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2. The Person as a Psychosomatic Unity

Another approach is to start with the Biblical concept of the human person as an ‘psychosomatic unity’See for example St. Paul’s use of the term swma yucikonin 1 Cor. 15: 44. and explore our understanding of this concept fully in light of evolutionary biology. Jürgen Moltmann begins his theological anthropology by asking, not with what distinguishes humanity from other animals, but with what links humans with all other creatures through the evolution of life. The imago dei is first of all the imago mundi Humanity is a microcosm in which all other creatures are found in community, speaking and acting on their behalf before God. Humanity is formed from, bound to, and returns to, ‘adama, the earth (Gen. 2.7), being an ‘animated body’ not, with Plato, a soul enfleshed. Yet humanity is also God’s proxy in creation, interceding for God before “the community of creation.” Neither submerged into creation nor detached from it, humanity stands “before the sabbath” to “prepare the feast of creation.”Jürgen Moltmann, God in Creation: A New Theology of Creation and the Spirit of God, in The Gifford Lectures 1984-1985 (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1985), 185-90.For Rosemary Radford Ruether, the earth forms a “living system,” Gaia, of which humans are “an inextricable part.” In the West we have construed our view of humans as “over against all that is nonhuman,” and we call all that is both nonhuman and non-divine, “nature.” Yet nature in Ruether’s sense includes humans and their constant modification of the ecosystems of the world.Rosemary Radford Ruether, Gaia & God: An Ecofeminist Theology of Earth Healing (San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1992), 5-6.

But taking a psychosomatic approach to the human person also exposes theology to sociobiology, behavioral genetics, and the cognitive and neurosciences, and their reductionist interpretations. Will a ‘psychosomatic’ portrayal of the human person survive these challenges? And will theologians be able to rid themselves of what Fergus Kerr points to as a lingering philosophical CartesianismFergus Kerr, "The Modern Philosophy of Self in Recent Theology," in Neuroscience and the Person: Scientific Perspectives on Divine Action, ed. Robert John Russell, Nancey Murphy, et al. (Vatican...whose adherance is declaimed by Antonio Damasio in ‘Descartes’ Error?Antonio R. Damasio, Descartes' Error: Emotion, Reason, and the Human Brain (New York: Putnam Books, 1994).Admittedly, many of these scientific areas are routinely layered with deterministic and reductionistic interpretations, often by the scientists themselves, although some allowance is occasionally made for the emergence of new sociological and psychological processes and properties.E. O. Wilson, "Biology and the Social Sciences," Daedulus 106.4(Autumn 1977). as reported in A. R. Peacocke, Creation and the World of Science: The Bampton Lectures, 1979 (Oxford: Clarendon Press,...Moreover, it is surely the intent theologically to find a ‘middle ground’ between even an implicit Cartesian dualism and eliminative materialism. Hence, I will focus on constructive, non-reductive theological responses in light of these results.James B. Ashbrook provides an detailed overview and extensive references on religion and the neurosciences in James B. Ashbrook, "Interfacing Religion and the Neurosciences: A Review of Twenty-Five...

According to Peacocke, Christian anthropology assumes the psychosomoatic unity of the person “rooted in materiality”Arthur Peacocke, Theology for a Scientific Age: Being and Becoming --- Natural, Divine and Human, Enlarged Edition (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1993), 226; recall that it also serves as a model for God’s...while the sciences shed increasing light on the multileveled character and evolutionary history of this unity. His description of the hierarchy of disciplinesMentioned above, cf. Peacocke, Theology for a Scientific Age, 217. is particularly helpful in showing the impact of the physical, biological, neuro, cognitive, and behaviourial sciences on the meaning of homo sapiens. In a 1999 essay, he further developed an “emergentist-monist” account of the personal as an emergent level above the purely biological, and he attributed mental preperties to the “human-brain-in-the-body-in-social-relations.”Arthur Peacocke, "The Sound of Sheer Silence: How Does God Communite with Humanity?" in Neuroscience and the Person: Scientific Perspectives on Divine Action, ed. Robert John Russell, Nancey...He defended the causal irreducibility of mental states as well, describing the relation between person and brain in terms of downward causation and whole-part influence. His panentheistic view of God’s relation to the world-as-a-whole then makes possible an analogous view of divine action and special revelation as mediated through the human and natural worlds.

