The news coming out of the recent, and much trumpeted, Vatican-sponsored conference on evolution isn’t that good, according to a brief article that appeared in Science magazine on November 14. Molecular biologist John Abelson commented on the most controversial figure at the conference, Austrian Cardinal Christoph Schönborn: “He believes there are gaps in evolution and [that] God acts in those gaps.” Oh boy, not the “gap theory” again?
A couple of years ago I co-taught a course in philosophy and science with a colleague in the Philosophy department at Stony Brook University. At some point the issue of “human nature” came up, and my colleague looked at me with a mix of surprise and pity: human nature, she maintained, is a quaint concept that has been long abandoned by serious scholars, so why are we still talking about it? Tell it to James Fowler and Darren Schreiber, who recently authored a paper in the prestigious Science magazine (7 November 2008) by the title “Biology, Politics, and the Emerging Science of Human Nature.”
Aristotle figured out pretty early on that human beings are by their nature constantly pulled by two opposing forces: on the one hand their propensity to go after immediate rewards, even though they are often deleterious for them (akrasia, or “weakness of the will”); on the other hand the necessity to work for their long term welfare (eudaemonia, loosely translated as “happiness” but better understood as flourishing).