Over the next few weeks I hope/plan to write several posts on “what it means to be human”. For Christians, this question is usually linked to what it means to be created “in the image of God”. However, one does not have to be a religious believer to provide useful ideas to this debate. Some scientists may feel that there is imply nothing to gain from this endeavor and that we are really no different from other animals. I myself cannot buy this and I firmly believe that humans are unique. I should point out that this does NOT mean that I think that we are better than other animals or that they exist simply for our use or enjoyment. I doubt any evolutionist (as I am) could hold to that belief. We share a biological history and are made of the same “stuffs” as they are. While it may be distant, we are in every sense their relatives. We should embrace this.
Historically, the ideas that have been postulated on this issue of what it means to be human have fallen into 1 of 3 categories. I will introduce the categories now, and unpack them in later posts. The 1st category is that humans possess some inherent or novel property that other animals lack. Examples of this are many and include reason, morality, creativity, spirituality, etc. The 2nd category suggests that humans are uniquely relational or community-driven. The 3rd category (which comes solely from Biblical studies to my knowledge) is that humans are God’s functionaries. Some believe that God has placed us on this Earth as workers or as priestly functionaries. These categories are not mutually exclusive and this list is certainly not exhaustive.
Without giving too much away in this 1st post, as a scientist I obviously have much to say about and add to these categories. “Recent” advances in biology (from molecular to organismal and even ecological), genetics, psychology, evolutionary psychology, sociobiology, neuroscience, and other disciplines have provided us with a much greater and in-depth understanding of human nature (and all this encompasses). The studies have also led to the conclusion that differences between humans and animals are likely to be more of the quantitative and not qualitative variety. But I’m getting ahead of myself…
What do others think? Are scientific advances causing us to feel “less than human”? Is contemplating “what it means to be human” even worth pursuing anymore? Is it even possible to come up with the “right” answer to this question?