“The arc of the moral universe is long, but it leans towards justice.”
― Martin Luther King Jr.
Through my scientific course material, I have reached the conclusion that the Natural World, or all living and non-living things besides humankind, are essentially morally-neutral. The phenomena of homeostasis within an organism, self-sustaining ecosystems complete with decomposition and fertilization, and natural selection are all evidence that the Natural World maintains itself in true-neutral fashion. There is no partiality, nor is there evidence for consciousness rivaling humankind (there is more and more evidence that consciousness is a spectrum that reaches far down into the animal kingdom, but this is beside my point).
Humans, however, are most certainly conscious, and to varying degrees, maintain first-person perspectives. This allows us limited agency (I prefer this term over free will). There is potential for destruction (namely negative interference with the Natural World) and potential for construction (like repairing the negative interferences of the past). Additionally, a Biblical worldview suggests that we are to be stewards of the earth and of all living things, and Christians must decide what that entails. There are disagreements, such as whether burning fossil fuels is included in our call to stewardship. Given all of this, human activity is a wild card.
Despite this ambiguity, Dr. King asserts that what emerges out of human activity is a “moral arc”, and that arc has a predisposition for justice. And given what we know about human agency, this would appear, if nothing more, entirely possible. True, it is an introspective and extrapolative claim, but so is any claim about human nature. Dr. King focuses on a feeling inside himself which informs his place in the moral universe, and he also utilizes his first-person perspective to amalgamate his experiences with others, generating a “moral arc” from his perspective. Of course, I’m doubtful that Dr. King or anyone else consciously performs these introspections or consciously assembles “moral arcs”. On the contrary, I think humans can’t help doing it. It is part of our nature. Perhaps it falls outside our limited agency. Yet the fact remains that humans have moral agency, and thus contribute to a moral arc, one which Dr. King suggests has a curve.
As for the veracity of Dr. King’s statement, I know it is held in high regard by many in this office, the Service-Learning Center. What is my opinion? I would take Dr. King’s words a step further. I believe that every day has a moral arc. From the first break of dawn to the last light turned out, humans are going about their everyday business, exerting control over what they can in their limited agency, and pressing up against the barrier beyond which humans have no control. It is a humbling experience, being a human, and more importantly, each day is strangely new. This flies in the face of the cliché that each day is a blank canvas. On the contrary, we wake up each day to a world that’s a mess. We create this mess each morning as we walk out the door. Each day starts with an infinite number of goals and possibilities, and at the end of the day we have accomplished a finite number of them, usually a poor reflection of our original intent. And yet I, and perhaps others, feel like the world leaned ever so slightly towards a conclusion – towards a whisper of a resolution, a revolution. Perhaps Charles Darwin could get on board:
“Thus, from the war of nature, from famine and death . . . the production of the higher animals directly follows. There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.”
― Charles Darwin