Chapter 7: Human Nature.
The three previous chapters dealt with specific sciences -- physics, astronomy, and biology -- and their philosophical and theological implications. Part 3 presents some philosophical and theological reflections concerning human nature (chapter 7), process thought (chapter 8), and models of God’s relationship to nature (chapter 9). The goal of the present chapter is to compare what biology and the biblical tradition have to say about human nature. I will also occasionally refer to anthropology, psychology, sociology, history, and philosophy, but I do not intend to deal systematically with these disciplines. The basic question is whether evolutionary biology and biblical religion are consistent in their views of human nature. The final section is a brief reflection on the human future in the light of earlier conclusions.
I. Biology and Human Nature
We begin with a summary of the scientific evidence concerning the relation of human to nonhuman species, both in evolutionary history and in comparing them today. Next, the claims of sociobiology about the genetic determinants of human behavior are examined, and some differences between cultural and biological evolution are set forth. The perennial mind/body problem is then discussed in an evolutionary context.
1. Human Origins
Evidence from molecular biology and from fossil discoveries indicates that human beings and modern African apes are descended from common ancestors. African chimpanzees and gorillas share more than 99 percent of their DNA with that of human beings (which would be comparable to the genetic kinship of horses and zebras or of dogs and foxes). Australopithecus afarensis, an apelike creature, was walking on two legs some 4 million years ago. In Tanzania, Mary Leakey found footprints of that age, consistent only with an upright posture. In Ethiopia, Donald Johnson found the bones of a short female, dubbed Lucy, who walked on two legs but had long arms and a brain size like that of the great apes, while her teeth show that she was a meat eater. It appears that the move from trees to grassland encouraged upright posture, free hands, and a shift to hunting, long before the development of a larger brain.1
Homo habilis, discovered by Louis Leakey and others, was present 2 million years ago, had a larger brain, and chipped stones to make primitive tools. Homo erectus, dating from 1.6 million years ago, had a much larger brain, lived in long-term group sites, made more complicated tools, and probably used fire. Archaic forms of Homo sapiens appeared 500,000 years ago, and the Neanderthals were in Europe 100,000 years ago. The Cromagnons made paintings on cave walls and performed burial rituals 30,000 years ago. Agriculture goes back only 10,000 years. The earliest known writing, Sumerian, is 6,000 years old. Techniques for melting metallic ores brought the Bronze Age and then, less than 3,000 years ago, the Iron Age. Here we have at least the broad outlines of the evolution of both physiology and behavior from nonhuman to human forms and the beginnings of human culture.2
Darwin himself stressed the similarities of animal and human abilities, but more recent interpreters point out both similarities and differences. Some differences of degree are so great that they add up to differences of kind, but without sharp discontinuities. Within a continuous evolutionary process, significant novelty has occurred. The brain has increased not only in size but in complexity and in the addition of new structures with distinctive functions. The human brain itself incorporates this long history. At the base of our brains are the oldest structures, which we share with reptiles and birds; they control respiration, the cardiovascular system, and instinctive behavior, which is rigidly programmed genetically. The midbrain or limbic system, which we share with animals, controls our hormones and emotional life (pleasure, fear, sex, hunger, and so forth). The outer layer or neocortex, which is prominent in higher mammals and humans, controls perceptual, cognitive, and communicative processes. The neocortex makes possible more complex forms of language, learning, and intelligence.3
Only human beings are fully capable of language, but chimpanzees can be taught limited forms of symbolic communication. Chimps lack the vocal organs (especially the larynx) necessary for articulated speech, but they can be taught to communicate in sign language or with geometric symbols on a computer keyboard. They can combine these symbols into simple sentences. D. M. Rumbaugh and others have found evidence of elementary abstract thought. From a few examples, chimps can form general concepts, such as food or tool, and then assign a new object to the correct conceptual category. They can express intentions, make requests, and communicate information to other chimps.4 These results are impressive, though still far below the level of a two-year-old child. But they do suggest that language ability could have evolved gradually.
Higher animals seem to have a rudimentary self-awareness. If a chimp sees in a mirror a mark previously placed on its forehead, it will try to remove the mark. But in human beings there is a self-consciousness that seems to be unparalleled. The greater capacity to remember the past, to anticipate the future, and to use abstract symbols liberates us from our immediate time and place. We can imagine possibilities only distantly related to present experience, and we can reflect on goals going far beyond immediate needs. Humans are aware of their finitude and the inevitability of death, and they ask questions about the meaning of their lives. They construct symbolic worlds through language and the arts.5
Many species of insects and animals live in complex social orders with definite roles and patterns of cooperative behavior. In insects these patterns are for the most part genetically determined; in higher animals there is a greater capacity for learning and individuality. Primates have elaborate social structures and patterns of dominance and submission. Dolphins form close friendships and engage in playful activity. In such species information relevant to survival is transmitted socially, learned by the young from their parents rather than passed on through the genes. But in the case of humans, we have many more ways of transmitting information from generation to generation, including language, writing, the public media, education, and the institutions of society.
The discoveries of science, the inventions of technology, the imaginative literature and artistic work of the humanities all testify to human intellectual power and creativity. Despite the presence of unconscious impulses, which Freud has helped us to recognize, we are capable of rational reflection about ourselves. Despite the pressures of social conditioning, we are able to take responsibility for moral choices. Despite the constraints of both genes and culture, we are not completely determined but are agents with at least limited freedom.
In short, humanity is part of nature, but a unique part. We are the product of a long evolutionary history and retain a powerful legacy from the past. But we also have creative abilities and potentialities without parallel among the species of the earth. We are biological organisms, but we are also responsible selves. If research in recent decades has at some points found greater similarities with other life forms than had been previously suspected, these findings should lead us to greater respect for those forms, not to the denial of human dignity. At other points contemporary science offers ample testimony of the uniqueness of humanity among the creatures on planet earth.
2. Sociobiology and Cultural Evolution
The last two decades have seen the development of sociobiology, the biological study of social behavior in both nonhuman and human species.
One interesting example concerns the origins of altruistic behavior. If evolution is the survival of the fittest, how can we explain behavior in which an organism repeatedly jeopardizes its own survival? Social insects such as ants will sacrifice themselves to protect the colony. Worker ants work for the colony; they are sterile and do not even have any descendants. Edward O. Wilson and others have shown that such behavior reduces the number of descendants an individual will have, but it enhances the survival of close relatives who have many of the same genes. If I share half of my genes with my brother or sister, it will help to perpetuate my genes if I am willing to protect their reproductive futures, even at some risk to my own life.6 Richard Dawkins entitles his book The Selfish Gene because he holds that all apparent altruism can be explained by its contribution to genetic survival.7
Another example cited by sociobiologists is the almost universal taboo against incest. We know today that inbreeding leads to harmful recessive genes and to mentally and physically handicapped children. We can say, therefore, that groups with a taboo against incest were stronger genetically and had a selective advantage over those without such a taboo (even if they had no inkling that sexual relations with close relatives could have harmful consequences). Other examples deal with the genetic basis for differences between male and female roles in society. Sociobiologists cite the fact that in many species the males are larger, and they view primate society as male dominated. Studies also show that aggression is associated with the level of male hormones and can be increased or reduced by altering the hormone level.
Critics point out that although scientists normally examine alternative hypotheses, Wilson seldom even mentions the cultural explanations that anthropologists have advanced for many of these social phenomena. Anthropologists have asserted that few if any cultures are organized throughout according to the genetic kinship coefficients worked out by Wilson.8 He has been accused of a genetic determinism that would open the door to justifying the status quo. If human behavior is determined by the genes, there would be little we could do to change it.9 Wilson does acknowledge the plasticity of human behavior and the possibility of change. Yet there is no place for real freedom in his analysis. He suggests that a diversity of genetically programmed censors and motivators operates in the emotions of the limbic system, among which we can choose those we will favor and those we will suppress or redirect. But these choices are determined by our value systems, which are themselves under genetic control. Only biological knowledge can help us: "We must consciously choose among the emotional guides we have inherited. To chart our destiny means we must shift from automatic control based on our biological properties to precise steering based on biological knowledge." 10
Evident here is the reductionism that runs through Wilson’s writing. He is confident that genetics and biology will account for all aspects of human life. "The mind will be precisely explained as an epiphenomenon of the neural machinery of the brain."11 Both religion and ethics will be explained and eventually replaced by biological knowledge: "If religion, including the dogmatic secular ideologies, can be systematically analyzed and explained as a product of the brain’s evolution, its power as an external source of morality will be gone forever."12 It seems to me inconsistent that Wilson never says that science is similarly discredited by its evolutionary origins, although it, too, is obviously "a product of the brain’s evolution." In the past, he says, morality has been an expression of emotions encoded in the genes. "The only demonstrated function of morality is to keep the genes intact." But now science can "search for the bedrock of ethics -- by which I mean the material basis of natural law."13 "Empirical knowledge of our biological nature will allow us to make optimum choices among the competing criteria of progress." 14
Wilson embraces a sweeping epistemological reductionism that makes all the academic disciplines into branches of biology: "It may not be too much to say that sociology and the other social sciences, as well as the humanities, are the last branches of biology to be included in the Modern Synthesis."15 He moves from detailed testable hypotheses to unsupported claims about how a particular social behavior "could have been selected," to broad generalizations about all human experience. Throughout is an implicit metaphysics of materialism and occasionally an explicit advocacy of what he calls "scientific materialism." All of his explanations are on one level only -- the action of genes. But the historical origins or genetic preconditions of a trait do not provide the last word on its present status. Wilson states that "genes hold culture on a leash." 16 How long is that leash? And does not culture also constrain and redirect the effects of genes? Perhaps we should turn his metaphor around and say that culture holds the leash today.
