The Human Person: the imago Dei and biotechnology

The Human Person: the imago Dei and biotechnology December 15, 2018

This autumn, I took time to explore a view of persons from a psychological standpoint.  That research is based on a counseling paper from seminary.[1]  I can’t say that my views have reached their zenith, however I had the opportunity to return to the topic again in my second master’s.  So from these writings, I will draw some of the next few articles.[2]  This piece is a comparative look at a couple books on the human person, Body, Soul, and Human Life: The Nature of Humanity in the Bible and Biotechnology and the Human Good.


Joel B. Green comments on the dialogue between science and Theology.

Largely missing from the conversation are voices that take seriously what scientists are finding while at the same time bringing to bear on the discussion the perspectives and insights of biblical faith.[3]

This appears to be an open field, where Theology is absent.  The dearth of interdisciplinary research between Theology and science is an issue.  If not addressed, or left unresolved, the gap will widen between Theology and a science devoid of God.

i. First, Green addresses issues of the human soul

Green conducts a literature review, covering prominent Theologians, philosophers, scientists; and ancient philosophers, historians, and Theologians.  He holds a holistic or whole view of man, not a dichotomy or trichotomy.

Green narrows all views down to four

The four views are reductive materialism (a naturalist perspective that limits humanity to its biology), radical dualism (the soul is separate and the body just contains it – like the ancient heresy of Gnosticism), wholistic dualism (the soul is distinct but still unified with the whole), and monism (no separation of soul but not a naturalistic or scientific view).[4]

Likewise, C. Ben Mitchell et al. identifies three views of humans

The first group is the philosophical or scientific materialists (similar to Green’s reductive materialism), who reduce humanity to biology and an evolutionary process that will result in cyborgs.  Secondly, environmental biocentrism espouses the intrinsic value of all animals, plants, etc.  Man is no different. To dominate the environment is to disregard animal and plant rights.  Christian Theism counteracts both of these views.

Body and Soul

Green believes that body-soul dualism is rooted more in Western rationalism than in Hellenistic or Biblical perspective.  “We must face the reality that neither the Old nor the New Testament writers developed a specialized or technical, denotative vocabulary for theoretical discussion of the human person.”[5]

Mitchell asserts a different perspective: “The Bible is clear that human beings have souls, which animate the body and provide the capacities for a relationship with God.”[6]

JVI | The complexity of the Human Person | 12.02.18

imago Dei

Green explores imago Dei, the person in the image of God.  Man is like and unlike the animals.  Man is like and unlike God. We focus too much on the attributes of man that make us like God, when the whole of man is in the image of God.  Mitchell agrees, “Human beings have essential dignity by virtue of being made in God’s image.”[7]

Mitchell explores two views of the image of God.  One is that the image of God, or human dignity, is found in human characteristics (rationale, emotions, etc.).  This opens the door for utilitarianism, which disregards humans who no longer exhibit these human qualities.

The second view is that the image of God is found in being human.  The image of God is never lost as a status, even after the fall. The standard of how humans are to be in the image of God is lost.

Distinctions of the inner man

Green sees the inner man as a whole.[8]  In one case, he references the soul in Deuteronomy 6.5 to support the entirety of one’s being.  However, he ignores the words heart and might that occur in the same verse.

If there are no distinctions of the inner man, then why are some mentioned?  Jesus eventually quotes this verse and adds mind or understanding (Matthew 22.37; Mark 12.30, 33; Luke 10.27).

Man’s ability to relate

Another aspect of the image of God or Christ is man’s ability to relate.  Man is distinct from the animals because of relationship with God and others in community.  Relationship appears to be what Green qualifies as a soul. “The renewal of the human being in the divine image is profoundly personal, and embraces the human person in his or her totality.  This means that (trans)formation is fully embodied within a nest of relationships, a community.”[9]

Mitchell adds, “When people are renewed ‘in the image of their Creator,’ the result is described in terms of not only renewed individuals but also a renewed community.”[10]

ii. A second issue is an interdisciplinary approach

Green calls the interdisciplinary approach Biblical anthropology and Mitchell calls it Christian anthropology.  Green offers reasons why a proper understanding of humans is relevant to science. He purports:

If science and Christian belief stand at odds on the question of the existence of the soul, then Christian belief must trump science . . . But this way of thinking begs an important question – namely, whether science ought to be excluded as a source for Christian theology.[11]

Green simultaneously addresses two issues: the interchange between Theology and science, and the nature of the soul.  He utilizes Biblical exegesis as a foundation, yet invites science to the table as well. However, he claims we allow modern, scientific, Western methods of exegesis to color our view of Scripture.

iii. A third issue is humans in relations to other animals

First Green shares the similarities between human genes and those of other animals (i.e. apes), followed by states of consciousness that shared by other life forms.  He explains mind reading (similar to vicarious experience), stating that monkeys have a reaction when they hear another crack a peanut.[12]

I find this to be no different than classical conditioning, first studied by Ivan Pavlov in his experiments on dogs.  This is a relatively low level of behavioral functioning that I would not equate with mind reading. However, the similarities between man and animals are not enough to explain away imago Dei and man’s dominion, as both authors agree.

Mitchell raises a fourth issue, relating anthropology to biotechnology.  “Biotechnology is a set of technologies specifically aimed at manipulating living things, including human beings themselves, arguably for the common good.”[13]  He offers an oversight of biotechnology and the capabilities we have now and are developing.

Questions of ethics are raised. “Can we develop tools that have potential for healing but at the cost of destroying or demeaning other human beings in the process?”[14]  Biotechnology is viewed in light of human dignity.  Once Mitchell establishes an understanding of imago Dei, then ethical decisions follow.


notes:

[1] Jared V. Ingle, “Nine Biblical Factors of Personality, Abnormality, and Change in the Creation Account” (paper presented in Interpersonal Techniques in Helping Relationships, Assemblies of God Theological Seminary, Springfield, MO, December 9, 2003).

Toward a Biblical Concept of Personality

On Holism, Holiness, and Wholeness

The Image, the Body, and Renewal

On the Mystery of Spirit and Salvation

The Regeneration of the Soul

Motivation and the Will

External Factors of Personality

Developing a Biblical View of Persons

[2] Jared V. Ingle, “The Human Person: Exploring the Thought of Joel B. Green and C. Ben Mitchell et al.” (paper presented in, The Human Person: Multi-Disciplinary Perspectives, Asbury Theological Seminary, February 20, 2011).

[3] Joel B. Green, Body, Soul, and Human Life: The Nature of Humanity in the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2008), xvi.

Amazon: Body, Soul, and Human Life

[4] Ibid., 30-31.

[5] Ibid., 60.

[6] C. Ben Mitchell et al., Biotechnology and the Human Good (Washington D.C.: Georgetown University Press, 2007), 55.

Amazon: Biotechnology and the Human Good

[7] Ibid.

[8] Green, 64.

[9] Ibid., 69.

[10] Mitchell et al., 76.

[11] Green, 21.

[12] Ibid., 38-41.

[13] Mitchell et al., 1.

[14] Ibid., 13.


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