Board index Specific Bible verses, texts, and passages Genesis

The beginning of the covenant; Faith vs. Faithlessness

Genesis 1:26 - Animals in the image of God

Postby Trophy » Tue Feb 13, 2018 5:42 pm

There are several animal species (hominid apes, elephants, and some cetaceans, for example), that we know have self-awareness, empathy, theory of mind, can reflect on their own thoughts and decisions, and show altrustic behaviour that goes beyond the tit for tat principle. They have deep relationships, often with animals that are not even of their own species (including but not limited to, humans). They have cultural traditions (learned behaviours transmitted transgenerationally within communities) and understand symbolism.

Often these animals show great interest for issues which do not, usually, concern animals. Chimpanzees have been reported to have proto-ritualistic behaviour in maintaining shrine-like structures with no directly apparent purpose, and elephants are very well known for their strange (but for a human, quite easy to understand) behaviour around the physical remains of their conspecifics.

In the aforementioned species, it has been experimentally demonstrated that these animals have an understanding of fairness and lies.

Some theologians propose the idea, based on the above findings, that some non-human animals (namely great apes, in the articles I brought as example) are moral agents, and that humans misinterpret the specialness of Imago Dei for exclusiveness. They argue, that most interpretations of Imago Dei are not aimed at genetics or physiology, but other traits, like actions or thoughts. There seems to be sufficient evidence that some animal species qualify for such interpretations, and consequentially, they should be understood as part of Imago Dei.

As someone who has worked with and studied animals for a long time, I think if I were a christian, I would find these arguments extremely compelling. At least, there have been some animals during my life, whom I have thought of, for all intents and purposes, as a person, because I was firmly convinced, that persons they were (and I didn't even like some of those persons :P ).

Can you identify with this, Christians, or do you find the thought abhorring / ridiculous? If so, why? What would be the implications of such an interpretation in your opinion?
Trophy
 

Re: Genesis 1:26 - Animals in the image of God

Postby jimwalton » Tue Feb 13, 2018 5:42 pm

The Genesis text (1.26) tells us what the image of God in humans is: having dominion over God's creation as vice-regents, so to speak (also look at Sp. 8.5-8). God's image doesn't consist in our bodies, capabilities, moral sense, or thought processes, but rather that both man and woman were equally entrusts with dominion over the earth, not just in terms of dominant creature (as insects may one day take that role!) but in rulership in conjunction with God.

In the ancient world, kings left their statues (stelae) in areas they had conquered. The presence of that sculpture would symbolize the sovereignty of that king over the territory. This is the context in which the Genesis text speaks of humanity's Imago Dei, thus making humans God's co-regents, or deputies, on earth. The image of God means that God placed his nephesh in humans and gave humankind charge of God's creation, to rule it with the wisdom, love, and responsibility with which He Himself would rule it. People act on God's behalf by ruling and subduing.

So, as you can see, I think you're barking up the wrong tree with your reasoning. Non-human animals may possibly have moral sense and reasoning capabilities (the latter they surely have). We may one day find that they can reflect and even show altruism. It's all beside the point to what the image of God in us is.
jimwalton
Site Admin
 
Posts: 4957
Joined: Mon Sep 17, 2012 2:28 pm

Re: Genesis 1:26 - Animals in the image of God

Postby Mary Poppins » Wed Feb 14, 2018 6:21 pm

That's it? God's image is that of a ruler, someone with dominion? How boring and mundane.
Mary Poppins
 

Re: Genesis 1:26 - Animals in the image of God

Postby jimwalton » Wed Feb 14, 2018 6:23 pm

Yeah, not written to be exciting. It's not a movie trailer but rather perfectly in line with how the ancients conceived of rulership.

It was anything but mundane, however. Co-regent with the king was a high position of honor, dignity, and responsibility.
jimwalton
Site Admin
 
Posts: 4957
Joined: Mon Sep 17, 2012 2:28 pm

Re: Genesis 1:26 - Animals in the image of God

Postby Trophy » Wed Feb 14, 2018 6:52 pm

> (as insects may one day take that role!)