Let us then compare cultural evolution and biological evolution. I suggest that the former is more significant today, and that while there are parallels between them, there are also important differences. First, cultural innovation replaces mutations and genetic recombination as the source of variability. Such innovations are to some extent deliberate and directional; they are certainly not random. New ideas, institutions, and forms of behavior are often creative and imaginative responses to social problems and crises. Here the uniqueness and unpredictability of events in human history are evident. The linguistic meanings and the ideas and reasons of agents are distinctive features of human history, as we saw in chapter 3. We are the product of particular cultural histories.
Next, in the competition between ideas, selection occurs through social experience and reinforcement. The most useful ideas are retained in a trial-and-error process, but many factors enter into social judgments of success. Here selection is less harsh than biological selection, because ideas can be rejected without the death of the individuals who hold them.
Finally, the transmission of information occurs through memory, language, tradition, education, and social institutions rather than through genes. At each of these stages, change is more rapid and can be more deliberate than in the case of biological evolution. Major changes can take place within a few generations or even within a generation. On the other hand, old ideas can surface again and be revived, so they are not permanently lost, as are the genes of extinct species.
Science, like other cultural activities, is in a general sense a product of evolution. Its methods are a refinement of the problem-solving ability and the inductive and deductive reasoning that in simple forms are evident in primates today. Such intellectual abilities undoubtedly had survival value, and selection favored them among our ancestors.’7 But does science today have a structure similar to that of biological evolution? There have been several recent proponents of an evolutionary epistemology. Stephen Toulmin says that in the scientific community various theories compete for recognition, and the most successful ones are selected and passed on to the next generation. He grants that sociological factors and metaphysical assumptions influence the acceptance of new ideas, but he argues that the broad pattern of variation and selection is like that in evolutionary history.18
Karl Popper also draws parallels between science and evolution. Scientists formulate a profusion of hypotheses and try to refute or falsify them by empirical evidence, nonviolently eliminating those that are unfit. There is no logic in formulating hypotheses, but there is a logic in testing and eliminating them.19 Donald Campbell looks at the individual scientist rather than at the scientific community. Random trial-and-error exploration and selection of ideas take place in the scientist’s mind before a theory is propounded in public.20
I would reply that the parallel between science and evolution is rather limited because the search for new ideas in science is not random. The number of possible theories is too large to test them at random. Some empirical discoveries are fortuitous, like the discovery of penicillin, but the formulation of theories is not. It is deliberate and directed. I suggested earlier that it is often based on an imaginative analogy or model. The goal of science is to understand the world, not to propagate one’s ideas. Here again the differences between cultural and biological evolution are more significant than their similarities.
3. The Status of Mind
The human brain is the most complex system that has been found in the natural world. It contains some 100 billion neurons, each connected with hundreds or thousands of other neurons through synaptic junctions (perhaps 100 trillion of them). Electrical signals are transmitted through this network in incredibly complex patterns. We have some understanding of how the input information from sensory organs is processed and how output signals control the motor activity of muscles.21 But we know very little about what goes on in between: how input information is integrated with memory, emotional responses, and reflective deliberation. We do know that the left hemisphere of the brain is usually associated with analytical, systematic, abstract, and sequential thought (such as mathematical reasoning), while the right hemisphere plays a larger role in intuitive, imaginative, concrete, and holistic thought (such as pattern recognition and artistic creation).22
We know that physical and chemical intervention affects both consciousness and behavior. Electrical stimulation of particular brain areas by microelectrodes can evoke vivid memories and feelings (happiness, anxiety, anger, and so forth) or produce such motor effects as raising an arm. Drugs can powerfully influence both mood and behavior. All of these findings add to the evidence that mental life is strongly dependent on physical events in the brain. But they do not provide a final answer to the mind/body problem. Let us look at each of the four main alternatives within an evolutionary framework.23 Philosophical issues are considered here and theological ones in subsequent sections.
Dualism in the West goes back to Plato and Augustine, but the most influential modern formulation is that of Descartes, who said that mind and body are two distinct entities that interact causally. They differ radically in their characteristics. Mental events are inherently private rather than publicly observable and are nonspatial rather than spatially extended. Mental phenomena as directly experienced include ideas and sensations, thoughts and feelings, memories and expectations, and acts of deliberating and deciding. The relationships between mental events (such as the logical deduction of ideas or the coordination of means to ends) do not at all resemble forces between physical objects.
Several prominent neurophysiologists have defended a mind/brain dualism. Wilder Penfield points out that the patient whose brain is electrically stimulated is aware that it is not he or she who is raising the arm. Penfield postulates a center of decision radically distinct from the neural network, a switchboard operator as well as a switchboard."24 John Eccles holds that the mind searches and selects among brain modules, reads them out, integrates them, and then modifies other brain circuits: "The self-conscious mind is an independent entity that is actively engaged in reading out from the multitude of active centers in the modules of the liaison areas of the dominant cerebral hemisphere."25 Eccles shows that impulses appear in the supplementary motor area before those in the motor area only when there is a deliberate, voluntary initiation of action. The philosopher Karl Popper, who with Eccles co-authored The Self and Its Brain, similarly defends the interaction of consciousness and brain and the causal efficacy of mental phenomena.26
Several objections to dualism may be raised. One objection is that the influence of mental events seems to violate the conservation of energy. However, mental events might only involve the redirection of energy or an action within the limits of quantum indeterminacies. A more serious difficulty is that the postulated mental and physical entities are so dissimilar that it is hard to imagine how they could interact. Of course we do accept interactions between quite dissimilar things -- such as an invisible magnetic field and a compass needle -- but only if we can find lawful relations between them. Does mind occur only in human beings? Descartes thought so (holding that animals are mindless machines), but more recent dualists usually hold that simpler mental phenomena occur in animals. However, by portraying mind as totally unlike matter, dualists have difficulty explaining how mind could have evolved from matter. By definition, dualism does not allow for anything intermediate between matter and mind; it assumes there is only one kind of mind, though it might be present to varying extents. Everything except mind is assumed to be totally devoid of sentience, subjectivity, or interiority, and it is difficult to see how such properties (as distinct from new objective properties) could ever arise.
Among earlier materialists were the Greek atomists and the philosophers of the French Enlightenment. A recent version is the behaviorism of B. F. Skinner and his followers. This started as a methodological recommendation that psychologists should avoid any reference to subjective mental phenomena inaccessible to public observation. Science should deal only with objective events such as the correlation of a stimulus and a behavioral response.27 However, if it is assumed that we can give a complete account without reference to mental events, we end with a metaphysics of materialism. The philosopher Gilbert Ryle claims that mental concepts are really statements of dispositions to behave in particular ways. Mental concepts, he says, can be translated into concepts referring to observable behavior.28
But surely I do not find out that I have a pain by observing my own behavior. In reporting on pains, ideas, emotions, or dreams, I am referring to immediate experiences, which can be correlated with an indefinite range of possible behaviors but are identical to none of them. Behaviorism has been the basis of significant psychological research in both rats and humans, but its limitations as an all-embracing explanatory framework have become apparent. Humanistic and cognitive psychology, both of which make use of mental terms, have tried to deal with some of the human phenomena that behaviorism neglected. We will consider the comparison of computers and the human brain and the proposals of cognitive psychology in the subsequent volume.
A modification of materialism is epiphenomenalism, which holds that mental phenomena exist but are not causally effective. Mental qualities accompany neural events without influencing them, as shadows accompany moving objects without influencing them. The causal connection is only in one direction, from physical to mental events (or to other physical events), never from mental to physical ones. The physical world is an autonomous system, it is said, and when we understand it we will be able to give a complete account of all events.29 But how could consciousness have evolved if it had no biological function? How could it have been selected if it was irrelevant to survival? And are not relationships among mental concepts, such as ideas and motives, more useful than concepts of neural activity in understanding most of the actions of persons today?
A final version of materialism is the neural identity theory proposed by Herbert Feigl and J.J.C. Smart. They argue that mental and physical terms differ in significance or connotation but will turn out as a matter of empirical fact to refer to or denote the same things, namely neural events. A particular sensation, for example, simply is a particular kind of neural event, though we cannot yet specify it physiologically. The basic laws are all physical.30 But as a scientific hypothesis this theory is a long way from confirmation in even the simplest cases. Moreover, it cannot account for the privileged position of the subject or the distinctive properties of mental experience. There are serious objections, then, to this as to other renditions of materialism.
3. Two-Aspect Theories
Leibniz, in his theory of parallelism, maintained that mental and physical events proceed on separate tracks, without any interaction or inherent connection, but perfectly synchronized in a harmony established by God at the outset. For Spinoza, on the other hand, the connections were inherent and universal. His monistic version of panpsychism presents one underlying substance, Nature, with at least two sets of attributes, mental and physical. Every event is at the same time mental and physical. Whitehead has often been understood to propose a form of pluralistic panpsychism: every actual occasion has a "physical pole" and a "mental pole." I will suggest, however, that these are technical terms referring to the receptive and self-creative phases of the momentary experience of all entities. Whitehead actually ascribes mind only to higher-level entities and therefore belongs with the fourth group below, Multilevel Theories.
