The Image of God Under Attack

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.

Falling Rocks Warning Sign
Like rocks falling off a hill

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.

Moral Meaninglessness?
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!

Rosa Parks On Bus
Moral relativism makes moral progress impossible--even this!

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.

Comments

  1. Alex Dawson

    Tom: “If unguided evolution is true, we shouldn’t be fooled by these “illusions” of consciousness or free will”
    Here and elsewhere, are you suggesting that such conclusions follow from unguided evolution, or is it shorthand for “evolution+naturalism” as in the introduction? I personally don’t see how/why merely unguided evolution would entail (nor particularly suggest) consciousness/freewill being an illusion.

    I’m still not convinced that more than a very small minority actually hold sufficiently strong naturalistic beliefs that such ahuman conclusions result. It is certainly beneficial to vigorously respond to such views whenever they arise, but I’m personally not particularly alarmed to see a few odd people proffering such peculiar views. But perhaps I’m naive and over optimistic.

    Apart from the explanations relating to the Christian God, I broadly agree with everything else here. I’ve been finding this an interesting informative series so far, and look forward to more! Thanks

  2. d

    Human nature is obstinately resistant to cooperating with what evolutionary theory says we ought to think about ourselves.

    Isnt it your contention that if naturalism and evolution are true, there are no such things as “oughts”?

  3. timellison

    Excellent post my friend. when i was working in a university ministry one of my favorite examples about judging another culture: the issue of female circumcision. i never met a moral relativist who thought that was right-they always exploded in moral outrage at such a practice! moral relativism is an idea that no one can really hold deep in their heart.

  4. Post
    Author
  5. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    Re: Alex Dawson:

    Here and elsewhere, are you suggesting that such conclusions follow from unguided evolution, or is it shorthand for “evolution+naturalism” as in the introduction? I personally don’t see how/why merely unguided evolution would entail (nor particularly suggest) consciousness/freewill being an illusion.

    Yes, I am treating them as broadly synonymous. Still, it does seem to me that unguided evolution would not give room for free will or consciousness, if we really mean everything that is true about the organism is what has come to be through unguided evolution, and that there is nothing that has been made true of the organism by way of any guided processes.

  6. Post
    Author
  7. Victoria

    @Alex
    Apart from the explanations relating to the Christian God, I broadly agree with everything else here. I’ve been finding this an interesting informative series so far, and look forward to more! Thanks

    Hi Alex…I hope all is well with you.

    If you are enjoying this, then I’d recommend both James. W. Sire’s book The Universe Next Door, (2nd Edition) and N. T. Wright’s Simply Christian. Both would be great followups to this series.

  8. Holopupenko

    Recalcitrance?

    About an hour ago, I was reading C.S. Lewis’ The Magician’s Nephew to my nine year old, and I came across a passage I’ve read probably three or four times before in my life, but of which I had not understood the significance. Upon reading it this time, I had to excuse myself for a few minutes from my son to step out of the house and stare at the sky to contemplate Lewis’ literary brilliance. If this passage, which I share below, doesn’t reflect how atheists behave (depicted in the person of Uncle Andrew below)—as persons and when faced with truths—I don’t know what does. I can almost understand, now, Lewis’ own journey through the intellectual and moral sludge of atheism—in the many conversations and arguments I’m sure he had along the way—to then emerge into the light of a whole new perspective upon reality. I could see also the many topics discussed on this blog, and how atheists—no matter their pedigree or personal inclinations—flee the truth in horror, for the truth oh so threatens their pitiful, self-serving, self-idolizing, banal and petty worldview.

         We must now go back a bit and explain what the whole [beautiful] scene [of Narnia’s creation] had looked like from Uncle Andrew’s point of view. It had not made at all the same impression on him as on the others. For what you see and hear depends a good deal on where you are standing: it also depends on what sort of person you are.
         Ever since the animals had first appeared, Uncle Andrew had been shrinking further and further back into the thicket… Like the Witch, he was dreadfully practical. He simply didn’t notice that Aslan was choosing one pair out of every kind of beasts. All he saw, or thought he saw, was a lot of dangerous wild animals walking vaguely about…
         When the great moment came and the Beasts spoke, he missed the whole point; for a rather interesting reason. When the Lion had first begun singing, long ago when it was still quite dark, he had realized that the noise was a song. And he had disliked the song very much. It made him think and feel things he did not want to think and feel. The, when the sun rose and he saw that the singer was a lion (“only a lion,” as he said to himself) he tried his hardest to make believe that it wasn’t singing and never had been singing—only roaring as any lion might in a zoo in our own world. “Of course it can’t really have been singing,” he thought, “I must have imagined it. I’ve been letting my nerves get out of order. Who ever heard of a lion singing?” And the longer and more beautiful the Lion sang, the harder Uncle Andrew tried to make himself believe that he could hear nothing but roaring. Now, the trouble about trying to make yourself stupider than you really are is that you very often succeed.
         Uncle Andrew did. He soon did hear nothing but roaring in Aslan’s song. Soon he couldn’t have heard anything else even if he had wanted to. And when at last the Lion spoke and said, “Narnia awake,” he didn’t hear any words: he heard only a snarl. And when the Beasts spoke in answer, he heard only barkings, growlings, bayings, and howlings. And when they laughed—well, you can imagine. That was worse for Uncle Andrew than anything that had happened yet. Such a horrid, bloodthirsty din of hungry and angry brutes he had never heard in his life. The, to his utter rage and horror, he saw the other three humans actually walking out into the open to meeting the animals.
         “The fools!” he said to himself… If they want to throw away their own lives, that’s their business. But what about me? they don’t seem to think of that. No one things of me.
         Finally, when a whole crowd of animals came rushing towards him, he turned and ran for his life…

