The invitation to deliver the Gifford Lectures at the University of Edinburgh in the spring of 2004 presented me with a unique and challenging opportunity to develop further my own thoughts on the complex relationship between religion and science. Preparing for and delivering the Gifford Lectures has been a remarkable personal journey and has opened up new and exciting ways of thinking about the problem of interdisciplinary reflection. In this specific instance the rather concrete focus of my research would be the topic of Alone in the World? Human Uniqueness in Science and Theology a topic that would not only directly stimulate my reflection on the more philosophical problem of interdisciplinarity but would also afford me the challenge of rethinking and ultimately revisioning Lord Gifford’s requirement for doing “natural theology in the widest sense of the term.” Most importantly however it finally gave me the opportunity to explore the uncharted but fascinating relationship between theology and paleoanthropology.
I am very grateful to the University of Edinburgh for honoring me with this invitation. I would like to express my very special gratitude to Professor T. M. M. O’Shea Principal and Vice-Chancellor and to the Gifford Committee for the warm hospitality my wife Hester and I were privileged to receive during our stay in Edinburgh. Our host Professor David Fergusson did everything to make us feel welcome and to enhance the experience of being part of a very distinguished community of scholars at the University of Edinburgh. A word of thanks must also go to Ms. Isabel Roberts Secretary of the Gifford Committee for the highly professional and skillful way she took care of every possible detail during our stay in Edinburgh.
I am deeply indebted to my colleagues and students at Princeton Theological Seminary and to the president and administration for their remarkable support during this particular time in my professional life. I remember with much gratitude all my colleagues who were willing to read my lectures in their various incarnations and especially for their constructive feedback and responses at a much appreciated “pre-Gifford” evening organized by our friends Chip and Leslie Dobbs-Allsopp in Princeton. The support of Princeton Theological Seminary followed me all the way to Edinburgh not only thanks to colleagues and students who traveled to Scotland to attend my lectures but also in the form of a wonderful and festive Princeton reception in Edinburgh planned and organized by our colleague Steven Hamilton.
I am immensely grateful to students and other colleagues at Princeton Theological Seminary who were directly involved with this project: Rachel Baard who did an extremely professional job as my research assistant prior to my lectures in Edinburgh; Jennifer Thweatt-Bates who was an excellent editorial assistant for both the lectures and various drafts of the manuscript; and my research assistant Erik Wiebe who did all final editing prepared the bibliography and index and without whose expertise and outstanding work this book would not have been possible. I am also very grateful to Denise Schwalb Faculty Secretary at Princeton Theological Seminary for her unfailing support and assistance during the preparation for my lectures and during the time this book was written. A very special word of thanks must also go to Julie Dawson Associate Librarian at Princeton Theological Seminary and Jon Wood Ph.D. student for their invaluable assistance and linguistic competence that finally helped me obtain permission from various institutions in France to publish the remarkable photographs of prehistoric cave paintings that appear in this book.
I want to thank a special group of friends and scholars who read and reread various versions of my lectures and gave me important critical feedback. Others directly contributed to the content of this work through in-depth conversations and invaluable suggestions for interdisciplinary reading material that enriched immeasurably my own research and writing. These colleagues are: Patrick Miller Richard Osmer Chip Dobbs-Allsopp Dennis Olson James Kay and Steven Hamilton (Princeton Theological Seminary); Angela Creager (Princeton University); George Newlands (University of Glasgow); LeRon Shults (Bethel Theological Seminary); Rudie Botha Julian Müller Robert Vosloo Deon Bruwer (South Africa) and Ockert Meyer (Australia). A dear friend of many years Jerome (Jerry) A. Stone not only read the entire manuscript several times but enriched it with his thorough comments and important critical questions.
Directly after delivering the Gifford Lectures in May 2004 I had the great privilege of being part of a group of scientists who met in Les Eyzies France under the joint leadership of Colin Renfrew and Mary Ann Meyer sponsored by the John Templeton Foundation. At this seminar “Innovation in Material and Spiritual Cultures” I had theprivilege of finally meeting those leading scholars in paleoanthropology and archeology whose research work and publications have so definitively shaped my own interdisciplinary work on the elusive relationship between theological anthropology and paleoanthropology. I am deeply indebted to the following scientists for their inspiring work for their sustained and genuine interest in the kinds of questions a philosophical theologian would ask and for their critical feedback and contributions to my own thinking about the shared problem of human uniqueness: Jean Clottes Margaret Conkey Francesco d’Errico Christopher Henshilwood David Lewis-Williams Paul A. Mellars Steven Mithen Paul Taçon and my colleague Keith Ward.
In the months following my lectures in Edinburgh I was invited to speak on this topic at various institutions an opportunity that greatly contributed to the fine-tuning and structuring of the final manuscript of this book. I would like to express my sincere gratitude to the following institutions: the Metanexus Institute (Philadelphia); the Institute of Theology (Princeton); the North Central Program for Science and Theology (St. Paul Minnesota); the Divinity School at Yale University; St. John’s University (Collegeville Minnesota); the Evangelische Akademie Arnoldshain (Germany); and in South Africa the Faculty of Theology University of Pretoria and the Presbyterian Church of St. Columba’s Johannesburg. An invitation by the University of Uppsala Sweden to deliver the Olaus Petri Lectures in December 2004 enabled me once again to return to and work through this manuscript. I am especially grateful to my colleagues in Uppsala Mikael Stenmark Carl Reinhold BrÃ¥kenhielm and Eberhard Herrmann for their extremely constructive conversations and contributions on the topics of interdisciplinarity and “human uniqueness.”
I also want to specially thank Ian Tattersall Curator at the Department of Anthropology at the American Museum of Natural History New York City for his ongoing support of my work and for assisting me with the detailed planning of my very first visit to the prehistoric caves in southwestern France and the Basque Country in northern Spain. I am also enormously indebted to Rick Potts Director of Human Origins at the National Museum of Natural History Smithsonian Institution in Washington D.C. and to Paul Wason Director of Science and Religion at the John Templeton Foundation for their encouragement for their critical reading of my work and for really believing in this project.
I am very thankful to Jean Clottes for meeting with me first in Foix and later in Les Eyzies France and for guiding me through the wealth of information available on Upper Paleolithic cave art today. He has not only been an inspiration for this book but has also very graciously supplied me with spectacular photos of paintings from the caves of Gargas (Hautes-Pyrénées) Cougnac (Lot) and Niaux (Ariège). I am also very grateful to Norbert Aujoulat Director of the Département d’Art Pariétal in Périgueux France for making available and giving copyright permission for the stunning images from the cave of Lascaux that are printed in this text. Bertrand Defois from the Centre de Préhistoire du Pech-Merle provided me with the most beautiful image of the famous “Dotted Horses” from the cave of Pech-Merle that I have ever come across. I thank him for that and for the permission to reproduce it here.
These acknowledgments cannot end without thanking a group of dear friends who traveled from different parts of the world to attend my lectures in Edinburgh. This encouraged me in ways I will never forget.
The ongoing support and enthusiasm for this project from our family our children their spouses our grandchildren and my mother Annie van Huyssteen has been a true inspiration. The fact that some of them managed to join us for the lectures in Edinburgh meant the world to us. Their presence was indicative of the continuous support of the rest of our family who were unable to be with us at that time. I would like to dedicate this book to my wife Hester to our four children Henk Ilse Daniël and Nina to their spouses Charmaine Jac Gretchen Dale and to our beautiful grandchildren Benjamin Wentzel Ava and Jada.
From the book: