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science and the Imago Dei

So out of the ground the Lord God formed every animal of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name. (Genesis 2:19)

I’ve long held that this part of the creation story is a lovely expression of what we call science.  Things like taxonomy and zoology explicitly name the creation.  This is basic to a Christian understanding of the Imago Dei, what it means to be humans created in the Image of God.  So you could imagine my childish glee to see that even a proper atheist like Michael Ruse can lament that this seems under-appreciated.

I’m not just a historian, I’m also a philosopher. So I don’t just want to find out what happened, I want to know what we should do. And I’ve been worrying about what is the right thing to do. I think it’s deplorable that we do have this division in American society today. I think it’s deplorable that science is not seen as, if you like, the true mark that we are made in the image of God – that our ability to ferret out the nature of the world shows that we are not just grubby little primates. (from here)

14 replies on “science and the Imago Dei”

…though I do find his choice of words “grubby little primates” to be less than desirable. Similarly to how we may watch a spider weaving her web and literally stand in awe, we have reason to be in awe of primates too.

For a ‘proper’ atheist, philosopher Michael Ruse sure spends a lot of time and effort trying (and spectacularly failing) to show christians how they can make the incompatible compatible (reconcile the findings of science—especially evolution—with creationist faith).

I suspect his motivation is so that he can find a way to feel superior to both.

But as far as the gnu atheist community is concerned (presuming the most popular thirty New Atheist writers can be called a community) Ruse is nothing more and nothing less than an accommodationist and religious apologist who turns to theology to comport insupportable beliefs he says he doesn’t share with the findings (and its method) of science for which he shows particular confusion and disdain.

Only a theist would call such an atheist ‘proper’.

You’re not alone, Dale: most theists who try to allow for some kind of creationist historical event as well pay passing lip service to accepting evolution can only do so by not understanding the two are, in fact, incompatible. Yet I have yet to meet a creationist who has the gumption to actually live by the professed creationist belief rather than receive inoculations and life-saving antibiotics. That duplicity doesn’t make anyone ‘dirty’; it makes them practicing hypocrites.

Neither accusation is accurate. I have stated that the two – creationism and evolution – are incompatible not to affect a biased position but to state what is factually true. If you consider facts to ‘poison the well’ then your definition needs a bit of work.

I have called those who attempt to accommodate some kind of historical creationist event with an acceptance of evolution to be hypocrites if they don’t live by their professed belief in the former. That’s not an ad hominem to attack the person rather than his or her argument but an observation of behaviour that reveals where the accepted belief actually and factually resides: with evolution.

Faitheists are quick to jump to these kinds of false accusations of logical fallacies as if they discredited the facts and behavioural observations made. They don’t. They reveal that the faitheist is attempting the “Quick! Look over there!” diversion with accusations that are both inaccurate and misplaced.

My criticisms stand on their own merit: you cannot accept evolution to be true and insert some historical creationist event without directly compromising what evolution actually means. That people pay lip service to accepting both without understanding this fundamental incompatibility between the two shows intellectual hypocrisy at work. I would be glad to explain why the two are incompatible… as long as the person is honestly interested in it rather than already having rejected any explanation as automatically wrong.

I strongly suspect you’ve already rejected the explanation (hence the false accusations of logical fallacies) not because it lacks merit but because it conflicts with your a priori belief that you can have your cake and eat it, too, that you can comport accepting both the method of science (and its products) with the method of faith-based beliefs (and its faith claims) as if they were different kinds of inquiry into the same reality we share. The good news is that you can! The bad news is that this makes you an hypocrite. You can’t have it any other way, Dale… whether I point it out to you or not. This hypocrisy is not my problem, whether you think it is or not; it belongs wholly and solely to you if you try to comport the two by assertion rather than compelling reasons. I have yet to find any compelling reasons from all the theists who have tried… from Francis Collins to the pope, from touted ‘sophisticated’ theologians to the most fundamentalist. In every case, their metaphysical musings fail to link any evidence for the creationist claim and fail to adequately address the lack of compelling evidence where it should be present if the creationist claims were true.

Ruse writes I think it’s deplorable that science is not seen as, if you like, the true mark that we are made in the image of God, while you write that naming flora and fauna explicitly name the creation. This is basic to a Christian understanding of the Imago Dei, what it means to be humans created in the Image of God.

