Searching for Truth in “The Truth Project” — Lesson 3: Anthropology — Who Is Man?

 
Philosophizing Monkey (1893) by Hugo Reinhold
The Truth Project’s third lesson is a mixed bag, full of both good and bad theology, cutting philosophical insight, and a plethora of false dichotomies.  It had me both cheering from the couch and throwing mental tomatoes at the screen.  Sometimes even within the same talking point.

Tackett begins this particular session by announcing, “The answer to the question ‘What is man?’ is not simple.”  Man has existed, Tackett explains, in a number of modes, all of which can be readily drawn out of Scripture and thus constitute the “good theology” that I mentioned previously.  Mode #1 is a state of innocence (although I’m not sure how Tackett exegeted man’s state of innocence from Gen 1:27) and mode #2 is our post-Edenic, fallen state (Rom 5:12).  In this state, humanity becomes an odd mixture of “imago dei” (Latin for “image of God”) and a sinful nature (Gal 5:16-17).  Tackett divides mode #2 further into mode #2a, the state of being unsaved and destined for hell (Rev 20:15).  Lastly, there is mode #3, the state of being saved and redeemed, destined to eternal life and eventually glorified, which is mode #3a (Rev 5:9).

Honestly, I have no problem speaking in those terms.  As a Christian, I find that they are biblical terms and the theology couched in those terms is good and true.  However, I admit to finding myself thinking beyond those terms to the soteriological reality conveyed by the anthropologically incorrect proto-history that is Genesis 2-3.  Over the course of the last year, I have come to recognize that the story of Adam and Eve is not an historical account of humanity’s transition from innocence to a fallen state.  Rather, the story was written with an etiological purpose in mind.  Using the genre of myth, which has profound explanatory power, the writer(s) provided the Hebrew people with an apologetic for why man’s nature is sinful.  The sinful state of man is recognized, the question “Why are we the way we are?” is asked, and the cause behind our condition is explained in terms that had meaning for them—terms and meanings that are typically lost on 21st-century Americans by virtue of the cultural chasm that exists between civilizations separated by thousands of years and miles.  Although not historical, I believe the story of Adam and Eve still wields considerable theological power and, in a sense, speaks to each of us individually.  We all are born in a state of relative innocence and, at the same time, have within ourselves the “curse” of our evolutionary ancestors.  Our selfish inclinations and our instinct for self-preservation served us well in the battle for survival in millennia past, yet they continue to rear their ugly heads throughout the course of our lives.  There is, to be sure, a point in each of our lives at which we become cognizant of our actions and their moral implications, and we find ourselves faced with a choice:  to do right or to do wrong.  Unfortunately, 100% of the time, we pick the fruit off the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.  In the eyes of God, we become sinners in need of redemption.

The story of Adam and Eve can also be viewed as the story of humanity itself.  Our personal experiences transitioning from a state of innocence to a state of rebellion can be extrapolated to the history of the human species.  As mankind evolved, our primitive ancestors lived in a state of relative innocence, unaware of their actions’ moral implications.  In the course of time, however, our capacity as a species to distinguish between good and evil arose and, as a result of our gradual transformation into a moral creature, the laws of God were written on the hearts of men (Rom 2:14-15).  Since then, humanity has been in constant rebellion against its Creator, and we forever will be this side of the grave. 

In Tackett’s paradigm, however, to accept such propositions would be to admit that we are “goo-men.”  We are no better than the worms that I cut in half as a child, and no less worthy of a similar fate.  But man is different.  Tackett claims that man possesses unique qualities such as self-awareness, creativity, and moral consciousness.  I think this greatly exaggerates (and quite possibly oversimplifies) the uniqueness of humanity in relation to the rest of the animal kingdom.  Although I have not researched this particular aspect of man’s alleged uniqueness, I suspect that socio-biological literature is replete with examples of self-awareness, creativity, and moral consciousness in relatively advanced life forms other than human beings.  At the very least, I believe it is safe to say that we human beings possess the aforementioned characteristics to a much greater degree.  From a faith perspective, it could be argued that these characteristics evolved in our ancestors to such a degree that God saw fit to reveal Himself and fellowship with them and, by extension, us. 

