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A Theological Challenge: Coordinating Biological, Social, and Religious Visions of Humanity

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This paper attempts two tasks. First, it sketches how the natural sciences (including especially the biological sciences), the social sciences, and the scientific study of religion can be understood to furnish complementary, consonant perspectives on human beings and human groups. This suggests that it is possible to speak of a modern secular interpretation of humanity (MSIH) to which these perspectives contribute (though not without tensions). MSIH is not a comprehensive interpretation of human beings, if only because it adopts a posture of neutrality with regard to the reality of religious objects and the truth of theological claims about them. MSIH is certainly an impressively forceful interpretation, however, and it needs to be reckoned with by any perspective on human life that seeks to insert its truth claims into the arena of public debate. Second, the paper considers two challenges that MSIH poses to specifically theological interpretations of human beings. On the one hand, in spite of its posture of religious neutrality, MSIH is a key element in a class of wider, seemingly antireligious interpretations of humanity, including especially projectionist and illusionist critiques of religion. It is consonance with MSIH that makes these critiques such formidable competitors for traditional theological interpretations of human beings. On the other hand, and taking the religiously neutral posture of MSIH at face value, theological accounts of humanity that seek to coordinate the insights of MSIH with positive religious visions of human life must find ways to overcome or manage such dissonance as arises. The goal of synthesis is defended as important, and strategies for managing these challenges, especially in light of the pluralism of extant philosophical and theological interpretations of human beings, are advocated.

Keywords: atheism; biological sciences; critiques of religion; evolutionary biology; evolutionary psychology; metaphysical ambiguity; metaphysics; neurosciences; pluralism; religious anthropology; religious studies; social sciences; sociobiology; theological anthropology; theology

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Boston University, School of Theology, Boston, MA

Publication date: 1998-12-01

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