In 1906, American humorist Mark Twain published a sixty-page essay entitled “What is man?” Consisting of an interminable dialogue between a senior citizen (who believes that man is just a machine) and a young man (who believes nothing in particular but is open to persuasion), it wasn’t one of his finest books. But at least he tried. Authors since then seem to have avoided the subject like the plague, often tackling the respective roles of men and women in society but seldom asking deeper questions about what it means to be human. When the psalmist asked, “What is man?” (Psalm 8 v.4) he was, I think, seeking an altogether more profound answer.
Avoidance of the subject is all the more strange because there has never been a time like our own when curiosity about human origins and destiny has been greater, or the answers on offer more hotly disputed. It’s a safe bet that any attempt to give the “big picture” on the origin, nature and specialness of mankind will be contentious —which might explain why writers have generally fought shy of it. Yet at heart it is the question most of us really do want answered, because the answer defines that precious thing we call our identity, both personally and as a race.
The Psalmist did, of course, offer his own answer three millennia ago. Man, he claimed, was created by God for a clearly defined purpose — to exercise dominion over planet earth and (by implication) to ultimately share something of the glory of the divine nature. The rest, as they say, is history, but it’s not a happy tale. As Mark Twain says in another essay; “I can’t help being disappointed with Adam and Eve”. Not surprisingly, then, a large proportion of humanity today are looking for alternative solutions, accepting the challenge of the Psalmist’s question without embracing the optimism of his answer.
In this book we are going to consider the alternative solutions on offer by considering what it means to be human against the backgrounds of cosmology (man’s place in the universe), biology (man’s place in the animal kingdom), and psychology (man’s consciousness and mind). Finally, we return to the biblical context, arguing that the Psalmist got it right after all.
- Don’t let the science-sounding stuff put you off. Like its popular prequel, “Who made God? Searching for a theory of everything”, this book is written with a light touch in a reader-friendly and often humorous style. It is intended specifically for the non-expert, with homely verbal illustrations designed to explain and unpack the technicalities for the lay-person. As Dr. Paul Copan (Pledger Family Chair of Philosophy and Ethics, Palm Beach Atlantic University) says, "Edgar Andrews has a way of making the profound accessible. His scholarship informs the reader about key questions of our time, offering wise guidance and illumination."
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About the Author
Edgar Andrews is Emeritus Professor of Materials Science in the University of London, England, and a former Head of Department and Dean of Engineering. He holds a BSc in theoretical physics and a PhD and DSc (higher doctorate) in Solid State Physics. He is a Fellow of the British Institute of Physics and a Chartered Physicist and Chartered Engineer. He has published over 100 scientific research papers in leading peer-reviewed Physics and General Science Journals.
As a distinguished expert in polymer science, he served as an International Consultant for the Dow Chemical Company (USA) for over 30 years and for the 3M Company USA) for some 20 years. He also served on the Scientific Advisory Council of the National Oil Company of Finland for five years and was an Expert Witness in a variety of long-running trials in the British High Court for over 20 years.
He became a Christian during his student days and has been active in a several Christian churches and ministries for over 60 years. He was Chairman of Evangelical Press, UK, for 20 years and Editor of the monthly newspaper Evangelical Times for ten years. He is currently co-pastor of the Campus Church in Welwyn Garden City, England. His published books include four works on science and faith, two Bible Commentaries and a book on the theology of the Holy Spirit. He debated Richard Dawkins at the 1986 Huxley Memorial Debate at the Oxford Union, UK.
Read an Excerpt
WHO DO YOU THINK YOU ARE?
What is Man? A summary
What is Man that you are mindful of him, and the son of Man that you visit him?
What is Man? The subtitle of this book offers three options: Adam, alien, or ape. By "Adam" I mean the biblical view that human beings are made in the image of God. I use "alien" to reflect the popular idea that humanity is not the only intelligent life form in the cosmos and may even have arrived on Earth from somewhere else. By "ape" I mean the common belief that you and I are simply superior simians.
Let's start by making clear what we mean by "man." The word is used in three ways. It can mean a male member of the human race (man = male). It can mean the human race itself (man = humanity). And it can mean a member of the human race regardless of gender (man = person). A manhole can be used by women as well as men, and a man-eating tiger isn't bothered about the sex of its victim.