P. F. Strawson relies on ordinary language and says that persons are a distinctive type of being to which we ascribe both mental and physical predicates.31 Other authors have said that mental and physical concepts occur in alternative languages in which we describe the same set of events for different purposes. We can acknowledge that the logic of mental concepts is different from that of physical concepts without assuming a dualistic metaphysics. Physical language is no more reliable or useful than mental language, so we need not assume a materialistic metaphysics. Thus MacKay says that "observer-language" and "actor-language" are "two complementary descriptions," which should be taken with equal seriousness. We can explain human actions in terms of the intentions of agents without denying the power of biochemistry in explaining neurophysiological phenomena.32
Two-language theories thus avoid some of the problems of dualism and materialism, but they leave unresolved the question of the nature of the events to which both languages refer. Alternative languages may satisfy the instrumentalist, but not the critical realist.
4. Multilevel Theories
I agree with the two-language view that mental and physical concepts are abstractions from the primary reality of events, but I would go on to assert that reality itself is organized on a variety of levels, each with its characteristic types of activity. The mind/brain problem would then be a particular case of the more general problem of the relation between levels discussed in the previous chapter. Such a view is congenial to an evolutionary viewpoint and provides a framework for understanding both human and nonhuman life today.
Consider the emergence of the self in evolutionary history. In the early stages of life, there was sentience, purposiveness, exploratory behavior, and rudimentary forms of awareness and experience, all of which confer a selective advantage. Mental activity required a central nervous system; even a simple brain was a very complex system in which there occurred new forms of memory, anticipation, and consciousness. Only in human beings did self-consciousness arise.
In the embryological development of the human fetus under the guidance of the human genetic program, the neurological structures are formed which make possible these higher levels of integration, activity, and experience. The newborn baby has a very limited self-awareness, and the developmental process continues in the early years. Social interaction and language seem to be essential for the fulfillment of selfhood. Selfhood thus represents the highest level in which rational, emotional, social, and bodily capacities are integrated. Self is a broader concept than mind, which since Descartes has been identified mainly with rational capacities.
Roger Sperry, who received a Nobel Prize for his split-brain research, takes some limited steps toward a multilevel view. He maintains that in all organisms there is a hierarchy of levels, with distinctive irreducible laws at higher levels. Emergent, holistic properties arise from organizational relationships and configurational patterns in space and time. Causation and control operate from higher levels downward, making use of the laws of lower levels without violating them. Sperry writes: "Whole entities in nature are also governed by novel emergent properties of their own, and these holistic properties in turn exert downward control over the parts." "When a new entity is created the new properties of the entity, or system as a whole, thereafter overpower the causal forces of the component entities at all successively lower lowers in the multinested hierarchies of the new infrastructure."33
Sperry maintains that mental states are higher-level emergent properties of the brain. Against the materialists, he asserts that consciousness is causally effective. Consciousness must have contributed to survival for it was selected in evolutionary history. Mental activity supervenes on neural activity without violating physiological laws:
Causal control is thus shifted in brain dynamics from levels of pure physical, physiological or material determinacy to levels of mental, cognitive, conscious or subjective determinacy. . . . The mental forces do not violate, disturb, or intervene in neuronal activity but they do supervene. Interaction is mutually reciprocal between the neural and mental levels in the nested brain hierarchies. Multilevel and interlevel causation is emphasized in addition to the one-level sequential causation more traditionally dealt with34
Sperry repeatedly insists that he is not a dualist; he takes dualism to mean that mental events can exist independently of physical events. But he shares with dualists the conviction that mental states and physical events are totally dissimilar kinds of things. "The subjective qualities are . . . of very different quality from neural, molecular, and other material components of which they are built."35 He does affirm human freedom and self-determination, though the latter turns out to be a higher-level causality in which thoughts, feelings, beliefs and ideals combine to determine behavior.
I will try to show in the next chapter that process thought departs further from dualism by proposing that experience and subjectivity are present in integrated entities at all levels. Interaction takes place between entities at diverse levels (for example, the mind and the cells of the brain), but this is interaction between entities that all have an inward side as moments of experience. Process thought holds that consciousness occurs only in complex neural systems, so this is not "panpsychism." But moments of experience are attributed to all unified entities; panexperientialism would be a more appropriate designation. We will return in the next chapter to the process understanding of levels of experience.
II. Religion and Human Nature
Can evolutionary and religious views of human nature be reconciled? We start by noting that religion itself has evolved from its roots in early human history to the development of the major world religions. We then examine the biblical view of human nature and compare it with the findings of evolutionary science. Last, the role of Christ in an evolutionary cosmos is considered.
1. The Evolution of Religion
No one has contributed more to the discussion of religion and science during the last twenty-five years than Ralph Burhoe as founder and for many years editor of Zygon: Journal of Religion and Science. His own writing has been mainly on the relation of religion to bioculteral evolution. He starts by describing the co-evolution and co-adaptation of genes and culture, giving more attention than does Wilson to the distinctive features of culture. Burhoe says that altruism toward individuals who are not close relatives (sharing common genes) cannot be explained by genetic selection. He holds that religion has been the major force in fostering altruism and social cooperation extending beyond genetic kin. The set of values transmitted by religious myths and rituals binds a society together. Religion has been selected because it contributed to the survival of the bio-cultural group.36
Burhoe points out that in the past religion has fostered both loyalty to one’s own group and hostility to other groups that threatened it; both aspects aided group survival. As tribal religions gave way to more universal ones, the circle of loyalty expanded. Each of the major world religions represented "a well-winnowed wisdom" expressed in terms of the best understandings of the world available in its times. But to be credible today, Burhoe holds, religious beliefs must be reformulated along strictly scientific lines. This will encourage globally shared values, which are essential to survival in the nuclear age.37
Burhoe advocates an evolutionary naturalism as the religious philosophy best suited to a scientific culture. For him, nature is the functional equivalent of the traditional God, and it should be the object of our worship and obedience. We are totally dependent on the evolutionary process for our existence, our sustenance, and our destiny. Nature is omnipotent and sovereign, the power on which we are dependent; it is our creator and judge. We must adapt to the requirements of "the all-determining reality system. . . . Man’s salvation comes in recognizing this fact and adapting to it or bowing down before the majesty and glory of the magnificent program of evolving life in which we live and move and have our being."38
Burhoe’s writing draws heavily from research in biology and anthropology, and it is illuminating in its analysis of religious phenomena. But when he endorses evolutionary naturalism he is defending a metaphysical system and not a conclusion that is part of science itself. Such a metaphysics is appealing because of its respect for science and its universalism in a global age. But I do not believe that it can deal adequately with the problems of human freedom, evil and conflict in nature, religious experience, or historical revelation.39 In the next volume I will also suggest that adaptation and survival are preconditions of other human values but cannot supply the full content of our value judgments. There are significant choices within the constraints of survival. We have to ask: What kind of survival should we seek?
Let us consider the evolution of the three basic features of religion mentioned in chapter 2: ritual, story, and religious experience.
Julian Huxley, Konrad Lorenz, and other ethologists have described animal rituals. Animals exhibit many formalized behavioral repertoires, such as the courtship or territorial rituals of animals and birds, which are genetically transmitted. One member of a species is programmed to respond to the ritual behavior of a second member, who can thus signal intentions and evoke appropriate responses. Some interpreters believe that human rituals may be supported by similar genetic and lower-brain structures, with strong emotional correlates, though the particular rituals are culturally learned higher-brain patterns.40 Most anthropologists, by contrast, take ritual to be entirely transmitted by culture, with no specific genetic basis. They say that the most important human rituals help individuals and groups to cope with the major crises and transitions of life: birth, puberty, marriage, and death.41 We find evidence of burial rituals, for example, as early as the Cro-magnon caves thirty thousand years ago.
Some anthropologists hold that ritual is the primary religious phenomenon from which other features of religion arose. They take religious beliefs to be later rationalizations of rituals, whose social functions are all-important.42 For example, almost every culture has initiation ceremonies in which the adolescent is brought into the adult world and the continuity of the social order is upheld. But other interpreters maintain that ritual has many dimensions, all of which are significant. Ritual is indeed community forming, but it often takes the form of a symbolic reenactment of an earlier story (myth). Religious rituals can also be understood as symbolic representations of the holy, as is characteristic of sacrifices and sacraments. Rituals may be understood as vehicles for communicating with the divine, for expiating guilt, for celebrating and offering thanks, or for expressing grief and loss in a cosmic setting.43
Unique to humans is the need to live in a meaningful world. We have said that myths or sacred stories are taken as manifesting some aspect of the cosmic order. They offer people a way of understanding themselves and of ordering their experience. They provide patterns for human actions and guidance for living in harmony with the cosmic order. These stories are often related to the experience of the sacred, and they point to a saving power in human life. Many stories are acted out in ritual, though in some cases the story may be a later explanation of the ritual. More often, story and ritual seem to have developed together.44
Some stories refer to primeval times, the origins of the world and humanity, or the sources of human alienation, suffering, and death. Creation stories, we have noted, are found in almost all cultures. Other myths tell about the end of time or patterns of cyclical return or death and rebirth in the seasons and in human life. Still others are built around particular events or persons in the community’s memory. Levi-Strauss and the structuralists find a common pattern in myths: the partial resolution of one of the basic contradictions or polarities in life, for example, life/death, good/evil, male/female, or culture/nature. The symbolic mediation of such conflicts helps people respond to individual and social stress and crisis, thereby aiding adaptation and social stability.45
3. Religious Experience
As indicated earlier, the numinous experience of the holy is present in virtually all cultures. People around the world report a sense of awe and wonder in the presence of powers that seem to transcend the human. The mystical experience of union with all things also has roots in preliterate cultures, and the meditative practices that encourage it are found in many cultures.
