Original Research - Special Collection: Wentzel van Huyssteen

Human uniqueness: An unfinished agenda

Ernst M. Conradie
Verbum et Ecclesia | Vol 42, No 2 | a2295 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/ve.v42i2.2295 | © 2021 Ernst M. Conradie | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 19 May 2021 | Published: 27 July 2021

About the author(s)

Ernst M. Conradie, Department of Religion and Theology, University of the Western Cape, Cape Town, South Africa


This contribution is structured in the form of a letter to Van Huyssteen focussing on his magnum opus, Alone in the World? (2006). It recognises, with Van Huyssteen, the danger of docetic detachment and scientific reductionism. It suggests that what is at stake in debates on human uniqueness is a defence of human dignity, human rights and human responsibility. It points to a dilemma in this regard, namely that affirming the evolutionary continuity of humans with other species as well as human dignity on the basis of human uniqueness is only possible on the basis of a hierarchy of intrinsic worth and not equal intrinsic worth. However, amongst humans, such a hierarchy cannot be sustained given the need to affirm equal human dignity. The underlying problem here is to address the dangers of anthropocentrism, especially in the so-called Anthropocene where humans have become a ‘geological force of nature’. Van Huyssteen is challenged to consider the reverse side of the emergence of human uniqueness, namely the emergence of human sin. Are humans unique in this regard too?

Intradisciplinary and/or interdisciplinary implications: The theme of human uniqueness is by definition of multi-disciplinary interest as demonstrated in the work of Wentzel van Huyssteen. This contribution highlights an unresolved anthropocentrism, especially in the context of what is termed the ‘Anthropocene’, that is also of significance within multiple disciplines, including Christian theology and discourse on theology and science.


Anthropocene; Anthropocentrism; detachment; human dignity; human uniqueness; image of God; reductionism; sin; Wentzel van Huyssteen


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