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Nikos A. Nissiotis

"Secular and Christian Images of Human Person"

Theologia 33, Athens 1962, p. 947- 989; Theologia 34, Athens 1963, p. 90-122.

II. Scientific approaches to the Human Person and their Challenge to Christian Anthropological Visions

3. The Overcoming of Mechanistic Determinism in Science and the new challenge in Christian anthropology

Though it is not yet fully appreciated and appropriately applied in the realm of philosophy of nature and history, science has definitely abandoned the mechanistic understanding of natural phenomena and their interrelationships. A. Einstein has written that «the great change was brought about by Faraday, Maxwell and Herz as a matter of fact half unconsciously and against their will» (1). Maxwell introduced the electromagnetic theory and put in question the whole Newtonian mechanistic system. Further, thermodynamics with its reliance upon probability refuted any idea of determinacy and certainty. Matter has been replaced by fields of force for interpreting electricity and by «the study of the inner workings of nature passed from the engineer scientist to the mathematician in the theory of relativity» (2), and these absolutes of space and time have been deprived of their independence and form a four-dimensional continuum of space-time. Instead of matter we must speak of energy as the basic foundation of science. «The stable foundations of physics have broken up... The old foundations of scientific thought are becoming unintelligible. Time, space, matter, material, ether, electricity, mechanism, organism, configuration, structure, pattern, function, all require reinterpretation. What is the sense of talking about a mechanical explanation when you do not know what you mean by mechanics?» (3). Energy, it is supposed but in discontinuous packets or quanta; this «quanta theory» has affected an entire outlook on the physical world and has shaken the foundations of the classical mechanistic physics. «All the laws of nature that are usually classed as fundamental can be foreseen wholly from epistemological considerations. They correspond to a priori knowledge, and are therefore wholly subjective» (4). James Jeans does not hesitate to make the remark: «Today there is a wide measure of agreement which on the physical side of science approaches almost to unanimity, that the stream of knowledge is heading towards a non-mechanical reality; the universe begins to look more like a great thought than like a great machine. Mind no longer appears as an accidental intruder into the realm of matter, we are beginning to suspect that we ought rather to hail it as the creator and governor of the realm of matter» (5). Determinism has given up in face of the laws of chance and Heisenberg's principle of uncertainty and complementarity opposing causality and sure predictability in classical physics.
This counter-revolution in modern physics bridged the gap between nature as a gigantic prefabricated machine and man as a calculating spectator from a distance. The act of pure objective observation, presented as exact objectivity in scientific mechanistic vision and method, includes unavoidably the act of participation. Floyd Matson writes: «Man and preeminently scientific man—was only a mechanically-minded spectator at the grand performance of nature... The principal lesson derived by quantum physicists from the discoveries of the past half-century is one which is addressed directly to this venerable ideal. In the famous figure of Bohr, it is simply that man is at once an actor and a spectator in the drama of existence» (6). Scientific observation means observation, interaction, participation, mutual contribution on both sides. Objectivity now means «complementarity», man as observer sharing in the observed object of nature composing a coherent whole with it (7). Instead of the mechanistic exclusiveness of classical physics we are invited now to admit the strange development of inclusiveness of the scientific mind and the world of objects under observation.

This reciprocity in scientific enterprise has tremendous repercussions on science and humanity. The mechanistic view in science «is not only anti-nature but also anti-human, because it fails to capture what matters most about the human in its mechanical images». Charles Birch further remarks on this point: «a universe that produces humans cannot be known apart from this fact. It is a humiverse. We only begin to know what is by what it becomes. We do hot start with electrons and atoms and build a universe. We start with humanity and interpret the rest in terms of this starting point... to bring the human into the picture is to bring in mind and consciousness and purpose, sensations of red and blue, bitter and sweet, suffering and joy» (8).