The psychiatrist Eugene d’Aquili holds that religious experience is associated mainly with the right brain. Science and much of our daily understanding of the world (including causal and temporal ordering) are products of left-brain functioning, which is analytical, logical, and abstractive. We have said that right-brain functioning, by contrast is holistic, integrative, and inclusive. It plays a major role in spatial ordering and pattern recognition -- and in religious experience, according to d’Aquili. In mystical experience, reality is perceived as a unity without a temporal dimension, and the self-other polarity is dissolved. In differing cultures, the experience may be interpreted as union with a personal God or as participation in an impersonal Absolute. In either case, the experience carries a strong conviction of the existence of a transcendent unity beyond ordinary experience. We believe in the reality of the external world as ordered mainly by the left brain, though we can’t prove its existence. Similarly, says d’Aquili, we can believe in the reality of absolute unitary being, which is primarily grasped through the right brain, though we can’t prove that it exists.46
These basic components -- ritual, story, and religious experience -- seem to have been present in the earliest periods of human history as well as in non-literate cultures today. But there were important developments during what the philosopher Karl Jaspers has called the axial period, from 800 to 200 BC., in five centers of civilization: China, India, Persia, Greece, and Israel.47 In this period parallel movements arose, from which have come all of the main world religions. Significant leaders stood out as individuals: Confucius, Gautama the Buddha, Zoroaster, Plato and Aristotle, the Hebrew prophets. Influential documents were written: the Tao Te Ching, the Bhagavad Gita, the Hebrew Bible, and so forth. (Of course, there were important earlier figures, such as Moses, and subsequent ones, including Christ and Muhammad, but Judaism, Christianity, and Islam are all derived from Hebrew monotheism, which took its distinctive form in the axial period.)
The world religions, which have their roots in this period, share a number of features. Each tells of initial revelatory experiences that were interpreted and reinterpreted within particular historical contexts and cultural assumptions. All have sacred scriptures, which are extensively used in connection with worship, liturgy, and instruction. All have both specific moral teachings and more general ethical principles. They have faced common problems but sometimes responded to them in different ways. For example, in the earlier tribal period, religion had been strongly identified with the local community. The new traditions sought greater universality and the rational articulation of general principles, but they also allowed for more individuation. The self became problematic in a new way. The East frequently sought release from the self’s bondage to suffering and anxiety through meditation and asceticism, while the West more often sought reorientation of the self through obedience to God.
The biblical scholar Gerd Theissen uses an evolutionary model to interpret the development of biblical religion, but he recognizes the limitations of the model. Religious innovations, he says, are novel ideas and practices that are subjected to subsequent trial-and-error testing. The universal monotheism of the Hebrew prophets, the radical commitment of Christ’s life, and the inner transformation of the early Christians were all innovations that we can think of as mutations, though they were not random. But all three cases presented a protest against the kind of harshness typical of natural selection, a protest in the name of a God of love as well as judgment. In contrast to the process of evolution, the God of the Bible was said to have a special concern for the weak and disadvantaged. Biblical faith involves adaptation, not to the prevailing natural or cultural environment, but to the ultimate reality: God.48 Theissen thus makes considerable use of evolutionary categories but often to show how biblical assumptions differ from those of biology.
Finally, anthropologists and sociologists have portrayed the functional role of religion in binding individuals in social groups and in preserving the social order. Early in the century, Emile Durkheim described the function of religion in legitimating prevailing values and institutions. Through religious practices, individuals are taught to internalize the group’s expectations and restrain egotistical desires. Durkheim held that the gods are merely symbolic expressions of social values. Religion provides the central symbols and rituals by which societies interpret and validate themselves. In this view, religion has been a predominantly conservative force, contributing to social stability and reflecting prevailing norms.49
Max Weber, by contrast, saw religion as a source of change as well as of stability. Charismatic individuals have started new religious movements that altered the course of history. Religion is in part a reflection of social values, but it is also an influence upon social values. Weber’s most famous case study traces the influence of Protestantism on the rise of capitalism. For him, religion is not simply the product of other social forces.50
We can grant that religion does serve important functions in human life, which contribute to both stability and change. But this does not mean that religion is just a survival mechanism or a purely human creation. At the same time it may have been a response to a transcendent reality. The social sciences provide important insights into the role of religion as a social institution, but they cannot provide the last word in evaluating religious claims. As Frederick Streng puts it: "Social scientists limit themselves to interpreting those aspects of religious life that can be defined and observed empirically and that can be understood in terms of human creative processes and patterns of experience. This position, for other scholars of religion, seems oversimplified because it tends to reduce ‘religion’ to something else, rather than considering religious phenomena in their own right."51
2. The Biblical View of Human Nature
Let us focus more specifically on Judaism and Christianity. The two central stories of Judaism are creation and the covenant. Christianity adds a third, the story of Christ. We have said that sacred stories show the nature of the cosmic order and our place in it. What understanding of human nature is implied by these biblical stories? Is the biblical view compatible with the findings of evolutionary biology?
We have seen (chapter 5) that the biblical creation story is somewhat complex because, according to most historical scholars, the seven-day narrative (Gen. 1:1 to 2:3) was written in the postexilic period, several centuries later than the Adam and Eve narrative (2:4 to 3:24). The creation of humanity occurs in both accounts. In addition, subsequent interpreters have emphasized the distinction between the perfect state of humanity as created (up to 2:24) and its subsequent sinful state after the fall. But if we take other portions of the Bible along with Genesis, we can trace four themes that describe human nature.52
1. A Creature, but Unique among Creatures
The Bible sees humanity as rooted in nature, sharing the finitude, creatureliness, and death of all living things. All creatures are part of a single system, an interdependent community of life, an inclusive order. The sixth day of creation is integral with the first five days. Adam is formed from the dust, enlivened by the breath of life: "You are dust, and to dust you shall return" (Gen. 3:19). Yet humans alone are made "In the image of God" (1:26). They alone are responsible selves who can be addressed by God. They alone are free moral agents who can respond to the demands of righteousness and justice.
The conclusion of the Adam and Eve story (3:16-19) implies that in the Garden of Eden there was no death and suffering for humanity (or for other creatures, according to later interpreters); death and suffering were a divine punishment for sin. Today we cannot accept the historicity of such a paradise. We know that death and suffering are necessary conditions of life in an evolutionary world. New life is possible only through the death of the old. Pain is the price of greater sentience, and it is often a signal of danger. The image of Adam and Eve in paradise can be retained only as a symbol of the goodness of creation and the conviction that finitude as such is not evil. Sin results from human choices, not from the structures of the world for which God is responsible.53 (We will return to the problem of the existence of evil and suffering in the next chapter.)
The biblical authors pictured the separate creation of each kind of creature. They did not, of course, have any notion of the evolutionary continuity of nonhuman and human life. But they did portray both similarities and differences between nonhuman and human life, which would be broadly consistent with the scientific evidence presented above. Only in the early centuries of the Christian church were the differences accentuated and absolutized by the introduction of the Greek idea of an immortal soul, as we shall see. I will suggest that by drawing an absolute line between humanity and other creatures, later Christianity contributed to the attitudes that encouraged environmental destruction.
2. An Individual, but in Community
In the biblical tradition, we are inherently social beings. Men and women were made for each other, and Genesis 1 treats them identically. But the story of the creation of Eve from Adam’s rib and her role in tempting Adam reflected the assumptions of a patriarchal society and, unfortunately, contributed to the subsequent subordination of women. But at least the social character of selfhood was acknowledged. Moreover, the covenant was with a people, not with a succession of individuals. Some of the psalms and later prophets focus on the individual (for example, Jeremiah speaks of a new covenant written in the heart of each person), but this was always within the context of persons-in-community. Judaism has preserved this emphasis on. the community, whereas Christianity has sometimes been more individualistic (for example, some Protestants focus on saving individual souls). In the Bible, we are not self-contained individuals; we are constituted by our relationships. We are who we are as children, husbands and wives, parents, citizens, and members of a covenant people.
This view of the social self is consistent with scientific findings. Both genetic and cultural evolution are group processes. We evolved as social beings; language and symbolic thought would be impossible without others. Children have been discovered who had grown up in isolation from all human contact; they were unable to acquire language later and were permanently deprived of many aspects of normal human existence. We gain our sense of self in part by the ways our parents and others ascribe feelings and intentions to us and treat us as persons. The image of persons-in-community emphasizes our relatedness, without denying the value of the individual or absorbing the individual in the collective.
3. In God’s Image, but Fallen
According to Genesis, humanity was created "in the image of God." The image has been variously interpreted as rationality, spiritual nature, responsibility, or personal existence. Others have understood the Imago Dei relationally: it refers to the relation of human beings to God, or to their dominion over all other creatures. There has been extended debate as to how much of the image was lost in the fall. The theologian Matthew Fox says that Genesis represents an "original blessing" of humanity, and that "original sin" was later given a central place only because Paul, Augustine, and their followers were pessimistic about human nature, leaving a powerful legacy of guilt among Christians.54 Fox overstates his case, but it is clear that the Bible itself sees humanity as ambivalent, capable of both good and evil, rather than as fundamentally evil. "Thou hast made him little less than God, and dost crown him with glory and honor" (Ps. 81:5). We have remarkable capacities, which can be used creatively and compassionately. This basically positive appraisal of human nature has been characteristic of Judaism through the centuries.