    Recalcitrance? Indeed! Animated first and foremost by the deadliest of the seven deadly sins: pride, which is the sin associated with Lucifer himself.

  9. Victoria

    I’m still not convinced that more than a very small minority actually hold sufficiently strong naturalistic beliefs that such ahuman conclusions result. It is certainly beneficial to vigorously respond to such views whenever they arise, but I’m personally not particularly alarmed to see a few odd people proffering such peculiar views. But perhaps I’m naive and over optimistic.

    Alex – we are still in the first chapter of the story here. As we progress, you will learn that Christianity is about much more than an intellectual exercise in worldview analysis…what is at stake here is Truth about the nature of reality, our place in it and our relationship with our Creator.

    Christianity is a grand narrative, a progressive one, that moves from ‘The Creation’ to ‘The Fall’, “God’s Unfolding Plan of Redemption’, and Glorification (the new Heaven and the new Earth, and the redeemed people who will live there with Jesus as our Redeemer and sovereign King).

    There is much more to come in this series that will explain our worldview, and our faith.

  10. NickMatzke

    “Yes, I am treating them as broadly synonymous. Still, it does seem to me that unguided evolution would not give room for free will or consciousness, if we really mean everything that is true about the organism is what has come to be through unguided evolution, and that there is nothing that has been made true of the organism by way of any guided processes.”

    How does a guided process magically produce free will and consiousness, whereas an unguided (but nonrandom) process like evolution, if true, magically guarantee there is no free will and consciousness?

    To wit:

    1. Most evolutionary biologists would disagree with Jerry Coyne’s position on the nonexistence of free will.

    2. Various well-known positions in Christian theology, e.g. predestination, seem to deny free will or at least make it a very puzzling concept.

    It seems to me that, logically, unguided vs. guided origin of humans, and free will vs no free will of humans, are orthogonal questions. They may end up accidentally associated in one person’s philosophy, but history shows that the opposite positions can be similarly associated.

    What you would need to make this a real argument would be an airtight logical argument which shows that if naturalism is true, there is no free will. Without that, your whole line of argument falls to pieces.

  11. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    Nick,

    Thank you for the advice on logical argumentation, from an acknowledged expert on the subject (here’s one testimonial among many). If you want to make a case that the question of free will is orthogonal to the question of human origins, you will need to follow your own advice.

    It is a complex issue, and there are various versions of free will and determinism, and multiple arguments for and against each of them. This blog post summarizes several topics, so its purpose was not to analyze them all in depth. I have not skirted the subject, though, as you know full well. I’ll let you peruse my past writings on free will again for a more extended discussion such as you have called for here.

    “Most evolutionary biologists” are not philosophers any more than Coyne is or you are. I would submit to you that they are listening to their humanness (“The Image of God Strikes Back”) rather than drawing the conclusion that follows logically from naturalism.

  12. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    By the way…

    Whether humans have free will depends on what we are, which depends on what we’re made of (so to speak), which depends on where we came from. It’s fully ludicrous to say it’s orthogonal to the origins question.

    (“Orthogonal,” for other readers’ benefit, means statistically independent or having no effect on each other. Nick uses it figuratively to apply to logical independence, which is perfectly legitimate linguistically. “Unrelated” and “unconnected” are reasonably close synonyms.)

  13. d

    “Human nature is obstinately resistant to believing what evolutionary theory says is true about it.”

    I disagree with your assessment about what unguided evolution (UE) rationally obligates us to believe about ourselves, strenuously, at every single level. But what if this claim above were true? It probably is…

    History is full of humans resisting what is true, especially truths that deflate any cherished sense of self-centered, self-importance. Many of those truths are truths that people now accept, without a fuss. Its rational to seek the truth, but all of us deny it, in some capacity or in some instances, when we find it.

    But on either option UE or Christian theism (CT), we’re left with a world full people people who reject or defy true belief in favor of the false. In other words, we’re STILL in a world full of people who defy what it is rational to seek or believe, according to their natures.

    And if under UE, this sort of truth denialism counts as evidence against naturalism, then why does it does it not also count as evidence against CT?

