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Southern Baptist Voices: A Response to John Hammett, Part 2

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June 22, 2012 Tags: Brain, Mind & Soul
Southern Baptist Voices: A Response to John Hammett, Part 2

Today's entry was written by Tim O'Connor. Please note the views expressed here are those of the author, not necessarily of BioLogos. You can read more about what we believe here.

Note: One of the most gratifying aspects of the ongoing conversation between Southern Baptist Scholars and the BioLogos community is discovering just how much we have in common, and this particular exchange is exemplary of that fact. Indeed, Dr. Hammett’s critique of the existing BioLogos statement about evolution and the imago Dei were exactly in line with ongoing internal discussion at BioLogos—discussions that resulted in several changes in the statements to which he refers even before this series got under way.

However, while we agree that the imago Dei has everything to do with God, we deny that it is incompatible with an evolutionary understanding of human biological origins. Dr. Timothy O’Connor’s response to Hammett’s paper (yesterday and today) argues that a dualist model of the soul is not necessary to the doctrine of the image of God, nor is it the best understanding of the Scriptural and scientific data. We look forward to deepening our conversation with our Southern Baptist partners, not only here, but in our next exchange when we continue to address the issue of what is “essentially” human.

In the first part of my response to Dr. John Hammett’s article “Evolutionary Creationism and the Imago Dei,” I briefly considered what the Scriptures mean in declaring us to be made in God’s image. In response to his first point, I agreed that the original BioLogos FAQ on this topic was inadequate for the reason he states. I then noted that for many Christians, this declaration—together with the doctrine of everlasting life—leads ineluctably to soul (or mind)-body dualism: the metaphysical account of human persons as composed of two distinct things, a wholly physical body (including one’s brain and nervous system) and a wholly nonphysical mind (“the soul”), which is the seat of our conscious states and choices and which alone is essential to us. This was the gist of the remaining two points that Dr. Hammett made in his article.

At the end of my first article, I noted that 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 (or ‘of Nature’). That other Book points to a view of human nature, including our psychological and spiritual aspects, as more intimately bound up with our bodies, especially our brains and nervous systems. But does the theological argument endorsed by Dr. Hammett stand? Or is there an alternative to the dualist account that can fully accommodate both sources of our data, Scriptural and scientific? In what follows, I seek to answer this question. Surely if there is such an account, we ought to embrace it.

I do believe that there is a viable alternative account. (Note that I mean “account” in the philosopher’s sense of an abstract schema; it is the business of the human sciences to put flesh on the philosopher’s bones.) However, this sort of account is often overlooked by Christians and scientifically-educated religious skeptics alike, because both camps tend to assume an extremely reductionist view of the physical world. It is important to see that this view functions as an inherited assumption, rather than being something that neutral scientific evidence strongly indicates. It is the sort of view at work when people say that rocks and statues and plants and even (on materialist assumptions) human people are ‘nothing but’ molecules in motion. That is to say, that all composite objects whatsoever (living animal and human bodies included) are not only wholly composed of microscopic parts, all of their features and behavior wholly consist in the sum total of the behavior of those parts obeying impersonal, microscopic laws.

A short online article is not the place to mount a full-scale defense of a controversial thesis. So I will have to rest content with sketching an alternative account at least as it concerns minded creatures such as ourselves. I further note that this account is embraced by many nonreligious as well as religious scientists and other thinkers. According to this view, there is a duality to our nature, physical and mental (and so spiritual), but it is not a radical, all-or-nothing duality of fundamentally different kinds of substance. Instead, it is a duality of interwoven processes, “bottom up” and “top down,” taking 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. But unlike a hunk of rock or wood, I am a persisting unity despite undergoing massive change of my parts over time. What gives me this enduring unity as an individual person is not my identity as a partless immaterial substance, but rather my possession of biologically dependent but irreducible psychological and spiritual capacities: conscious self- and other-awareness; belief and motivation; awareness of moral obligation and capacity to reason morally; and ability to make choices that make a difference to how the world unfolds, fundamental to my individual moral responsibility. And all of these undergird my capacity for awareness of and friendship with God.

The reductionist view of the natural world is not wholly wrong. Many of the spectacular successes of twentieth-century science consisted in showing how certain ‘high-level’ features (liquidity and other molecular properties; biological life itself) can be seen to result directly from the properties and interactions of lower-level entities. These theories are elegant and persuasive on the evidence. However, alongside such reductionist successes we have seen the rise of the sciences of complex systems, which appear to indicate the importance of higher-level features of organized systems acting as fundamental constraints upon the lower-level behavior of the very entities that compose them.

