Back Transdisciplinarity and the Unity of Knowledge: Beyond the Science and Religion Dialogue

Skip Navigation Links
Emmanuel M. Carreira
The Human Person: Nature, Ethical and Theological Viewpoints


The concept of Person is applied to a subject endowed with powers of reason and free will, and thus is responsible for activities that are not the outcome of physical laws or genetic programming (instinctive behavior). This also means that the Person by its very nature is a subject of rights and duties, with a dignity previous to any social convention.

Since matter is scientifically defined in terms of 4 interactions (forces), we must inquire about the possibility of attributing to its properties and forces the activities proper of a Person. None of those interactions can produce meaning as found in abstract thought. Similarly, the physical forces are unable to explain the freedom exhibited in human behavior, a freedom that is at the root of all social structures with their requirement for responsibility. Such freedom is contrary to the deterministic processes of matter according to the “laws of nature”, and also to the probabilistic fluctuations of Quantum Mechanics: the most obvious quality of a free act is that it doesn’t occur randomly, but it is due to a conscious choice.

The need for a sufficient reason for thought and free will leads to accept a non-material source when matter is unable to explain the full reality of the Person. We have to admit a human spirit, intimately joined to matter in a unity where the ultimate subject is the totality of Man, both for biological activities and for those that transcend physics and chemistry.

The origin of Man on Earth is tied to the stages of evolution of the universe, making Earth a habitable planet, and to the development of life forms through biological change up to the primate level. But the final step, from non-intelligent animal to the Rational Animal, cannot be attributed to random genetic changes. We do not know when or where Man first appeared, but we have cogent reasons to establish the kinship of all living forms on Earth and also the specific unity of the entre human family. This leads to the statement proclaimed in the Declaration of Human Rights signed by the members of the United Nations in 1948, where all human beings are recognized as having the same dignity previous to any social concession.

As a consequence, no Person can ever legitimately be reduced to the level of a “thing”, useful for another individual (slavery) or for the State. This is affirmed by Christian Theology, that holds that Man is the only reason why God created the material Universe and the only answer to why the Universe is not ultimately absurd. The concept of God as a personal Being is also stressed to underline the loving freedom that leads to create other personal entities with whom God wants to share the eternal life and happiness proper of the Creator.

Emmanuel M. Carreira, SJ, PhD is a Jesuit priest, with Licenciate degrees in Philosophy (Universidad Comillas, 1957) and Theology (Divinity School of Loyola University, Chicago 1961).  He obtained a Master in Physics from John Carroll University (Cleveland, OH 1966) and a Doctorate in Physics (The Catholic University of America, Washington D.C., 1971) with a thesis on Cosmic Rays directed by Dr. Clyde Cowan, co-discoverer of the neutrino with Fred Reines (Nobel Prize, 1995).

For 32 years he has taught the Philosophy of Nature at Comillas University, in Madrid, and Physics and Astronomy at the college level in Washington and Cleveland, alternating semesters.

He was invited to become an adjunct astronomer of the Vatican Observatory (Castel Gandolfo).  He taught a course on galaxies to 20 bishops in 1991, in celebration of the centennial of the Observatory, and cooperated in12 international summer courses

He has been a member of the Board of Directors of the Vatican Observatory for 15 years.  He has had lecture tours at universities in seven Latin American countries sponsored by the Vatican.


1616 Walnut Street, Suite 1112, Philadelphia, PA 19103 USA  |  Voice: + 1 484.592.0304 Fax: +1 484.592.0313   |   Email  |  Privacy Policy