Since the beginning of human civilizations mankind has worked to understand, as best they could, the world around them. One of the most significant questions that taunt the minds of great thinkers, scholars and theologians alike, is what it “means” to be human and why and how humanity is here; not just as individuals but as a species. There are two very divergent opinions as to how to answer that question, one argues that human creation is a matter of divine ingenuity; a deity or deities made mankind, as we see in Christianity. The antithetical side to this debate are the hard core scientist and logic minded, who may or may not believe in a higher power, that have concluded over the decades that human beings are a part of the evolution of the planet just like every other living animals and plants. Evolution, a term most people are most familiar with, as being associated with Charles Darwin. His 19th century perspectives on how human beings, through a process of biological and physiological changes or mutations, allowed a species to thrive over other species that are less adaptive, were incredibly controversial and remain so today for many people all over the world (Mayr 1). The field of "Anthropology" was established as a science branch dedicated to understanding all facets of humanity, from the origins of languages, our evolutionary ancestors, the development of cultures, and, of course, the genetic and biological evolution that allows species to adapt to new, changing and varying environments (Givens 1).Between the growing and advancing scientific fields of anthropology are gaining more and more evidence each and every day that evolution is, in fact, the only way that humanity could have evolved and those who believe that only God creates life remain forever in perpetual conflict over the issue. That said the quest to define humanity and the need to understand the origins of mankind is a worthwhile one, but one that may never be entirely definable.
Darwin’s theories were incredibly controversial in his time and remains so, in the eyes of many still today. His work had a huge impact on the scientific realm and religious realm. He offered a perspective that, in many ways, would negate the principles established by Christianity and other religious ideologies. Darwin’s’ work influenced the generations that followed and established the foundational research that would, eventually, come to be known as early anthropology (Mayr 1). In fairness in should be note that Darwin’s theories on the how and motivation of evolution were not without flaws and some have been disproven by modern researchers. However, that does not negate his contribution to science; by bringing attention and debate to the possibility of evolution as an explanation of all of nature and the creatures that live on it, including human beings, he shifted the thinking of many. There have been many groundbreaking theories that are worth mentioning. There are many anthropological theories applied to the development of humanity as a species continues. There have been many studies conducted to determine if a singular location can be identified as the original epicenter where humanity evolved. One such theory, sometimes, referred to is the African Eve theory. This research determined that the bulk of human beings can be genetically traced back to a single bloodline in Africa tens of thousands of years ago (Tattersall 16018). Darwin’s theories were incredibly controversial in his time and remains so, in the eyes of many still today. Others feel that human beings are singular species but evolutionary goals and paths may differ between people in one locale and those in another, however, they will follow a similar course. There are many studies that work to verify that humanity is an offspring of science and nature and not divinity and magical locations. That said there are many people in the world who believe in a higher power and the afterlife that comes with it. They believe, for example, Christianity teaches that God made everything, and then made man, then woman, Adam and Eve (Genesis 1:27).These two individuals lived in a garden paradise until God asked them to populate the world with more people like them. That said Adam and Eve would have been incredibly busy. However, they sinned and did something they were prohibited from doing, “eating” the fruit of knowledge, which resulted in their expulsion from The Garden of Eden and why humanity has to struggle to survive as it has and does today (Powell 1).
So is one right and the other wrong? Can they both be right at the same time? Without that foundation it can be very difficult to define what it means to be human. Science would tell you that being human is defined by our upright walking and benefit of opposable thumbs. Some will argue that being human is identified by our intellectual capacities and the complexity of our brains that set us apart from other living things. There are those that will say that it is our humanity that makes us human, the ability to be empathetic, compassionate and ethical, even when there is no personal payoff for the action. This is rare in the animal communities (Mayr 1). Even science has a hard time pinpointing the answer. For those of a spiritual perspective, humanity is defined by humans being chosen and created by God, they were chosen to fulfill God’s will, this is what gives these individuals a purpose to their existence and a guide as to how to live (Powell 1). In a diverse world it would be horribly unethical to embrace only one and deny the other. That said this is why this topic of discussion is so heatedly and heavily debated.
However, there is a relatively new perspective that is gaining a great deal of support from a modern, scientifically and technologically advancing public, that attempts to address both perspectives and allow for both evolution and faith to coincide and both be “correct.” Evolutionary Creation is a theory that accepts and embraces that Father, Son and Holy Spirit are responsible for the making the universe and earth via an evolutionary process. It argues that evolution is part of God’s plan and that there is a point to it all. It offers an ideology that says that mankind did not simply appear through magic, but who were biologically created through evolutionary means to create God’s desired species (Lamoureux 1-2). This is an attempt for those of faith living in a diverse and scientifically inclined world creates a compromise that can allow both evolution and, at least, the Christian creation view to coincide and work in tandem. It shows a level willingness to compromise and adapt; this is an example of religious evolution, an ideology willing to rethink itself to reflect the needs of the modern world.
Human beings are a fascinating species with mental and social abilities that are less developed in other terrestrial species. For generations people were comfortable believing that they were special, chosen and ordained and that their origins were a matter of divine intervention. As science became more and more definitive and provable, their perceptions of humanity evolution and religious beliefs began to change. There are many people who cannot be convinced to respect or embrace at all those of the opposite side of the argument, but many people in the world today want to know the truth, one way or the other. Religion and spiritual faith can be a beautiful thing and bring people great comfort; it can also help to explain events that cannot otherwise be explained (Mayr 1). For example, people of the middle ages who saw a meteor shower, might think it was a sampling of God’s wrath. However, it should not be so immutable that it cannot grow and change with humanity as their ideas and cultures evolve.
In the end, science versus religion has been a debated topic in anthropological, biological, and philosophical realms for centuries and it may be for many more years to come. No one is asking anyone to abandon their faiths, just be open-minded enough to accept that maybe, people who lived in the earliest centuries of human civilizations may have had no other way to explain natural disasters or phenomena, like rainbows or floods; so they spiritualized it, God is happy or God is angry. That said could it also not be true that maybe there is more to the development of humanity that what religious texts alone can hope to explain. Perhaps there is no single definition of humanity, perhaps, it is a mixture of things or perhaps there are answers that we are yet to discover. Perhaps it is one part biological distinctions, mental and emotional attributes and even a spiritual element may all be part of a definition that humanity has yet to understand. However, it is “out of the box” and revolutionary thinking of men, like Charles Darwin, that brought anthropological study into the mainstream and led to valued scientific branch today. It will likely be necessary for the people to seek compromise, as is seen in the Evolutionary Creationists, which will allow both religious beliefs and scientific facts can both exist in the modern world.
Givens, David. “What is Anthropolgy?” Boston University. (2014): 1. Web. 16 July 2015.
Lamoureux, Denis, O. “Evolutionary Creation: A Christian Approach to Evolution.” The
Biologos Foundation. (2010): 1-11. print. 16 July 2015. <http://biologos.org/uploads/projects/lamoureux_scholarly_essay.pdf>.
Mayr, Ernst. “Darwin's Influence on Modern Thought.” Scientific American Magazine. (2009):
1. Web, 16 July 2015. < http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/darwins-influence-on-modern-thought/>.
Powell, Christina M.H. “Being Human: How Should We Define Life and Personhood?”
Enrichment Journal. (2015): 1. Web. 16 July 2015. <http://enrichmentjournal.ag.org/201002/201002_134_define_person.cfm>.
Tattersall, Ian. “Human origins: Out of Africa.” Proceedings of National Academy of Science.
106.38 (2009): 1. Print.