What We're Reading

"In addition to specific issues, such as sexual orientation and psychotherapy, there are more general pervasive issues recurring across the board as we detect consensus views emerging about human nature widely shared by scientists working on mind, brain, and behavior. Thus, taken together, much neuropsychological research has pointed almost uniformly to the ever-tightening link among mind, brain, and behavior. One result is that it has raised, generally and with a fresh urgency, issues such as the extent to which we actually do have freedom of choice in our thinking and behaving. In the domain of sexual orientation, this in turn raises important questions for Christians for whom moral choice and responsibility are not optional extras. More specifically, among Christians it raises questions of the status of terms we have become so familiar with in the past such as soul, spirit, body." Malcolm A. Jeeves, Human Nature at the Millennium

In Human Nature at the Millennium: Reflections on the Integration of Psychology and Christianity, Malcolm A. Jeeves discusses how current psychological knowledge may affect traditional Christian beliefs about man and develops a framework for reconciling what Scripture reveals about man with what psychology reveals. Before describing either view, Jeeves introduces readers to psychology. He defines what it is, states that many consider it a discipline of science, and reviews past models of the interaction between established sciences (such as physics, astronomy, or geology) and Christianity and religion. He then provides Biblical and psychological portraits of human nature, discusses contemporary discoveries from psychology about how people function, and compares those discoveries with Christian and Biblical understandings of mankind.

Human Nature at the Millennium comprises a preface and thirteen chapters, a number of which include technical scientific language. Each chapter, however, ends with a "Taking Stock" section that summarizes the chapter's content in layman's terms. [Posted July 2005, ALG]

"The defense of human dignity has been a perennial theme of philosophers and theologians, but it takes on new and special urgency in our own times. . . . [Many observers] think that the major challenge of our times is to recover a true and authentic understanding of human dignity and to defend it against threats from modern civilization." Robert P. Kraynak, In Defense of Human Dignity

In In Defense of Human Dignity: Essays for Our Times, editors Robert P. Kraynak and Glenn Tinder gather essays that name threats to human dignity concomitant with modern civilization and develop defenses of the former. Kraynak, in the introduction, "Defending Human Dignity: The Challenge of Our Times," writes about issues at the core of human dignity, namely: whether or not human beings have a distinct and privileged place in society that carries with it duties and rights; and whether or not they have a unique destiny and moral worth that should be protected from science gone awry. He states that modern civilization threatens human dignity in multiple ways, and gives a brief description of both the organization of the anthology and the pieces therein. The first essay, "Against Fate: An Essay on Personal Dignity" (by Tinder), addresses the dignity of individuals, treating people as ends and never merely means. The following seven essays develop Tinder's themes while also offering alternative perspectives on dignity and its political and ethical implications. They are titled: "Kant on Human Dignity" (Susan M. Shell); "'Made in the Image of God': The Christian View of Human Dignity and Political Order" (Kraynak); "Between Sanctity and Depravity: Human Dignity in Protestant Perspective" (John Witte, Jr.); "A House Divided, Again: Sanctity vs. Dignity in the Induced Death Debates" (Timothy P. Jackson); "Are Freedom and Dignity Enough? A Reflection on Liberal Abbreviations" (David Walsh); "A Well-Ordered Society" (John Rawls); and "Saving Modernity from Itself: John Paul II on Human Dignity, 'the Whole Truth about Man,' and the Modern Quest for Freedom" (Kenneth L. Grasso). Tinder provides the book's afterword, "Facets of Personal Dignity." [Posted July 2005, ALG]

"This current battle is the latest engagement in a very long war—the struggle over the nature of man. It is a battle which has been precipitated by the rise of new and powerful sciences dealing with man: physiology (particularly of the brain), psychology, sociology and that whole cluster of disciplines variously referred to as the behavioral sciences or sometimes the social sciences. What is at stake in this battle is the very notion of personhood. Are human beings persons in the sense in which that word has been traditionally understood?" C. Stephen Evans, Preserving the Person

In Preserving the Person: A Look at the Human Sciences, C. Stephen Evans examines whether or not the more recent scientific view of man complements the older personalistic view of man; the question he strives to answer is: how do contemporary explanations of personhood compare with how it has been understood traditionally? In the first chapter of the work, "The Problem: The Attack on the Person," he explains what the two views of man entail: the personalistic view understands people as agents who use reason to make choices; who can be held accountable for their actions; and who can be understood best through the eyes of several disciplines, philosophy, sociology, and theology included. The scientific view, on the other hand, understands people as organisms best explained by systems and efficient causality, whose actions are determined by forces in the natural order. Evans notes that the remaining chapters of the book explore the complementarity (or lack thereof) of the views in more depth. Chapters two through five examine what various disciplines of science reveal about man, and what they espouse regarding people as agents. Chapters six and seven explain what is at stake if the older view of man is lost, and chapters eight through twelve develop a contemporary model for thinking about man that does not disregard either the personalistic or scientific view. [Posted June 2005, ALG]

5 Jun

Malcolm Jeeves, "Portraits of Human Nature: Scientific & Theological" (Regent College, recorded in 2002)

Category: What We're Reading
By: Amy L. Graeser
Published: 06/05/03

Available on CD through the Regent Bookstore, 800-334-3279 or A brief question and answer session followed Jeeves's lecture and is included on the CD recording.