How exactly we should understand such ‘emergent’ or ‘holistic’ features in different sorts of complex physical systems is a hotly debated question by theorists. I would claim only that it is especially plausible to see human consciousness and the capacities that it enables as metaphysically irreducible to—something ‘over and above’—the underlying physical properties that give rise to them. Conscious states and behavior are at once constrained by and constrain the brain’s underlying biochemistry.

Let us suppose that something along these lines is true. Is it consistent with the revealed truth that we have an immortal destiny? At death, our bodies decay, eventually reducing to a heap of inorganic matter. Yet continuity of biological processes seems essential to my continued existence on the one-substance emergentist account of human persons. It would seem to follow that I simply cease to be when the processes themselves cease. Suppose that God chooses, on the Day of Judgment, to cause there to be a living body again, largely constituted out of old parts of my body from the moment of my death, and that the resulting person resembles me psychologically and physically. It seems that such a person would not be me; it would merely be a copy of me (even if it would be a good enough copy to fool my wife and children). It is cold comfort to be told that while I, strictly speaking, will not survive death, someone a lot like me will continue on in glory.

It is this thought—that not even almighty God can bring it about that a long dead organism comes to live again—that is the chief motivation for adopting the two substance account. On that account, what I am at my core is wholly nonbiological, so the facts of biological decay are not relevant to the possibility of my surviving death. As Dr. Hammett notes, a related theological motivation for embracing the two substance account is the belief (seen by many as taught in Scripture) that human persons will exist in an interim state between death and the general resurrection, when we become ‘clothed with’ imperishable, immortal bodies. Is inferred that this is a bodiless state, something flatly inconsistent with the view I am suggesting, in which persons are living bodies manifesting emergent states and capacities that are distinctive of persons.

I think that, on this matter of precisely how we survive death, we are hampered by failure of imagination, an inevitable result of our complete lack of acquaintance with one half of the equation (the other side of death). But perhaps we can at least see the bare outline of how it might go.

We should bear in mind at the outset of speculation regarding ‘survival scenarios’ that, regardless of whether the two-substance or the one-substance view of human nature is correct, we are not ‘naturally’ immortal, as the ancient Greek Plato taught. Immortal life is a gift of God. No created substance, whether material or immaterial, persists through time except that God wills it to be so. Now it is evident, again on either of the two competing accounts of persons, that in this life our psychological lives depend, as a causal matter, on the proper functioning of our brains. So 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. 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. 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. And suppose that this ability can be manifested only under very special circumstances. (Perhaps God must miraculously bring to bear some additional force-like factor that triggers the relevant disposition, and He does so only in situations of imminent demise.) In this imagined scenario, the particles that compose me are causally responsible for both the dying state of the body that remain 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.

Think of the previous paragraph as a basic recipe that can be modified to accommodate details of what revelation teaches under one’s favored interpretation. So, for example, the basic recipe seems to indicate that I persist in my normal form uninterruptedly across the moment of my ‘death.’ While the nature (and even the fact) of our existence after death but before the resurrection at the end of this age is a disputed matter in Christian theology, no one seems to imagine its being like that.

One alternative to the ‘persist as I am’ way of thinking about an interim stage goes like this: the causal connection between my parts pre- and post-death needn’t be one-to-one, or even very close to that, especially when we take into account the possibility of continuous rapid changes over a very short time interval. If what awaits us initially is in some ways a diminished state, appropriate to longing for the glorious resurrection to come, then that can easily be accommodated. Yes, in the present view, we are necessarily embodied, but the form and quality of embodiment can vary in both directions.

And this brings us to the bodily resurrection itself. The Apostle Paul seems to tell us that at the general resurrection, we shall become something minimally materially continuous with but quite radically different from what we are now—as a seed becomes a plant in the fullness of time, so our bodies ‘sown’ at death will become something remarkably different. For example, we shall no longer be subject to infirmities, decay, or death. One might worry that the intimated discontinuity is sufficiently great as to conflict with the emergent embodiment account’s requirement of significant material-causal continuity: how can matter as we know it become the stuff of immortal and incorruptible bodies?

My reply, again, is that unbroken causal continuity over time is consistent with dramatic change. And note that the change need be not only in our bodies (ourselves) but also in the environment we inhabit. Who can say what changes God might bring about so as to make possible such hitherto unknown flourishing? For example, might our post-mortem material environment (and so our bodies, constituted by the same basic material) include new yet congruent elements that transform natural bodily processes as we know them?