Against mechanism science accepts now participation and complementarity between human thinking and objective nature. The result is twofold: first, new categories like insight, intuition, sensitivity, consciousness are included in the epistemological presuppositions of scientific research with the intention of including the whole of man as cognitive, volitional and emotional, while nature is more and more regarded as an organism (and not as the great machine) with exceptional reactions, unforeseen developments and rationally unpredictable changes; and secondhand most important, that the category of «mystery» belongs to the fundamental principles of scientific work, because «scientific knowledge is based on abstractions which we choose to make from a more complex, essentially mysterious reality, though it is true that science does remove minor mysteries, such as the mechanism of heredity, but in doing so it shows us where the mysteries really are» (9). Certainly science deals with the mystery in a specific way, through reason which excludes emotional, mystical, and psychological reaction which one finds directly expressed in religious knowledge or in artistic contemplation and creation through aesthetic values. But together with the notion of complementarity and participation the category of mystery endows modern science not only with more flexibility in dealing with the objective world but, principally, it gives a total vision of reality and an inclusive rational operation with tremendous significance for creating a more comprehensive image of the human person.

Especially, the notion of mystery in this new scientific context means that reality, in the end, remains rationally unknown. In other words, it is beyond the control of man's power. The more human knowledge penetrates reality, the more its mysterious basic structures become evident and persuasive. Harold K. Schilling emphasizes this paramount basic truth in today's science which «evokes endless wonder and awe». It should not be understood as an emotional reaction but <(the evidence for this lies in the depths of the interior of matter and energy and in the character of life, mind and spirit; in the quality and extent of nature's systematic interrelationships and interdependencies; in its lawfulness and randomness; its dynamism and evolutionary holistic creativity; its transmutability, and remediality; its limitlessness and openness to the future, in the structure and depths of space-time; in the infinite variety of its qualities, in its drives toward the social wholes we call communities and in still other fundamental features» (10).

This paragraph describes perfectly the interpenetration of the two formerly distant fields (reason and reality) in the deterministic and mechanistic science of classical physics. Now there is but one whole reality in full interaction on the basis of the category of «mystery», which is equally animating both, reason and reality. The perpetual experience of this fundamental truth in a post-scientific era which we are slowly but surely entering makes scientists share in existential categories which are parallel categories of knowledge towards a holistic science. Nature and reason are not simply object or subjective qualities causing to the subject aesthetic admiration, or romantic feelings but «anxious perplexity and profound concern or even traumatic anguish» (11).

Science in this new context becomes a humane and passionate operation and scientific knowledge, an existential and experiential process. The knowing subject becomes alternatively the known object. Objective knowledge includes with reason the areas of will and sentiment. Epistemology has to deal with the nature of knowledge as relationship. Its function depends on an exchange of logical with experiential, psychic and sensual categories. After the period of the isolation of reason as the unique and supreme element of knowing in classical physics — which was perhaps necessary in the first steps of physical sciences, psychology and sociology — we now return to appreciate the all inclusive nature of knowledge accepting the interaction between pure cognitive with existential categories. It is evident that the scientist is unconsciously involved in humane problems and creates a new sensitivity and a new consciousness vis-a-vis nature and himself. The question
about the image of the human person is raised as a para-scientific concern of primary importance in a new way, allowing a more comprehensive vision of human nature and its origin and purpose as a more open question. Anyway, scientific knowledge becomes more and more conscious that it cannot manipulate nature without paying the price of loss of human dignity. Human existence also should not be manipulated by any objective system of thought, structures of society or totalitarian ideologies.

This counter-revolution in science against deterministic mechanism, rationalism and pure objectivity has occurred with more disturbing effects in the realm of psychology. If uncertainty, mystery, the inaccessible, perplexity has to accompany a fully scientific work and raise the question of knowledge in a new humane dimension, then it is psychology diametrically opposed to behaviorism and objective observation which has to be recognized as the most important area of scientific revolution for the sake of the human person. Against the threats of mechanism and empiricism Depth Psychology focused its research deep into the subject. Against conceptual psychology it turns back to the self-analysis of man's deepest unconscious violent forces, not only to behavior but first to the Behaver.