They already have. IF we're not counting bacteria, of course :P

> The presence of that sculpture would symbolize the sovereignty of that king over the territory.

That's one interpretation of Imago Dei, yes. I would add that If we identify Imago Dei with dominion over earth, humans certanily wouldn't appear to be god's chosen to an absolutely impartial observer. On the list of species with most influence over the planet, we have a pretty nice position, but it's far from the top. Not to mention that several species of the above list (most notably elpehants) are, like us, true shapers of the environment. Before we exterminated them from much of Africa, those guys essentially maintained certain biomes by removing trees, digging holes for water, etc. Lots of species depended on them for habitat and food. But it's a bit hard to maintain dominion over the land if you have brothers in the Lord who carry guns and for some reason firmly believe that eating your teeth will make them horny. ;)

> We may one day find that they can reflect and even show altruism.

We already have, as a matter of fact.

> It's all beside the point to what the image of God in us is.

But that's precisely the point. The quoted articles argue that we are made in the image of god, but so might be other beings on Earth. Specialness does not equal exclusivity. Ultimately, the second article comes to a similar conclusion to yours, but I don't really see how that follows, if you accept that there are other beings with moral agency, free will and self-reflection. (which the article has)

The idea that there might be creatures that are more or less similar-to-equivalent to us in their in the ability to act, reason, feel, and perceive, but we are still special and above them - even though we can't quite put a good definition to that specialness - because we've been told so by the scripture, sounds dangerously parallel to the along which some clergymen have denied "slaves races" having souls, IMO (I'm aware that goes back to the "curse of Ham", but I hope you get my point).
Trophy
 

Re: Genesis 1:26 - Animals in the image of God

Postby jimwalton » Wed Feb 14, 2018 7:03 pm

There do seem to be (at least for the time being) some characteristics of humans that are not shared with any other species, that make us unique in the animal kingdom.
I have gathered these from several sources over the years.

1\. We can remember (as in history and culture): we have cultures and ways of transmitting information. (Marvin Minsky, artificial intelligence pioneer, MIT)

2\. We can reason with one another. (Daniel Dennett, cognitive scientist, American philosopher)

3\. Humans have a unique ability to imitate desire (mnemetic desire). Animals can imitate behavior, but they don't imitate desire. (Warren Brown, neuroscientist).

4\. The capacity to worship; religious practice (Craig Hazen)

5\. Humans are the only creatures in the universe who ask "Why?" (Loren Eiseley, American anthropologist)

Whether these uniqueness will stand the test of time and further research will have to be seen.

> But it's a bit hard to maintain dominion over the land if you have brothers in the Lord who carry guns and for some reason firmly believe that eating your teeth will make them horny. ;)

I so agree. We seem so bent on self-destruction and have a propensity for weirdness.

> even though we can't quite put a good definition to that specialness - because we've been told so by the scripture, sounds dangerously parallel to...

Yeah, I get your point clearly enough. But if the point of Imago Dei is not our consciousness, reasoning ability, or moral capacity, but a role and function given to us by God, then we do have a good definition of that specialness.

Our uniqueness is spiritual in nature in the sense that we serve a function on earth commensurate with the nature of God—to rule it with justice, righteousness, good stewardship and responsibility as God Himself would. This even separates us out in the event that insects or viruses become more evolutionarily dominant.
jimwalton
Site Admin
 
Posts: 4957
Joined: Mon Sep 17, 2012 2:28 pm

Re: Genesis 1:26 - Animals in the image of God

Postby Mary Poppins » Wed Feb 14, 2018 8:59 pm

> Yeah, not written to be exciting

Yeah, not what I was commenting on.

> It's not a movie trailer

Again, you apparently have missed the whole point.

What is boring is the juxtaposition of the wide open concept of a god, or a perfect being, a concept that could easily stretch one's imagination to its limits, with yet another "ruler" and the mundane human concept of hierarchy and power over others. You've taken the possibility of what god could entail and reduced it to a human trait that isn't even one of the most noble or honorable ones. It's boring and mundane thinking.
Mary Poppins
 

Re: Genesis 1:26 - Animals in the image of God

Postby jimwalton » Wed Feb 14, 2018 9:02 pm

Oh, wait. No wonder I didn't get your point. You're changing the subject. Your contention is not anything to do with the image of God or animals in the image of God, but whether or not God exists. No wonder I missed the whole point. You're starting a different discussion.

