Now that Darrel Falk’s second post is up on BioLogos, I want to see what kind of discussion it generates. But one thought emerges to me immediately, and that is on the question of human exceptionalism. Dembski raised the issue of how a Darwinian evolutionary process could possibly give rise to mankind “in the image of God.” Darrel has rather pulled the rug out from under him by distancing himself, and Biologos as a whole, from “Darwinism”, obviously accepting, for the purposes of self-identification, that the metaphysical baggage that comes with the name is heavy enough to load down BioLogos‘ theological credentials. His actual reply to the point is interesting, though:
Even if all that Darwin says here were more or less true, it would still say nothing about that which makes humans truly exceptional, becauseour linguistic and cognitive abilities asidewhat makes us truly exceptional has less to do with biology than with the fact that God chose to enter into a unique relationship with humankind.
This is interesting to me firstly because it’s very much in line with what I’ve been understanding from the “image” language of Genesis myself lately. Personally, though, I’ve been unwilling to shift the uniqueness of mankind entirely outside the biological realm, and that partly from the kind of argument that Dembski raises about the power of natural selection to produce all that we are. Related to that is the strong indication from many directions that mind (and all its attributes like personality, reason, moral sense, will and so on) is a non-material thing. Evolution’s ability to create the non-material is extremely problematic.
Nevertheless, I find it very likely that “image” as described in Genesis has indeed to do with divine appointment and relationship, more than with attributes. This insight from Falk neatly sidesteps Dembski’s critique – evolution has no role in human exceptionality, and so poses no threat to it.
That’s just as well, because as described in the previous two posts, Falk leaves very little room for exceptionalism in his description of evolution, which belongs entirely to the natural, law-driven, activity of God. Such a process could not produce other than the reliable and predictable. 98% identity with the chimp genome sits happily with that, but I’m not so sure that language, space travel and Rembrandt do. Darrel’s phrase, “our linguistic and cognitive abilities aside…“, leaves quite a lot unexplained by a strictlty lawlike process. But not, I agree, the spiritual nature of man, which is the truly unique thing. I’m assuming that Darrel would class such a thing within his “supernatural” category, rather than his “natural”.
And that begs the question: when and how did that relationship begin? If Falk and I agree that it cannot be an “emergent property” of evolution, then it had an origin. And not only that, but it had an origin independent of anything natural or directly detectable by science, such as language and cognition are. A relationship can develop, grow or be damaged, but it has an origin in space and time, and it involves individual interaction.
If it is the relationship with God, and not biological attributes, that defines man’s exceptionality, then there was a first man, or first people. And those first people were the first true humans, regardless of whether they were descended from genetically identical parents who spoke, thought – and in fact did everything except experience that exceptional relationship with the true God.
For example, it could well be that a man, or even a couple, living in, let’s say, ancient Mesopotamia could have been the first to be called into such a relationship. And once evolution has been displaced from its decisive role, that could have been at any time – not necessarily millions of years ago in Africa at the dawn of the species, but even as recently as – oh I don’t know – five thousand years ago.
That’s interesting because, just a few months ago, Darrel was bemoaning the fact that he couldn’t find any theologians to come to BioLogos and defend the existence of a historic Adam and Eve in the light of evolution. Neither, when the subject is raised, does it have many supporters amongst TE posters, but rather scorn at the fundamentalism and literalism of the idea. People like Dennis Venema and others have trotted out Y-chromosome Adam and Mitochondrial Eve, and the continuity of other genetic markers with the great apes, to show that human descent from a single couple is quite impossible. Well yes, if one takes “human” in the biological sense that Darrel Falk, apparently, has just disowned. If that new understanding is genuine, there is absolutely no reason to take the narrative of Genesis 2-3 as anything other than essentially historical, and the subsequent chapters too. Peter Enns notwithstanding.
We live in interesting times…
Footnote: Gregory asked me in a comment on the first post of this series to think about ID’s approach to human exceptionalism. I think it must vary greatly in view of ID’s wide theological constituency. Most are orthodox (small “o”) Christians, who would, I suspect, want to place our exceptionality mainly in the non-material soul. Though it’s compatible with God-the-Designer, it’s somewhat tangential to the ID agenda of design-in-biology. Except, perhaps, for arguments along the lines, “Look – science is powerless to find an explanation for our non-material being. Doesn’t fit with Darwin – does with design, if the designer is a supernatural God like that in the Bible.”
For IDers who are Creationists of the various stripes, the biology’s easy too: “each design is special: our attributes make us exceptionally so – and we have a soul too! I’ve strayed into the theological in trying to think as an IDer.
But if one were to stick with what an ID writer would want to publish in defence of human exceptionalism, I suppose it would be to stress the dysjunction between (particularly) our mental powers and those of any other species, together with the uniqueness of their effects on our societies; to point to the indefineable metaphysical status of our minds; and to continue to cast doubt on natural mechanisms to explain these things fully. If design is necessary for DNA it’s got to be necessary for brain circuitry.