But Adam’s fall is also an important part of the story. Inmost of Christian history, Adam was assumed to be both an actual individual and a representative of humanity. In the light of evolutionary biology, we can retain the latter but not the former. Once again, we must take the story seriously but not literally. Adam’s story is Everyman’s journey from innocence to responsibility and sin. Sin is compounded of egocentricity and disobedience to God. Self-centeredness and turning from God are two sides of the same act. The story goes on to portray the experience of anxiety, evasiveness, and sense of guilt. To these facets of individual sin, other biblical passages, especially in the Prophets, add the communal dimension of social injustice (for example, Amos 1-4). Failure to love God and neighbor are seen as inseparable from inordinate self-love.
Modern theologians have tried to express these biblical ideas in contemporary terms. Reinhold Niebuhr rejects the idea that original sin is inherited from Adam, but he says that we do inherit sinful social structures that perpetuate themselves in injustice and oppression. Every group tends to absolutize itself, blind to the rationalization of its self-interest. Niebuhr also describes the anxiety and insecurity that lead individuals to try to deny their limitations.55
Paul Tillich identifies sin with three dimensions of estrangement. Sin is estrangement from other persons in self-centeredness and lovelessness. It is estrangement from our true selves in pursuing fragmented and inauthentic goals. It is estrangement from God, the ground of our being, in attempted self-sufficiency. For Tillich, estrangement, brokenness, and division can be overcome only in reconciliation, healing, and wholeness.56 To Tillich’s three forms of sin I would add a fourth: estrangement from nonhuman nature by denying its intrinsic value and violating our interdependence. I suggest that sin, in all its forms, is a violation of relatedness.
Events of the twentieth century have supported a more sober assessment of human nature than was characteristic of the authors in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries who wrote about the perfectibility of humanity in an Age of Reason and an Age of Progress. No event has more undermined such optimism than the depth of evil in the massacre of six million Jews in the Holocaust. Auschwitz occurred, not in a primitive society, but in a nation of outstanding scientific and cultural achievements. Moreover, twentieth-century science has provided evidence of inherited aggression from our animal past and of the power of the unconscious over our decisions and actions. I have argued that many of these accounts are overdrawn and do not absolve us from personal responsibility, but they do point to the presence of irrational forces in human nature. Animals rarely kill members of their own species; their combat is often ritualized and stops short of serious injury. Yet among the human species, this century has seen unprecedented violence, and a large fraction of the world’s scientific and technological resources is devoted to improving the weapons of mass destruction. We threaten whole populations with nuclear annihilation. The concept of sin is not outdated.
On the other hand, there is some evidence from psychotherapy that too negative a view of human nature and too low an estimate of ourselves can be harmful. Guilt without forgiveness or self-hatred without self-acceptance seem to hinder rather than encourage love of others. Some theologians join psychologists in calling for a self-respect that is not self-absorption. Perhaps the goal is self-understanding and realism in recognizing both our creative and our destructive potentialities.
4. A Unitary Person, Not a Body-Soul Dualism
The Bible looks on body, mind, and spirit as aspects of a personal unity. The self is a unified activity of thinking, feeling, willing; and acting. H. W. Robinson writes, "Characteristic of the Old Testament, the idea of human nature implies a unity, not a dualism. There is no contrast between the body and the soul such as the terms instinctively suggest to us."57 According to Oscar Cullmann, "the Jewish and Christian interpretation of creation excludes the whole Greek dualism of body and soul."58 There is, then, no biblical dichotomy between matter and spirit. In particular, the body is not the source of evil or something to be disowned, escaped, or denied -- though it may be misused. We find instead an affirmation of the body and a positive acceptance of the material order. The person is an integral being, an active bodily self. Lynn de Silva writes:
Biblical scholarship has established quite conclusively that there is no dichotomous concept of man in the Bible, such as is found in Greek and Hindu thought. The biblical view of man is holistic, not dualistic. The notion of the soul as an immortal entity which enters the body at birth and leaves it at death is quite foreign to the biblical view of man. The biblical view is that man is a unity; he is a unity of soul, body, flesh, mind, etc., all together constituting the whole man.59
When belief in a future life did develop in the inter-testamental and New Testament periods, it was expressed in terms of the resurrection of the total person by God’s act, not the inherent immortality of the soul. Cullmann shows that the future life was seen as a gift from God "in the last days," not an innate human attribute.60 Paul speaks of the dead as sleeping until the day of judgment when they will be restored -- not as physical bodies nor as disembodied souls, but in what he calls "the spiritual body" (1 Cor. 15:44). Such views of the future life may be problematic, but they do testify that our faith is in God and not in our own souls and that our whole being is the object of God’s saving purpose.
Paul’s contrast of flesh and spirit at first seems to support a dualistic view, but more careful analysis shows that this is not the case. He never portrays a body that is inherently evil and a soul that is inherently good. Sin is in the will, which governs our whole being; "spiritual" sins such as pride and self-righteousness are prominent in Paul’s account (for example, Rom. 7-8). (To be sure, Paul does speak of an inherited impulse to evil and of the occasions of temptation presented by the body. But "the flesh" is a symbol of the weakness of human nature in all its dimensions, rather than of any intrinsic evil associated with matter or the body as such.)
Only in later Gnostic and Manichaean movements did a strong dualism develop in which matter was understood to be evil. This trend was influenced by the Greek idea (evident already in Plato’s Phaedo and prominent in the Hellenistic world) that the body is a prison from which death liberates the soul. Other forces in the declining Greco-Roman culture aided the growth of asceticism, monasticism, rejection of the world, and the search for individual salvation. Some of these negative attitudes toward the body are seen in Augustine’s writing and in medieval Christianity, but they represent a departure from the biblical affirmation of the goodness of the material world as God’s creation.61
The classical dualism of soul and body accentuated the distinction between humanity and other creatures. Even though the scheme was ultimately theocentric, the premise that only human beings had souls encouraged an anthropocentric view of our status within the world. In the Middle Ages this was counterbalanced by a sense of the organic unity of a world designed according to God’s purposes. But the nonhuman world plays only a supporting role in the Medieval and Reformation dramas of human redemption, and it is not surprising that there was little resistance to the exploitation of nature for human purposes when industrial technology later developed.62
Some kinds of scientific evidence seem to support this biblical picture of a unitary person, a psychosomatic unity. We know that genes and drugs drastically influence human personality. There are genetic and biochemical as well as environmental factors in mental illness. If one imagined a soul immune to such influences, it would be an abstract and detached entity unrelated to the living person or to biological and evolutionary processes. A self, by contrast, is the highest level of a unified organic being. Moreover, the preponderance of evidence from psychology is that people are healthier if they accept their bodily existence, including their sexuality, as a potentially valuable part of their total being, rather than denying or suppressing it.
In sum, it would be consistent with both the scientific and the biblical outlook to understand the person as a multileveled unity who is both a biological organism and a responsible self. We can escape both dualism and materialism if we assume a holistic view of persons with a hierarchy of levels. Some of these levels we share with all matter, some we share with all living things, some with all animal life, while some seem to be uniquely human. The person can be represented by the concept of the self conceived not as a separate entity but as the individual in the unified activity of thinking, willing, feeling, and acting. The self is best described, not in terms of static substances, but in terms of dynamic activities at various levels of organization and functioning. In the biblical view, it is this integral being whose whole life is of concern to God.
3. The Role of Christ
The person of Christ is relevant to the Christian understanding of human nature for two reasons. First, Christ has traditionally been viewed as the realization of true humanity. In him we see the character of God’s purposes for human life, the fulfillment of human nature. Second, the Christian community has experienced through the story of Christ the power of reconciliation overcoming estrangement -- or, in more traditional terms, redemption overcoming sin. The Christian account of humanity would be incomplete without the story of Christ. Our task is to understand how this story can be viewed in an evolutionary cosmos and a religiously pluralistic world.
We noted earlier that the Gospels were written a generation after Christ’s death, and they reflect the experience and theological interpretations of the early Christian community. The resurrection experiences were clearly crucial for the disciples. Whatever happened at Easter and Pentecost convinced them that God had vindicated Christ’s person and mission. The early Christians experienced a release from self-centeredness and fear of death. Their lives were transformed in joy and gratitude and they proclaimed the good news of what God had done in Christ.
The early Christians were convinced that in Christ God had taken the initiative. Through him they had come to a new experience of God. Preaching to Jewish listeners, they spoke of him as the Messiah ("the anointed one, Christos in Greek), the deliverer whom Israel awaited. Jesus had associated his own person with the coming of the Kingdom, though he evidently interpreted his messianic role as that of a suffering servant, rather than as political leader or supernatural ruler. Writing to Greek readers, Paul used a different terminology: "God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself" (2 Cor. 5:18). John identified Christ with "the Word," the logos of Hellenistic thought, the principle of divine wisdom which was now "the Word made flesh" (John 1:14)63
For several centuries the church wrestled with ways of expressing its conviction concerning the human and the divine in Christ. The view of the Ebionites that Christ was a great teacher "adopted" by God for a special mission was rejected. Equally unacceptable was the opposite extreme, the Docetist claim that Christ was God incognito, merely disguised in the likeness of a man but not really human (and not really dying on the cross). The final formula agreed on at Chalcedon in 451 was "complete in Godhead and complete in manhood, two natures without division, confusion or separation, in one person." The Nicene creed said he was "of one substance with the Father."