This third use of "man" is today often considered politically incorrect, and I apologize in advance to anyone who is offended by it. But in writing this book, I found it unavoidable for two reasons. Firstly, there is no alternative when discussing the essence of the human condition. To give just one example, the phrase "the spirit of man" cannot be replaced by "the spirit of humanity" because "humanity" is a collective noun and its use would change the meaning. Secondly, this third use of "man" is common historically, and without it I could neither quote the Bible accurately nor offer you the wisdom of Alexander Pope's poem, "The proper study of mankind is man" cited below. In this book, therefore, I shall make use of all three meanings of the word "man" but I trust that the context will always make it clear which is intended. For clarity I will capitalize the first letter to read "Man" whenever the reference is to humanity as a whole.
The riddle of the world
Writing in 1734, the poet Alexander Pope described the contradictions of human nature with eloquent clarity. Man is, he writes:
"In doubt to deem himself a god or beast;
The depressing fact is that everything Alexander Pope said nearly 300 years ago is still true! As a race we continue to notch up amazing achievements in the arts, science and technology, counterbalanced by uncertainty about what it means to be human and apprehension about where mankind is heading. To an impassioned observer we are indeed "the glory, jest and riddle of the world."
Whether we accept it or not, the Bible has a clear explanation for this state of affairs, this confusion and inconsistency. Made in the image of God, Man retains a nobility of nature and purpose that leads to great achievements. But as a race in rebellion against its Creator, we can and frequently do plumb the depths of wickedness and depravity. This book contends that we can never really understand ourselves — our triumphs and our failures — without this biblical perspective on human sin and our need of redemption.
Digging up roots
British TV presenter Natasha Kaplinsky went to Cape Town, celebrity chef Rick Stein to China, and actress Zoe Wanamaker to Ukraine. What were they looking for? The answer is their "roots." The long-running British TV series Who do you think you are? helps various celebrities construct their family trees, discovering secrets and surprises from the past — along with the skeletons lurking in their ancestral cupboards.
Most people are intrigued by their own ancestry. When Alex Haley's book Roots was published in USA in 1976, it became a sensational best seller. More than a mere book, it tapped deeply into the hunger of black Americans to know more about their African ancestral home. According to commentators, Haley's quest for his roots changed the way black people thought about themselves and how white America viewed them. Why? Because our origins ultimately determine who and what we are.
But no amount of world travel or searching dusty archives will reveal what really ought to excite our curiosity — the origin of humanity itself. The question "Who am I?" can only be truly answered when we know the solution to the larger riddle: "What is Man?" When a young child asks, "Where did I come from?" the child isn't asking for a lesson in reproductive biology. Rather, the question relates to self-consciousness — the child's awareness of his or her own individual "selfhood." Neither chickens nor chimpanzees, I suspect, worry about such things. These concerns are unique to Man and that is nothing new. Addressing the biblical God some 3000 years ago, King David put it thus:
"When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers,
David or Darwin?
There are, of course, some zany answers to the question, "What is Man?" The famous physicist Enrico Fermi seriously discussed the idea that we might be an alien race that colonized the Earth from space. A more philosophical but equally strange idea is that we are computer-generated simulations — the products of a "matrix" set up by powers beyond out comprehension for their own entertainment. I'll let James Berardinelli tell the story.
"Thomas Anderson is leading a double life. To most people, he's a hardworking computer programmer who holds down a nine-to-five job for a major software corporation. But, in the privacy of his home, he's a hacker named Neo. ... Neo is dissatisfied with his existence, and while he's groping for a meaning to it, he is contacted by a mysterious computer presence known as Morpheus ... [who explains that] the reality he is used to is a fabrication, the product of a sinister race of intelligent machines that use human beings as power supplies, to be discarded at will."
Bizarre though they may be, such speculations are not easy to refute, but I will pass them by and move on to what most people would consider more solid ground.
Today we are presented with several plausible answers to the question, "What is Man?," answers typified by two extremes — by David in his psalm and Charles Darwin in his theory of "evolution" or "common descent" (in so far as it seeks to explain the origin of Man without reference to God). However, there are other alternatives that lie between these extremes, so in this chapter we shall briefly introduce not two but four "models of Man." Using "image" terminology throughout for the sake of consistency, these four views see mankind as being made, respectively, in (1) the image of the apes, (2) the image of an emergent spirit, (3) the image of an implanted spirit, or (4) the image of God. I use the word "spirit" here simply as a shorthand to describe the qualities of mind and self-awareness that separate Man so completely from even the most intelligent animals.