Tackett also brings up another aspect of humanity with which I am currently struggling to reconcile: the dualism of man.  Most Christians believe that man is either a tripartite being (body, soul, and spirit) or bipartite (body and soul/spirit, with the differentiation between the soul and spirit being nonexistent).  After coming to terms with the common descent of man from less complex life forms and accepting that the Bible reflects, in many areas, ancient scientific worldviews that are recognized today as inaccurate, I have begun to question the scientific accuracy of those portions of Scripture which teach the existence of man’s immortal soul, distinct from the flesh inherited from his or her parents, and given to each of us by God at the moment of our conception.  Lately, I have been leaning toward monism, a anthropological term that describes man’s nature as holistic.  (On my reading list is Joel B. Green’s book Body, Soul, and Human Life: The Nature of Humanity in the Bible.  If anyone has any other suggestions, feel free to comment.)  In this view, man does not possess separate, supernatural facets of his being that are distinct from his physical body.  I think there is much to commend the view that man does not actually possess a distinct spirit, yet can be granted eternal life by God on a conditional basis.  When our bio-physical “coil” dies, our “identity,” or kernel (1 Cor 15:37), is granted a bio-spiritual body prepared for life in the presence of God, a life that “flesh and blood” cannot inherit (1 Cor 15:50). 

Once again, however, Tackett views the rejection of man’s tripartite or bipartite nature as a highway to hell.  To believe that man does not possess a supernatural and immortal soul is to fall for a “pernicious lie.”  Such a lie, he claims, is a “result of [accepting the findings of] science,” and trusting in science leads to things such as radical environmentalism, a greater suicide rate, and the acceptance of a philosophy that man is no more important than an insect.  What a gross over-generalization.  Tackett seems to having nothing better to do than to highlight the “worst of the worst”—a “minority majority” of sorts—to bolster his claims, and proceeds to lump all scientists and humanists into the same refuse pile.  Surely, there are many individuals who, when rejecting certain presuppositions, fall into the aforementioned philosophies and fates; but I can just as easily blame King James Only-style fundamentalism (a la Peter Ruckman) on one’s adoption of the doctrine of biblical inerrancy.  Falling victim to such philosophies is not a logical result of adopting monism.  Tackett also falsely claims that part and parcel of monism is the concept that humanity is basically good and that it promotes a philosophy of “self-actualization.”  What?!?!  Ever take any theology or philosophy courses in your doctoral studies, Mr. Tackett? 

I believe that monism is what you bring to it.  If you bring to monism the belief that there is no possibility of an afterlife, then there is no afterlife in your monist worldview.  On the other hand, if you bring to monism the belief that God can grant that “kernel,” that part that makes you uniquely you, the gift of eternal life, then where is the danger in holding such a view?  The end result, whether it be Tackett’s tri-/bipartitism or Christian monism, is the same for the Christian believer. 

Tackett then presents another false dichotomy for which his audience falls, to wit, that if man does not have a supernatural and immortal soul, then “man has no purpose, no meaning in life, no free will.”  This is patently untrue.  Those who are Christian monists do not seem to have any problems finding purpose and meaning in life, or freely choosing their course.  Tackett claims that our view of God and man is fundamental to how we live our lives.  I wholeheartedly agree.  Regardless of the reality underlying the debate, our personal worldview affects the outworking of our faith (or lack thereof).  But while Christian monists reject the existence of man’s immortal soul this side of the grave, they still live for Christ.  So is there truly danger in holding to Christian monism?  Even without belief in God, one can find purpose and meaning in life.  Purpose and meaning are generated by self-aware, moral creatures; they are not generated by the mere existence of a soul.  You sell yourself and the rest of humanity short, Mr. Tackett.  Consider this:  If there truly is no God, what are we to make of your sense of purpose, Mr. Tackett?  Is your sense of purpose in life merely illusory?  Of course not. 