These creedal formulas served the negative function of ruling out unacceptable views. But they said nothing about how the "two natures" were related to each other. Moreover, they have often been interpreted in such a way that Christ’s humanity was compromised (as an impersonal human nature without a human personality, or a human body without a human consciousness). The static Greek categories in which the doctrines were expressed, such as nature and substance, were familiar in the early church and in the medieval world, but this wider framework of thought is both problematic and unfamiliar today.64
I submit that in reformulating Christology today we should keep in mind the intent of the classical doctrines but should make use of categories of relationship and history rather than of substance. On the human side of the relationship, we can speak of Christ as a person who in his freedom was perfectly obedient to God. Through his own openness to God, his life reveals God’s purposes to us. He identified himself with God and did not obstruct or distort God’s will. He was inspired and empowered by God. On the divine side, we can speak of God as acting in and through the person of Christ. Christ is thus God’s revelation to us. What was unique about Christ, in other words, was his relationship to God, not his metaphysical "substance." We can speak of the unity between Christ and God and yet assert the presence of two wills. For example, in Gethsemane he prayed (Luke 22:42), "Not my will but thine be done." We have to think of what God did and also of what Christ did as a free human being. Without freedom and personal responsibility there would be no true humanity.65
Geoffrey Lampe maintains that the most adequate Christology is a recovery of the idea that God as Spirit was present in the life of Christ. In the Old Testament, the Spirit was God active in creation and in human life, notably in the inspiration of the prophets. According to the Gospels, Christ received the Spirit at his baptism. The early church experienced at Pentecost an outpouring of joy and love, which they accepted as the gift of the Spirit. For them, the Spirit was closely associated with Christ, through whom they had come to a new experience of God. Lampe discusses Paul’s many references to the Spirit and his description of the Christian virtues as "fruits of the Spirit."66
But Lampe points out that with the development of trinitarian thought in the patristic period, the Spirit was no longer thought of as God’s presence but as a separate being mediating between God and the world. The Holy Spirit was subordinated to the eternal Son who was identified with the logos as agent of creation. In the revision of the Nicene Creed in 589, it was said that the Spirit proceeds from the Father "and the Son" (filioque, a term that the Eastern Orthodox church rejected). It was also said that the eternal Son assumed the general form of human nature -- an idea that Lampe thinks compromised the historical individuality and the true humanity of Christ. He maintains that if we say that God’s presence inspired the free human response of Christ, we can acknowledge his full humanity, while affirming that through Christ God acted decisively. Moreover, it is the same Spirit who inspires other persons and evokes their faith and love. There is one God who as indwelling Spirit was present in the life of the prophets, Christ, and the early church -- and can be present in our lives today.
Lampe holds that such a view brings together creation and redemption as a single continuous activity of God. Through the long evolutionary process God formed responsive creatures. But Christ was a focal point of God’s activity and self-revelation, and he is for us the key to understanding the whole creative and saving work:
The one continuous creative and saving work of God as Spirit begins with the origin and evolution of the cosmos itself, becomes personal communion with created persons when rational human beings come into existence, comes to be defined, so far as God’s indwelling in man is concerned, in Christ as the pattern and archetype of personal union between God as Spirit and the spirit of man, and moves forward towards the goal of creation when humanity will be fully formed into the likeness of Christ, the model ‘Adam.’67
I suggest, then, that in an evolutionary perspective we may view both the human and the divine activity in Christ as a continuation and intensification of what had been occurring previously. We can think of him as representing a new stage in evolution and a new stage in God’s activity. Christ as a person (not just as a body) was part of the continuous process that runs back through Australopithecus and the early forms of life to those atoms formed in primeval stars. He was also in the line of cultural and religious evolution that we have traced, and he was deeply formed by the ethical monotheism of Israel. Yet in his person and life and ideas, and in the community’s response to him, he represented something genuinely new. We have said that in the sphere of culture, novelty is not the result of random mutations, and selection is not mainly a matter of physical survival; both are results of human freedom and decision.
But we can also view Christ as the product of a divine activity that has a long history. For millions of years there was the continuing creation of the nonhuman world, and then of humanity and culture, at an accelerating rate. In the great religious traditions of the world, and especially in the history of Israel, God’s immanent creativity was increasingly focused, and individual persons were increasingly responsive. In Christ, both divine intention and human response allowed a more powerful revelation of God’s nature than had occurred previously. We have, then, a basic continuity of creation and redemption.
Writing in the Anglican tradition, Lionel Thornton presents a Christology in the framework of emergent evolution. Each new level in evolution brought greater complexity, freedom, and social interaction, and each incorporated all previous levels within a new unity. In humanity, at the level of spirit, there was a greater openness to the eternal order, but also a failure to respond to it. Thornton says that Christ as "the new creation" was both the fulfillment and the transformation of the previous cosmic series in a new order of reality. He was at once a culmination of the series and a new revelation of the eternal.68 It appears, however, that by portraying Christ as a new species, Thornton has denied that he was fully human.
Teilhard de Chardin has also represented Christ as the fulfillment of evolution. In his view, Christ was not primarily an antidote to human sin but a new stage in evolution, organically related to the whole cosmic process. Grace is a creative force in all life, fulfilling nature rather than replacing it. Redemption is a continuation of creation on a new level, leading to the consummation of evolutionary convergence. In Christ we see the divine purpose: to unite all reality and bring it to union with God.69 As noted earlier, redemption for Teilhard is social and cosmic as well as individual. I have found his writing helpful, but I will suggest in the next chapter that process theology offers a more adequate framework for articulating an evolutionary Christology.
What is the relevance of Christ to us today? The Christian community believes that it is through Christ that reconciliation may occur in our lives. If sin means estrangement from God, from ourselves, from other persons, and from the rest of nature, then reconciliation is also fourfold. Reconciliation with God takes place when repentance and forgiveness overcome guilt and when we know we are accepted despite our inadequacies. There is reconciliation with ourselves when healing and wholeness replace brokenness and fragmentation and when self-acceptance accompanies empowerment and renewal. There is reconciliation with other persons when we are released from self-centeredness, freed to love the neighbor and to take action for social justice.70 Reconciliation with the rest of nature occurs when we recognize our common dependence on God and our continuing interdependence. If sin is indeed the violation of relationships, redemption is the fulfillment of relationships. For the Christian community the power of reconciliation and renewal is revealed most completely in the person of Christ.
The most important ritual in Christianity is the Eucharist or Lord’s Supper, which directs the community’s attention to Christ’s death. There have been two main theological interpretations of this event.71 In the objective interpretation, set forth by Anselm and dominant in Catholic thought and evangelical Protestantism, the cross is an expression of God’s justice in relation to human sin. As a substitutionary atonement, "Christ died for our sins" by taking our place and undergoing the judgment we deserve. (This was an extension of the Old Testament idea of sacrifices to expiate human sins, but since it was held that in Christ God had provided the sacrifice, it was also seen as an expression of God’s love.) In the subjective interpretation, set forth by Abelard and dominant among liberal Protestants, Christ’s self-sacrifice was a moral example, which can inspire us to examine our own lives. Christ’s teaching, life, and death are a revelation of God’s love (more than of justice), and they can bring us to repentance. The transformation occurs in us as we ourselves accept God’s forgiveness and love. The subjective view is more consistent with the understanding of Christ presented above, but at least some of the insights of the objective view can be combined with it.
With this interpretation, we can be loyal to the tradition in which revelation and renewal have occurred for us, without claiming that they cannot occur elsewhere. We can acknowledge divine initiative and human response in other traditions. We can respect the power of reconciliation wherever it occurs. This world lead to a path between absolutism or exclusivism, on the one hand, and relativism or skepticism, on the other. In a religiously pluralistic world, it would encourage genuine dialogue in which we can learn from each other without denying our indebtedness to our own tradition, as was proposed in chapter 3.
The classical view draws an absolute line between Christ and other humans, just as it draws an absolute line between human and nonhuman life. In both cases there is said to be a difference in metaphysical substance -- Christ’s divine substance, in the first instance, the human soul in the second. I am suggesting that in comparing Christ and other people, as in comparing human and nonhuman life, we should speak of differences in degree. These can add up to differences in kind, but with no absolute lines. In both cases the genuinely new emerges showing both continuity and discontinuity with the old. One might think of a spectrum of persons, starting with a typical religious believer, then the prophets and saints, the founders of other religious traditions, and finally Christ. In all of these lives there was divine initiative and committed human response, in varying degrees. God’s mode of operation was the same throughout, but God’s purposes and the human responses varied. For the Christian, Christ is the distinctive but not exclusive revelation of the power of God.
As in the previous chapter, we have in this chapter rejected both materialism (ontological reductionism) and dualism in favor of the idea of a hierarchy of levels. We can accept all that science tells us about our evolutionary history and biochemical functioning. We can at the same time acknowledge the unique features of human mental, cultural, and religious life. Beyond that, we can without inconsistency portray a special role for the person of Christ within this historical framework. In the next chapter we will explore the contribution of process thought to the systematic articulation of these claims.