Image of the apes
Under this heading we need to consider two distinct themes that underlie what Raymond Tallis calls "aping mankind" (of which more later). There is, of course, the familiar biological narrative of neo-Darwinian evolution, but this is only one side of the coin. The other side — less obvious but probably more powerful — is a philosophical narrative called "positivism" which claims that "all knowledge is ultimately based on sense experience." Why does this matter? Because the biological story, nourished by this hidden philosophical stream, proudly proclaims itself to be the only show in town. It isn't, of course, as this book seeks to demonstrate. But positivism's total denial of God, metaphysics, spirituality and the soul, dominates twenty-first-century Western thought to an amazing degree. Even if your eyes glaze over at the very mention of the word "philosophy," be warned — your understanding of both yourself and the world around you is almost certainly affected by positivistic thinking.
Here we'll do little more than identify this hidden stream because it will become a major topic later in the book when we consider the mind and consciousness of Man, but let me give one or two recent examples to whet (or spoil?) your appetite.
In their 2010 book The Grand Design, famous cosmologist Stephen Hawking and his coauthor rename this philosophy "scientific determinism" and explain: "This book is rooted in the concept of scientific determinism which implies ... that there are no miracles or exceptions to the laws of nature." The laws of nature are, of course, derived exclusively from our physical observations of the natural world around us, observations that are ultimately recorded by our physical senses (aided where necessary by instruments like microscopes, telescopes, and so on). A second example is the search for extraterrestrial life that often hits the headlines in the popular press. We shall examine this in depth in Chapter 3, and see that the whole hugely expensive enterprise is based on the idea that life and intelligence have arisen on Earth by natural processes and must therefore exist (or have existed) on a multitude of Earthlike planets throughout the universe. Any suggestion of creation by God is rigorously excluded, not by the science involved but by the underlying positivist philosophy. So more of that later; let us now consider the biological narrative.
Biology after Darwin
In The Descent of Man Charles Darwin traced Man's origin back to apelike ancestors and beyond, believing that all living things (the whole "biosphere") originated from a single primal organism — an idea called "common descent." His original theory published in his famous book On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favored Races in the Struggle for Life, has, of course, been significantly elaborated over the years into neo-Darwinism, the so-called "modern synthesis" which incorporates genetic evolution. Briefly stated, the theory claims that organisms evolve by a dual process consisting of (1) random genetic mutations (changes in the organism's DNA produced by a variety of causes) followed by (2) "natural selection" of those members of a population to which mutations have imparted superior reproductive capacity. Although it is admitted that genetic mutations are overwhelmingly damaging or neutral in their effect, it is held that favorable mutations (that is, those that improve reproductive success) do occasionally take place. These beneficial mutations then spread through the population because their owners reproduce more successfully than others.
One seldom mentioned problem with this scenario, as it is applied to mankind, is that if it is true, humans are seriously overevolved. That is, we have acquired characteristics that far exceed any conceivable value in increasing our reproductive capacity. According to the neoDarwinian narrative, no capacity should arise in an organism that does not improve its ability to reproduce, but humans possess powers that flatly contradict this. An interesting example was reported in the London Times newspaper ("Think big — your brain can store 4.7 billion books"). Terry Sejnowski, professor of computational neurobiology at the Salk Institute in California, has found that the part of the brain that deals with memory has a capacity ten times bigger than previously thought and could store data roughly equivalent to the entire contents of the worldwide web. He states,
"Our new measurements of the brain's memory capacity increase conservative estimates by a factor of 10 to at least a petabyte, in the same ballpark as the World Wide Web. ... We discovered the key to unlocking the design principle for how hippocampal neurons function with low energy but high computational power."
If we could use this enormous memory storage capacity, of course, it could be interpreted as the outcome of "survival-value" Darwinism, but we can't. We regularly forget the names of acquaintances and where we put the car keys — and I doubt whether many of us could memorize even one book, let alone 4.7 billion. In other words, we have failed to evolve any means of accessing this huge potential memory capacity, which therefore can do nothing to help us reproduce. So why do we possess these potential powers of memory? Why have they (allegedly) evolved? No naturalistic theory of evolution can answer this question. I might add that there are many other human characteristics that have no plausible reproductive value such as the ability to handle and enjoy musical, aesthetic, philosophical and mathematical concepts. Humble bacteria reproduce far more efficiently than human beings.