In the end, we must acknowledge that we have very little to go on for the purposes of formulating, let alone assessing, the ways available to God for making good on His promise to us of everlasting life. Given that this is so, we should not feel the need to adopt a view of human nature that makes the realization of that promise more readily imaginable to us. We are indeed ‘frail children of dust,’ but this is not cause for us to fear even death itself. Whatever the specific source or “home” of the capacity to have relationship with God, and however that capacity continues after the breakdown of the biochemical processes and structures at death, we have as our model the one true and perfect ikon of God, Jesus Christ, who we know did prevail, not just persist after his own physical death. We who follow Him rest in the hands of the eternal One who has, astonishingly, bound Himself to us eternally through His incarnate Son and declared that one day we will be like Him.

Tim O'Connor is a philosopher whose chief interests lie in metaphysics, philosophy of mind, and philosophy of religion.

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Bilbo - #70588

June 22nd 2012

Prof. O’Connor,

I’m inclined to accept something like the emergent view that you advocate, at least on alternate days of the week.  The other days I’m inclined to substance dualism.  What isn’t clear to me is why God’s “intervention” (as the new BioLogos statement will apparently put it)  would be required for us to be in His image, if the emergent view is correct.  It seems that God could have just incorporated into the universe the emergent property X (say, being in the image of God), once physical condition C is obtained.  No “supernatural” activity would be required.

Even though I am an ID advocate, I try to allow Theistic Evolutionists (or Evolutionary Creationists) as much theological leeway as possible.  And so far, at least, I haven’t seen a theological need for divine intervention in natural history.  If your emergent view is correct, then even our being in God’s image may just be part of the natural working of the universe.

George Bernard Murphy - #70589

June 22nd 2012

Divine intervention in natural history could take two forms.

 God could just program us to be creatures who obey his will ORIGINALLY, at the time of our creation, ...or the factors that make us  creatures with free will,,.. yet obeying His will,.....[and perhaps that factor is synonymous  with “the breath of life”] could be instilled at a later date.

[Think wireless download of new software for your computer operating system.]

wesseldawn - #70750

June 29th 2012

It’s not God’s universe - otherwise it would be perfect as God is and the emergent property X (image of God) would have naturally been part and parcel of that.

According to the Bible and Book of Adam and Eve, Adam forfeited his rights to the first creation (which was perfect) and this became Satan’s domain, thus the reason why it’s not perfect.

Therefore, supernatural intervention would be necessary here to combat ‘the strong rule’ law that exists in this (Satan’s) reality.

Impossible that our being in God’s image could be a natural working of the universe because everything here is mortal, but God (and by implication His image) has an immortal state.


Dunemeister - #70592

June 23rd 2012

I actually think that the latest video by NT Wright answered the issue of the imago dei. The imago is not something about us, a capacity or whatever. Rather, it’s a role. That role involves implementing God’s loving dominion (care for creation, evanglism, creating communities of the Spirit, etc.) and worship. It’s a sort of dual representative role where we stand as priests, on the one hand re-presenting God to the world and the world to God. Now, performing that role will indeed involve certain capacities, such as the ability to commune with God (e.g., the ability to have spiritual experiences) and so forth. But we needn’t make further metaphysical commitments, particularly to substance dualism.

Roger A. Sawtelle - #70598

June 23rd 2012

It is my understanding that we are now in position to compare the statement by Dr. Hammett of SBC and the BioLogos presentation by Dr. O’Connor on the development of the Image of God.

Both presentations do a good job in refuting the opposing position, but fail to establish their own.  As is always the case the assumption is that if humanity is not dualistic, it must be monistic, or vica versa.  Dr. H does do a good job using good theology to make his case, but relational theology does not support dualism.

The result of this stand off, which leaves everyone wrong and no one right, is that humans do not have any intellectual understanding of who they are scientifically, philosophically, and theologically. 

This exactly why we are in a mess today and why we need a total reexamination of how we understand ourselves & our world.  We as theologians don’t have to do it, but if we don’t who will?

One huge problem is that many Christians believe that Western dualism is Biblical when it is indeed Platonic.  Even so at first Plato had a tripartite view of humanity, body, mind, and spirit.  It was only later compressed into body and mind (soul.)

I find much confusion in the dualistic view.  Is the soul, psyche, more like the spirit or the mind?  Today we commonly think of the mind as a thinking machine, but the psyche as found in psychology, the study of the soul, is more of a holistic thinking/feeling being, combining the mind and spirit. 

I asked a theologian, where does the spirit fit in to the body/mind paradigm?  He said that the spirit was a part of the mind.  If that is true, then why does Paul go on and on about the spirit and spiritual things and hardly mention the mind or soul(psyche). 