> You've taken the possibility of what god could entail and reduced it to a human trait that isn't even one of the most noble or honorable ones. It's boring and mundane thinking.

Now you've missed the point. God is not reduced by delegating responsibility to a human representative. I am not claiming that we rise to divinity because of the commissioning, nor that God is reduced because of it. What I am arguing that the Bible teaches is that God regarded us to be so intelligent, honorable, filled with dignity and capability that He deemed it appropriate to commission us to carry out His work in the world. I don't see what's boring and mundane about that.
jimwalton
Site Admin
 
Posts: 4957
Joined: Mon Sep 17, 2012 2:28 pm

Re: Genesis 1:26 - Animals in the image of God

Postby Trophy » Wed Feb 14, 2018 9:06 pm

> We can remember (as in history and culture)

That's true for some animals too. There are cultural patterns, like call dialects in cetaceans, or certain tool-making techniques in primates and cetaceans that go down transgenerationally.

>We can reason with one another.

How would you define reasoning (with one another)?

> Humans have a unique ability to imitate desire

I assume this would mean that animals cannot fake wanting something if they don't.

First off, some cephalopods (who are not usually mentioned as one of the "smart species", though they are almost anomalously smart for invertebrates), are known to imitate being a sexually interested female (they can change body shae and colours amazingly) to get into the guarded territory of another male and steal a quickie from the actual females there.

Secondly, this argument really sounds like an overspecialized fall-back position. Think about this: first people assumed no animals are capable of tool use. It turned out some are, so people who argued for human specialness proposed that "okay, maybe, but they can't create tools". After it turned out that animals do, in fact, make tools, some people feel back on saying "ok, maybe they create tools, but it's all genetics and not a sign of true intellect".

I don't think that narrowing the definition of a trait far past the original, into a mere aspect of the trait, in order to exclude animals, is a very intellectually honest method.

> The capacity to worship; religious practice

There is actually some evidence of roto-ritualistic behaviour in chimps (who aparently treat some trees as special and collect stones in hollow trunk for no immediately apparent purpose. It's a relatively recent finding. Elephants have long been known to act really weird around the remains of other elephants. They will often even bury a dead elephant (or human!) with branches or leaves. Of course one cannot be sure about what the animals thinks during such proto-rituals, but I think it's at least worth considering that their activity might share common roots with human religious rituals.

> Humans are the only creatures in the universe who ask "Why?"

First off that statement assumes there are no alien civilisations and is therefore unfalsifiable - but I shall stop being nitpicky.

Then - yes, it's unknown for an animal to put forth that, explicit question AFAIK. Yet, animals often act genuinely interested when facing unexplainable phenomena (like magic tricks or illusions), and they will try to explore how they work. I think that is the rough equivalent of the mental state of a human who asks "why".

I would add, that there are specific fields of study concerning animal behaviour. Notice that none of the people you quoted are ethologists, evolutionary biologists or zoologists. An AI programmer making declarations about animal consciousness is - unless there is very good reason to assume that he is the expert of both fields - about as relevant as a biologist making declarations about clinical psychiatry. Yeah sure, there is some overlap between the fields, but there is also a way more - Mr. Minsky , for example, is apparently not aware of the fact that current scientific consensus in zoology ascribes culture to certain animal species (or the quote is old).
Trophy
 

Re: Genesis 1:26 - Animals in the image of God

Postby jimwalton » Wed Feb 14, 2018 9:06 pm

Yeah, my post about apparently unique human characteristics (which may or may not stand the test of time) was really just an intriguing aside to my true point that being in the image of God has nothing to do with humanity's capabilities or consciousness as compared and contrasted with animal species.
jimwalton
Site Admin
 
Posts: 4957
Joined: Mon Sep 17, 2012 2:28 pm

Next

Return to Genesis

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 1 guest


cron