    This sort of widespread rejection of what is true, certainly is a type of evil. But like any other type of evil that exists in proponderence, evolution and indifference explain it effortlessly.

  14. G. Rodrigues

    @d:

    History is full of humans resisting what is true, especially truths that deflate any cherished sense of self-centered, self-importance.

    Absolutely right. And the primary examples are those that reject God. What is more self-centered and self-aggrandizing than proclaiming that God is not? Then you can put your one little petty, pitiful, prideful self in the throne and be a God unto yourself.

    This sort of widespread rejection of what is true, certainly is a type of evil. But like any other type of evil that exists in proponderence, evolution and indifference explain it effortlessly.

    Your comments are a marvel of cluelessness to behold. I am honestly not trying to be insulting, but when you say that such and such a product of evolution is a “type of evil” and then pile absurdity upon absurdity by saying that “evolution and indifference explain it effortlessly”, what should we do? “Effortlessly”, really? You can hardly coherently define the terms in your statements much less explain anything whatsoever. Do you even listen — or in this case, read — to yourself?

  15. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    d, in addition to what G. Rodrigues said, I’ll respond briefly to this:

    “Human nature is obstinately resistant to believing what evolutionary theory says is true about it.” …

    And if under UE, this sort of truth denialism counts as evidence against naturalism, then why does it does it not also count as evidence against CT?

    First of all, let’s be cautious about “truth denialism.” I never used that language. Better to say “ostensible-truth denialism.” Humans persistently deny UE’s ostensible truths. This counts against naturalism because it’s evidence that we know better than to think those ostensible truths are actual truths.

    Why doesn’t something similar count against Christian theism? Show me the something similar, the true parallel to that situation, and we can discuss that question.

  16. SteveK

    Whether humans have free will depends on what we are, which depends on what we’re made of (so to speak), which depends on where we came from. It’s fully ludicrous to say it’s orthogonal to the origins question.

    Nick will have to get into the subject of the nature of being and I don’t think he has the stomach for it because it’s not science, and therefore, it can’t lead to real knowledge.

    What Nick needs to know is that who we are, our human nature, is grounded in a reality that precedes evolution and precedes the formation of the first living cell.

  17. Holopupenko

    Look, the evidence is pretty clear… and you guys have been saying so using other words: Neither Nick nor d are very smart. Rinse. Repeat cycle.

  18. d

    Its interesting how this always goes. On one hand, rejecting belief in God means we’re self-centered narcissist gods unto ourselves… on the other, it means we’re worthless particle swarms of decaying, meaningless, purposeless matter. The tensions between these particular apologetic strategies don’t really mesh that well.

    But is it REALLY self-centered to reject belief in God? If God doesnt exist, it probably would be rational to reject belief in God, yes? And believing what’s rational to believe has little or nothing to do with personal ego.

    On the flipside, what could be more self-centered and narcissistic than the strongly held conviction we are the apple of our Creator’s eye, that He has a plan, a designated purpose for you and me? What about the belief that God listens to your prayers? Or what about the belief that the perfection to be realized at the end of this life and this world is nothing less than God getting to enjoy our company for all eternity? And most of all, what could be more narcissistic than to claim that God loves you? Careful at the types of aspersions you through around about the ego’s of non-believers.. It’s no stretch to look at Christiandom (and other Abrahamic religions) as some of our most aggrandized projections of self-pride and narcissistic conceit, even though they are usually disguised by a thin veil of humility.

  19. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    d, this is rather interesting:

    On one hand, rejecting belief in God means we’re self-centered narcissist gods unto ourselves… on the other, it means we’re worthless particle swarms of decaying, meaningless, purposeless matter. The tensions between these particular apologetic strategies don’t really mesh that well.

    What’s the problem with that? Here’s how you’re representing my position: either God is real and we have a problem, or God is not real and we have a problem. In the one case our problem is sin against God, in the other case the problem is that we have no reason to count on having ontological worth, in the final analysis. I think that’s a pretty fair statement of the situation. So again, what’s the problem?

    Is it really self-centered to reject belief in God? Well, it’s certainly not God-centered, and it’s not giving our Creator due regard. That’s a huge failure, in view of his greatness, his love, and his sovereignty over all his works. So yes, with respect to God it’s extremely self-centered.

    Is it equally self-centered to regard ourselves as the apple of God’s eye? Well, no, not if we remember that it’s God’s eye, not ours, that’s assessing our place in the universe. If we see ourselves as he sees us, that’s just acknowledging that he’s the one who can make that assessment.

    Or what about the belief that the perfection to be realized at the end of this life and this world is nothing less than God getting to enjoy our company for all eternity?

    That’s terribly self-centered. I’ve never heard anyone suggest it, and if I did, I would say that’s not Christian belief at all.

    what could be more narcissistic than to claim that God loves you?

    God’s love is unconditional. We don’t deserve it. He gives it anyway. That’s not a self-centered claim. Quite the opposite.

Comments are closed.

By commenting here you agree to abide by this site's comment guidelines.