 1 Cor 2:11  For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the man’s spirit within him? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God.    

Here Paul clearly points to the existence of the human spirit and compares it to the working of the Holy Spirit.  Humans are physical, mental, and spiritual beings.  This seems to me to be the basis of the Image of God found in Scripture.

Body                                 Mind                          Spirit

Another triparite view of humanity is S. Freud’s, dated but still very influential.

Id, the physical/emotional   Ego, the one in between   Superego, the moral spiritual aspect

I would say that the role of the Ego is not to repress the energies & needs of the Id, but to intelligently harness & use them in ways satisfying to the Superego and society.    

Thus Freud, for all his limitations has given us a tripartate model of the person which can work together as one physical, mental, spiritual being.   

Now if humans are created in the Image of God & the Image or Model of the Christian God is the Trinity, then humans would be Triune like the Trinity.

God the Father Almighty                   God the Son                  God the Holy Spirit

Created the physical universe          Logos, rational Word     The Spirit 

Parallel to the Body                               Mind                            Spirit

The secret is Relationality.  God is Love so God is relational (and not Absolute as some think.)  Humans are relational.  We know pets esp. dogs are relational. 


Roger A. Sawtelle - #70599

June 23rd 2012

Part 2

But the big question is “Is nature or the universe relational?”  God’s big surprise revealed to us through Einstein’s Theory of Relativity is “Yes, the universe in all its forms is relational, which is what relativity means here.”  

Thus our philosophy and to a large extent our science and theology have been knocked off kilter by God’s acting in a way that Greek philosophy expected.    

I apologize for the length.

GJDS - #70612

June 23rd 2012

The question of body, mind and soul has been discussed is seems ‘for ever’. The identity of any entity or human being that does not somehow depend on physical form and in the context of a universe that includes a given time and space, is extremely difficult to discuss in a persuasive manner.

The teachings of the Faith however are clear. God is the creator, and He is omnipotent; in this context, God is not limited by anything, including time and space. Within this statement of Faith, we can read of Christ resurrected, and also spending time with His disciples in their time and space. This indicates to me a loss of distinction between physical and spiritual, of the now with the forever. In other words, Christ could be comprehended by His disciples in time and space, yet he was not limited to this, but he revealed in this way himself for their sake. It is impossible to discuss these matters within any scientific or physical context. It is also impossible for us to formulate a specific theory or an ‘-ism’ to satisfy our own vanity that we can determine mechanistic accounts of God’s activity.

We do know that God created life, and that it is His will that we humans live an abundant and happy life without sin, and that because of our weak nature, we are offered forgiveness. Since God is eternal life, it follows that all in Christ will share in that eternal life, as God wills it. I think that our ‘eternal soul’ and our salvation may be discussed as the identity that God imparts or confers on all of those who are saved in Christ. This maintains each and every distinct human being, but this is as ‘life in Christ’. This is Faith, not a scientific or philosophical account. I think that this salvation will be offered to all of humanity when and how God wills.

HornSpiel - #70626

June 25th 2012

we are not ‘naturally’ immortal, as the ancient Greek Plato taught. Immortal life is a gift of God.

Actually, if we are not ‘naturally’ immortal, then how do we understand eternal punishment? The scenarios of hell in the NT indicate a eternal conscious existence of torment. Is it the ‘gift of God’ to keep such tortured souls conscious? Such a view seems consonant with a Calvinist view of double predestination—God decides whom He will save and not save.

If, on the other hand, somehow an immortal soul ‘emerges’ naturally from the physical substrate due to certain higher  non-material laws, then an eternal die is cast. A person’s choices  do affect the eternal state of their soul. A view more in line with Arminianism.

Again Hammett writes:

we are not ‘naturally’ immortal,... No created substance, whether material or immaterial, persists through time except that God wills it to be so.

Hammett believes that a material substrate for the soul is necessary for the soul to exist. Therefore he speculates on ways that might be possible. such speculations seem to me unhelpful. Either they lead to parapsychology or other forms of pseudo-science.

If biological life is a natural emergent property of matter, as constituted by God’s creative act, could not a soul that can exist apart from that matter also be an emergent property? Indeed the soul hat God created in Man has the property that it can relate—commune—with the eternal Creator in the immaterial, spiritual sphere. Is that not taught in the Scripture?

I think from  a Biblical perspective, the eternal preservation of our souls is guaranteed by our union with and into Christ’s Body, the Church. That is the only body necessary for eternal life.

Roger A. Sawtelle - #70640

June 25th 2012

Actually the biggest quesation is How does some “thing” that is immaterial exist in a material world?

