In view of the evil that human beings have wrought and continue to bring about, as well as in view of the destructive human caused global warming and abuse of natural resources on the planet earth, the question whether our world and the universe would be better off without human beings around, seems a legitimate one. Add to that that human beings are one, merely one, of the many living beings that originated in a long and complicated process of evolution … despite the fact that many philosophical and religious arguments have been constructed to ideologically underpin the idea that human beings are the focus and goal of the cosmos and of cosmic evolution. Should we not be more humble about ourselves, all the more so when we consider that amongst living beings, humans enjoy great abilities and capacities, not in the least their developed skills of thinking and of (self-)reflection which provide them with means to order their world? Is humility not appropriate when one realizes that one has received these gifts not for oneself, but as part of the cosmos and towards the service of the cosmos. In a way, it as is if the cosmos, over a long period of time and complicated processes of evolution and change, has given itself possibilities for further development.
Reflections as these point towards a balanced view on human beings as part of the world, the universe, the cosmos. Of course, human beings are special and precious – there are not many of us around in our own corner of the galaxy, as Stephen Hawking reminds us on a TED talk -, and that means that they have a role and a responsibility as part of the world. “As part of the world” cannot, I think, be replaced by “as goal of the world”. Overshooting on the side of the importance of human beings, has rightly been criticized – when human beings belong their sense of belonging to the universe and start to instrumentalize all other beings and resources just in view of themselves, then a destructive dynamism ensues that will, in the end, also lead to the destruction of the living conditions and possibilities of the human beings themselves. But, not recognizing the special role and capacities of human beings at the service of change in the universe and not allowing for human beings to be considered “something special”, deprives the world of a capacity it has given itself. It’s important to strike the balance well, when considering the role and place of human beings in the universe, when asking the question of anthropocentrism.
The issue is of great importance for philosophers and theologians, as well as for scientists. All of them are aware that our knowledge about the world – and if one wants to say: a kind of knowledge that the world reaches about itself – is human. But this capacity of knowledge and reflection seems to, so to say, separate the knowing subject from the known object, and it is highly tempting, as a consequence, to consider the knower, the human being, as something very special ánd separate from the rest. What I would plea for – and after re-reading Pierre Teilhard de Chardin’s introduction to his Le phénomène humain, I have the impression that I am here in his good company – is to be aware of the human being as “special” but “not-separate” from the rest of the world, and even dependent on the whole rest of the world for survival. As a theologian, I would say it as follows: in creating the universe and allowing it to bring forth human beings, the Creator gave creation a potential for development and ran a risk. Our interwoven anthropologies and cosmologies should articulate this double perspective.