In classes I teach on Freethinkers like naturalist John Muir, I often saunter back to wise reminders of human hubris, especially pride that comes from too much piety.
“The world, we are told, was made especially for humanity–a presumption not supported by all the facts. A numerous class of people are painfully astonished whenever they find anything, living or dead, in all God’s universe, which they cannot eat or render in some way what they call useful. . . . To such properly trimmed people, the sheep, for example, is. . .food and clothing for us. . . . In the same pleasant plan, whales are storehouses of oil for us. . .[as hemp, cotton, iron]. . . . Now, it never seems to occur to these far-seeing teachers that Nature’s object in making animals and plants might possibly be first of all the happiness of each one of them, not the creation of all for the happiness of one. Why should humanity value itself as more than a small part of the one great unit of creation? And what creature of all that the Lord has taken the pains to make is not essential to the completeness of that unit–the cosmos? The universe would be incomplete without humans; but it would also be incomplete without the smallest transmicroscopic creature that dwells beyond our conceitful eyes and knowledge.
This star, our own good earth, made many a successful journey around the heavens before humanity was made, and whole kingdoms of creatures enjoyed existence and returned to dust before humanity appeared to claim them.”
John Muir, A Thousand-Mile Walk to the Gulf (1867, pub. 1916)
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