Dani asked... What is your belief on the origins of life? Do you think we evolved from animals over billions of years? Why is it that humans are capable of rational thought and we have a conscience, but animals don't? In your opinion, what really sets us apart from all the other species on the planet?
I think what I like most about this ever evolving discussion (ahhh the delicious irony of a pun) is that it forces me to think through a variety of subjects and actually get my thoughts about them down in print.
It has splintered off in so many directions I'm not even sure if all points have been addressed, so if something got missed, by all means bring it up again.
Origins of life- life first evolved around 3.5 billion years ago
I think the first mamals appeared around 245 million years ago during the Triassic era famous for the T-Rex
I think mamals became the dominent species on the planet around 70 million years ago during the Tertiary Era
I think primitive monkeys evolved around 50 mya
I think the hominid line broke off from the evolving primate line about 4 million years ago and has splintered off into a variety off races that have finally gone extinct- all but homo sapiens sapiens
Human Capacity for Reason- Each time a creature evolves it is in response to environmental factors- competition for food, water, mates, changing climate, drought, etc... Animals evolve differently so they are not competing for the same food source. Our ancestors developed the ability to use their minds. They were not gifted with claws, speed, size, durability. They had a brain that they used to compensate for what they did not have developing tools, shelter, reliable food sources, social structures. Some discovered how to harvest seeds and plant them. Farming led to towns which led to cities. Throughout the process morals developed that were related to survival and religion developed to explain the unexplainable. Why does it rain? Who hung the moon? How do we prevent the Tigris & Euphrates from flooding? What should we do to keep our neighbors from attacking us? What happens after death?
I would recommend a book by Julian Jaynes at this point The Origin of Consciousness and the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind. It explains very clearly and quite readably how humans developed into beings with the capacity for rational thought, morals, ethics, the ability to think about the future and live beyond the moment etc... They have it at amazon if you search for the title. http://www.amazon.com/Origin-Consciousness-Breakdown-Bicameral-Mind/dp/0618057072/ref=pd_bbs_sr_1/103-3008356-5217460?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1177268528&sr=8-1 Or you may find it at your local library.
Our capacity to reason is what sets us apart from other beings on the planet. The sad thing is that not everyone chooses to think and it is a choice. It's a choice every morning when a person gets out of bed- to live in a fog or to demand clear thinking of oneself. To exercise your brain muscle daily or to let it atrophy with antipathy and laziness. Some actively choose to not use their brain, to blindly follow where they are led, to make decisions based on what feels good or what they wish was true. It can lead to all sorts of evil when people abandon reason for lies.