Naturalism and the Imagio Dei

“Take your stinking paws off me you damned dirty ape!” Ah, Heston in one of his best moments. I remember seeing the Planet of the Apes when it first came out and I loved it. Hey, I was like 7, ok? Even the remake was pretty good. But I think the 1968 ‘worked’ because, like many classics, it played on a fear or concern that society is dealing with at the time. For Planet of the Apes, I think it was evolution that we were wrestling with. Yes, it had been around for quite a while but by the late ’60s it was pretty widely accepted and at least subconsciously we were dealing with what it meant. I could unpack that some more but it isn’t my point so I’m going to press on.

Naturalism is the driving force behind Darwinian evolution. The idea is that the universe is ‘closed’ that is there is no supernatural explanation for anything. Period. Random chance produced genetic diversity which lead to the rise of human beings. That means that we’re descended for a long string of lesser animal forms. That means that we’re related to apes. As a matter of fact, the only real difference between us and them is that we stood erect and learned to use tools and to speak. In other words, we got smart and they didn’t.

But, naturalism postulates, if evolution is on-going, might not our ape cousins catch up? This was the premise of Planet of the Apes. Humans messed up and ruined their society and therefore stalled their evolution. Apes were give a lot of time to catch up, and they did! In fact, they overtook us and they rule the planet now.

So that is a bit of hokey science fiction, but I think it makes an important point. Science is silently telling us that if apes and monkeys start using tools, they’re a step closer to us. It would seem to prove their point that human beings aren’t really that special. So when you see something like an orangutan apparently using a stick to fish or a chimp using a stick to get a termite dinner, it is supposed to show that we’re not really that smart after all.

But the whole thing really should make Christians reflect on what it means to be made in God’s image. Care needs to be taken here to make sure that we’re not letting naturalism define these kinds of things for us. When you consider what the Bible says about the imagio dei, you find that it give very little definition to the term but spends the few passages that touch on it showing us what it means practically. So what exactly does it mean that we’re created in God’s image? We’re not sure but from Genesis 2:7 there seems to be a spiritual aspect to it. We’re made from the same dirt that the animals come from (Gen 1:24) but unlike those animals, God breathed life into Adam’s nostrils. There may be and probably are other ways we’re like God and animals aren’t but the Bible isn’t abundantly clear on those. Chimps wielding sticks is no threat to our unique position in creation. This is an example of when scripture can clarify issues in life, even when it remains unspecific on a certain topic.

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  • I think God made apes in the image of man, just as a joke for our enjoyment. Think about it, what’s one of the most entertaining animals to watch?

  • Picking up a stick to get a fish is a very sophisticated neurological accomplishment, which is why so few creatures can do it. However, is is not neurologically equivalent to carving the stick into different shapes for different purposes, teaching ones young how to carve, or improving existing designs with inovative changes (say, for example, using some fiber to tie a rock onto the end of a carved stick, then experimenting with adhesives to find beter whays of attaching it, then reshaping the rock to make it work better, etc., etc., etc.)

    Wow. That was quite a sentence! Let me catch my breath.

    What I meant to say is, “yeah, what you said!”

  • shouldn’t that be imago Dei?

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