III. The Human Future
Ideas about the future are inescapably speculative. Yet our expectations and hopes strongly influence our actions, which can affect the future. What can be said about the human future from the standpoint of science and from the standpoint of theology?
1. Science and the Human Future
In chapter 5 we looked at the speculations of cosmologists concerning the future of the cosmos. Their conclusions allow a very long time for biological evolution to continue on planet earth. Our sun will support life for at least five billion years -- longer than there has been life on earth in the past, and ten thousand times the total span of Homo sapiens. We have seen that in the past the pace of biological evolution has increased as higher levels of complexity were achieved. Our genes represent the cumulative legacy of a long history of interaction of organisms and environments, stretching back to the dawn of life. The past is built into the present, and it shapes the future, providing the starting point for further evolutionary change but not determining it. Human nature is not static or complete, and there is no reason to think that we are the end of the line.
But we have seen that cultural evolution, while it is built on this genetic heritage, permits much more rapid and deliberate change. It, too, provides for the transmission of information from the past and for the introduction of novelty, but in culture there are distinctive forms of innovation and selection. In an earlier chapter we listed some of the special features of human history: the ideas and goals of agents, the social meanings of language, the possibility of imaginative new responses to social challenges and crises. Today humankind faces immediate crises, which require changes on a time scale far shorter than that of biological evolution. Richard Leakey, an expert on the early ancestors of humankind, was recently asked what he thought humankind would be like a million years from now. He replied that the important period to think about is the next one hundred years, for that is the time when human existence is imperiled.72
A major factor in the current human crisis is technology. Technology goes back to the early use of tools, the production of metals, and the medieval use of wind and water power, but it developed rapidly with the introduction of steam power in the Industrial Revolution. The technologies of the twentieth century are new in two ways: they are based on advances in science, and they exert power over nature and human destiny on an unprecedented scale. For example, ecological destruction is occurring at an unparalleled rate. Species have become extinct throughout evolutionary history, but now by some estimates ten thousand species are driven to extinction each year; their genetic libraries, built up over millions of years, are lost forever.
Nuclear technology is the most dramatic example of our new power. Knowledge of nuclear forces made it possible for us to split the atom -- a striking example of Einstein’s conclusion concerning the equivalence of energy and mass (Emc2). We try to suppress the memory of Hiroshima. We build up gigantic nuclear arsenals, hoping that their presence will prevent their use but courting disaster as more and more nations acquire nuclear weapons. A nuclear holocaust would destroy the fabric of human civilization and possibly threaten the survival of humanity. While this outcome does not appear probable, it is a sign of our arrogance and blindness that we would take even a small risk of destroying in a few days or months what God has evoked into being over the past millions of years.
Genetic engineering offers the prospect of the deliberate alteration of the genetic structure of organisms and even of human beings. Here again is an unprecedented power over the human future. We face promising possibilities for improving the agricultural productivity of crops in the midst of food scarcities and for lifting the burden of human suffering caused by genetically inherited diseases. But we also face risks of unintended repercussions and controversial ethical issues, especially if human genes are altered not just to cure diseases but to achieve improvements in human characteristics. Information technologies, communications, computers, and new forms of artificial intelligence will have major impacts on society and on our self-understanding. Each of these technologies raises ethical questions, which will be explored in the second volume.
Today we see new evidence of global interdependence and the need for a global viewpoint. Many environmental impacts, such as the greenhouse effect, are global. Natural resource use, international trade, communications networks, and economic policies connect us around the world. The astronauts’ amazing photographs of the earth from the moon are images of our planet for the space age. Can we develop institutions that will encourage planetary survival without suppressing cultural diversity? We must act with urgency without ignoring the needs of future generations. Our economic and political institutions encourage us to adopt a very short time scale: this year’s profit statement, next year’s election. We must learn to view short-term national goals in the context of long-term global goals.
2. Theology and the Human Future
How does Christian theology view the future? We have seen that there were two strands in biblical eschatology. Prophetic eschatology saw God’s judgment in times of crisis and possible disaster, but it also held out hope for the future if the nation changed its ways. Apocalyptic eschatology, on the other hand, despaired of human action and placed all its hope in a supernatural intervention that would destroy the present world and establish a totally new order. I indicated that the latter view undercuts human responsibility and the conviction that our actions make a difference. In the prophetic view, the Kingdom of God will come through a combination of divine initiative and human response. The prophets’ message included a strong call to social justice and a vision of shalom (peace and harmony). It presupposed that human beings are not totally sinful and can respond to God’s call. Christ, in turn, carried further the call to love and reconciliation, and he exemplified it in his own life.
Theologian Philip Hefner has explored our role as created co-creators in an evolutionary context. Building on Burhoe’s synthesis of genetic and cultural evolution, he presents the whole evolutionary process as God’s way of creating free creatures. As created, we are dependent on sources beyond ourselves, including a genetic past, which was determinative before humanity appeared. As co-creators, we have freedom and the capacity to seek new directions, possibilities that are novel and yet within the constraints set by our genetic inheritance. Hefner says that nature is "stretched" and "enabled" as it gives rise to the new zone of freedom. "Homo sapiens is God’s created co-creator whose purpose is the stretching/enabling of the systems of nature so that they can participate in God’s purposes in the mode of freedom."73 God is immanent in the creativity and self-transcendence evidenced in evolutionary history and continuing into the future.
Hefner maintains that we can participate in God’s ongoing creative work: "We humans created in the image of God are participants and co-creators in the ongoing work of God’s creative activity. We are being drawn toward a shared destiny which will ultimately determine what it means to be a true human being." 74 Hefner holds that Christ is the prototype of true humanity and represents a radically new phase in cultural evolution. In Christ we come to know God’s will as universal love. The eschatological hope is a confidence in God’s purpose to perfect and fulfill the creation. Human beings can be conscious agents in a new level of creation, says Hefner, but they are also in a stage of great precariousness and vulnerability. Technology gives us immense powers over nature, and our decisions will affect all terrestrial life. We have a responsibility, not only for our own future, but also for the rest of the creatures on our planet.
The World Council of Churches has set forth some social goals for our times. At the WCC conference on Faith and Science held at MIT in 1979, those goals were summarized as "Justice, Participation, and Sustainability."75 A revised version was adopted at the WCC Assembly in Vancouver in 1983: "Peace, Justice, and the Integrity of Creation."76 My own list would include both these sets of goals:
1. Justice. Today there is a grossly inequitable global distribution of resources. Four hundred years of Western military and economic domination have created and perpetuated gaps between rich and poor nations. Large-scale technologies are expensive and lead to a concentration of economic power, both within nations and between nations. The biblical concern for the oppressed and dedication to social justice are profoundly relevant to a technological world.
2. Peace. Justice and peace are not competing goals, for justice is a precondition of peace, and a reduction of military budgets is necessary to release the funds required for global development. Three-fourths of the U.S. federal budget for research and development is devoted to military technology.77 Arms control and disarmament must clearly have a higher priority on our national agendas. The classical Christian criteria for a "just war" are obsolete in a nuclear age.
3. Environmental Preservation. The goal of preserving the environment includes sustaining natural resources, reducing pollution, and preserving species and ecosystems. The biblical theme of stewardship can offset the one-sided emphasis on human dominion, which contributed to the unbridled exploitation of the environment. This requires us to rethink our understanding of the relation of humanity to nonhuman nature and to develop a more adequate theology of nature for representing God’s relation to the created order.
4. Participation. Many citizens feel either incompetent or unable to take part in policy decisions in a technological society. The concentration of economic power in large-scale technologies is reflected in the political power of industrial and governmental bureaucracies. The preservation of democracy and political freedom requires an examination of how citizens can participate with legislators and technical experts in the complex policy decisions of an age of technology.
Apart from such particular ethical goals, the biblical tradition can contribute significantly in its images of the future. In times of crisis, people are searching for new visions; changes in perceptions and in values can occur more rapidly than during more stable times. The Bible presents images of human fulfillment that do not ignore material welfare; we are called to concern for the hungry and the homeless. But it also describes other sources of fulfillment in interpersonal relationships, appreciation of the natural world, and spiritual growth. Above all, its vision of shalom includes social harmony and cooperation as well as peace and prosperity. These ethical goals and their relevance for an age of science-based technology are taken up in the next volume. In the meantime we need to draw together some of the threads from the present volume.
1. Sherwood Washburn, "The Evolution of Man," Scientific American 239 (Sept. 1978): 194-207; D. C. Johnson and M. Edey, Lucy: The Beginnings of Humankind (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1981).
2. David Pilbeam, "The Descent of Hominoids and Hominids," Scientific American 250 (Mar. 1984): 84-96.
3. Paul D. MacLean, "Evolution of the Psychencephalon," Zygon 17 (1982): 187-211.
4. D. M. Rumbaugh et al., "The Relationship between Language in Apes and Human Beings," in Primate Behavior, eds. J. L. Forbes and J. E. King (New York: Academic Press, 1982); J. deLuce and H. T. Wilder, eds., Language in Primates (New York: Springer-Verlag, 1983); Stephen Walker, Animal Thought (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1983).
5. Theodosius Dobzhansky, The Biological Basis of Human Freedom (New York: Columbia University Press, 1956), and The Biology of Ultimate Concern (New York: New American Library, 1967).
