What We're Reading

"Perhaps the most basic problem with the idea of the image of God as a religious faculty in humans is the assumption that it is an individual, rather than a relational and personal, reality. Behind this is another assumption, that the image of God can be defined as an entity in itself, and so be identifiable within an individual. Again, once an individual interpretation is assumed, the question of gender arises sharply: given that women and men are different, does one possess the image more than the other? These types of questions lie behind much contemporary discussion of the image of God." Charles Sherlock, The Doctrine of Humanity

In The Doctrine of Humanity: Contours of Christian Theology, Charles Sherlock observes that the great diversity of peoples and cultures in the world makes it challenging to think or speak of a singular human nature. To have an understanding of what it means to be human is important, though, and in The Doctrine of Humanity Sherlock investigates what the Christian faith affirms about being human in order to equip people who are formulating just such an understanding. The essential affirmation about being human that the Christian faith makes, he writes, is that ". . . to be human means to be made 'in the image of God'. This visionary, enigmatic answer is explicated in Christian understanding by pointing to Jesus Christ, who is both 'the image of the invisible God' (Col. 1:15) and the image of perfect humanity (Heb. 2:14-18)." Sherlock spends the rest of the work studying what this means, and what human experience reveals about being human.

The Doctrine of Humanity contains two foci, the latter of which is subdivided. Focus 1 is theological; it explores the bible's affirmation that humans are made in the image of God. Its chapters discuss what it means to be made in the image of God, and how being image bearers is understood both in light of Christ and in Christian thought historically. Focus 2 concentrates on the reality of human experience and existence, both communally and personally. The chapters in 2A examine human relationships in society, those relationships within the natural world, and human culture; the chapters in 2B highlight human uniqueness, being a woman, being a man, and human beings as embodied and sensual persons. [Posted September 2005, ALG]

"In our day, however, serious questions have been raised about the legitimacy of the idea [of a universal human nature], no matter how human nature is interpreted. The questions arise from the pluralism of contemporary American culture and the rapidly increasing interdependence of various world cultures. We are now mindful, in a new way, of how peoples in different cultural situations deal with their lives on the basis of different foundational values. If their values can be so different, what common ground makes it possible to claim a universal human nature?" Leroy S. Rouner (ed.), Is There a Human Nature?

In Is There a Human Nature?, Leroy S. Rouner notes that the concept of a nature that all humans in all times and places share has become nearly archaic in recent eras. Throughout the twentieth century, optimism about the goodness or possible perfection of human beings has also waned. People, then, are left wondering if they can make any claims about what sort of beings humans are, or about how they should act. The essays in Is There a Human Nature? explore both of these questions. Rouner writes, "So what follows is both a study in the metaphysics of human nature and the ethics of being humane, since we eventually become who we have consistently understood ourselves to be."

The first part of the book, "What Does It Mean to Be Human?", explores that very question, considering if all people share a set of certain properties and what they may be, how liberal democracies honor or squelch human nature, and philosophy's relationship to human nature. The essays included in this section are: "Is There a Human Nature?" (by Bhikhu Parekh); "The Human Need for Recognition and the Crisis of Liberal Democracy" (Daniel O. Dahlstrom); "Human Nature and the Founding of Philosophy" (Stanley H. Rosen); "Reason and Will in the Humanities" (Knud Haakonssen); "Natural Law: A Feminist Reassessment" (Lisa Sowle Cahill); and "Is There an Essence of Human Nature?" (Robert Cummings Neville). The second part of the book, "The Human Struggle to Be Humane," evaluates how the theories about human nature are or are not manifested in how people actually live. Its essays try to explain why humans are faulty, how Confucian ideas about the self can enrich Enlightenment ideas of the self, and what happens to people's ethics when their survival is threatened. The essays included in this section are: "Human Intelligence and Social Inequality" (Glenn C. Loury); "Fall/Fault in Human Nature/Nurture?" (Ray L. Hart); "The Place of the Human in Nature: Paradigms of Ecological Thinking, East and West" (Graham Parkes); "Humanity as Embodied Love: Exploring Filial Piety in a Global Ethical Perspective" (Tu Wei-ming); "Why Good People Do Bad Things: Kierkegaard on Dread and Sin" (Leroy S. Rouner); and "Lifeboat Ethics" (Sissela Bok). [Posted September 2005, ALG]

"According to the biblical perspective, then, man cannot be classified as no more than an intelligent animal whose provenance is evolutionistically attributed to an animal origin from below and whose difference from the brute beasts is merely a matter of degree. To explain man in this way is actually to brutalize him and to open the door for the ungodly conclusion that man is after all but an animal and therefore virtually as dispensable as any other animal. . . . As we know only too well from the history of this twentieth century, it is a view of man which has encouraged even the justification of genocide for the sake of purifying the human stock." Philip Edgcumbe Hughes, The True Image: The Origin and Destiny of Man in Christ

In The True Image: The Origin and Destiny of Man in Christ, Philip Edgcumbe Hughes examines the authentic identity of man, studying who man was created to be, what happened to him with the fall, and how he will be restored to a sinless state. Hughes's position throughout his exploration is that the identity of man can only be understood in light of his relationship with Christ and the Godhead. He writes: "Nothing is more basic than the recognition that being constituted in the image of God is of the very essence of and absolutely central to the humanness of man. It is the key that unlocks the meaning of his authentic humanity. Apart from this reality he cannot exist truly as man, since for man to deny God and the divine image stamped upon his being and to assert his own independent self-sufficiency is to deny his own constitution and thus to dehumanize himself."

