia passed before mankind developed writing as a means of communicating. In this pre-literate period, mankind developed painting, domesticated crops for food and fiber, invented the wheel, developed city-states and created a plethora of gods and goddesses. As Diamond has cited, this period of illiteracy represents 99.9 percent of the five-million year history of the human species and its ancestors.
Clay tablets, bits of pottery and papyrus are the key historical messengers for the origins of literacy, writing and reading, a major development augmenting reliance on memory. In its beginnings, writing likely was a form of drawing, an art, as it still is in languages of Japan and China.
A preponderance of evidence points to the Sumerians in lower Mesopotamia being the first to develop writing. It was cuneiform (Latin, cuneus, "wedge"), a form of picture writing using a stylus or wedge to mark symbols in moist clay. From this, the Sumerians developed linear script ca. 3200 BCE, writing right-to-left in tablets of clay. With their commercial interests, rooted in the bureaucracy of their large city-states, the Sumerians first used cuneiform writing as a tool of commerce to record and transmit records of goods traded.
Developing symbols for ideas and concepts came a few centuries later. On clay tablets the Sumerians recorded notes on their gods and stories of Creation and the Flood. By ca. 1800 BCE, the Semitic Akkadians (from the city to the north that became Babylon) had overrun the Sumerians, taking the Sumerian cuneiform language and changing it to read left-to-right. One other note on the Sumerians - one of their famous cities was Ur, located (at that time) on the Euphrates just north of the confluence with the Tigris River. That was the city from which Abraham, reportedly, came, ca. 1750 BCE. More details on him will come later.
The Egyptians were not far behind, perhaps only several centuries, in developing another form of picture writing, hieroglyphics, using a local commodity, papyrus, as a writing surface. From these thought-pictures reading left-to-right came syllabaries, a collection of signs representing syllables. Finally, signs, we now know as letters, came to represent the sounds of syllables. These signs became the first letter alphabet ca. 1800 - 1600 BCE.
Excerpted from STEPS, FAITH TO REASON by William C. White Copyright © 2009 by William C. White. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
ContentsChapter 1. Preface....................v
Chapter 2. The Journey....................1
Chapter 3. Two Guides For The Path....................23
Chapter 4. Right And Wrong....................33
Chapter 5. Abraham....................51
Chapter 6. Socrates....................61
Chapter 7. Lucretius....................75
Chapter 8. Seneca....................97
Chapter 9. Maimonides....................121
Chapter 10. Petrarch....................149
Chapter 11. Montaigne....................177
Chapter 12. Bacon....................209
Chapter 13. Voltaire....................247
Chapter 14. David Hume....................287
Chapter 15. Thomas Paine....................317
Chapter 16. Connecting The Steps....................361
About the Author....................445