Theological research reconsiders being human from evolutionary perspective

Posted on February 27, 2015

The reconceptualisation of theological concepts from an evolutionary perspective is currently tackled as departmental research project by die Department of Dogmatics and Christian Ethics in the Faculty of Theology, with numerous research associates and postgraduate students focusing on creating dialogue between theology and science.

According to Prof Danie Veldsman, head of the department, the most important impact of this research is to affront the biased Western overemphasis of cognition – especially  in natural sciences thought – in constituting being human.

“The reductionistic consequence of these thoughts reduces being human to a nearly mechanical and determined existence. One of the Dutch researchers describes this phenomenon of overemphasising cognition as a process of “brainification” – experts assuming that we are our brains and nothing more! No, we are much more, and this research focusing on the cognitive-affective dimension of being human on the one hand wants to object to this notion that we are only our brains, and on the other hand explore the exciting prospect of ‘being more than our brains’,” he explains.

In the theological context it is the special emphasis on caring and empathy that takes front stage and offers the argument that emotion is the embodiment of the logic of survival.

His own research of the past two years relates to this.

“I am specifically focusing on the cognitive-affective dimension of being human, in other words, the unity of emotional thoughts, the bond between our hearts and our minds. In this research I aim to constructively counter the misplaced accusations against emotions as merely irrational using evolutionary-biological  insights,” he says.

This research is done from the basic conviction of the Canadian philosopher Ronald De Sousa, who says: “No aspect of our mental life is more important to the quality and meaning of our existence than emotions. They are what make life worth living, or sometimes ending.

What continuously drives this research, is the deep underlying conviction that theological thoughts can only participate in discourse with integrity and credibility if it is constantly seeking to combine the best theological and scientific insights.

Prof Veldsman did research at the Princeton Theological Seminary in 2013 about religious experience from an evolutionary-theological perspective for a monograph with the preliminary title Met redes van die hart voor die (A)nder and in 2014 he delivered a paper on this subject at the European Society for the Study of Science and Religion’s congress in Italy. 

- Author Petronel Fourie

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