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Humans as Made in the Image of God

Genesis 1.26 describes humans as made in the image and likeness of God, the only creatures to which this direct connection with the divine is attributed. Theologically, then, the Christian tradition has asserted a radical discontinuity between humans and other creatures. Scientifically, the differences between humans and other animals are ones of degree, rather than a radical discontinuity of nature. (see the paradox of the development of modern humans).

A Darwinian account of humanity can find no place for the notion that the species suddenly acquired a property called ‘the image and likeness of God’. Human distinctiveness evolved gradually (see the evolution of hominids). Can theology frame its understanding of the imago Dei in such a way as to take account of this perception? There are three main possibilities for grounding this concept:

  • the classical one that the image of God is in human rationality

  • the ‘image’ being grounded in other common characteristics - love, uprightness, dominion, creativity

  • that we should understand the ‘image’ in terms of capacity for authentic relationship (an understanding particularly attractive to certain trinitarian theologians).

This last possibility seems the most fruitful, and is certainly in tune with the notion that the divine image developed only when culture - including and especially religion - enabled human altruism to transcend that of the immediate family groupSee the paradox of the development of modern humans. For a discussion of altruism see the dialogue between Irons and Hefner in Richardson, WM, and Wildman, WJ, (1996) Religion and Science: History, Method,...(for a discussion of altruism see the dialogue between Irons and Hefner in Richardson and Wildman’s book - Irons, 1996 and Hefner, 1996). A modern description of the imago Dei should probably also emphasise creativitySee Hefner, P, The Human Factor (Minneapolis, Mn.: Fortress Press, 1993) on the human as‘created co-creator’.which again is clearly an evolved characteristic.

Email link | Feedback | Contributed by: Dr. Christopher Southgate and Dr. Michael Robert Negus
Source: God, Humanity and the Cosmos  (T&T Clark, 1999)

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