What’s the Matter with Matter?


I have been intrigued for some time by the nature vs. nurture controversy and have read numerous books and articles that take one side or the other, or that try to find a compromise between the two.  The debate seems to date back at least to the time of Charles Darwin and Alfred Russell Wallace, the co-originators of the modern theory of evolution, though in different costume the question probably goes back much further, to the origin myths of ancient peoples.  For example, the doctrine of original sin posits that humans are evil because of a terrible sin committed by Adam and Eve which passed on to all their descendents.  That original sin was to defy God’s will concerning man’s correct, designated place in Creation; Adam and Eve aspired to be as the gods.  (In this regard it is interesting to reflect on a stained-glass window in the cathedral of Milan that depicts Adam and Eve before the fall as having hairy bodies, which suggests that they were more akin to animals than to gods or angels.)  In Greek myth, of course, there is the story of Prometheus, who stole fire from the gods and gave it to the people, thus enabling civilization.  These and other ancient stories articulate the sense that early people had of being something more than animals yet something less than gods, an acknowledged conflicted condition that generated questions such as what is human nature (“What is man that thou art mindful of him?”) and do men have any degree of freedom or are we condemned to the irrational and incomprehensible turnings of the wheel of fortune.  In Christian terms, given the fatefulness of original sin, do we have free will, and if we do, to what extent?

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