These discussions beg the question: Why do our differing theologies come to the exact same conclusions regarding man’s sinful nature and his need for redemption, and the existence of life after death in the presence of God?  Because they both recognize the current state of reality and the future promised state, even though the means differ by which we became sinners and by which we will become glorified.  Unfortunately, Tackett would never accept the possibility that a genuine Christian could accept (much less hold) such views.  I suspect that recognizing the true literary nature of Genesis 2-3 would implode Tackett’s worldview and drive him into severe depression and a false sense of purposelessness.  It is as simple as that. 

I would ask Mr. Tackett this:  Why do you refuse to hold up dedicated Christians like myself as counter-examples, or “third ways,” to your false dichotomies?  Wait, don’t answer that.  I will answer it for you:  Because you can’t hold us up as alternatives for fear that recognizing our existence would destroy all for which you have worked in promoting your particular biblical worldview.

Now that I have trashed Tackett’s logic on several points, I will give him props on one particular point.  One of the questions that Tackett asks is “Why is there evil”?  Although he does not really address the origin of evil, he does catch secular humanists using flawed logic.  When atheistic materialists attempt to argue against the existence of God by appealing to the existence of evil, Tackett presses the question back on them.  Not only can they not answer their own question, the very question rings hollow, for their use of ethical language is not valid given that a godless cosmos is amoral.

Lastly, there are several conversational crumbs I wish to highlight:

  1. In an interview clip featuring R. C. Sproul, Sproul claims that “atheism is in our nature.”  Really, R. C.?  I guess that explains why the vast majority of the world’s population worships God or some other deity/deities. 
  2. Tackett holds up Ernst Haeckel’s allegedly fraudulent embryo illustrations (first published in 1874, not 1876, as TTP states) as evidence against evolution by using the “why-fake-an-illustration-if-evolution-is-true” argument.  He also claims that if one falls for the “ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny” concept, then one cannot help but reduce humanity to the level of an amoeba, voiding mankind of any importance or special quality.  Firstly, Haeckel—genuineness of the illustrations notwithstanding—was not off the mark one bit.  Check out these resources.  Secondly, does the use of fraudulent evidence in certain circles of Christian apologetics invalidate Christianity by virtue of their use?  Of course not.  Don’t be so obtuse, Mr. Tackett.  It doesn’t become you. 
  3. Tackett came up with another anti-evolution epithet: “imago goo.”  I just about peed my pants when he said that.  “Imago Goo” would make a great title for a blog.

18 Comments

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18 Responses to Searching for Truth in “The Truth Project” — Lesson 3: Anthropology — Who Is Man?

  1. imagio goo … that is so gooooooooooooooooooood. No peeing of pants here, but certainly hearty laughter.

    re: recommendations on reading up on monism, I recommend Nancey Murphy's Bodies and Souls or Spirited Bodies>. Some of Murphy's stuff can be very difficult to read, but this one was particularly lucid.

  2. I think it's imago dei, not deo. Sorry, the Latin nerd in me refuses to not comment.

    It's pretty baffling when anti-evolutionists describe our connection to the earth in such disparaging terms as goo. Do they really think that the image of God in us has anything to do with our physical appearance or make-up? And as you wrote earlier, Genesis 2 says basically the same thing: we are made from dirt. DIRT! Not that much different than goo. It certainly indicates a connection we have with the earth and other animals, since we are made of the same stuff.

  3. Thomas,

    Thanks for the correction. So shall it be written! So shall it be done! 😉

  4. RBH

    Mike, you were doing so well until you wrote approvingly of Tackett's argument that

    When atheistic materialists attempt to argue against the existence of God by appealing to the existence of evil, Tackett presses the question back on them. Not only can they not answer their own question, the very question rings hollow, for their use of ethical language is not valid given that a godless cosmos is amoral.