I devoted several chapters in my book Who Made God? to a step-by-step critique of evolutionary mechanisms and will not repeat it here. However, the conclusion was that although Darwinian processes can and do produce minor changes in the characteristics of populations ("microevolution"), it is incapable of creating the major changes required to transform one kind of creature into another ("macro-evolution"). Evidence from centuries of artificial selection by human intervention, as practiced by plant and animal breeders, supports this conclusion. While many new varieties and breeds (of, say, cats or dogs) have been generated, artificial selection never produces new kinds of organism (like breeding bears from cats or goats from dogs). There are natural barriers to macroevolution that no amount of human ingenuity can overcome. Some of these barriers may well be surmounted using "genetic engineering" in which scientists deliberately "edit" the DNA of an organism to produce, for example, disease-resistant crops or bacteria that manufacture medically useful compounds. But genetic engineering requires the skilled and purposeful manipulation of organisms by intelligent human agents; it doesn't happen by chance or accident.
Furthermore, the emergence of the hypothetical first living organism from nonliving starting materials (a process often called "chemical evolution") is today commonly attributed to fortuitous but entirely undirected physical and chemical processes which are as yet unknown. Such undirected processes have never been observed in the laboratory and are never likely to be observed, in spite of decades of effort by origin-of-life researchers. It is true that artificial life of a kind has been created by chemists such as Craig Venter using sophisticated techniques to imitate the DNA found in nature. But this has only been achieved under the most precise control and direction of skilled scientists. The creation of artificial life forms, if achieved, will not occur without the careful direction of highly intelligent people — never by undirected natural processes.
Though technically not part of neo-Darwinism, the theory of chemical evolution completes the picture for the evolutionist by reducing the origin and development of life, and thus of Man, to purely natural processes accessible to scientific study. Most people today assume that Darwin's "scientific" account of human origins must be right and the Bible's "religious" teaching must be wrong or at best mythological. Man is not God's creation, we are told, but simply an animal that happens to have climbed further up the tree of evolution. Like every other form of life, he is an accident of evolution. But the urgent and ongoing search for "missing links" between apes and Man (considered later) bears witness to the huge biological, intellectual, and existential gap that separates humans from our closest supposed relatives such as chimpanzees.
Criticism of common descent is not tolerated in educational establishments, in spite of its gaping scientific inadequacies and the fact that many well-qualified scientists reject it. Alternatives to Darwinism are vigorously suppressed, not least in Western nations like the UK, where the teaching of evolutionary theory is mandated in schools and "creationism" is effectively banned and ridiculed, both by the establishment and the mass media. This unwillingness to allow an open public debate of evolutionary theory is rather curious, given that its proponents claim to have overwhelming scientific evidence in their favor. We shall develop this debate later but here's a final thought: in spite of the adulation heaped upon it, Darwinism makes virtually no contribution to modern biological research! Philip S. Skell, Emeritus Evan Pugh Professor at Pennsylvania State University, and a member of the USA's National Academy of Sciences, writes;
"The modern form of Darwin's theory has been raised to its present high status because it's said to be the cornerstone of modern experimental biology. But is that correct? While the great majority of biologists would probably agree with Theodosius Dobzhansky's dictum that "nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution," most can conduct their work quite happily without particular reference to evolutionary ideas."
Excerpted from "What Is Man?"
Copyright © 2018 Edgar Andrews.
Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Author's Preface, Acknowledgements and References, viii,
PART 1. MAN AND THE COSMOS,
Ch.1. Who Do You Think You Are? (What is Man? A summary), 1,
Ch.2. The Cheshire Cat Cosmos (Can a universe create itself from nothing?), 21,
Ch.3. Small Flat Bugs (Where is Man?), 39,
Ch.4. The Cosmic Cookbook (A fine-tuned universe), 63,
Ch.5. Deutsch's Dauntless Dinosaurs (Exploring the mega-multiverse), 91,
PART 2. MAN AND THE BIOSPHERE,
Ch.6. Death And Taxes (Human uniqueness), 113,
Ch.7. The Devil In The Details (Digging deeper into genes and genomes), 133,
Ch.8. Dem Dry Bones (What fossils really tell us about the rise of Man), 157,
Ch. 9. Aristotle And The Snowball (On human consciousness), 181,
PART 3. MAN AND THE BIBLE,
Ch.10. Worldviews At War (On the nature of reality), 205,
Ch.11. Adam And The Apple (The historicity and fall of Adam and Eve), 227,
Ch.12. The Image Of God (Why Man is unique), 251,
Ch.13. The Second Adam (Jesus Christ, the perfect man), 275,
Ch.14. The Resurrection: Fact Or Fiction? (The claim, the evidence, and the implications), 295,