In his many writings on theological anthropology, Peacocke is always careful to stress what we should learn from sociobiology, though he is sharply critical of its incipient reductionism.Peacocke, Theology for a Scientific Age, esp. p. 226-32. See also Peacocke, Creation and the World of Science, esp. V/IV.The issues cannot be treated in terms of a simple nature/nurture dichotomy; instead we must recognize both the multileveled character of humanity and the fact that all human behavior, no matter how complex, is rooted in our evolutionary biology. Lindon Eaves and colleagues, for example, provide strong evidence relating variations in human personal attitude and social behavior with genetic predispositions, though they are careful to disavow full-scale genetic determinism.Eaves, Genes, Culture and Personality.At the same time, human behavior plays a dual role in our evolution. As Gunter Altner stresses, it is both a product of evolution and a system of feedback which, at least in homo sapiens, actually shapes human evolution by shaping our environment.See the reference to Gunter Altner in Peacocke, Theology for a Scientific Age, 228-9.

Still the reductionist challenge is most severe when considering moral reasoning. According to Michael Ruse and others, moral altruism in humans has neither an objective reference nor can it be justified rationally. Instead, it is a biological adaptation rooted in our genes to help our species compete.Michael Ruse, Taking Darwin Seriously: A Naturalistic Approach (Oxford: Blackwell, 1986); Michael Ruse, "Evolutionary Ethics: A Pheonix Arisen," Zygon: Journal of Religion & Science 21.1...But Peacocke charges Ruse with falling into the ‘genetic fallacy’: origins determine outcome. Instead he claims that the content of moral reasoning cannot be determined by, even if it is shaped by, its evolutionary history and biological basis, and that human creativity requires a language other than that of biology. Theologically we should view the human experience of free will and moral agency within the matrix of a multi-leveled, genetically based psychosomatic unity, as part of God’s purposes in continuously creating through the processes of evolution.For an earlier response see Peacocke, Creation and the World of Science, 160-64, Arthur Peacocke, God and the New Biology (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1986), Ch. 8. and Arthur Peacocke, "Sociobiology...

In treating the problem of sin, most scholars in theology and science reject traditional notions of ‘the Fall’ and any connection between sin and biological death. Peacocke,Arthur Peacocke, "Biological Evolution --- A Positive Theological Appraisal," in Evolutionary and Molecular Biology: Scientific Perspectives on Divine Action, ed. Robert John Russell, William...for example, discusses sin in terms of our unique sense, differing from all other species, of being radically alienated from our own nature and from non-human nature: “humanity ... is a kind of misfit in its biological environment.”Peacocke, Theology for a Scientific Age, 249, also 230-32. He finds contemporary theological formulations of sin closely attuned to an evolutionary understanding of human nature. These include sin as ‘falling short,’ as ‘failure to realize potentiality,’ and as being in tension between ‘self-centeredness and openness,’ and as ‘unfulfilled paradox,’ all of which issue from our being created as free to respond, or not, to God.