    That last phrase, "for their use of ethical language is not valid given that a godless cosmos is amoral," is a breathtaking non sequitur. The cosmos has nothing whatsoever to do with human ethics. Are you claiming that an atheist cannot speak of ethics, cannot use ethical language meaningfully? Do you (and/or Tackett) deny the existence of secular systems of ethics? C'mon. You're better than that.

  5. Richard,

    The cosmos has nothing whatsoever to do with human ethics. Are you claiming that an atheist cannot speak of ethics, cannot use ethical language meaningfully? Do you (and/or Tackett) deny the existence of secular systems of ethics?

    I KNEW I was gonna screw that one up.

    I think we may be comparing apples or oranges.

    I don't deny a secular system of human ethics. (Tackett might, but I won't speak for him.) Just as an atheist can find purpose and meaning in life without reference to a Creator, so can he develop a system of ethics for himself and between others.

    What I was referring to is quite larger in scope. A cosmic scope, actually. I've heard some atheists declare that the mere existence of "evil" in the cosmos (which I presume them to mean death, suffering, and the like) is an argument against the existence of God. But doesn't the admission of the existence of evil, on a cosmic scale, well outside the more "closed system" of human interpersonal relationships, beg for some sort of higher authority by which "good" and "evil" on a cosmic scale is measured?

    It makes much more sense to me if an atheist would simply say, "On a cosmic scale, there is no good and evil. Nature is what it is. Between two or more self-aware beings, however, we can establish a system in which we mutually agree on what is 'good' and 'evil'." In my mind, that's much more consistent and avoids the improper use of ethical language in a context that actually denies its existence (on a cosmic scale).

    C'mon. You're better than that.

    I'd like to think so. 😉

    If you still don't buy my argument, help me out here.

  6. Mike,

    I bristled at your comments, as well. I think what Richard might be getting at is this.

    There is (says the atheist) no absolute evil in the universe. But if Christians insist that there is, their own God should be held accountable for its existence. Christians make the claim that evil exists and that God hates it — so why does He allow it? It's a call for consistency, as best I can tell.

  7. Steve,

    Man, I just can't get a break. Slammed by atheists and Christians alike on the same point, I'm bound to lose. 😉

    ("I know I'm not a smart man, Jeh-ney …")

    Christians make the claim that evil exists and that God hates it — so why does He allow it?

    What are you defining as evil? I only recognize evil's existence insofar as the relationships between human beings (and God) are concerned. I don't see evil having a cosmic presence.

    And that "evil" is a byproduct of free will.

    It's a call for consistency, as best I can tell.

    How am I being inconsistent? I don't see it myself, but I've been wrong before (a number of times, I might add).

  8. Not trying to attack you! But I knew from conversations with RBH before that the line of argumentation you used wouldn't fly.

    I, too, tend to define evil as something like "moral decisions that God doesn't like". A simple free will argument at first seems to solve that PoE. But it's not so simple: if God hates evil and if He is all-powerful, then why does He allow atrocious moral acts to happen? Is He powerless, callous, or something else when He watches a child molester go through all the stages of his wicked act, from seducing a child to get into his car to actually having his way with her? The pervert's free will wouldn't be violated if God allowed him to will the evil, but stopped him when he was about to act upon it. And considering that God should be able to prevent natural disasters and does not, "natural evil" is a problem as well. An atheist should admit that there's no absolute reason why there's anything wrong with this any of this (animals act like animals, nature does what it does), but he may rightly point out that these scenarios highlight things that are at least apparent contradictions in certain Christian claims about God (loving, all-powerful, etc.).

  9. Steve,

    Why should God change his modus operandi with human beings insofar as freedom is concerned?

