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Hefner, Philip. “Biocultural Evolution: A Clue to the Meaning of Nature."

Philip Hefner begins with the “two-natured” character of the human: the confluence of genetic and cultural information. These co-exist in the central nervous system (CNS) and have co- evolved and co-adapted. The genetic has made the cultural dimension possible; their symbiotic character differentiates humanity from other forms of life. Ralph Burhoe describes them as co- adapted organisms. Though we are conditioned by our evolutionary development and our ecological situation, we are free to consider appropriate behaviors within an environmental and societal matrix of demands, since our freedom serves the interest of the deterministic evolutionary system and is rooted in our “genetically controlled adaptive plasticity.” The emergence of conditionedness and freedom are an evolutionary preparation for values and morality; the ought is built into evolution and need not be imported from external sources. Hefner reports that evolutionary psychology and human behavioral ecology have moved beyond their roots in sociobiology. He notes two key issues: how adaptive behaviors are shaped by critical moments in evolutionary history and then transmitted by bundles of adaptations, and how cooperative behaviors, including morality, evolve in the context of genetic, neurobiological, and cultural interactions.

Humans have evolved to seek and to shape meaning, enabled by the CNS, and our survival depends on it. A crucial step is the construction of frameworks and interpretations which are “pre- moral,” as Solomon Katz puts it. Moreover, our species, though bounded by evolution, acts within this context, thus inevitably altering the world. Hefner speaks theologically of the human as “created co-creator.” We encounter transcendence in several ways: as evolution and the ecosystem transcend themselves when they question their purpose through us; as we act in the non-human world and in culture; and as we open ourselves to our future. Thus the “project” of the human species is also nature’s project, and the challenge for us is to discover its content.

Human culture includes diverse strategies for living; its greatest challenge is science and technology. These provide the underlying conditions for our interrelated planetary community but also its pressure on the global ecosystem. They are essential for human life and they thoroughly condition the future of the planet. Culture functions to guide behavior comparably to the role of physico-bio-genetic systems in plants and animals. Its interpretation challenges us intellectually and spiritually. Hefner opts for a non-dualistic interpretation: technology, like all culture, is an emergent form of nature grounded in human neurobiology. Still, as a thoroughly technological civilization we now face a crisis not merely of “tools out of control,” but of an all-permeating form of existence that threatens to turn against itself and nature. He calls for “a re-organization of consciousness” adequate to this crisis.

Christian theology, through the doctrine of creation, can provide such perspective. The natural world is vested in meaning by its relation to God as creator ex nihilo; nature is entirely God’s project, what God intended. The doctrine of continuing creation emphasizes the way in which, at every moment of time, God creates in freedom and love, giving the world its evolutionary character, purpose, and meaning. Our understanding of nature’s meaning arises in the context of our scientific experience of the world, including randomness and genetic predisposition. Humanity, as created in the imago Dei, becomes a metaphor for the meaning of nature. Human sin represents the epistemic distance between the actual human condition and the primordial intentionality and love that God bequeaths the world. The key question for relating theology to science should be whether we believe that what governs the world at its depths is divine love. The Incarnation and the sacraments are pivotal theological affirmations that nature is capable of being an instrument of God’s will and purpose. In Jesus Christ we discover both the normative image of God and the instantiated character of God’s freedom, intentionality, and love.

Hefner concludes with six claims regarding the created co-creator as a fully natural creature illuminating the capabilities of nature, the convergence of the human project and the project of nature, and the transcendence and freedom of both. The evolution of the created co- creator reveals that nature’s project is also God’s project, and the human project must be in the service of nature’s project. The imago Dei, and particularly Christ, gives content to God’s intentionality for this project.

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