Definitely, S. Freud began his work as a typical adherent to classical scientism. He applied determinist methods in explaining the Subconscious or Unconscious. The interpretation of the function of libido is almost mechanistic. Repression, transformation, sublimation create the determined pattern of the unavoidable function of libido and the interpretations of dreams follows this scheme faithfully. But, in reality, Freud's invention of the Sub-conscious signifies the end of scientism and objectivism. Now, everything has to be studied through the self and subjective, inner unconscious psychic events. Introspective psychology will defeat the easy «Gestalt»-psychology of empiricism and behavior. Human existence is bi-polar in its constitution and function: a violent struggle between the life-bearing eros for creativity and the self-annihilating pathos of death. Man is an incurably guilty person linked, with all preceding generations by the assassination of the «Ur-Vater». All social relationships can become a source of neurosis, because of the sick «devotion» (Widmung) which makes the ego centrifugal seeking for a sick identity with the masses or with another person. No action of the human person represents what it really is. Man is participating in a continuous carnival in order to avoid his individual neurosis.
Though deterministic, the Unconscious seems to be a level of activity which is complementary and compensatory to our ordinary conscious life (12). By this affirmation the deterministic and mechanistic method defeats mechanism. Man appears in his authentic continuous struggle with and against himself, full of anxiety and uncertainty. Introspection as self-examination will reveal the chaotic, dark basis of human existence killing all kinds of self-sufficiency, autonomy and superficial optimism regarding an anthropocentric future. All scientific evolutionary humanisms become fantasies of neurotic nature, false consolations, amongst others, for a momentary escape from our tragic psychic situation.

That is why this first psychoanalytical radicalism will be followed and complemented by a more comprehensive scientific approach. The analytical psychology of C.G. Jung on the same basis will introduce the bi-polarity of the collective-subjective subconscious and will accept the struggle as a continuous effort of the subject to find the equilibrium between the two in a continuous tension. Man is never alone and never one-dimensional, but animus and anima, extroverted and introverted, between good and evil, archetypal and experiential, instinctive and reflective, energetic and passive. Psychic health depends on the balance between opposing but complementary un-conscious and conscious trends around the axonic system, where the pivot-axis is the archetype of God. The purpose of life is the self-identity with this archetype: God becoming man. The Self («Selbst») is the final purpose of life as it is grasped through the analytic psychological introspective method.
Starting from these presuppositions, Jung does not hesitate to describe «conscience», this unifying functional center of ego into which all impressions of the subject are referred for receiving their logical affirmation and evaluation, as a complicated and undetermined, undefinable process composed of two levels (Stockwerken). The one, as the basic, includes a certain psychic event, the other represents a kind of superstructure. The psychological interpretation of conscience must be accepted as a permanent coalition-clash (Kollision) (13). The famous «self-consciousness» (Selbstbewusstsein) becomes here the most uncertain process of basic complementarity in psychic life. Jung professes a radical bi-polarity within the most crucial operation of a human being. Conscience has a static, permanent subtratum (what we usually call vox Dei) and a flexible, unstable, uncertain element which causes a perpetual change, uneasiness and insecurity in all of our so-called conscious decisions. «Conscience» is, in the end, a continuous self-questioning between two antithetical forces that the subject tries to balance and to reconcile. The «Self» is in itself a relationship, a communal event. Its wholeness is the purpose of self-consciousness. One can say that introspection in this way, though a strictly individual act, is, in reality a communal experience. On the same basis, the so-called individual psychology of A. Adler will teach that only the relationship with the Thou of the other person saves us from the neurosis of the inferiority complex. «The Self» is created in connection with a partner and the ego in the realization of its relationship with the environment and the important participants in this environment (14).