    Surely, God intervenes in human history, but that intervention is no different from my interventions in your life, Richard's life, or anyone else's life. God is just as much a player in the lives of men as we are (albeit His acts are a "tad" bit fancier). The only difference is that God has within Himself the power to cease all moral evil. On this point, we agree. But to do so would violate the very fabric of what He put into place: a cosmos that was not only free to live, but also free to love. Each of us desires to move history in a direction that benefits us. God is no different, just a "tad" bit stronger. (:::cue Airplane 2 movie clip:::)

    In order to live and love, one must accept the possibility that immoral acts can and will occur in the lives of "moral" creatures.

    When it comes to theodicy, I'm really dense and I suspect that my arguments don't amount to much and likely expose a huge weakness in my intellect. I suspect I've drifted way off course in terms of both subject and logic.

  10. RBH

    Mike, you wrote

    It makes much more sense to me if an atheist would simply say, "On a cosmic scale, there is no good and evil. Nature is what it is. Between two or more self-aware beings, however, we can establish a system in which we mutually agree on what is 'good' and 'evil'." In my mind, that's much more consistent and avoids the improper use of ethical language in a context that actually denies its existence (on a cosmic scale).

    I have no problem at all with that formulation.

    I have to say I've never heard an atheist argue for 'cosmic-scale' evil. I guess I don't get out much. 🙂

  11. Mike,
    Check out the series of posts on MONISM by RJS over at Scot McKnight's blog, Jesus Creed. RJS looks at Joel Green's book as well as Kevin Corcoran's book _Rethinking Human Nature: A Christian Materialist Alternative to the Soul_.
    Good stuff!

  12. Hi Mike

    Just been reading your confrontation with "The Truth Project", which sounds
    kind of silly coming from American Protestants, and some of your statements
    I found curious. I have an interest in the whole Mind/Body/Soul debate and
    have had a lot of interesting discussions with Functionalists, Dualists and
    Mind/Body Monists etc. I can't say exactly what my own view is with respect
    to pre-defined systems, though I do think some kind of embodiment is implied
    by 'Mind'. I'm just not convinced that CHON cellular architecture is the
    only option.

    When I was seeking spiritually I read a lot of ancient texts – Hermetica,
    Gnostic writings, Church Fathers, Plato, Aristotle, Egyptian, Hindu &
    Buddhist – and I was struck by just how physicalistic their understanding of
    'soul' and the gods/demons/angels really was. I began reading the Bible with
    a view to understanding the ancient 'physics' behind its terminology and the
    way the World looked to the writers. I realised that when the Bible called
    God "the Spirit of spirits" and said "without the Spirit all things turn to
    dust" that they saw "spirit" as the motive principle behind all 'living'
    phenomena. We don't really have an easily translatable concept in modern
    physics, but 'energy' seems to come close. Reading Plato's account of the
    "World Soul" and Aristotle's discussion of God as the 'First Soul' and Prime
    Mover only reinforces, for me, the idea that their view saw every dynamic
    thing in the world as the activity of 'soul/spirit' and it was as much seen
    in the breath that moved lungs or the wind that blew in the trees, as it was
    seen in human cognition. For Plato what made the human soul potentially
    god-like was not 'soul' it self, but a proper god-like motion (i.e. closed
    circular motion like the planets.) Aristotle, in spite of his differences
    with his old teacher, said something essentially the same when discussing
    the Third Entelechy's god-likeness, as 'rational intellect'.

    These days we don't see such a clear distinct between 'order' and 'disorder'
    as they did, but we do have concepts like 'entropy' and 'energy'. We also
    have elusive things like 'information' and the puzzle of how we get 'it'
    from 'bit', as John Wheeler famously put it. I don't think we've much
    advanced in basic concepts, even though our maths and models are incredibly
    elaborated from their simple 'ratios' and 'measurements'.