In "Portraits of Human Nature: Scientific & Theological," professor emeritus Malcolm Jeeves analyzes what science can contribute to the debate about human nature and dualism. He discusses what people have thought about human nature, how the Imago Dei is manifested in mankind, and spirituality, all in conjunction with scientific discoveries throughout the centuries. The collective evidence, he states, overwhelmingly points away from thinking of humans as dualist beings and towards regarding them as unified wholes. The glimpses of reality science affords reveal that humans are a mysterious unity of body and mind. When that revelation is considered alongside the glimpses of reality that theology affords, Jeeves notes, it is possible to see that human nature is largely defined by people's capacity for relationships with God and others, and that people's spirituality—their practice of their relationship with God—is embodied and thus can change as bodies degenerate or are traumatized.

Jeeves is Emeritus Professor of Psychology at the University of St. Andrews and was President of The Royal Society of Edinburgh, Scotland's National Academy of Science and Letters. "Portraits of Human Nature: Scientific and Theological" was recorded in 2002 at Regent College in Vancouver, British Columbia.

A Literary Aside:

For centuries, various strains of philosophy in Western civilization have assumed a dual nature in human beings, pitting the mortal flesh against the immortal soul in a battle over which has more eternal importance. As long as these philosophies have existed, however, there have been additional systems of thought that assume the opposite. Poet John Donne (1572-1631) spoke from within one of those traditions, as the following quote from his Easter sermon in 1623 demonstrates:

"Never therefore dispute against thine own happinesse; never say, God asks the heart, that is, the soule, and therefore rewards the soule, or punishes the soule, and hath no respect to the body; Nec augeramus cogitationes a collegio carnis, saies Tertullian, Never go about to separate the thoughts of the heart, from the colledge, from the fellowship of the body; Siquidem in carne, & cum carne, & per carnem agitur, quicquid ab anima emaculetur, All that the soule does, it does in, and with, and by the body. And therefore, (saies he also) Caro abluitur, ut anima emaculetur, The body is washed in baptisme, but it is that the soule might be made cleane; Cargo ungitur, ut anima consecretur, In all unctions, whether that which was then in use in Baptisme, or that which was in use at our transmigration, and passage out of this world, the body was anointed, that the soule might be consecrated; Caro signatur, (saies Tertullian still) ut anima muniatur; The body is signed with the Crosse, that the soule might be armed against tentations; And againe, Caro de Corpore Christi Vescitur, ut anima de Deo saginetur; My body received the body of Christ, that my soule might partake of his merits. He extends it into many particulars, and summes up all thus, Non possunt in mercede separari, quæ opera conjungunt, These two, Body, and Soule, cannot be separated for ever, which, whilst they are together, concurre in all that either of them doe." [Posted June 2005, ALG]

"We need to realize that there is more at stake in the biological revolution than just saving life or avoiding death and suffering. We must also strive to protect and preserve human dignity and the ideas and practices that keep us human. This book is an invitation to remember these human and moral concerns, concerns that are themselves manifestations of what is humanly most worth preserving."

—Leon Kass, Life, Liberty and the Defense of Dignity

In Life, Liberty and the Defense of Dignity: The Challenge for Bioethics, Leon Kass extends a deliberately-reasoned, perspicuous, and urgent invitation to study the beautiful, mundane, and messy realities of human nature that are vulnerable to burgeoning biotechnologies. The book comprises an introduction and three sections, the second of which is titled "Ethical Challenges from Biotechnology." In it Kass, the chairman of the President's Council on Bioethics, describes the challenges biomedical science and technology pose to human nature, alongside of which he also describes that of which human nature consists, or, in other words, what makes people human. The particulars he addresses are life and lineage, body and soul, and death and immortality. In the first and third sections of the book, he explores, respectively, the poles of the biotechnologies argument, technology and ethics, and the "underlying scientific quest." The introduction sets the stage for the rest of the work, explaining that all societies are facing a "posthuman" future and thus need a richer understanding of human nature in order to navigate it wisely. [Posted June 2005, ALG]