That's the title to Chapter Three of Polkinghorne's Exploring Reality: The Intertwining of Science and Religion. Polkinghorne was a particle physicist before he became a theologian, so he brings an unusual perspective to a discussion of human nature and evolution.
Polkinghorne thinks biologists take themselves a little too seriously. He thinks physicists are inclined "at least to a kind of cosmic religiousity." Not biologists. "Biologists are different. Quite commonly they display hostility towards taking any serious account of religious ideas or language." Why?
[P[lacing an extraordinary degree of overconfidence in science's unaided power to gain understanding can lead some biologists to make grossly inflated claims that their insights are capable of explaining pretty well everything. Many physicists were in this kind of grandiose mood in the generations that followed Isaac Newton's great discoveries, but the later discernment of the complex subtlety of physical processes eventually led that community to a more humble recognition that mechanism is not all. Man is more than a machine. Yet biologists today, in the wake of their stunning discoveries in molecular genetics, are all too prone to a euphoric degree of unjustified triumphalism that grossly exaggerates the explanatory power of their discipline. I feel sure this is a temporary episode that will not survive a recovery of full biological interest in organisms as well as in molecules. (p. 137.)
What about human nature and evolution? While recognizing that "it is impossible for us today to think about human nature without acknowledging the significance of the evolutionary origin of Homo sapiens," which some take as establishing the claim there is no qualitative difference between man and other species, he nonetheless argues for a "unique human status." He discusses several points that support human uniqueness:
- Humans are self-conscious beings.
- Humans possess language, and rational skills that have permitted our acquisition of scientific knowledge.
- Humans are unusually creative, as evident in art and culture.
- Humans are moral beings; no animals appear to think in terms of right and wrong or to recognize ethical obligations.
- Humans have a capacity for what he calls God-consciousness, or the apparent ability to have encounters with the sacred.
- Humans recognize sin, "a source of distortion in human affairs that frustrates hopes and corrupts intentions."
Polkinghorne notes that sociobiology (aka evolutionary psychology) attempts to fully explain human rational powers under the evolutionary paradigm, and it is certainly true that, over the last few hundred thousand years, bright and observant ancestors of humans were, on average, better candidates for survival and for leaving numerous healthy descendants than dull and ignorant proto-humans. But he doesn't think that paradigm can explain all our rational powers, many of which seem to have little to do with survival or fitness. "Equally elusive to evolutionary explanation are many human aesthetic experiences. What survival value has Mozart's music given us, however profoundly it enriches our lives in other ways?" (p. 54).