Paul J. GriffithsJanuary 22, 2007 - 2:53pm0 comments
Alone in the World?
Human Uniqueness in Science and Theology
J. Wentzel van Huyssteen
Eerdmans, $40, 347 pp.
This book, by the holder of a chair in theology and science at Princeton Theological Seminary, addresses exactly the question given in its title: What do theologians and scientists have to say about what makes us unique among creatures? And, does juxtaposing what they say help us understand and answer the question better?
It’s a question of interest to almost everyone. You, like me, are a member of the species Homo sapiens, which is to say the only one of the dozen or so hominid species with any living members. You, like me, do things to and with members of your species that you wouldn’t try with nonhumans-such as write love letters to them and tell lies to them. And you do things to and with nonhumans that would be certifiable if tried with humans-such as breed them for food and make pets of them. We all behave as if members of the species we belong to are importantly different from anything else accessible to our senses, and different not just in a practical way but also in a moral way.
But to say that we all think humans unique in some important ways is not to say that we take everything about ourselves to be unique (there are many other mammalian vertebrates with big brains), nor that we take everything unique about ourselves to be desirable or valuable (genocidal tendencies? television? pornography?). No, it’s to say that among the qualities that make us unique, there are some that we see as...