    Like I said I've no easy answers. But I did have an odd thought which I
    thought you might like. I was reading some "New Scientist" articles by Nick
    Lane, a biochemist and biogenesis researcher, and a surprising result from a
    study he mentioned. A group of researchers studying the fate of the
    mitochondrial genome over evolutionary time compared genes in yeast with a
    group of archeal and eubacterial genomes, and discovered homologues for 75%
    of the yeast's genes with genes from archea & eubacteria! I wondered just
    how an OEC or even a YEC might accomodate such a find, then I realised that
    the Genesis account describes God making the land animals out of the soil,
    just like Adam. And the sea/air animals presumably from the materials of the
    environment they were in. And what do all those contain, invisibly, but
    archea & eubacteria… you can see how a YEC/OEC account might go: "God
    created the genomes of the creatures from the genomes already in their
    environments." Thus an easy explanation for all those otherwise difficult
    homologies.

    I wonder if they've imagined such an option – it is naively 'biblical' after
    all.

    sincerely
    Adam Crowl

    Nick Lane blogpost of mine… http://crowlspace.com/?p=699

  13. Just wait until you hit the science lessons, it will make you gag…repeatedly.

  14. Daniel,

    The science lessons begin tomorrow. I plan on posting my thoughts on Lesson 4 in the morning before I hit lesson 5A and 5B in the evening. (I'm one week behind.) I'll take a bag, just in case. 😉

  15. I've been to the leadership training; it was a gift to me from my parents. However, after viewing the DVD's, I don't feel that I could honestly present stuff I know isn't true. The science portion is particularly offensive. I started taking notes of everything that was untrue or a false dichotomy but the list got so long I decided to quit.

    I've participated on the TP forums but no one really wants to hear a dissenting opinion. After all, they've been through a course called "The Truth Project", therefore they know the truth and anything else is wrong.

  16. When do humans get souls and when does a soul 'detach' from a body?

    I guess the question is important when discussing what things like brain death represent. I would ask Tackett what sort of 'uniqueness' is retained in a person with most of their frontal lobes destroyed. And what of sociopaths who lack a sense of moral awareness?

    I guess I often find myself wondering about the overall utility and resolvability of these lines of apologetics.

  17. @Bob Robinson:

    Thanks for the link! It surprises me what gets discussed on Scot's blog, and it warms my heart to know that discussions of these types of things aren't necessarily relegated to the fringes of Christian theology. Then again, maybe the rug of Christian theology is fraying to a considerable degree. 😉

    @Qrall:

    Fascinating stuff! It's clear to me that, by not examining the philosophies that were contemporary with and interacted with early Judaism, modern Christians lose a considerable amount of theological perspective.

    Re: Nick Lane, you're the second person to suggest his writings to me. I'll have to check him out.

    As for your discussion about Genesis 1's description of God's creative acts and archeal/eubacterial genomes, I'm somewhat lost. Are you suggesting that God's creative acts as described in Genesis 1 actually have some concordance with modern science?

    @Argon:

    When do humans get souls and when does a soul 'detach' from a body?

    In short, I tend toward monism, which posits that a human being is not a conglomerate of separable components (body and soul/spirit), but rather a unified whole. Thus, I do not believe that humans have souls in the biblical or metaphysical sense, nor do I believe that something leaves the body of a believer upon his/her death. I do, however, believe that God creates a new, bio-spiritual body for those of us who physically die in Him, and that this new body has, in some fashion and by some supernatural process known only to God, continuity with our old body (i.e., Paul's "kernel").

    I guess I often find myself wondering about the overall utility and resolvability of these lines of apologetics.

    As do I. As do I.

  18. Hi Mike

    I wasn't suggesting concordance, but it's an odd parallel worth exploring. Andrew Parker's recent book, "The Genesis Enigma" was prompted by how well the parallels match up with modern ideas, even though he's an agnostic. I'd read his earlier book on the evolution of eyes so I had to get this one and he makes some interesting parallels, though they're not so convincing to me. But the idea that God has left meaningful information in the Bible that transcends the culture of the writers is intriguing. May be hard evidence of a Higher Mind, though it's hard to imagine verifying it against skeptical counter- arguments. Humesian skepticism seems designed to simply deny the miraculous regardless of the eye-witness evidence. A mental finger-trap.

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