6. Edward O. Wilson, Sociobiology: The New Synthesis (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1975).
7. Richard Dawkins, The Selfish Gene (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1976).
8. Marshall Sahlins, "The Use and Abuse of Biology," in The Sociobiology Debate, ed. Arthur Caplan (New York: Harper & Row, 1978). See also George Barbow and James Silverberg, eds., Sociobiology: Beyond Nature/Nurture? (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1980).
9. Sociobiology Study Group of Science for the People, "Sociobiology -- Another Biological Determinism," Bio-Science 26 (Mar. 1976): 182-90.
10. Edward O. Wilson, 0n Human Nature (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1978),p. 6.
11. Ibid., p. 195.
12. Ibid., p.201.
13. Edward O. Wilson, "Religion and Evolutionary Theory," in Religion, Science, and the Search for Wisdom, ed. David Byers (Washington, DC: National Conference of Catholic Bishops, 1987), p. 90.
14.Wilson, 0n Human.Nature, p. 167.
15. Wilson, Sociobiology, p. 4.
16. Wilson, 0n Human Nature, p. 176.
17. Michael Ruse, Taking Darwin Seriously: A Naturalistic Approach to Philosophy (New York and Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1986), chap. 5.
18. Stephen Toulmin, Human Understanding (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1972).
19. Karl Popper, Objective Knowledge: An Evolutionary Approach (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1972). See also Gerard Radnitzky and W. W. Bartley III, eds., Evolutionary Epistemology: Rationality and the Sociology of Knowledge (LaSalle, IL: Open Court, 1987).
20. Donald T. Campbell, "Evolutionary Epistemology," in The Philosophy of Karl Popper, ed. P. A. Schilpp (LaSalle, IL: Open Court, 1974).
21. David H. Hubel, "The Brain," Scientific American 241 (Sept. 1979): 45-52; the whole issue is on the brain.
22. Sally Springer and Georg Deutsch, Left Brain, Right Brain, rev. ed. (San Francisco: W. H. Freeman, 1985).
23. A good overview is Jerome Shaffer, "The Mind-Body Problem," in Encyclopedia of Philosophy, ed. Paul Edwards (New York: Macmillan, 1967).
24. Wilder Penfield, The Mystery of Mind (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1975).
25. Karl Popper and John Eccles, The Self and Its Brain (New York and Berlin: Springer International, 1977), p. 355.
26. Ibid., part 1.
27. B. F. Skinner, Science amid Human Behavior (New York: Macmillan, 1956).
28. Gilbert Ryle, The Concept of Mind (London: Hutchinson’s University Library, 1949).
29. George Santayana, The Realm of Essence (New York: Charles Scribners Sons, 1927).
30. Herbert Feigl, "The ‘Mental’ and the ‘Physical,’ " in Minnesota Studies in the Philosophy of Science, ed. H. Feigl et al., vol. 2 (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1958); J.J.C. Smart, "Materialism," The Journal of Philosophy 60 (1963): 651-62.
31. P. F. Strawson, Individuals: An Essay in Descriptive Metaphysics (London: Methuen, 1959).
32. Donald M. MacKay, Brains, Machines, and Persons (London: Collins, 1980).
33. Roger W. Sperry, "The New Mentalist Paradigm," Perspectives in Biology amid Medicine 29 (Spring 1986): 417, and "Science, Values, and Survival," Journal of Humanistic Psychology 26 (Spring 1986): 21.
34. Sperry, "Science, Values, and Survival," p. 22, and Science and Moral Priority (New York:Columbia University Press, 1983), p. 92.
35. Sperry, Science and Moral Priority, p. 100.
36. Ralph Wendell Burhoe, "The Human Prospect and ‘The Lord of History,’" Zygon 10 (1975): 299-375.
37. Ralph Wendell Burhoe, "War, Peace, and Religion’s Bio-cultural Evolution," Zygon 21 (1986): 439-72.
38. Burhoe, "The Human Prospect," p. 367. See also "Natural Selection and God," Zygon 7 (1972): 30-63.
39. See responses to Burhoe by Philip Hefner, Donald Musser, W. Widick Schroeder, and Arnold W. Raven in Zygon 12 (1977): 4-103. Burhoe’s reply appears in Zygon 12 (1977): 336-89.
40. Eugene G. d’Aquili, "The Myth-Ritual Complex: A Biogenetic Structural Analysis," Zygon 18 (1983): 247-69.
41. Victor Turner, "Body, Brain, and Culture," Zygon 18 (1983): 221-45; Turner tries to integrate genetic and cultural factors. A purely cultural view is Arnold van Gennep, The Rites of Passage (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1963).
42. A.F.C. Wallace, Religion: An Anthropological View (New York: Random House, 1966). See also chapters by Stanley Hyman and Lord Raglan in Myth: A Symposium, ed. Thomas A. Sebeok (Bloomington: University of Indiana Press, 1958).
43. A good summary of the functions of ritual is given in Roger Schmidt, Exploring Religion (Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, 1980), chap. 8.
44. Mircea Eliade, The Sacred and the Profane, trans. W. Trask (New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1959), chap. 2; G. van der Leeuw, Religion in Essence and Manifestation, trans. J. E. Turner (London: Allen & Unwin, 1938), chap. 60.
45. Claude Levi-Strauss, Structural Anthropology, trans. C. Jacobson and B. G. Schoepf (New York: Basic Books, 1963).
46. Eugene d’Aquili, "Senses of Reality in Science and Religion: A Neuroepistemological Perspective," Zygon 17 (1982): 361-84; "Neuroepistemology," in The Encyclopedia of Religion, ed. Mircea Eliade (New York: Macmillan, 1987).
47. Karl Jaspers, The Origin and Goal of History (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1953).
48. Gerd Theissen, Biblical Faith: An Evolutionary Approach, trans. J. Bowden (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1985).
49. Emile Durkheim, Elementary Forms of Religious Life (1912; reprint, New York: Collier,1961).
50. Max Weber, The Sociology of Religion (1922; reprint, Boston: Beacon Press, 1963).
51. Frederick J. Streng, Understanding Religious Life, 2d ed. (Belmont, CA: Belmont Publishing, 1976), p. 50.
52. See, for example, Walther Eichrodt, Man in the Old Testament, trans. K. and R. Gregor Smith (London: SCM Press, 1951); Frederick C. Grant, An Introduction to New Testament Thought (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1950), pp. 160-70.
53. See Reinhold Niebuhr, The Nature and Destiny of Man (New York: Charles Scribners Sons, 1943), 1:173-77.
54. Matthew Fox, Original Blessing (Santa Fe: Bear and Co., 1983).
55. Niebuhr, Nature and Destiny, vol. 1, chaps. 7 and 8.
56. Paul Tillich, The Shaking of the Foundations (New York: Charles Scribners Sons, 1948), pp. 153-63; Systematic Theology (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1957), 2:44-78.
57. H. Wheeler Robinson, Religious Ideas of the Old Testament (London: Gerald Duckworth, 1913).
58. Oscar Cullmann, Immortality of the Soul or Resurrection of the Dead? (New York: Macmillan, 1958), p. 30.
59. Lynn de Silva, The Problem of Self in Buddhism and Christianity (London: Macmillan, 1979), p. 75.
60. Cullmann, Immortality.
61. David Kelsey, "Human Being," and Robert Williams, "Sin and Evil," in Christian Theology, 2d ed., eds. Peter Hodgson and Robert King (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1985).
62. See Ian G. Barbour, Technology, Environment and Human Values (New York: Praeger,1980), chap. 2.
63. Reginald Fuller, The Foundations of New Testament Christology (New York: Charles Scribners Sons, 1965).
64. Sydney Cave, The Doctrine of the Person of Christ (London: Gerald Duckworth, 1925), chaps. 1-4; John McIntyre, The Shape of Christology (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1966), chap. 4; Walter Lowe, "Christ and Salvation," in Christian Theology, eds. Hodgson and King.
65. See D. M. Baillie, God Was in Christ (New York: Charles Scribners Sons, 1948), especially chap. 5 on the paradox of grace.
66. G.W.H. Lampe, God as Spirit (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1977).
67. Ibid., p. 115.
68. Lionel Thornton, The Incarnate Lord (London: Longman’s, Green, 1928). See also W. Norman Pittenger, The Word Incarnate (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1959).
69. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, Christianity and Evolution (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1971).
70. Tillich, Systematic Theology, 2:165-80.
71. Baillie, God Was in Christ, chaps. 7 and 8; Robert S. Franks, The Work of Christ (London and New York: Nelson, 1962).
72. Richard Leakey was quoted on the National Public Radio program, "All Things Considered," Dec. 19, 1988.
73. Philip Hefner, "Theology’s Truth and Scientific Formulation," Zygon 23 (1988): 270.
74. Philip Hefner, "The Evolution of the Created Co-Creator" in Cosmos as Creation: Science and Theology in Consonance, ed. Ted Peters (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1989), p. 232. See also Hefner, "Can a Theology of Nature be Coherent with Scientific Cosmology," in Evolution and Creation, eds. S. Anderson and A. Peacocke (Aarhus, Denmark: Aarhus University Press, 1987).
75. Roger Shinn, ed. Faith amid Science in an Unjust World (Geneva: World Council of Churches, 1980).
76. World Council of Churches, Gathered for Life (Geneva: WCC, 1983).
77. Bennet Johnston (Senate Subcommittee on Defense Appropriations) gave the figure of 69% (New York Times, Jan. 8, 1989, p. 29), but inclusion of the military aspects of space programs and other agency budgets brings the total to about 75%.