EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the fifth story in a series of Baptist Press articles about an ongoing dialogue about evolution on the BioLogos website. To read BP's initial story, visit http://www.bpnews.net/bpnews.asp?id=37901 .
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP) -- Jesus' human life in Scripture indicates that the divine image is a special relationship rather than basic qualities that particularly mark humans as distinct from animals, a representative of The BioLogos Foundation said in an ongoing exchange with Southern Baptist professors.
"... Jesus's humanity is never depicted as exercising extraordinary powers of rationality, freedom, creativity, and so forth," Robert Bishop, professor of philosophy and history of science at Wheaton College, wrote for BioLogos in an online series at BioLogos.org titled "Southern Baptist Voices."
Bruce Little, senior professor of philosophy at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, opened the discussion with the concept of essentialism, which is the idea that for any particular entity, there are specific traits which entities of that kind must possess.
"It seems that essentialism (I use this term with Christian emphasis), if true, would seriously challenge any form of evolution where different species evolve through common descent," Little wrote. "... Generally speaking, essentialism teaches there is more to reality of the thing than what is presented to the senses, which is to say there is more to reality than the biological dimension (we might say DNA). It is the material that provides a means of expression of the essence."
The fact that a being is determined by its essence finds support in understanding who Jesus is, Little wrote. What made Jesus the God-Man, he said, was that He had both the essence of God and the essence of man. Genesis 1:20 notes that living creatures were created according to their own kind, which supports the idea of fixity of species, Little said.
Modern science, Little wrote, has "unjustifiably marginalized essentialism because it does not fit within a purely physical understanding of reality." Metaphysical naturalism, he said, "disallows anything beyond the physical as part of any explanation of reality."
"Science is good at understanding functional matters within creation but impotent to give answers of meaning," Little wrote.
When Christians study science, he said, a compartmentalizing of reality "effectively translates into the idea that science is the primary agent for interpreting the truth of creation even though the transcendent is affirmed."
"Practically speaking, this disallows for any serious connection between that which transcends experience and how one should understand the true nature of reality -- not just how it functions in our experience. This does not mean that the Bible is left out of any explanation, but only as an addendum made to fit what the tools of science have found. It is as if understanding of reality is shut up to the scientific method," Little wrote.
In response, Bishop said metaphysical naturalism is not necessary to the practice of science, and he said essentialism is only one of the historically Christian ways to think about being human. Important intellectual developments within theism led to essentialism's replacement, Bishop said.
The early church fathers believed the three persons of the Trinity were what they are and who they are "in virtue of their relationships with each other, not based on some intrinsic properties that ground their uniqueness as persons in the Godhead," Bishop wrote.
"By analogy of relationship, humans are what we distinctly are in our being and personality in virtue of our relationship to God, creation and each other," Bishop wrote. "Our involvements with others necessarily shape who we are as particular persons."
Bishop pointed to Jesus as an example of the image of God being based on a relationship, not on certain qualities. Continued...