Two of the most notable features of Philip Hefner’s theological anthropology are his sustained critical interaction with sociobiology and the way he has recently structured his work explicitly in terms of a Lakatosian research program.Philip Hefner, The Human Factor: Evolution, Culture, and Religion, Theology and the Sciences Series (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1993). His may be the most extensive example to date of the kind of Lakatosian...His work is deeply informed by the work of Ralph Wendell BurhoeRalph Burhoe, "Religion's Role in the Context of Genetic and Cultural Evolution --- Campbell's Hypotheses and Some Evaluative Responses: Introduction," Zygon: Journal of Religion and Science...and Solomon Katz,Solomon H. Katz, "Biocultural Evolution and the Is/Ought Relationship," Zygon: Journal of Religion and Science 15.2(June 1993): 155-68.as well as by his commitment to Lutheran theology and a Trinitarian doctrine of God, and by his profound appreciation for Teilhard de Chardin.Philip Hefner, The Promise of Teilhard: The Meaning of the Twentieth Century in Christian Perspective (Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1970).The core of Hefner’s proposal is to interpret the imago dei as “created co-creator”: “Human beings are God’s created co-creators whose purpose is to be the agency, acting in freedom, to birth the future that is most wholesome for the nature that has birthed us”. Homo sapiens is thus a two-natured creature, a symbiosis of genes and culture. Though genetics makes culture as an evolutionary emergent possible, genes and culture have co-evolved; as Burhoe put it, they constitute two “organisms” that are co-adapted, distinguishing humanity from other speciesBurhoe, "Context of Genetic and Cultural Evolution."; Burhoe, "Human Evolution."; Burhoe, Toward a Scientific Theology. For a discussion of Burhoe’s legacy, see the four 1998 editions...Hefner thus rejects both anthropocentric and biocentric views of humanity through his claim that human meaning and purpose must be related to that of nature as a whole while not being reduced to it. Nature is crucial since nature is the medium of both divine knowledge and grace. Culture is crucial since myth, ritual and religion are critical sources of information and guidance for the future of life on earth. Such guidance is urgently needed since “technological civilization” massively affects the planet. Still technology is neither alien to nature nor should it be subordinated to nature; instead technology is “fully part of evolution, rooted in the genes/culture symbiosis...”Hefner, The human factor, 240. Hefner, obviously, rejects the Fall except in a figurative sense, but he takes very seriously original sin, freedom and sacrifice, drawing on insights from Schleiermacher, both Western and Eastern Christianity, Tillich and feminist theology and demonstrating the commensurability of both theological and biological insights on sin and evil.Hefner, The human factor. See particularly Ch. 8, "Biological Perspectives on Original Sin."Remarkably, Hefner lists a number of potential falsifiers of his proposal, such as dualistic views of technology and human nature, or reductionist arguments about religion as merely functional or culture as reducible to genetics.In response to the latter, a position frequently adopted by sociobiologists, Hefner points to trans-kin altruism as posing a key challenge to sociobiological --- and traditional religious --- conceptions...He predicts that a biocultural perspective will prove more fruitful than either instrumental or intrinsic / biocentric values, that the human sciences will come to view myth, ritual and religion as essential to human nature, and that nature itself shares in the imago dei of the created co-creator.See also Philip Hefner, "Theological Perspectives on Morality and Human Evolution," in Religion and Science: History, Method, Dialogue, ed. W. Mark Richardson and Wesley J. Wildman (New York:...

Finally we should note very recent criticisms of reductionism in sociobiology by Holmes Rolston and by Nancey Murphy. In his 1999 Gifford LecturesHolmes Rolston III, Genes, Genesis and God: Values and Their Origins in Natural and Human History (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999)., Holmes Rolston pursues a theme he has long championed: that values are inherent in nature but morals only arise with human culture. Values in nature include intrinsic values (e.g., the lives of individuals), instrumental values (e.g., parenting or food chains), and systemic values (e.g., interactive ecological systems). These values must be generated initially, and then regenerated and distributed indefinitely, and genes provide the means.Rolston III, Genes, Genesis and God, 50.Genetic information thus tells the organism how to survive, but it is inappropriate to label this knowledge ‘selfish’ as sociobiologists and behavioral ecologists do. Worse yet, this mistaken view of nature is reintroduced into culture with the claim that “all human behavior (is) pervaded with genetic self-interest”, a self-interest which is seen as determining all human relations. “(A)ll this can lead to a misvaluing of what is legitimately to be appreciated in both nature and culture...and how values (in each domain) are transmitted and shared.”Rolston III, Genes, Genesis and God, xiv.Reminiscent of his earlier claim that values are ‘tertiary properties’ in nature,Holmes Rolston III, Philosophy Gone Wild: Essays in Environmental Ethics (Buffalo: Prometheus Books, 1986), Ch. 6. Rolston sees Earth as “a value-generating system, value-genic, valuable, value-able, that is, able to generate values that are widely ‘distributed’... over the face of the Earth.” Granted that only humans evaluate, and to do so we must set up scales. But “(t)he axiological scales we construct do not constitute the value, any more than the scientific scales we erect create what we thereby measure.”Rolston III, Genes, Genesis and God, 361; also Holmes Rolston, III, "Genes, Genesis and God Natural History," CTNS Bullletin 11.2(Spring 1991).