It seems to me that a thought or an idea is immaterial.  The meaning behind the word “home” is immaterial and yet it exists in my mind and yours, and I can communicate this meaning to thousands and perhaps millions by just striking four keys on the keyboard. 

Physicalists say that nothing immaterial exists, but millions of ideas do exist and are communicated in many forms every second.  Where does the meaning of home exist in material form?  In my head?  Not really.  On the printed page?  Is the written word its meaning?  Can it communicate its meaning? Yes. 

Through words I can read the minds of people who have been dead and gone for thousands of years.  Are their thoughts material?  No. Are my thoughts material?  No.  Thoughts and meanings are relational, not material.  Language is relational, not material, so language can last forever and express ideas which also can last forever.

A human is composed of body, mind, and spirit.  The mind and spirit are clearly relational, but the body is also, which is why the body can contain the mind and spirit.  Christians believe in the “resurrection of the body” according to the Apostles’ Creed.  Just as Jesus arose from the dead with a body, so will all saved Christians, even if this body is a transformed “spiritual body” (in the words of Paul.)    

GJDS - #70673

June 26th 2012

A number of useful and thought provoking points. I have often wondered why hell (and the shadow sphere) is mentioned in the Bible. I do not think that God has predetermined some souls to suffer for an eternity. However, my view is that we humans have (the term seems inaccurate) an attribute that deals with the spirit. Just as we can be guided by the Holy Spirit, I think a few people may be (or become) so peverse that they may willingly choose to be guided (and united) with the spirit of evil. I think the ‘relational’ aspect of human beings has also something to do with eternal damanation (as it does with salvation), since the Gospel teaches Satan is eternally damned for his actions against God. Thus, these souls may be considered to be united with Satan and as a consequence they suffer the eternal damanation that Satan suffers.

Again, the language differs from that of science and philosophy; I guess spiritual things are understood by those who are spiritual. This would open up a larger debate of good and evil, but not for now.

Roger A. Sawtelle - #70676

June 27th 2012


You raise a very good point.  As I have said the NT era was characterized by interaction between two great traditions, the Jewish holistic (not monistic) tradition and the Greek dualism.  What came out of this interaction was the Trinity, which provides the multiplicity and diversity of dualism and the unity of holism on one hand and everlasting debate over Western dualism on the other.

As you point out life after death makes sense if humans are spiritual beings who make spiritual choices for good or evil, for God or for the Devil.  We make the choice, not God, and we have to live with that choice because freedom and choices have consequences, otherwise life would be a game of shadows.

Jesus talked about the heart as ther center of one’s person.  

Mt 15:17 “Don’t you see that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and then out of the body? 18  But the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these make a man ‘unclean.’ 19  For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. 20  These are what make a man ‘unclean’; but eating with unwashed hands does not make him ‘unclean.’”

I would submit that the “heart” as Jesus uses it here is not the mind, but the spirit, which lives on relationally after a person dies and therefore must be the key element in any Christian anthropology.   


Gregory - #70678

June 27th 2012

“I would submit that the “heart” as Jesus uses it here is not the mind, but the spirit, which lives on relationally after a person dies and therefore must be the key element in any Christian anthropology.”

This is why Dutch Reformed philosopher and legal scholar Herman Dooyeweerd spoke of a ‘supratemporal heart’ in his system, in so far as he put forward a Christian anthropology (and not just an ‘anthropic principle’).


GJDS - #70691

June 27th 2012

Hi Roger, HornSpiel and Gregory,

The subject of spirit, good and evil, and terms that may be used meaningfully is, I think, connected to culture (Jewish and Hellenic) and language. Scholarly accounts are thus of considerable value for these discussions. We can read of accounts in the Illiad and The Odyssey, where shades and the underworld or Hades is discussed and it would appear that these accounts imply eternal souls that are condemned to these places. While these accounts provide relatively clear ‘pictures’ of such matters, I am not convinved that the Bible does; I am convinved that the Biblical accounts should not be understood in this way. Thus I see a distinction and difference between spirit as discussed in the Gospels etc and that in Hellenic culture. These accounts and words, however are often translated in English using the same terms.

On the Trinity, I see this as a necessary formalism to differentiate the Christian Faith from the Hellenic philosophical discussions with corresponding erroneous interpretations of the Christian faith. Spirit however, is mainly discussed as a way we can deal with spiritual truth, which is revealed ultimately in and through Christ. Spirit cannot, in my view, be (or not be) an outcome or emerge from matter, nor biological activity. It cannot be eternal either, nor can it be distinct in some scientific manner. It is, thus, that attribute of humanity that enable us to consider spiritual and human matters, including all human knowledge. I think everything was created by God, and this ultimate reality must be considered good as a result, and thus is spiritual.  Eternal life is non-time dependent and thus is God and all that is with God; thus the need for terminology that is meaningful within the Christian faith. 

