What is man?

As mentioned in my last post my foolish decision to respond to Melanogaster on BioLogos was a mistake. If you look at that thread (or any other in which he has participated) every response he makes is a long list of sins one has supposedly committed, with a demand for lengthy and abject penance. Any further reply just gets added to the list of sins. It’s a bit like being in a confession meeting in Mao’s Cultural Revolution, or at least on National Service, where answering a charge just earns you another. An interesting discussion style, that – if  communication is low on your priorities.

That’s a shame, because one sin Melanogaster named at the end of his latest list would have opened the way to discussing a central component of the issue I had first raised. I had suggested the insufficiency of Neodarwinism to meet the assumption of many TEs that God “intended mankind” – I meant, not those who believe God picked on the first intelligent species to arise, but those who believe he had us, as us, in mind. Melanogaster quotes my sentence and responds:

“I’m not aware of any current strand of thought that claims natural selection is deterministic enough to “guarantee” H. sapiens.”

That’s pure sophistry to pretend that the theological “mankind” must necessarily equal the biological “H. sapiens.” Presumably, God must be acting throughout our vast universe, no?

You’ll note the unwarranted assumptions (a) that I’m voicing my own concern rather than that of a wide variety of TEs and (b) that I personally equate “theological mankind” with Homo sapiens. These misapprehensions are inevitable because to the good Fruitfly any such question betrays ones Creationism, and as we all know Creationists are all exactly the same. Enough of that, because the issue raised is what “theological mankind” actually is, and that’s crucial, so I’ll look at it here, where any responders are more likely to listen and reply, rather than hector.

One almost needs just one Bible verse to settle most (though not all) of the important theological questions, and that is Genesis 1.26:

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground…”

Four key bits of information there, which as far as I can see apply to any understanding of the text that accepts it embodies spiritual truth rather than mere human religion:
(a) Man was “planned and made” by a purposeful God. He wasn’t just allowed for, discovered, or adjusted to fit, but made (Heb. asah) which has clear connotations of handiwork, as I covered here. That’s quite compatible, as an idea, with directed evolution – but not with anything less.
(b) He was created in God’s image (the other word, bara, is used in the next verse). Whatever the image is, it’s what man is, and not some add-on to a generic hominid.
(c) He was created specifically to rule the animate creation…
(d) … on earth (and not on whatever planet in whatever universe happened to prove most productive in evolving intelligence).

Moving on, Melanogaster is quite right to diffentiate the theological view of man from the biologist’s Homo sapiens; I’ve often said as much before. But the distinction means we have to define man from the Bible’s theological viewpoint, not on the basis of some deductive process of our own. For example, the appearance of Adam in Genesis 2 might, quite conceivably, have occured relatively late in the history of Homo sapiens. But the key issue is that the Bible defines man, theologically, in relation to Adam, both in his original call and headship and in his sin. It’s equally clear that the whole of the present human race is seen as theologically human (for Christ is offered to all), and even “of one blood”, ie of one interbreeding population.

What that implies is that whilst “theological man” might, perhaps, be a subset of H. sapiens, all such “men” are of that species. And whatever any other intelligent life in the Universe might be, they would not be men. And it was men (and women) that God undertook to create.

Thirdly and lastly, “theological man” is defined by that which Christ became, and which he redeemed. And that is “humanity”, which as we have seen, at the very least from the time when he became flesh, is indeed coterminous with H. sapiens. But there’s more – as I’ve expanded upon previously Jesus was chosen as the one through whom humanity was to be saved before the foundation of the world, that is before creation and before time. So theologically it’s clear that God’s decision to create man, though placed in the Genesis account in a temporal sequence, was actually from eternity. That’s the sense in which we must understand God to have “intended mankind.”

Any reading of creation in which God waits until nature freely produces a rational being on whom God can bestow his image, with whom he will relate and for whom his Son will become flesh and die is decidedly forced, and has no support whatsoever from the Biblical well-source of theology. Furthermore, any such explanation points us to a rather odd kind of God – one who forms a purpose, before creation, to make something very special called “mankind” and to suffer and die for it, but yet chooses to attempt to bring it about by an undirected process.

Jon Garvey

About Jon Garvey

Training in medicine (which was my career), social psychology and theology. Interests in most things, but especially the science-faith interface. The rest of my time, though, is spent writing, playing and recording music.
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2 Responses to What is man?

  1. GD GD says:

    One thing occurred to me as I considered purpose – you correctly emphasis a purpose in creation – what I think is often lost in these discussions is the ‘sense of purpose’ with which we as human beings may live. The teachings of Christ make that clear – the views of evolutionists and atheists insist that there is no purpose; just what can modern man say this day and age, except to insist that life is pointless (and where does this leave a nature that is supposed to select life forms whose purpose is to survive?)

  2. Jon Garvey Jon Garvey says:

    Hi GD

    True of course – though since living without purpose is impossible for most people there’s nearly always a fudge at the personal level – the atheist philosopher goes home to his family and dog and plans for their future. Dawkins talks, quite irrationally, of humans overcoming their evolutionary heritage to live worthwhile lives.

    One thing, regarding Darwin’s theory, is that this nihilism was recognised completely at the time, and was one reason that the majority of scientists (not just the churchmen) were slow to accept it. Though to be fair, Darwin just fed into the nihilism that was already developing in society and in religion in the 1840s.

    Even Huxley seems to have become more and more disillusioned with the ethics that arose most naturally from an atheist understanding of “evolutionary ethics” – that may be worth a short post soon.

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