In 1998, MurphyNancey Murphy, "Supervenience and the Nonreducibility of Ethics to Biology," in Evolutionary and Molecular Biology: Scientific Perspectives on Divine Action, ed. Robert John Russell, William...continued her philosophical argument against reductionism in the sphere of biology and morality, picking up themes from her previous writings.See for example Nancey Murphy, Beyond Liberalism and Fundamentalism: How Modern and Postmodern Philosophy Set the Theological Agenda (Valley Forge, Pa.: Trinity Press International, 1996) Nancey Murphy...She draws on the work of Roy Wood Sellars, R. M. Hare, and Donald Davidson in deploying nonreductive physicalism with a focus on both emergent properties in hierarchical systems and on supervenience. Here identical behavior in different circumstances could constitute different moral judgments, and such ‘supervenient’ properties are not necessarily reducible. In her epistemic model, developed with Ellis, the human sciences are incomplete without ethics, and thus the moral supervenes on the biological. After drawing on Alasdair MacIntyre and Philip Kitcher to critique E. O. Wilson’s reductionism, she places ethics between the social sciences and theology. Since the social sciences are not value-free but involve moral presuppositions and ethical questions, the role of theology in providing them is thus of crucial importance. See also Hans Schwarz, "The Interplay Between Science and Theology in Uncovering the Matrix of Human Morality," Zygon: Journal of Religion and Science 28.1(March 1993).

The neurosciences pose a particularly challenging set of issues to theology. ClaytonPhilip Clayton, "Neuroscience, the Person, and God: An Emergentist Account," in Neuroscience and the Person: Scientific Perspectives on Divine Action, ed. Robert John Russell, Nancey Murphy,...dismisses both substance dualism and eliminative reductive materialism as theologically unacceptable, but this still leaves a variety of theological options which are neither contradicted by the sciences nor reducible to them. His own approach is to view mental events as supervenient on their neural states such that there is room for geniune mental causation of somatic disposition. His “emergentist-monist” account of the person is then open to rich theological interpretation. In a recent joint paper, Wesley Wildman and Leslie BrothersWesley J. Wildman and Leslie A. Brothers, "A Neuropsychological-Semiotic Model of Religiouis Experiences," in Neuroscience and the Person: Scientific Perspectives on Divine Action, ed. Robert...have also focused on the reductionist challenge posed by the neurosciences to the claims of ultimacy as a causal source of religious experience. They first present a richly textured interpretation of the experiences of ultimacy as objectively as possible in hopes that authetic religious experiences can be distinguished from mere claims to them. They then attempt to evaluate the claims made to explain their cause, drawing on semiotics. Addressing the nature and possibility of religious experience in light of the cognitive neurosciences, Fraser WattsFraser Watts, "Cognitive Neuroscience and Religious Consciousness," in Neuroscience and the Person: Scientific Perspectives on Divine Action, ed. Robert John Russell, Nancey Murphy, et al. (Vatican...has argued that theological and neurological explanations of such experience are complementary, not contradictory. Eugene d’Aquili’s theory of “cognitive operators” provides a helpful starting point, but Watt’s own thesis is that a truly adequate cognitive theory of religious experience should draw on analogies between religious and emotional experience. Most helpful here are multileveled theories which distinguish between sensory-motor aspects and the interpretation of religious experience, with attention to intuitive perceptions of meaning and the propositional descriptions of experience.

Contributed by: Dr. Robert Russell

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