Jon Garvey - #70647

June 26th 2012

It’s worthwhile re-examining old suppositions and traditional teachings on anthroplogy. Certainly insights to do with the image of God as covenantal are useful, and true to ANE tradition as well. But it’s possible to throw the baby out with the ontological bathwater.

Stressing continuity with the animal kingdom is convenient with regard to non-guided theories of evolution (statistical deism, as  R J Russell critiques it), but the discontinuities are significant too, and neglecting them is intellectually dishonest cherry-picking. If the Bible said nothing at all about man’s uniqueness, it would be because it was so blatantly obvious from daily life. It’s not simply Christian, or even theistic, philosophers who conclude in some kind of non-material account of mind. It’s a major intellectual strand, and is not dependent on the Bible’s use of “image” or even of “soul”. Put simply, many philosophers believe that matter cannot explain mind. Descartes is a red herring.

It’s always been realised that mankind’s creation on Day 6 alludes to their animality, but they are still created separately, with imageness and rule in view - that’s ontological, willy nilly. The story has no hint of a particular beast being selected by desert or grace for God’s image - humans are custom-built. Then in chapter 2, Adam’s creation is marked off from that of the beasts, which he names before Eve is formed from him as suitable to share his life (and presumably, image). Again, image presupposes, at least, ontology. In other ANE texts, too, human creation is marked of in many ways, both ontologically and functionally, from the beasts - eg creation form the goddess’s blood in Enuma Elish, quite unlike the animals. Those parallels need acknowledgement.

In the Noahic Covenant, an accounting is demanded of the beasts for human bloodshed - as it is of mankind. But neither is required to account for shedding animal blood. Human life is more valuable than animal life - to the extent of requiring a final judgement even for beasts. Ontological or covenantal? In either case it’s a major discontinuity needing explanation.

Even in the Old Testament the spirits of the departed lead a shadowy existence in Sheol, quite distinct from the developing concept of resurrection and eternal life with God. That, again, is a universal ANE concept. But in Israel, at least, there is no hint of other than human spirits dwelling in the underworld. Another discontinuity, whether or not it is based on “image”, or whether the traditional “soul” concept is right or wrong.

Then throughout Scripture rebellious humans are compared unfavourably to “brute-beasts, which have no understanding”. Linked to image or not? Does it matter? It still makes a clear demarcation based on unique human rationality, which is the root issue.

Ecclesiastes says that God has placed eternity in men’s hearts. That certainly requires, though may or may not describe, an ontological difference from beasts, none of which have such a concept. We recognise, and desire, eternity and immortility (and Adam and Eve were given it at the beginning) but nobody I know has suggested any way in which evolution could give rise to the concept of, let alone the capacity for, immortality. How could it? Matter is not eternal - only the spirit gives life.

Eddie - #70649

June 26th 2012

I have no dog in the fight between “dualism” and “emergentism,” and can grant the legitimacy of a theology based on either approach.  However, for those who are determined anti-dualists, I think that Jon’s cautionary remarks above should be taken to heart.  The Biblical account may not require dualism, but it doesn’t clearly rule it out.

Roger A. Sawtelle - #70651

June 26th 2012


I quite agree, but I just wonder why people refuse to try the triune approach to whom humans are, which works with the Trinity which also can be called the Image of God.

Sometimes it seems to me that Christians take the Trinity and put it away in some sort of Sacred Museum, only to take it out to demonstrate why groups like the Mormons are not Christians, which of course they are not.

This is a shame and a crime.  If the Trinity means that little to the Church, then it should not be used for even that.  The Trinity is the basic way Christians understand God Who is the Source of all that is.  Thus it must be a basic part of the way we understand ourselves as formed in the Image of God. 

Roger A. Sawtelle - #70708

June 28th 2012

In response to GJDS

who wrote:

Spirit cannot, in my view, be (or not be) an outcome or emerge from matter, nor biological activity. It cannot be eternal either, nor can it be distinct in some scientific manner.

You are 100% correct, which is the genius of the Augustinian Trinity.  While with the Eastern Cappadocian Trinity the Son “emerges” from the Father and the Spirit emerges from the Father through the Son, so that there appears to be a vertical hierarchy of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, with the Western Trinity the Father and Son are seen as co-equal and the Spirit preceeds from both the Father and the Son horizontally.

