Southern Baptist Voices: Evolutionary Creationism and the Imago Dei

| By John Hammett

Note: Today we begin the fourth installment in our ongoing Southern Baptist Voices series–a collection of seven essays from Southern Baptist scholars with BioLogos responses to their concerns and arguments. You can read more about the series here, as well as the previous essays by Dr. James Dew, Dr. Kenneth Keathley and Dr. William A. Dembski. Dr. John Hammett's essay is presented here, with Dr. Tim O'Connor's response running tomorrow. We hope and pray that this dialogue will bring greater clarity to the issues at hand, charity towards those with whom we disagree, and glory to our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

I want to express my gratitude to those associated with BioLogos for the chance to dialogue with them. I have found their material to be challenging and thought provoking, and look forward to continuing the conversation. In the area of science, to call me a novice would be a kindness, and so to question their evaluation of the scientific evidence for the evolutionary process would be inappropriate for me. However, I do want to raise some questions about their evaluation of theological issues, especially concerning the image of God in humanity. I refer especially to their response to the question, “At what point in the evolutionary process did humans attain the ‘Image of God?’”1

The BioLogos response begins by correctly noting that the precise meaning of the image of God has been the subject of debate throughout Christian history, but they believe the majority view sees the image of God as “characteristics of the mind and soul,” such as “the ability to love selflessly; engage in meaningful relationships; exercise rationality; maintain dominion over the Earth; and embrace moral responsibility.” They see these characteristics as being acquired through the evolutionary process, though they also state, “We do not know if humanity received the image of God by the immediate onset of a relationship with God or by a slower evolutionary process.” Further, since they identify the image with characteristics of the soul, they add in a discussion of the soul, “We also cannot know whether God directly intervened in the evolutionary process at this point [referencing Gen. 2:7], or whether the unfolding evolutionary process produced the human soul.” It is at this point I wish to question whether or not it is possible for the image of God to be produced through the evolutionary process apart from the special intervention of God. BioLogos seems to lean toward the image being produced through evolution, but is ultimately non-committal on the possibility of divine intervention. I want to argue that there is good reason to argue for the necessity of divine intervention in giving to humans the image of God.

I have no strong objection to the list of characteristics given in the BioLogos response, though I would see most of them as underlying the capacity for relationship with God, which I see as central to the image. Nor do I have any necessary objection to the idea that God used the evolutionary process in developing the brain and other physical abilities of human beings necessary for exercising some of the characteristics involved in the image. Nor do I think that Gen. 2:7 requires the direct intervention of God in implanting the soul (though it certainly allows it). The problem, rather, is in 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. My argument for affirming the necessity of direct intervention of God in the creation of humanity in the image of God rests on three assertions. Let me try to state and defend them.

First is the assertion that central to the image of God is the capacity for relationship with God. I do not think this would be rejected by those in the BioLogos community. Within the BioLogos response the phrase “relationship with God” is found numerous times in association with the image of God. They may not like the part about such a capacity being central to the image of God, but the fact that the image of God is what distinguishes humans from other animals in Genesis 1, coupled with the fact that it is humans, and not other animals, who engage in personal relationship with God throughout Scripture, makes a fairly strong case for linking “image of God” to “capacity for relationship with God.”

The second assertion is that this capacity for relationship with God is something that continues after the death of the body, and is associated with something in human beings that continues to exist after the death of the body. Here I recognize that there has been a growing chorus of voices advocating monistic views of the human constitution,2 but they all seem to fail to account for the strong biblical evidence for human existence in the intermediate state.3 That which survives death is called the soul in some places (Gen. 35:18; Rev. 6:9-10) and the spirit in others (Eccles. 12:7; Heb. 12:23), but it is identified with the person himself in II Cor. 5:8 and Phil. 1:23. 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.

The third assertion is that whatever it is in human nature that survives the death of the body (soul or spirit) must be non-material, and could not be produced by the evolutionary process.4 Alvin Plantinga, in an argument against materialism, asks, “How could an immaterial soul have come to be by way of evolutionary processes?”5 He quotes Richard Dawkins,

Catholic morality demands the presence of a great gulf between Homo Sapiens and the rest of the animal kingdom. Such a gulf is fundamentally anti-evolutionary [and hence wholly heretical?]. The sudden injection of an immortal soul in the timeline is an anti-evolutionary intrusion into the domain of science.6

I would change Dawkins’ wording from “Catholic morality” to “The image of God in humans” but the conclusion is the same. 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. 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. Even if someone were to question my association of the image of God with the spirit or soul (assertion 1), I would argue that the mere existence of an immaterial spirit/soul that survives death (assertion 2) yields the same necessity of divine involvement in the creation of the immaterial aspect of human nature (assertion 3), which is my chief contention.


About the Author

John Hammett

Dr. John Hammett is Professor of Systematic Theology and Associate Dean of Theological Studies, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.