The last couple of weeks I have been posting on Phil Hefner’s outstanding, but demanding book, The Human Factor: Evolution, Culture, Religion. In the first post, I asked what sounds like a simple question: how do you define God? This turns out to be more complex and complicated than we think.
Next, I provided an introduction in which I described the book’s aim and scope. In last week’s post, which is probably the most important of the series, I outlined the theme or in Hefner’s words, theory for experimentation (Part 1):
- “Human beings are God’s created co-creators whose purpose is to be the agency, acting in freedom, to birth the future that is most wholesome form the nature that has birthed us – the nature that is not only our own genetic heritage, but also the entire human community and the evolutionary and ecological reality in which and to which we belong. Exercising this agency is said to be God’s will for humans.”
The remainder of the book is Hefner’s examination of the validity of this theory using axioms and auxiliary hypotheses that, when at all possible, can be subjected to the methods of science.
In Part 2, Nature (Ch. 3-5), Hefner looks at “four auxiliary hypotheses that focus on the determinative impact of nature for our attempts to understand who and what we are as humans.” These are:
1. Integral to Homo sapiens and its evolutionary history are certain structures and processes, the requirements for whose functioning may be said to constitute, at least in a tentative way, goals and purposes for human life.
2. The meaning and purpose of human beings are conceived in terms of their placement within natural processes and their contribution to those same processes.
3. A concept of “wholesomeness” is both unavoidable and useful as criterion governing the behavior of human beings within their natural ambience, as they consider what their contribution to nature should be.
4. Nature is the medium through which the world, including human beings, receives knowledge, as well as grace.
The first hypothesis, which is the most difficult to wrap your head around, can be paraphrased a bit (and Hefner himself does so for the reader). Basically, what Hefner is saying is that humans cannot be understood apart from nature’s processes (i.e. mechanisms, laws, etc.) and structures (i.e. the stuffs of nature), that we are made up of these same stuffs and emerged via these same processes, and finally, that meaning and purpose can be hypothesized from an understanding of the stuffs and processes.
As Hefner acknowledges, these hypotheses are controversial (especially the first). Briefly, it removes purpose and meaning from a supernatural or revealed origin, it commits the naturalistic fallacy (that we cannot move from “is” to “ought”), and it says that a universal statement concerning human beings is possible. Hefner provides short responses to these concerns, which I found to fairly convincing and which I assume will be further flushed out as the book continues. Nevertheless, while I have no issue with the third issue, the first and second are still of concern.
At the same time, one cannot but appreciate and agree with Hefner’s understanding of nature. We are organisms that were produced as a result of evolutionary mechanisms. Our bodies, our brains, knowledge, our culture (even grace, to Phil) are all based upon, mediated by, and rely upon the structures and mechanisms of nature. Of course this is so. Hefner is just taking this position to its logical extreme and doing so to initiate a discussion, not to preach a sermon. This point must not be mistaken.
But what then for the supernatural? Does it not exist? Is it an unnecessary term? What happens with revelation then? Is it simply the words of man? Can it be divine? Does God, for lack of better words, “implant” nothing into us to make us fully human? What do you say in response to these questions?
Thus ends our discussion of Ch. 3. Because these chapters merit deep thought and consideration, I think I’ll stop here and pick up Ch. 4-5 within Part 2 for our next post.