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Theological Responses to Contemporary Biology

Theological Responses to Contemporary Biology
Allan J Day, March 2002

                                                      

Author

Allan John Day is Emeritus Professor (Physiology) University of Melbourne, Australia, a Senior Academic Fellow, Ridley College, Melbourne and a Fellow of ISCAST (Institue for the Study of Christianity in an Age of Science and Technology.

Abstract

Recent developments in human biology have raised questions about our definition of what it means to be human. On the one hand humans are considered as something unique and distinct from other animals. On the other, detailed scientific investigation is defining the basic scientific aspects of the human person. Information from human genetics (Human Genome Program), from human evolutionary biology and from neurophysiology are increasingly describing what is considered unique in human characteristics. It is easy to conclude that we are nothing more than our genes or the responses of our neurones. These issues are considered in this essay. Firstly some of the recent developments from genetics, evolutionary biology and neurophysiology are considered and the conclusion reached by reductionist biologists critiqued. Three possible responses to these findings are addressed. We can adopt a reductionist understanding of humanity - that we are no more than our genes or neurones. This view is rejected. There is a danger however of retreating to non-scientific preconceptions of theological anthropology which envisage a dipartite or tripartite understanding with a separation of a physical body and a spiritual soul. It is suggested that these preconceptions should be reexamined. If this is done it is asserted that a biblical anthropology in both the Old Testament and the New Testament portrays a holistic understanding in which Christian hope is not dependent on the intrinsic immortality of a separate spirit or soul, but rather on the resurrection of the whole person. Such views are consistent with both contemporary biology and biblical anthropology.

Key words

Human Genome Program (HGP), genetics, mind and brain, consciousness, humanity, DNA, evolution, biblical anthropology, reductionism.

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