In season 7 of the Eudo podcast, Paul and Courtney get personal. They explore one of the deepest questions we could ask: What does it mean to be human? What kind of creatures are we? Why is it, as many philosophers, theologians, and writers have noted, that we are homo viators, pilgrims, creatures “on the way” toward fulfillment? What story best explains human origin, journey, and destiny? Are humans truly unique among all living creatures or just creatures with bigger brains? Are we majestic beings created in God’s image, as the religious story holds, or organized mud, as the nonreligious story tells us? Are we just dust in the wind or kings and queens of a world made by God?
Why did we select the topic of human persons for this season’s podcast?
- This podcast is about human flourishing in a disenchanted world and we can’t properly flourish unless we understand what kind of creatures we are and for what purpose we were made.
- Many in culture are deeply confused about the nature of human persons, and there is an assault on traditional views of the human person.
- In the church, we have a weak theology of human persons.
- We have this deep intuition that there is something special or unique about humans.
The Uniqueness of Human Persons
Ever since Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species, evolutionary theory has powerfully shaped our understanding of human significance. On the traditional view of nature and the natural, Man is the pinnacle of God’s creation, a being endowed with great dignity and value. Man is like God, created in the divine image. Humans are unique kinds of beings. The aim and goal of God’s good creation was beings like us endowed with an intellect and a will.
However, Darwinism called into question man’s uniqueness and significance. Are we unique in the story of life on Earth or are we just creatures with bigger brains than apes? This question is fundamental, and our intuitions, as much as the science and philosophy, can guide us here.
Two Cultural Stories
In broad strokes, we have the Non-Religious and the Religious story. The non-religious story can be summarized in terms of this three act play:
Matter – Vulnerable Selves – Buffered Selves
On this view, man is just “the co-location of atoms” as the atheist philosopher Bertrand Russell puts it. Or, more recently, humans are “star-dust brought to life.” Man is “blobs of organized mud.” We are the happy accident of evolution. Man is a cosmic orphan on a vast sea of nothingness. That is, on this story, who you are.
The Religious story goes like this:
God – Alienation – Union
On a traditional Christian account of this story, we can understand reality in terms of a familiar pattern. The idea is that we begin with God, and all things proceed from God and one day all things will return to God. This is the familiar exitus – reditus pattern of reality, a traditional Christian way of understanding the divine drama.
We have two basic stories – the non-religious and the religious – and two basic pictures of humans on each story. On the non-religious story, humans are nothing but organized mud. On the Christian version of the religious story, humans are majestic beings created in the image of God.
Why is this topic, the question of Human Persons, so important?
- Human persons are creatures with great intrinsic value.
- Human persons are creatures with great desires. Not only do humans matter most, but we want to matter. We are creatures who long to live a life that matters, a life of deep meaning and purpose, and this longing propels us on a quest of discovery.
- The battle over human nature is part of a larger battle brewing over the nature of reality, including ultimate reality.
- Louise May Alcott, Little Women
- Sean Carroll, The Big Picture
- K. Chesterton, The Everlasting Man
- Charles Darwin, The Descent of Man
- Charles Darwin, The Origin of Species
- Gregory E. Ganssle, Our Deepest Desires
- Josef Pieper, Faith, Hope, Love
- George Gaylord Simpson, The Meaning of Evolution
- Neil deGrasse Tyson, Astrophysics for People in a Hurry