God the Father, God the Spirit, and God the Son are all present in the first three verses of Genesis in that order.  They are all present and accounted for “in the beginning” as indicated by John 1.  Also we can take as true that all of the Persons of the Trinity always act in concert.  One Person takes the lead, so to speak, but acts with the others as we see in Creation.

In Creation the Father creates the Substance, the matter/energy of the universe.  The Son/Logos creates the rational form of the universe.  The Spirit forms the Teleos or purpose of the universe.  Thus substance (the material,) form (the rational,) and purpose (the spiritual) were and are present is all aspects of the universe.

In the physical world, the physical predominates.  In the bioworld the many rational forms of life predominate, and in the human world the spirit or lack of it predominates.  The spirit does not emerge from matter, because it has always been an aspect of matter, in that God created matter and the universe for the purpose of creating humanity (and other possible humanlike life forms.)

If one asks how is this possible? we can only say that we really do not know.  All we can say is that God did it.  We can see that God created chemistry and out of basic chemistry comes organic chemistry.  I am not an expert in either, but I do know that somehow from basic atoms and molecules new, very complex organic molecules were created that are necessary to life and are quite different from relatively simple ordinary molecules. 

Thus relatively complex/one atoms come togther to form more complex complex/one organic molecules.  These in turn form more complex complex/one organisms.  These in turn branch out to create more diverse and complex/one families of plants and animals.  These in turn create more diverse and complex/one environments and societies. 

God’s Mind (Logos) and Spirit (Teleos) were and are a part of the process all the way.  The difference between now and before is that humans are a part of the process and we are free to accept or reject God’s purpose for our lives.                  

GJDS - #70720

June 28th 2012


You raise a number of profound points; my general answer is that even Christ said on some matters, only God knows.

On the trinity, my understanding is that it was constructed to counter both a hierachy regarding God, a difference, and also other controveries that even included Christ as an angle of some sort, to the one-ness of God. Some of these controversies become comprehensible within the framework of Hellenic thinking, such as the one and the many, substance, and perhaps even identity. All Hellenic versions were (and are) wrong. I take the simple statement that God the Father, God the Son and God as the Holy Spirit are sufficient to bring me understanding. These terms and words were given to us by teh Apostles who recieved their authority from Christ Himself. This is good enough for me. The rest are discussions, just as during these days we presently have discussions.

The other point I am making is that as a scientist I refer to scientific studies as of phenomena, although on some matters we believe we are dealing with ab initio matters, such as quntaum mechanics. Such studies however, are based on mathematical treatments of atoms and molecules which are described by QM. We are still committed to falsification and verification. Within this context, my view is that underpinning all of this (nature) are real entities. This reality, in my view, can only be so because God created it. To illustrate, the only alternative to this view, is that underpinning all of this is nothingness, which is the view atheists are proposing.

On atoms and molecules, it not emergence that we are considering (although properties emerge as a result of differing combination of atoms into molecules) but the the combination of wavefunctions (discriprion of electrons) between atoms creates a distinct ‘thing’ we call a molecule, which in essence is not a simple combination of the atoms, but rather a distinct thing in its own right. This is an argument for identity and distinctness, and not one of essence or some intrinsic property that is ‘teased out’ by the combination of electorn wavefunctions into new orbitals for that molecule.

Complexity and reductionism are additional matters; the continuous combination of atoms and molecules results in the astonishing thing we call Nature, and is something that I think we barely comprehend. Thus in these matters, I willingly profess my ignorance.

I am unwilling to then add to my foollishenss by saying I know what God may have done. I just do not know; however I believe that God has created all things. Spiritual matters are directly from God and not from real entities that constitute Nature. By saying God created everyting, I am including everything in this statement, including bigginings, ends, and anything else that may cause us humans to question. However, spiritual matters have required the direct intervention of God the Son, as the Son of Man; this is outside the relm of Nature.

Roger A. Sawtelle - #70726

June 29th 2012


Thank you for your response.

Please do not think I am picking on you.  I respect you as a scientist and agree with much of what you say.  I really am more concerned about my theological colleagues who do not seem to want to take a stand on what is a theological world view concerning anthropology and cosmology.

However for the record and to be clear, the Bible clearly indicates that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are directly and intimately involved in the Creation of the universe, including life and humanity, and its governance, which includes evolution and ecology.  One cannot separate the Father from the Son and Holy Spirit, or Jesus Christ as the Son of Man from Jesus Christ as the Logos.   

