International Society for Science & Religion - Library Project

The Human Factor: Evolution, Culture and Religion

by Philip Hefner

Introductory Essay by Hubert Meisinger

Hefner`s presupposition in linking scientific and theological concepts is that “large frameworks of meaning like those proposed by religion and metaphysics, are unavoidable and required if the human quest for meaning is to be fulfilled. At the same time, those frameworks are useless and empty if they are not brought into conjunction in a credible manner with the concrete data of our scientific and social experience” [8]. Thus Hefner’s theological anthropology is based on scientific knowledge since sciences try to determine how things really are. In creating a wider frame of reference for interpreting life, and for making possible an orientation within life, Hefner aims at providing “resources from the Christian tradition to revitalizing the myth-ritual-praxis constellation” [224].

Hefner’s theology, based upon Imre Lakatos’ ‘research programs’, describes humankind as created co-creators. “Created” indicates that, while human life is conditioned by genetic and cultural presuppositions and by the ecosystem, in the end it depends on God’s act of creation. “Co-creator” corresponds to the freedom of the human being to make decisions on his own, thereby participating in fulfilling God’s will. For Hefner, homo sapiens is “a proposal for the future evolution of the planet” [50] and the term “created co-creator” points to a special quality of human beings as imago dei.

Hefner’s thoughts on altruism and Christian love offer insights into the nature of human beings as imago dei. His main thesis is: “The concept of altruism as articulated by the evolutionary biocultural sciences and the love command in the Hebrew-Christian tradition focus upon the same phenomenon: beneficent human behaviour toward others, even those who are not genetic kin” [197]. Sociobiological research on altruism is an archeological expedition for the purpose of illumining what biological (including genetic) building blocks make up the infrastructure of this biocultural Homo sapiens. But this backward looking view is incomplete because the quintessential human stance is forward-looking: Agape is rooted in God, “that is, in the way things really are” [207], and love is part of humankind as imago dei. Jesus Christ is recognized as the “paradigm … of what it means to be humans in the image of God” [243].

In light of this paradigm, the will of God is the principle of universal love. Only in love can human beings make good use of freedom. Fulfilling the archeological perspective, this eschatological approach opens up the possibility to unrestricted love. Sociobiological theories on altruism are thus integrated within a greater frame of reference theologically.

Since natural sciences should not lead directly towards God, the difference between God and the world could be strengthened in Hefner’s approach where God is “the way things really are”  [207], and where the natural sciences are an effort “to determine how things really are” [101]. The world as it is (welt an sich) is not in the focus of the natural sciences, but the world as we see it through our senses or scientific instruments. Nevertheless, Hefner’s synthesis of modern thinking and theology opens up further inspiring dialogue on the interdisciplinary interpretation of reality.