From the series, Ten Turning Points That Make All the Difference
The image of God in humans is under attack. Evolutionary doctrine leads many thinkers to conclude that there is no essential difference between us and and any other organism. (By “evolutionary doctrine,” I am referring specifically to the version of evolutionary theory that says all organisms have come to be through blind, unguided processes of random variation, natural selection, and other statistical population effects such as genetic drift. Although there are other versions of evolutionary theory, this one is prominent, and it carries serious implications with respect to what it means to be human.)
Illusions Of Humanness?
Jerry Coyne, a biologist at the University of Chicago and author of Why Evolution is True, wrote recently in USAToday that we don’t have free will. Not at all. Not even a little bit. He means that seriously: we don’t make choices, ever. We may think we do, but that’ss an illusion. What really happens instead is that the atoms and molecules in our brain do what atoms and molecules do, based on natural law; and because natural law can only do what natural law requires, nothing can possibly happen except for what natural law requires.
That means you and I can only do what natural law requires, not what we decide. A rock doesn’t decide if it’s going to fall down a hill. Your neurons don’t decide if they’re going to have their electrochemical reactions. The only way around that requirement of natural law would be some kind of spooky supernatural exception, he thinks. He’s right about that, in a way: it’s the image of God in us. We share with God the ability to make decisions of our own, and not to be mere puppets of our brains’ electrochemistry.
Others have gone so far as to say that consciousness is an illusion, or that we have no meaning and no purpose.
Others degrade the moral significance of life. They claim that morality is up to the individual or the culture: that morality is relative, in other words. They say we ought to tolerate moral differences among one another. Most of them don’t see where that path leads. I’ve interacted on the web with one who did, though. He conceded that his moral relativism meant that “In their own times and places, slavery, suttee, and child sacrifice were not wrong.” This came from a university professor at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo. (Suttee, or sati, was the former custom in India, wherein a widow was required to throw herself alive onto her late husband’s funeral pyre and be burned to death along with his body.)
Did you catch what that professor said? Cultures determine their own morality, so when slavery is the culture, slavery is not wrong. In case that didn’t sink home, I’ll say it this way: in the deep South in 1845, slavery was not wrong. In Alabama in 1850, slavery was right. How stupid is that? How disgusting! How obviously wrong!
And it’s degrading, too. Consider that another implication of this is that in 1950 in Montgomery, segregation and racism were not wrong. So when Rosa Parks sat in the front of the bus, and when Martin Luther King Jr. led a movement to recognize African-Americans’ full humanness, at the end of it all we shifted from one cultural viewpoint to another, and neither one of them was wrong. It was a lateral shift. It wasn’t moral progress at all. The relativist position says, “what right do you have to judge another culture?” But moral progress means precisely that we judge another culture: our own previous culture. It means that at the end of it all, we say, “we’ve become better than we were.” Moral progress is impossible if you can’t say we’ve become better than we were before—but relativism doesn’t allow that.
By the way, if you really want to annoy a moral relativist, remind them that if it’s wrong to judge other cultures, then they can’t find the slightest fault with our previous culture of condemning homosexuality. That was the cultural norm, so it must have been just fine. Not only that, but if we move toward a culture that approves homosexuality, that’s not progress—not even from their own (twisted) perspective—because there is no such thing as moral progress.
A Rat Is a Pig Is a Dog Is a Boy?
This denial of the image of God saps the very humanness out of us. Peter Singer, an ethicist at Princeton University, accuses us of “speciesism” for considering ourselves more significant than the animals. This is the mindset behind the animal rights movement: who are we to think we’re any better than the animals? Ingrid Newkirk of PETA once said that from an ethical perspective, “A rat is a pig is a dog is. a boy.”
One scientist is so concerned about the “harm” we’re doing to the earth, he thinks the best thing that could happen would be the elimination of fully 90% of all humans.
Note carefully that I’m not saying every believer in evolution believes these things. I doubt that most of them do. But those among them who do believe these things are the ones who are on the right track, if evolution is true. The others are denying crucial, necessary implications of the theory. If blind, unguided evolution is true, then ethically speaking, a rat is indeed a pig is a dog is a boy. There’s no basis for considering them different in worth. If you disagree, then you’re genuinely being speciesist. You bad person, you! But wait–our whole culture is speciesist, and if our whole culture approves, then it can’t be bad after all. You morally insignificant organism, you!
Why then do some believers in unguided evolution deny the theory’s implications? Why do they still think humans are different? Why do some of them still think we have moral significance, or free will? It’s because they can’t get around the reality. We really are created in the image of God.
The Image of God Strikes Back
One of my favorite authors, J.P. Moreland, wrote a book I want to read someday: The Recalcitrant Imago Dei: Human Persons and the Failure of Naturalism. I like that title. There are some genuine 50¢ words in there, but they’re good ones. Imago Dei is “image of God” in Latin. Naturalism is the theory (roughly) that nothing exists but nature: nothing but matter and energy, interacting by natural law and chance. It says there is no God and no spiritual reality, and there are no souls, only bodies.
Recalcitrant is the key word. It means “obstinately uncooperative.” We use it to describe misbehaving kids or criminals who won’t change, no matter how much correction gets applied to them. Human nature is obstinately resistant to cooperating with what evolutionary theory says we ought to think about ourselves. If unguided evolution is true, we shouldn’t be fooled by these “illusions” of consciousness or free will—but we just can’t help ourselves. We shouldn’t think we’re more significant than any other organism, but we just won’t get with the program!
There’s a reason for our obstinacy. The fact is we are humans, and no matter how hard someone might try to talk ourselves out of it, we’re going to go on being human. We were created in the image of God. That’s who we are, and that’s who we will always be.
To summarize, we who are created in God’s image will go on living as if created in God’s image: thinking, feeling, deciding, relating, building, and creating. There are theories out there that deny this, but they run up hard against reality, and they fail.
Being created in God’s image means that we glorify him by thinking, feeling, deciding, relating, building, and creating—even in so-called “non-spiritual” realms of life; and these are good things to do.
It also means that we have moral significance. It means we can fail morally, and turn all of this to bad ends. No one needs to tell you we’ve done that, but still we’re going to spend considerable time on it when we move to our next topic.