Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Images of God

We now have to establish principles that make connections between what God is and what we are. We saw previously that we do share ‘being’ . Now we look for more detailed relations that govern our interior constitution. The first thing to establish is whether there is any such detailed relation. Is there a principle in core theism which affords connections between Divinity and the mundane world?  Certainly, if God continually sustains our existence, then we would expect that there must be something about ourselves, and continue to be that something, that allows these acts of sustaining to have their effects. In Judaism and Christianity, humans are made ‘in the image of God, in His likeness.’ (Genesis 1:26) This imageo dei appears to tell us something about humans, and, perhaps, something about God. Some evolutionists take being in the image of God as not making ontological claims at all. It is generally interpreted,  however, to mean that humans are rational or have a rational soul because God is in some sense the Logos, the first principle of rationality. In this view, animals are not images of God and neither are plants or inorganic material. 

Apart from our rationality, we can see that we have many similarities with animals. The internal functions of our bodies are almost all mirrored in simpler forms in some animal or another. Even plants have nutritional functions within their physiology that are simpler forms of the biological functions that go on within our human bodies. Moreover, within the Bible story of creation, the processes leading up to the creation of man suggest that plants and animals were partial contributions to this making, not to mention that they can both be food for humans. There are a great many internal similarities of plants and animals with humans. Such similarities remain even though animals have sensation and locomotion that plants do not and even though humans have a rationality that animals do not.

All these similarities cannot be about size or shape since there is an enormous range of sizes from the smallest plant cells to the largest mammals. Instead, we must be talking of similarities of internal forms and functions. If the similarities concern the systemic organization of living organisms, then there are indeed similarities between cells and mammals, starting from metabolic, genetic and sensory structures. Even nonliving things have their own patterns of nuclear, atomic, molecular and chemical structures, which everything in the world is conceivably able to share in some way.

Humans themselves are, of course, more than just their rationality. It is common to say that a human is a whole and unified person which consists of one body-mind combination and to try in this way to obviate the problems of conceiving minds and bodies together without a ‘dreaded’ dualism. Our own theistic view of the unity of humans will be discussed later; for now we only insist that humans contain not just rationality in the soul, but also sensations, loves, affections, actions—and that all these have effects in the body as well as in the mind and/or soul.

Let us take a broader view of the constitution of humanity and of the structure and materials of which our bodies are formed. We should give a generalized formulation of the way in which we, with all the world, are images of God. This is to add to our set of postulates the assertion:

Postulate 5  All the world, and each of its parts, is a kind of image of God.

This formulation still allows that the rationality of humans is a special kind of image of God, namely a more complete image. To be a ‘likeness’ seems to imply a closer and more complete relationship than an ‘image’. This generalized principle implies that plants and animals are also in the image of God but to a lesser extent. The challenge to theistic science is to elucidate in each case what kind of image of God is involved and what ‘lesser extent’ is implied in connection with plants, or even conceivably, with minerals, etc.

We observe that present-day humans are not angelic in everyday life and that some fail to show even normal humanity, let alone glimpses or pictures of divinity. In such cases, the generalized principle, which allows for lesser images, seems entirely appropriate. We should also note that the ‘image and likeness’ comes at the end of a creation story, and hence that such similarities are more like the culmination than the starting point of our religious and spiritual life. It may therefore be that the creation story describes, by images and likenesses, the stages of spiritual regeneration in religious life, rather than of stars, planets, plants and animals.

The possibility, even widespread likelihood, of lesser images of God is in agreement with the eternity of God. That eternity implies that God is constant while the world varies. That is, variations in the ways that creatures are sustained must reflect the variations in those individual beings, not in God himself. Similar conclusions are indicated by Matt. 5:45: “He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous”.

Since organic and inorganic non-living materials have extensive similarities in their atomic structures to living materials, we may conclude that physical materials are, in a weak sense, also made in the image of God.

The postulate of theism, that all things in the world (all the human and inhuman, all the good and the barely good) are each a ‘kind of image of God’, allows us to make significant progress in theistic science. The properties of God must be conceived in such a way that our being such images is a sensible claim. The non-trivial question is then to determine what kind of lesser image should be envisaged in each case. The following chapters will describe the structures of the world in such a way that they can be images of the divine. This is the heart of theistic science, which describes general structures for mental and physical objects. Our task will be to identify the specific parts of this structure. This is easier since fortunately many of them have already been discovered by science.

We note that the principle of imageo dei is often criticized as anthropomorphic, as if God were (to much amusement) the ideal creature of each group of humans or animals. However, we are proceeding in the other direction: we are starting from basic features of God and seeing how the world might be constituted and might function in the presence of such a God. In a genuine theism, this is not at all the anthropomorphic ‘God in the image of man’, but rather ‘theomorphic’: man in the image of God.

Adapted from chapter 10 of Starting Science From God.

1 comment:

  1. I enjoyed your link to "Some evolutionists" for two reasons:

    1.)they made me laugh when they assured us that people with mental disabilities were valued as much by God as rational intelligent humans. Intelligent humans and humans with mental disabilities are probably indistinguishable by God. ;-)

    2.) this:
    "Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them." -- Genesis 1:26-27

    ... made me think that just as God here is called "Us" in a plural way, mankind is meant rather than a singular person. I had never thought of it that way before.