In both cases, an historical creationist claim is being made that is not metaphorical: that humans are made in the image of god. There is zero evidence from reality for this factual claim and evidence that should be present to justify it is missing in action. There is no way to justify this creationist claim except as a faith statement that stands contrary to the reality we share, namely, that humans were not ‘made’ but evolved. Our oldest female ancestor lived some 50,000 years before our oldest male ancestor. This fact reveals just how wrong the creationist belief in humans being made really is: it is divorced from reality, whether uttered by a person of religious faith or an atheist: the claim as it stands is in every way wrong.

No Tildeb. Perfectly on cue for a gnu atheiest, you’re confusing physics with metaphysics; science with theology; and genetics with genesis. Step one, pretend they are the same ‘evidential’ and epistemic levels; step two, pretend they are in direct/total competition. Evolution is about a physical/biological/genetic process. The doctrine of the Imago Dei is about a spiritual relationship. Call it ‘real science’ v. ‘fairy-ology’ if you like, but don’t pretend they are talking about similar-enough things so as to be in some kind of conflict.

I’m not the one doing the pretending here: you are by pretending that imago Dei (which asserts that human beings are created in God’s image and therefore have inherent value independent of their utility or function) is a creationist claim that is merely ‘spiritual’. That’s absolute rubbish and you know it. Not for a second do I think you honestly believe that the Genesis claim is spiritual one any more than you believe Jesus died only a ‘spiritual’ death on a ‘spiritual’ cross for our ‘spiritual’ sins, now do you? According to your own faith, you believe that Jesus died for an historical sin related to an historical Adam and Eve; otherwise, Jesus historically died for a metaphor, which makes no sense.

I specifically stated that this claim, that we are ‘made’ in the image of god, is not presented to us as a metaphorical claim (that you are now trying to suggest in a way that allows you cross effortlessly between meanings to suit your purpose of evading reality’s say in the matter) Now, if you want to make it a metaphorical claim, then you’re going to have to live with the consequences. Neither us believe this is what you really want.

But if you are going to make creationism an historical claim, then metaphysics will not provide you any evidential means to make it an historical claim, nor will theology, nor will genesis. None of these provide any evidential support for an historical claim. But in addition, we do have compelling evidence from reality that the claim of life being ‘made’ by some intentional agency is contrary to the creationist claim.

Whether you admit it or not, Dale, this evidence IS contrary to the historical claim. As I also stated, there is no way to justify this claim that we are ‘made’ in the image of god, not because the sentence has anything to do with this undefinable term you call ‘god’ but, because it uses the term ‘made’. There is absolutely no evidence that we are ‘made’ by some intentional agency whether it is reflective of some intentional agency you call god (no doubt in the spiritual sense) or not.

If you honestly think that compelling evidence contrary to the notion that we have been created by some intentional agency is not in conflict with creationist faith-based claims (for that is all this notion can be according to evidence from reality) then the colour of your sky is quite a bit different than it is for the rest of us. (Of course you’d like to blame us gnu atheists for ‘misunderstanding’ the theistic claim, the Imago Dei, that it’s historically valid, but then someone needs to tell the Discotute and AIG and ol’ Hambo and all those boards of education who seem so confused by us gnu atheists, and all those governors and members of both Houses that they’ve got it all wrong, that their belief in an historical kind of creationism is really only valid according to Dale in a spiritual sense.)

Tildeb, You are confusing the how with the what; the [supposed] conflict between how humans arrived here (either being ‘made’/’created’ or having evolved) with the question of what sort of beings they are in relation to God. (and you also seem not a little confused about Jesus only dying for something Adam did)

