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Is evolution responsible for our image of God?

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the fourth story in a series of Baptist Press articles about an ongoing dialogue about evolution on the BioLogos website. To read BP’s earlier stories, visit http://www.bpnews.net/bpnews.asp?id=37901 and http://www.bpnews.net/bpnews.asp?id=37981.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP) — The image of God in humans was not produced through the evolutionary process but is the result of God’s direct intervention in creation, a Southern Baptist professor wrote in an ongoing dialogue with The BioLogos Foundation.

John Hammett, professor of systematic theology and associate dean of theological studies at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, was the most recent writer to engage BioLogos in a series titled “Southern Baptist Voices,” online at BioLogos.org.

In his essay “Evolutionary Creationism and the Imago Dei,” Hammett took issue with BioLogos “not recognizing that the image of God in Scripture seems rather clearly linked with something immaterial in the human constitution (whether it is called soul or spirit) that could not have come into being by evolutionary processes.”

Hammett gave three arguments for God’s direct intervention.

— Central to the image of God is the capacity for relationship with God, Hammett said. The image of God distinguishes humans from animals in Genesis 1, he wrote, and it is humans rather than animals who engage in a personal relationship with God throughout Scripture.

— The capacity for relationship with God continues after death. “Jesus says to the thief on the cross, ‘Today, you will be with me in paradise’ (Luke 23:43). Both of their bodies would soon be in graves, but the words ‘you’ and ‘me’ seem to affirm an existence apart from their bodies,” Hammett wrote in an essay posted June 20.

— Whatever it is in human nature that survives the death of the body, whether soul or spirit, must be nonmaterial and could not be produced by the evolutionary process.

“I cannot imagine how an immaterial reality, which survives the death of the body, could be produced by natural processes, such as evolution, even God-guided evolution,” Hammett wrote.

“I do not think this is a God-of-the-gaps argument that could eventually fall to advances in science, but a logical argument, based on the intrinsic difficulty of seeing how the natural and mortal could produce something immaterial and capable of surviving the death of the body,” Hammett wrote.

The BioLogos response was written by Tim O’Connor, chair of the philosophy department at Indiana University, who said BioLogos denies that the image of God is incompatible with an evolutionary understanding of human origins.

“The general perspective of BioLogos, which I embrace, is that theorizing about the underlying nature of the soul is best done by trying to read God’s Two Books (His Word and His Works) in tandem,” O’Connor wrote in an essay posted June 21. “Both Books have a great deal to say about us, and … what they say must ultimately be in harmony.”

In order to understand, O’Connor said, Christians should “be prepared to rethink familiar and received ideas.” What is familiar, he said, is the concept that humans are composed of two distinct things — a wholly physical body (including the brain and nervous system) and a wholly nonphysical mind (the soul). This is soul-body dualism.

“While this tidy division has considerable intuitive appeal and makes it easy to account for some important Christian teachings concerning human beings, it does not seem very plausible when we take into account what we learn from God’s other Book, the Book of His Works,” O’Connor wrote.

Science, he said, points to “continuous processes of increasing complexity, but the two-substance account requires the supposition of abrupt discontinuity.” O’Connor subscribes to a one-substance explanation in which interwoven processes take place within a single physically composed object.

“I am a living body, composed at any moment entirely of physical part, such that I have a total mass and size and shape,” O’Connor wrote in the second part of his response posted June 22. “But unlike a hunk of rock or wood, I am a persisting unity despite undergoing massive change of my parts over time.”

Humans have biologically dependent spiritual capabilities, O’Connor said, such as awareness of moral obligation and the capacity to reason morally, which undergird the human capacity for a relationship with God.

As Christians consider how they will survive physical death, they are hampered by a failure of imagination, largely because they are unfamiliar with the other side of death, he said.

“If we survive death, we do so because God so acts to preserve us as conscious, purposive agents even as the naturally sustaining functions of the brain collapse,’ O’Connor wrote. “In the two-substance account, it seems that God directly and miraculously takes over the sustaining role formerly played by the brain. (Note that He had, anyways, been sustaining the matter composing the brain all along. At death, you might say, He cuts out the ‘middle-man,’ at least for a time, prior to the resurrection.)

“What might God miraculously do to sustain us if the one substance account is correct? Here we have to be a little more imaginative,” O’Connor wrote. “Suppose that God has conferred upon each of the particles that compose our bodies the ability to ‘fission’ — split into two particles identical to the original….

“In this imagined scenario, the particles that compose me are causally responsible for both the dying state of the body that remains on earth and a similarly composed but happily living state in another location. The dead earthly body — while constituted by the matter that a moment ago had constituted me — is not me, for it lacks the unity-conferring emergent features essential to me. The ‘heavenly body’ retains those features, and so by virtue of its intrinsic causal continuity with my earlier state, it is I, myself,” O’Connor wrote for BioLogos.

In comments to Baptist Press, Hammett expressed gratitude to BioLogos for the opportunity to dialogue and to O’Connor for “his kind and thoughtful response.”

“However, I still find his idea of the ‘fission’ of the body at the moment of death hard to fit with Scripture,” Hammett said.

Death, the Southeastern Seminary professor said, is described in Scripture as the soul or spirit leaving the body as in Genesis 35:18 and Luke 8:55 and 23:46. The Apostle Paul described in 2 Corinthians 5:8 the intermediate state of believers as “absent from the body, present with the Lord.”

“Because it is capable of existing independently of the body and because of the distinctive emphasis on its creation by God in Genesis 1:26-27, I see ‘spirit’ as an aspect of human nature created directly by God and not through the process of evolution,” Hammett told BP.

“I appreciate Dr. O’Connor’s reminder that we need to listen to God’s other Book, His Works, but I know of nothing we have learned from God’s Works in nature that rules out His more direct and supernatural intervention in other instances,” he said, referring to the virgin birth and the resurrection, among others. “I think Scripture points to human creation as one of the moments of God’s more direct intervention.”
Erin Roach is assistant editor of Baptist Press. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).

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