What does it mean to
be human? This is not the sort of question that occupies much of our
thinking—at least not at an explicit, conscious level. Coffee shop
conversations rarely turn to such speculative questions.
Nevertheless, we carry out much of our lives with implicit answers to
this question. Budget discussions—whether in Washington, D.C., or
in our families—often parade different views of what it means to be
human. “Feed the Soul or Feed the Hungry?”—this was the
headline for a report on budget negotiations in a city council,1
but could just as easily summarize a congregation’s struggle to
allocate its mission dollars. Either way, it divulges certain
assumptions about humanity. Slogans sometimes capture deeply held
views: “I think, therefore I am.” “She’s only human.” Some
toss around the language of “unalienable rights” and “equality,”
demonstrating that they have strong (even if not fully developed)
views about human beings. The criteria by which we measure success or
encourage happiness or contemplate health care decisions—these are
all grounded in our commitments regarding what it means to be human.
We may not think much about what it means to be human, but our
thoughts and actions regularly put into play our default assumptions
and beliefs about what this entails.
conversations do not turn regularly to the nature of the human
person, the same cannot be said of literature and film. In the
nineteenth century, those who encountered Mary Shelley’s monster,
that “hideous phantasm of a man,” the creation of Victor
Frankenstein, might have wondered if humans were no more than the sum
of their body parts, animated by a powerful electrical charge.
Readers of Isaac Asimov’s I,
recall “the three laws of robotics,” a code of ethics governing
robotic behavior. Asimov goes so far as to introduce a robot that
claims, “I, myself, exist, because I think,” and practices
worship of the creator. The 1999 movie Bicentennial
inspired by Asimov, narrates the two-hundred-year-long quest of robot
Model NDR114 (a.k.a. “Andrew,” played by Robin Williams) to be
recognized as a human. His (Its?) evolutionary stages manifest
creativity, curiosity, friendship, emotional responses, financial
independence, ownership of property, appreciation of beauty, and
finally participation in the human condition of frailty and finitude.
Read more at http://fullermag.com/human-beings-perspectives-science-scripture/