But your tirade seems to be particularly concerned with accusing me of trying to change ‘creationist’ claims from ‘historical’ to ‘spiritual’/’metaphorical’, which you take issue with. Allow me to clarify my view. Any articulation of doctrine of Creation worth its salt necessarily holds that all time/history, matter/anti-matter, natural law/process, only exists because of the Creator whose existence transcends all that merely ‘exists’. So in a very real sense, Creation is not merely ‘historical’, but more than historical, for history exists because of the Creator. So whether the historical/scientific claims of “AIG and ol’ Hambo” about the historical/scientific age of earth/humanity are correct (and the world just looks far older and more evolved than it is), or whether mainstream science is (and the world is as old as it looks), the doctrine of Creation hits at a level that transcends this, and thus whether the mechanism of creation was a ‘miraculous’ supernatural ‘special-creation’ (as AiG say), or if the mechanism was the breathtaking and majestic ‘natural’ processes we glimpse in our current understandings of physics, chemistry and biology, the doctrine insists that either historical mechanism (supernatural or natural) that historically brought about what we see is but a brush in the hand of the Painter. As for the notions of ‘metaphor’, must I remind you that metaphors don’t speak of nothing, but of actual things. It doesn’t mean nothing to say it’s raining ‘cats and dogs’ outside.

As for the (related) doctrine of the Imago Dei, it never did, still does not, and never will claim that humans have some literal stamp or signature on us that could be ‘disproven’ by science. It has always referred to a capacity to relate to and reflect the Creator. The particular example Ruse picks up on is the unique activity humans engage in of ‘naming’. We are homo scientificus, he is saying, and that impulse and capacity and activities are consistent with a view of humans as reflecting (not fully, it must be added) the Creator.

My mistake, Dale; I was led to think you were talking about a christian god. I didn’t realize you were a deist…. because your explanation works only with deistic belief.

You cannot hide behind a change in vocabulary to obfuscate your historical claim of a kind and type of creationism that infuses us at some point in place and time with capacities (to name things). This hiding is just word play. You do not hold to this deistic explanation but hide your true beliefs (the need for the resurrection, for example) behind it as if your creationist claim cannot be considered an historical one (that has no evidence to support it) if you do so.


Our capacity to name things cannot be linked to any deistic or christian god except by your faith alone. That Ruse uses this ridiculous assertion to tell us that human capacities are consistent with creationist beliefs is making a virtue out of a necessity, namely, that we have this capacity and so, therefore, it reveals nothing amiss with a belief in a creationist god.


This is the worst kind of accommodationism because not any christian subscribes to it. You don’t subscribe to it. You, like any other christian, really do hold to an historical claim of some kind of designed or guided divine intervention at some place at some time to cause effect (like this ‘capacity’) in the natural world, and you do so without a shred of evidence from the natural world to support it. And this faith-based belief is in direct contradiction – in spite of what Ruse would have all of us believe – with knowledge we have gathered from reality, namely, compelling evidence for an unguided, non designed natural process that has brought about such ‘capacities’. The two approaches are not in agreement and are not mutually supportive. Only one can be correct.

Tildeb, you (deliberately?) misinterpret me. Far from describing a thoroughly deistic billiard-ball scenario where once the ‘god’ has initiated things, it then has nothing otherwise to do with subsequent events, I used an Artist/brush metaphor (all metaphors will break down eventually) to signify the continuing sustaining of creation by its Creator.

And you do go beyond any ‘evidence’ in speaking of un-guided and non-designed processes. These processes do not wear name tags that specify either ‘guided by YHWH’ or ‘purely natural, random and unguided’. They are just simply processes. The Christian view is that God is the ultimate explanation why such processes exist at all, and that they are both regular and creative/diversifying/etc. You will naturally interpret them in such an anti-design/guidance way to buttress your naturalistic narrative.

But the point is that the presence of a mechanism or process hardly means that the very mechanism or process cannot be the way that God ‘made us’ such that we are image bearers. Your insistence that it does says just as much about you.

All I’m saying is that there is no evidence for any naturally occurring process to be evidence for any external interventionist creative ‘guidance’ or ‘design’, which is THE required element for the meaning of the term ‘made’. Zero. You insert the term where it does not belong, obfuscate the meaning of the term ‘made’, and you do so by an assertion that stands contrary to what a natural process means. This insertion IS the very incompatibility of which I speak.

And I’m saying “the evidence” doesn’t wear name-tags for YHWH or for ‘pure non-theistic naturalism’. To be pedantic about it, we shouldn’t call it ‘methodological naturalism’. We should just call it ‘methodological observation’ or something. Because, free of interpretation, regularities and processes are just regularities and processes. The quite different (and quite metaphysical) question of whether or not the regularities and processes we see are more consistent with naturalism or theism is another question for another post.

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