The first section of The True Image, "Creation in the Image of God: Integration," dissects what it means to be created in the image of God. The chapters in section one include: "The Meaning of Creation in the Image of God"; "Is There a Bodily Aspect of the Image?"; "Man and the Divine Image Not Identical"; "The Image of God in the New Testament"; "The Imprint of the Image in Man"; and "The Image in Fallen Man." The second section of the book, "The Image Rejected: Disintegration," studies the origins of evil, the fall of man, and how sin affects the image of God in man and his relationship with the Godhead. The chapters include: "The Origin of Evil"; "The Perfection of the Creature"; "The Biblical Account of the Fall"; "The Meaning of Death"; "Original Sin"; "The Freedom of the Will"; "The Freedom of God"; and "The Effect of the Fall." The third section, "The Image Restored: Reintegration," attends to the salvation and redemption of man, to the restoration and perfection of the image of God in man. The chapters include: "The Word Becomes Flesh"; "The Evolutionistic Interpretation"; "The Self-Humbling of the Image"; "The Theanthropic Person of Christ"; "Docetic Christology"; "The Early Unitarians"; "Origen's Christology"; "Arianism"; "The Christology of Athanasius"; "The 'Deification' of Man in Christ"; "The Christology of Apollinaris"; "Nestorius and Nestorianism"; "On to Chalcedon"; "The Importance of Orthodoxy"; "The Life of Jesus"; "The Death of Jesus"; "Understanding the Atonement"; "The Continuing Debate"; "The Glorification of Christ"; "Christology and History"; "Between the Comings"; "Between Death and Resurrection"; "Is the Soul Immortal?"; and "The Kingdom."

While the three sections record the biblical account of their main topic, they also recount other explanations of those topics, comparing and contrasting the latter explanations to the former account. [Posted August 2005, ALG]

"It is especially important to clarify our understanding of the nature of man because our view of human nature affects critical issues of society, such as capital punishment, abortion, and biological and psychological engineering, to name a few." Mark P. Cosgrove, The Essence of Human Nature

In The Essence of Human Nature, Mark P. Cosgrove attends to psychology's presuppositions about the nature of man and the conclusions those presuppositions have led it to draw. At its dawning, he writes, psychology assumed that how people function could be explained through physical realities and animal instincts alone; its research, therefore, has tended to disregard evidence that points to other explanations for people's behavior. The data gathered through the discipline's studies, however, indicate that people are more than just material or animals, and that their behavior is not wholly determined. This is contrary to what has been assumed, Cosgrove states, and consequently a "fresh look at the nature of man is a most pressing need."

The Essence of Human Nature comprises six chapters; in chapters one and two (titled "The Pressing Question" and "The Presuppositions and Methods of Psychology") Cosgrove frames the direction of the discussion, explaining why he is re-evaluating the psychological work done on what human nature is and how psychology has gone about studying human nature in the past. Chapters three through five ("Is Man Just Material?", "Is Man's Behavior Determined?", and "Is Man an Animal?") demonstrate why psychology's various presuppositions about man encourage the discipline to a myopic account of the nature of man. Chapter six ("What Can We Conclude?") states, "Man's unique capabilities are impossible to explain by any purely biological theory. . . . The materialistic, mechanical, and animal view of man, thus, is not only inadequate to explain man, but it is also destructive to him." The book concludes with a "Response" section, "References," and a "For Further Reading" list. [Posted August 2005, ALG]

"I intend no aid or comfort to the enemies of science or the friends of ignorance. My intention, rather, is to point out that the teachings and discoveries of science are at best partial—indeed, partial in principle. They are necessarily incomplete, hence in need of being supplemented. Our current difficulties call for more and better thought, not less, albeit also thought of a somewhat different kind. They beckon us to seek deeper knowledge, precisely about the adequacy of what we already know—or think we know—and also about the possible knowability of what we have declared to be unknowable."

"Ultimately, our goal is a richer, more comprehensive 'new science' of man in relation to the whole. This must be compatible with the findings—if not necessarily the interpretations—of the natural, psychological, and social sciences. But it must also do justice to the full range and complexity of human powers and activities, and it might thus provide some standards for addressing moral and political questions." Leon R. Kass, Toward a More Natural Science

In Toward a More Natural Science: Biology and Human Affairs, professor and bioethicist Leon R. Kass discusses recent developments in scientific technologies and how they are affecting human nature and the contemporary understanding of it. Revolutionary biotechnologies have made life "less poor, nasty, brutish, and short," and promise to render life more livable yet, but they have also challenged man to transform, or at least to reconsider, his traditional view of himself and his place in the world. Kass, before beginning to construct a philosophy of science and nature that will be rich enough to wrestle with the questions the new biotechnologies pose to this long-held understanding, introduces inquiries such as: How reasonable is it to divorce science from ordinary experience and philosophy? What is the relationship between knowledge and wisdom? What is the proper relationship between science, which is universal by nature, and human institutions and polities, which are particularist? The thirteen essays of the collection build upon this introduction, intending "to search out the human significance of the presently new biology, and to search for a yet newer and richer biology that will do justice to matters of human significance."

Toward a More Natural Science comprises three parts. Part I, titled "Eroding the Limits: Troubles with the Mastery of Nature," concentrates on new biomedical technologies, providing descriptions of the technologies available and setting the direction of the discussion regarding their powers and concomitant ethical dilemmas. Part II, titled "Holding the Center: The Morality of Medicine," reconsiders the nature of medicine in light of the contemporary challenges to medicine's traditional understanding of its purpose. Part III, "Deepening the Ground: Nature Reconsidered," concerns itself with developing a proper philosophy of nature; it also considers death and what to make of it, and what nature reveals about how people ought to conduct themselves. [Posted July 2005, ALG]