In 1906, American humorist Mark Twain published a sixty-page essay entitled “What Is Man?” Consisting of a tedious dialogue between a senior citizen (who believes that man is just a machine) and a young man (who believes nothing in particular but is open to persuasion), it wasn’t one of his finest books. But at least he tried. Authors since then seem to have avoided the subject like the plague. Jewish theologian Abraham Heschel published a collection of lectures in 1965 under the title Who Is Man? while Waller Newell (2001) and Joaquin Molina (2013) wrote books bearing the title What Is a Man? But that’s about all I could find, and these books1,2,3 address what it means to be male rather than what it means to be human. When the psalmist asked, “What is man?” (Psalm 8:4) he was, I think, seeking an altogether more profound answer.
The avoidance of the subject is all the more strange because there has never been a time like our own, when curiosity about man’s origin and destiny has been greater, or the answers on offer more hotly disputed. It’s a safe bet that any attempt to give the “big picture” on the origin, nature, and “specialness” of mankind will be contentious, and that might explain why writers have generally fought shy of it. Yet at heart it is the question most of us really do want answered, because the answer defines that precious thing we call our identity, both personally and as a race.
The Psalmist did, of course, offer his own answer three millennia ago. Man, he claimed, was created by God for a clearly defined purpose—to exercise dominion over planet Earth and (by implication) to ultimately share something of the glory of the divine nature. The rest, as they say, is history, but it’s not a happy tale. As Mark Twain says in another essay, “I can’t help being disappointed with Adam and Eve.”
Not surprisingly, then, a large proportion of humanity today is looking for alternative solutions, accepting the challenge of the Psalmist’s question without embracing the optimism of his answer. In this book we are going to consider the alternative solutions on offer by considering man in the contexts of cosmology, biology, and psychology—before returning to the biblical context and discovering that, after all, the Psalmist got it right. Don’t let the science-sounding stuff put you off. I’m writing in a reader-friendly and often humorous style, specifically for the nonexpert.
1 Abraham Joshua Heschel; Who Is Man? (Lectures; Stanford University Press, 1965).
2 Waller R. Newell; What Is a Man? 3,000 Years of Wisdom on the Art of Manly Virtue (Harper Collins, 2001).
3 Joaquin G. Molina; What Is a Man? (Spring of Life Fellowship, 2013).
No book of this nature would see the light of day without the encouragement and advice of others. I therefore want to extend my warmest thanks to the many friends who have read the draft manuscript and made helpful suggestions for its improvement. I am not going to list their names lest I inadvertently omit some of them, but I must mention just one person, Eddy Maatkamp, who translated my earlier book Who Made God? into Dutch and has now published a Dutch version of What Is Man? He has supported the present project with unfailing wisdom, care and enthusiasm and I owe him a special debt of gratitude.
Each chapter has numerous endnotes. In the past I have tried to avoid using internet websites in references because they often lack permanence and many links disappear over a period of time. However, situations change and much original work is now published on the internet and is not available in hard copy forms. Even when it is available in university and similar libraries, other important reference material is inaccessible to most readers except on the internet. No doubt some of my internet links will be lost over time, but parallel sources can often be found by searching for authors or subjects, and the alternative would be to have no reference at all. Wherever possible, of course, I do provide hard-copy references.
Welwyn Garden City
Author’s Preface, Acknowledgements and References
PART 1. MAN AND THE COSMOS
Ch.1. Who Do You Think You Are?
(What is Man? A summary)
Ch.2. The Cheshire Cat Cosmos
(Can a universe create itself from nothing?)
Ch.3. Small Flat Bugs
(Where is Man?)
Ch.4. The Cosmic Cookbook
(A fine-tuned universe)
Ch.5. Deutsch’s Dauntless Dinosaurs
(Exploring the mega-multiverse)
PART 2. MAN AND THE BIOSPHERE
Ch.6. Death And Taxes
Ch.7. The Devil In The Details
(Digging deeper into genes and genomes)
Ch.8. Dem Dry Bones(What fossils really tell us about the rise of Man)
Ch. 9. Aristotle And The Snowball
(On human consciousness)
PART 3. MAN AND THE BIBLE
Ch.10. Worldviews At War
(On the nature of reality)
Ch.11. Adam And The Apple
(The historicity and fall of Adam and Eve)
Ch.12. The Image Of God
(Why Man is unique)
Ch.13. The Second Adam
(Jesus Christ, the perfect man)
Ch.14. The Resurrection: Fact Or Fiction?
(The claim, the evidence, and the implications)