Human Dignity: The Origin and End of Man 1

By Gonzolo Herrera

Kids have no problem when we ask them about their origin. They will simply answer I come from mom and dad. Biologically, we know that we are product of dad’s sperm and mom’s egg. We have very similar DNA to that of our parents; we even look alike and most of the times have similar psychology. After analyzing types of activities that are specifically human — abstract understanding, the ability to reason, the power to choose freely, we come to realize that man has a spiritual soul. A problem arises: Can parents generate a spirit? If not where do we come from? The question remains; what is our ultimate cause?

Man is created directly by God ex-nihilo. Man’s spirit cannot be generated, cannot proceed from, his parents, because their role in the procreative process is strictly material. A spirit cannot simply spring form matter, the higher principle cannot come from the lower. Man needs a higher principle which can only then be a higher subsisting being, with the power to create: namely, God.

The human spirit is created, called forth into existence passing from non–being to being, at the moment of conception. This can be shown fitting even if it cannot be scientifically scientifically verified. Man is a substantial unity of matter and form. If man was a subsisting soul before conception, he his soul would be like a bird in a cage, after conception, when bound to a body. If it were created after, even though this is not absolutely impossible, it would be incoherent with our scientific knowledge that the new organism continues to be the same living subject throughout its development until its natural death.

Evolution: Just too simple not to accept

When I taught my CCD kids about us coming from God they immediately said “that’s not true we come from evolution we were taught about it in science class” It is hard for kids to think in the abstract but it didn’t take long for them to realize that evolution and the creation of the human spirit are not contradictory. After all, embryology and science theories of evolution tell us how material organisms develop over time and become properly disposed  so as to adapt to changing conditions. Yet these disciplines cannot answer the question of the ultimate origin of man.

Evolution theories are not merely scientific facts. Rather, they come with philosophical assumptions. Two main proposed theories of evolution are Neo Darwinism and Finalized Evolution. Neo-Darwinism assumes that the human person does not have a spiritual soul. Rather, it rests on mechanistic and materialistic assumptions, which leave too much to be desired if taken two their ultimate conclusions, by ending in narcissism and nihilism.

The theory of Finalized Evolution, holds that the final cause influences evolutionary movement. Finality demands intelligence, and intelligence cannot be satisfactorily explained from within the realm of physical nature, per se. Finalized evolution resolves the apparent contradiction that mere scientific theories leave unexplained.

Hence the question concerning man’s origin leads us to consider the deeper question of man’s finality, his ultimate end. It is evident that our existence in this world is not eternal; we are beings walking towards death. The question arises: is death the end of all? Is this life nothing but a contradiction of desires and hopes of immortality? Let us analyze death in a clinical sense, leaving the ultimate existential questions un-answered, so that later we can examine other philosophical alternatives to the said meaningless life, by posing the immortality of the human spirit.

The clinical understanding of death, i.e., the irreversible loss of all capacity for integrating and coordinating physical and mental functions of the body, has evolved through history.  Today we are still unable to determine the precise moment in which a person dies. Nonetheless, the international community of scientists has determined four main points as criteria to determine a person’s death.

  1. A coma with complete absence of brainstem reflexes
  2. The irreversible loss of all capacity for integrating and coordinating physical and mental functions of the body
  3. No spontaneous respiration
  4. Finally, the “flat-line” encephalogram

These four conditions, if met, are accepted criteria for determining when a person has died. Yet these conditions cannot suffice to determine the real moment of death, that is, the separation of of the soul from the body.

There are sound philosophical answers to the question of death and the meaning of life. St. Thomas opts for the immortality of the human spirit, supported with solid argumentation. Four different proofs can be given: Phenomenological, psychological, axiological and metaphysical. Metaphysically the immortally of the soul is proven following the principle “agere sequitur esse” Two main operations reveal the immaterial faculties of man which need an immaterial principle for their action and show the soul of man as immortal, namely, the powers of abstraction and reflection.

Abstract concepts are immaterial and are, hence, independent of matter by their very nature. The human activity by which one conceives abstract universal concepts must also be of an immaterial nature as well.

Complete reflection is a act of the intellect by which the subject is aware of himself, his own mental activity, and by knowing these things, he realizes the transcendent nature of his intellectual activity. He thus realizes the implication of this transcendent awareness: if is behavior is transcendent, something about himself can transcend the confines of materiality. Man himself, is a transcendent being. Therefore, he must have a transcendent origen and end as well.

That is, something beyond man’s physical nature, must be the cause of his being present in the world, because he has faculties that do not depend strictly on the conditions imposed on him by the material world.

In other words, the human soul has activity which is independent of matter therefore it does not depend on matter as a condition for its existence; it can subsist after death.

As we have previously clarified the soul separate from the body cannot operate in a natural way since man is in his essence a composite of body and soul. Therefore, the soul when separated form the body does not exist as a complete substance but as a separated substance, understood as an incomplete substance lacking one of its principles for its natural way of being, i.e., naturally belonging to a physical body from the very moment of its conception. The dogma of the resurrection of the body becomes fitting to understand the end man. Even though our soul subsists after death, it needs the body to operate properly.

The question of our final cause our ultimate end is still unanswered. The human spirit yearns for fulfillment, for happiness. Ultimate happiness is the possession of the complete and perfect good. Our good cannot be material, since we are not completely fulfilled by material goods. Each man is called by vocation to seek and obtain the greatest good; the soul will not rest until it rests in that Good.

The Good is ultimately God, and we are able to grasp this good intellectually, perhaps not in a completely, but at least inasmuch as our rational essence is able to participate in his being. Thus, our real end is made clear the possession of God, which can only be perfectly fulfilled in the next life, if he graciously bestow un us this unmerited gift: Eternal Life!

By Gonzalo Herrera


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