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D. Theological Anthropology and Evolutionary Biology and The Cognitive Sciences

How are we to think about theological anthropology in light of evolutionary biology, including sociobiology and behavioral genetics, and the neuro and cognitive sciences? The theological issues cluster around human origins and nature, the meaning of revelation, the imago dei, and the problem of sin. How, for example, do we re-interpret traditional language about ‘body and soul’ in an evolutionary context? How might we understand revelation in light of the neurosciences and cognitive sciences? How does the imago dei, understood traditionally either as a capacity, (e.g., reason, morality), a role (e.g., dominion, stewardship), or as being in relationship, (eg., to God, to each other, to nature), characterize what is truly distinctive about the human person in light of sociobiology, anthropology, molecular biology, and so on? How to we account for sin as unique to humanity, and what is its relation to natural evil, suffering, disease, death and extinction of species, if ‘the Fall’ as an historic event is discarded? Of the wide variety of approaches to these issues, I can only touch on a few representatives ones here.

We start, then, with two very brief science minisummaries.

Scientific minisummary: Sociobiology and behavioral genetics.For a Teachers’ File see Craig L. Nessan, "Sex, Aggression, and Pain: Sociobiological Implications for Theological Anthropology," Zygon: Journal of Religion and Science 33.3(September 1998).... According to its ‘founding figure, E. O. Wilson, sociobiology is “the systematic study of the biological basis of all social behavior.” Unlike sociology, with its “structuralist and nongenetic approach” and its focus on “descriptive taxonomy and ecology”, sociobiology works entirely within the neo-Darwinist evolutionary paradigm in which “each phenomenon is weighed for its adaptive significance and then related to the basic principles of opulatin genetics.”E. O. Wilson, Sociobiology --- The New Synthesis (Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press, Harvard University Press, 1975), 4; see also Edward O. Wilson, On Human Nature (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1978)....Its primary assumption, then, is that the behavior of an organism is, at least partly, influenced by its genetics; thus biologically significant behaviors form the basis for the evolution of human culture. Sociobiology examines both differences between species and within species, particularly through research in behavioural genetics. Richard Dawkins, for example, has focused on the genetic constraints of social behavior, emphasizing that differences in the allele’s of even a ‘single gene’ might result in strikingly different social acts. We are, in effect, the “survival machines” by which genes perpetuate themselves.Richard Dawkins, The Selfish Gene (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1976), p. 66, 21, 22. Dawkins has also proposed that ‘memes’, units which replicate cultural variations, play an analogous role in cultural evolution as does the gene in biological evolution. Lindon Eaves and colleagues have pursued extensive research on the relation between genetics and environment on personality and attitude by a comparitive study of fraternal and maternal twinsL. J. Eaves, H. J. Eysenck and N. B. Martin, Genes, Culture and Personality: An Empirical Approach (London: Academic Press, 1989)..

Science minisummary: Cognitive sciences and neurosciences. For a Teachers’ File see Gregory R. Peterson, "Cognitive Science: What One Needs to Know," Zygon: Journal of Religion and Science 32.4(December 1997).Scientific research is proceeding here at an astonishing rate. Important areas include: Joseph LeDoux’s work on emotions in animals in relation to specific circuits in the brain, and the crucial role of the amygdalaJoseph E. LeDoux, The Emotional Brain: The Mysterious Underpinnings of Emotional Life (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1996); Joseph E. LeDoux, "Emotions: How I've Looked for Them in the Brain,"...; Peter Hagoort’s research on the neural basis of language, including the ways information is stored and retrieved via a ‘mental lexicon’Peter Hagoort, "The Uniquely Human Capacity for Language Communication: From POPE to [Po:P] in Half a Second," in Neuroscience and the Person: Scientific Perspectives on Divine Action, ed. Robert...; Marc Jeannerod’s work on the generation of voluntary action through simultaneous cortical and subcortical activation, and the role of the frontal lobes in determining temporal motor outputMarc Jeannerod, The Cognitive Neuroscience of Action (Oxford: Blackwell, 1997); Marc Jeannerod, "The Cognitive Way to Action," in Neuroscience and the Person: Scientific Perspectives on Divine...; Leslie A. Brothers’ study of the neural basis for social behavior, the key role of the amygdala, and the way the evolution of our brains makes possible personhood with its capacity for languageLeslie A. Brothers, Friday's Footprint: How Society Shapes the Human Mind (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997); Leslie A. Brothers, "A Neuroscientific Perspective on Human Sociality," in...; Michael A. Arbib’s constructive approach to the emerging science of the person through what he calls “schema theory”, and which draws on both the neurosciences in general and the computational neurosciences in particular.Michael A. Arbib and Mary B. Hesse, The Construction of Reality, Gifford Lectures, 1983 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986); Michael A. Arbib, "Towards a Neuroscience of the Person,"...

Contributed by: Dr. Robert Russell

Topic Sets Available

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Jean Vanier of L'Arche
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Outlines of the Science and Religion Debate (GHC)

Perspectives on Evolution

Physics and Theology
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