This bi-polarity and reciprocal complementarity is also confirmed by contemporary biology's abandonment of its mechanistic and deterministic past. As in individual and analytic psychology, hereditary givenness will be matched by the activity of planning for the .future and the continuous effort of the Self to overcome it and become a process of recreation without being able to arrive at a final stage of self-sufficiency. The biologist Jakob Johan von Uexküll has found that, basically, a human being has molecules of «receptive» and «effective» nature, which organize all energies of life as a polarized movement biologically and psychologically. Every unconscious biological movement is a movement of relationship. «In this way the essence of life is no reflex-machine. It possesses from the beginning in its essential structure the movement towards inside and outside as an inseparable fundamental element of its Being» (15).

This survey of changes in the contemporary sciences, it is clear, has a particular bearing on the debate about the nature of the human person. Because, science, though it remains rational and objective and impersonal, based on observation and expérimentais no longer tempted by optimistic self-sufficiency and assurance about its possibility to understand fully both matter and spirit. There is a tendency towards self-criticism and humbleness amongst the best scientists today. R. K. Merton qualifies scientists as a community governed by four imperatives— universalism, communalism, disinterestedness and organized scepticism (16), expressing the new scientific consciousness at this moment. Certainly, not all scientists feel this way. Science, relativising its absoluteness and exclusiveness, will continue to work the same security. Its credibility is not at stake and it is neither our wish nor our expectation to call them in question.

The interesting point for our particular theme is that science in change raises the problem of encounter with change as a norm of reality. Alvin Toffler makes the appropriate remark speaking about change and the future. This, in itself, places a new demand on the nervous system. «The people of the past adapting to comparatively stable environments, maintained longer-lasting ties with their own inner conceptions of the-way-things-are... New discoveries, new technologies, new social arrangements in the external world erupt into our lives in the increased turnover rates—shorter and shorter relational durations. They force a faster and faster pace of daily life. They demand a new level of adaptability. And they set the stage for that potentiality devastating social illness-future shock» (17).

The positive element of this new self-affirmation of science, in its ambiguity, uncertainty and pessimism, accentuated by the ecological problem, and the ethical responsibility of the scientist in being obliged to serve all kinds of unjust societies and war preparations, is the fact that makes scientific man become more and more conscious that there is a need for a self-identity of the human person. Science has caused a new sensitivity of man in face of the need to confront the issue of his responsibility frankly and honestly. «The epic of modern science is a story at once of tremendous achievement, loneliness and terror» (18). Human persons caught up in this new scientific era of ours have to reflect more seriously about themselves and reconsider their deeper identity threatened by forces of alienation as never before. Science is humanizing in this sense, i.e. by creating the sense of uncertainty, confusion and pessimism it forces man into a position of self-criticism, self-questioning.

Science, of course, in itself is something good and most necessary for humankind. There is no doubt about it. However, the more scientific humanism develops, the more a new self-identity is required beyond science. Scientific humanism can never overcome its limitation (rationalistic and technical) and its ethical ambiguity. Man is tempted to relax in its scientific functionalism. Here lies the great challenge of science in today's world: the radicalization of the problem and the necessity for modern man to find his own identity beyond science.

The defeat of determinism and mechanism and the double sense of mystery as wonder and awe imply an urgent need for deeper humanisation in order that scientific man may overcome pessimism and loneliness. Enrico Gantore rightly describes the challenge of science in anthropology when he writes: «for, truly if man living in the scientific age does not determinately strive after self-humanization, he is bound to effectively dehumanize himself» (19).

This self-humanization is the new self-consciousness of human person seeking anew the quality of life. The current model of man challenged by contemporary science is the realization that he is a broken self in a broken world, full of uncertainty, injustice and necessity. Quality of life means both a truer measure of development and liberation, and the total repudiation of technology serving repression and economic self-interests. Quality of life means a whole man in the whole world in inseparable responsible unity through man's concern for inner coherence of mind and energy and the historical predicament.

