Friday, October 29, 2004

The Hobbit 

His very existence among us would make us question all over again, what it is to be human.

We are not used to this because our ancestors successfully killed off all our close relatives.

This has created a chasm between us and the other animals, a chasm so big that religion went as far as to say that we are not even related to them. Humans have souls and they do not.

Darwin put a stop to this nonsense with his theory of evolution, but amazingly the blindingly obvious truth he discovered is still resisted by large sections of the human population.

They stubbornly continue to insist that we are some kind of special creation.

The arrival of "Mini-Man" is going to give them nightmares.

How can he be "semi-special"? That won't make sense. He can't very well have a semi-soul.

So Mini-Man might just be the evolutionary jewel that, once and for all, sets human beings firmly in the animal kingdom, where scientifically they belong.

So writes Desmond Morris. Personally I am quite excited about this particular discovery and I fail to see why it should pose some huge challenge to Christian faith. The 'Hobbit' may well turn out to be human. I fail to see that this will somehow undermine our humanity. If he is an ape that looks remarkably like us, I will still feel much the same way. I don't think that there is anything much to be gained by stressing some great difference between the make-up of man and the animals. I just don't think that it is biblical to see some great natural gulf between man and the animals. Man is an animal. Man's greater significance in creation is due to his being the image of God and, no, I do not believe that the image of God is primarily about some capacity that man has that animals do not possess. There are some abilities and faculties that are more peculiar to humankind. As Aquinas put it, man is the animal that laughs. However, I believe that it is unhelpful to situate the primary difference between man and the animals in this area. In particular, I believe that it is exceedingly unhelpful to think of man being differentiated from the animals in possessing a 'rational soul' or something like that. Man's 'soul' is not a part of his make-up any more than it is part of the make-up of the animals. Man's soul is simply his life. Man does not possess a living soul; man is a living soul. 'Soul' talk is just that — an appropriate way of speaking about certain dimensions of man’s holistic existence. I like the illustration that N.T. Wright frequently uses (one which originated with John Polkinghorne) that regards the relationship between mind and body as analogous to the relationship between software and hardware (although even this analogy doesn't quite capture the tightness of the relationship). I think that the whole idea that the soul is a part of man as distinct from his body is more Cartesian than Christian. The great difference between man and the animals is mankind's place in relationship to God and the vocation that God has given us. Man is distinguished from the animals more by God's gracious purpose than anything that is inherent in him. Man is the animal that God has chosen to place as His image in creation, as a symbol of His rule. Man is called to be conformed to God's likeness and be renewed according to His image. Man's imaging of God is not so much to be thought of as human beings individually (although it undoubtedly has this dimension), but of humanity as a whole, with all of its relational aspects. Man's peculiar faculties are brought into play in his active imaging of God. However, individuals who do not possess the full faculties that are generally possessed by human beings (e.g. unborn infants and the mentally handicapped) are no less made in the image of God for that reason. Apart from the place that man has been given in the creation by God's grace the difference between man and the rest of the animals is not that significant. In my estimation it is no bad thing if the discovery of 'Mini-man' somehow 'sets human beings firmly in the animal kingdom' and reminds us that we are not that far removed from the animals at all. However, the idea that this undermines the Christian doctrine of creation utterly fails to convince me.

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