GJDS - #70727

June 29th 2012


I do not think you are picking on me, and you won’t have an argument with me when acknowledging that all is created by God and all is sustained by His Word. There is no seperation (whatever that may mean?). I am beginning to appreciate that my tradition differs from that projected by the discussions in this webpage, and I probably need to understand how Evangelical Christians may differ from other Christians. On scientific matters, I am more skeptical then perhaps the average scientist, but this is not due to any religious opinion - just the way I have recieved my education, I would think. This seems to come through when I make comments on evolution. 

Roger A. Sawtelle - #70728

June 29th 2012


What I appreciate about you is that you are open to new ideas and ways of looking at things. 

What I am trying to say and it is very different so people have a problem in understanding it is that reality, even physical reality is not simple, is not simply matter/energy.

If that were the case, then there would be no place for form and structure which are NOT material, but relational.  Form and structure are rational.  We do not understand matter/engergy per se, we comprehend the forms and structures that matter and energy create through the divine laws of nature.

In other words, out of the chaotic matter of the initial Creation, best seen as the Singularity which formed the Beginning of time and space God gave rational form through the Big Bag which created the universe in all its variety of forms, esp. here on earth.  God the Father gave the universe its rational form through the Logos, Jesus Christ. 

However, also part of this process is the Purpose or Teleos of God as the Holy Spirit.  Just as humans created in the Image of God need the ability to act to act, the knowledge neeeded to act in order to act properly, and the desire or will to act in order to act, so with God.  The Creation reflects God the Father’s power and abilities, God the Son’s wisdom and knowledge, and God the Spirit’s love and purpose. 

These were present in the Beginning, in the creation of humanity in God’s Image, and most clearly in the birth, life, crucifixion, resurrection, and coming again of Jesus Christ.       

GJDS - #70739

June 29th 2012


I can see that you have thought in great detail on the creation/universe. My position is that the Faith teaches us that there are matters essential to humanitie’s well being and ultimate salvation, and this includes trust in God and accepting that all things work for the good, especially for those who believe in Christ.

On details of Nature, beginnings etc., my opinion has not changed - God’s ways are inscrutable, but as scientists we must be guided by a hope that we can come to a true (or truer) understanding of matter, energy, and indeed all of nature/the creation. The subject is vast and no one scientist can know it all - this does not mean I am more open minded (or less so) than other sicentists. If these discussions were on my specialiaty, I suspect I would sound intolerant of other non-specialists opinions.

Having said that, I am enjoying the vigour and variety on opinions and am somewhat (pleasently) surprised at the depth shown regarding the Bible (I am not pleased at making so many typo errors in these blogs!!).

Nicholas Olsen - #71024

July 11th 2012

I havent read the comments so please… if this was mentioned then just let me know. I’ve been reading Ed Feder latelt, but the part where we concern what a soul is & how the uniqueness of human beings are concerned. I think Ed Feser has many points to make or atleast they’re worth considering and diving into.

He’s a catholic philosopher that defends “hylemorphic dualism”. This type of dualism isn’t Cartesian or a 2-part piece like material human parts connect with a ghostly counterpart. It’s like saying the soul is part of what makes up a human like the shape of a triangle drawn on paper and the ink which has taken on the shape. The soul in this sense is the intellect that humans have, but it’s not about the level of intellect rather it is about the nature of our intellect compared to other animals.

I liken to this because as i see in this response; resorting the soul to be a certain level of intellect would mean mentally-ill people can’t have the “image of God”, which in return makes higher primates or dolphins also able to bear the image. Hammet seems to make out other theories of dualism to be poor, which are his honest thoughts, but even among authorities on these matters can have hotly contested debates.

Ed Feser touches this a bit here (http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2011/09/modern-biology-and-original-sin-part-i.html) and at length in his book “Aquinas (A Beginner’s Guide)” 

Nicholas Olsen - #71025

July 11th 2012

Sorry… i made an error. I didn’t mean Hammet looks down on dualism theories, but rather O’Connor.

Roger A. Sawtelle - #71055

July 12th 2012


I was somewhat concerned sbout this problem also, but my concerns were eased by the blog on Temma, which pointed out that for differently abled persons the Image of God is “broken” or damaged.  That means that they have the Image of God, but it has been damaged and they need healing to restore it. 

We all have damaged Images of God.  That is what it means to be a sinner.  We are all sinners, some of us saved by grace, but still sinners nonetheless.  Thus we need to be forgiving and patient with sins and problems of others. 

We are all in the same boat, sinners dependent on God.  When we fail to recognize this basic fact and think we are better than others, we get into real trouble.  

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