Of course self-humanization requires a process of reference and a model to be referred to. The challenge of science imposes an introspective reflection towards recovering a distinctive selfhood. Science itself cannot create such a model and cannot even afford the point of reference. It seems to me that the question of the quality of life in the process of self-humanization, as a response to the challenge of science in the realm of contemporary anthropology, is the question about the real being of the human person. The challenge of science cannot be faced without ontology, certainly through the inductive and contextual, and not through the deductive and abstract method. But without this final reference of Being there is no possibility of dealing with the scientific challenge, though science will always remain neutral in face of the necessity of raising this question. It is absolutely necessary, for this reason, to conceive the ontological question about man's nature through existential categories and living realities encountered in experience. An existential ontology is not only possible but imperative in the realm of anthropology since science unified knowledge, mystery, mind and energy with anxious perplexity and “traumatic anguish”.

Finally, the challenge of science in anthropology is more directly addressed to Christian theologians. The pessimistic and tragic questioning of man's existence requires a Christian response. Theology is not ready to accept this challenge. Our traditional anthropology risks appearing as outdated on the whole. Our models are static and our ontological affirmations too theoretical to meet the challenge. Christian theology is always tested in dealing with man outside Christian faith, while this should be regarded as one of the most important and necessary chapters of Christian faith, action and knowledge. Our concepts of the Imago Dei are once more challenged by a science which reopens the discussion by its openness to the categories of mystery and tragic in the scientific enterprise of our days.


1. Albert Einstein, Out of my Later Years, New York (Philosophical Library) 1950, p. 101 (quoted by F. Matson, ibid., p. 287).

2. J. Jeans, The Mysterious Universe, p. 119 (quoted by F. Matson, "ibid., p. 290).

3. A. N. Whitehead, Science and the Modern World, pp. 17-18 (quoted by F. Matson, ibid., p. 290).

4. A. Einstein, The Philosophy of Physical Science, p. 57 (quoted by F. Matson, ibid., p. 121).

5. J. Jeans, The Mysterious Universe, p. 181.

6. F. Matson, ibid., p. 127.

7. Robert H. Brown writes: «Modern physics has demonstrated for all to see the importance of complementarity in human understanding» (In: Faith and Science in an Unjust World, Vol. 1. Geneva (W.C.C.) 1980, p. 40).

8. Charles Birch, Nature, Humanity and God in Ecological Perspective. In «Faith and Science in an Unjust World». Vol. 1. Geneva (W.C.C.) 1980 p. 65 and 69.

9. Robert H. Brown, ibid., p. 39-40.

10. Harold K. Schilling, The New Consciousness in Science and Religion, London (SCM Press) 1973, p. 30-31.

11. Ibid., p. 32.

12. G. Stephens Spinks, Psychology and Religion, London (Methuen) 1963, p. 52.

13. Carl Gustave Jung, Das Gewissen in psychologischer Sicht. In: «Das Gewissen», Zürich (Rascher Verlag) 1958, p. 185.

14. Gaetano Benedetti, Introspektion, Subjektivität und Freiheit in der Sicht der Naturwissenschaft. In «Sich selbst erkennen», (Hrsgg.) T.Wagner-Simon, G. Benedetti, Göttingen (Vandenhoeck u. Ruprecht) 1982, p. 236-238.

15. Hans Mislin, Jakob Johann von Uexküll (1864-1944). In .«Psychologie des 20. Jahrhunderts», Band VI, Zürich (Kindler) 1978, p. 46.

16. R. K. Merton, The Sociology of Science, Chicago (Univ. Press) 1973. Quoted in: «Faith and Science in an Unjust World», Geneva (W.C.C.) 1980, p. 31.

17. Alvin Toffler, Future Shock, London (Pan Books) 1971, 169-170.

18. Loren Eiseley, The Unexpected Universe, New York (Harcourt) 1969. p. 4 (quoted by Enrico Cantore, Scientific Man, New York (ISH Publications) 1977, p. 411).

19. Enrico Cantore, ibid, p. 413.

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