Are we really any better than the animals?

Questions about God, the Bible and the Christian culture

Question: Are humans just animals? If Genesis is true in saying that humans are made in God`s image and better than animals because of it, where`s the proof? This is one question posed to me that I can only find the answer that it is in the Bible and humans can think sophisticatedly. Please help me with the theory that we are only animals!

Answer: Greetings friend. I will be happy to respond to your query today. Are we more than animals? God certainly thinks so. Yet many people consider humans to be merely equal to animals and some even lift animals over humans! How do we respond? First, let us look at some Bible text.

“…Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?” (Matthew 6:25–26, ESV)

When Jesus asked this rhetorical question about the animals, “Are you not of more value than they?” did he expect an answer? Of course not. A rhetorical question only works when the answer is obvious and the answer remains unstated. I find it interesting that what Jesus and his contemporaries thought of as obvious is now a matter for debate. This is how sin works. It accumulates non-truth over time. Just as a glacier carries debris forward through the centuries, so does sin carry folly to our doorstep. This notion that animals are equal to us is a moraine. It looks substantial from afar, but up close it reveals itself as a pile of rubble. Instead of rubble, let us look at the rock.

The Bible says that it was Adam, a human, who was put in charge of creation. He did not choose from among the animals. In fact, it was Adam’s job to name the animals (Genesis 2:19). That is not something that a lesser being does to a greater being. Also, after Adam sinned, God killed an animal (and not Eve) to make a covering for their shame (Genesis 3:21). From that point on, animals became part of the sacrificial system — and part of the human diet. In total, sin caused humans to fall… but we remained humans. Sin also caused creation to fall… but animals became commodities. This is all very sad, but it shows that whether humanity is righteous or whether it is fallen, humans are above the beasts.

An increasing number of persons-of-conscience are supporting the rights of animals. This involves varying degrees of not using animal products for food, clothing, beauty products or medicine. I am not against this. In fact, I admire those people. They are congruent and are willing to sacrifice for that cause. Furthermore, I do not believe that it is specifically anti-biblical to participate in this lifestyle, because treating God’s creation respectfully is a God-honoring activity. However, subscribing to the model that animals and humans are equal is anti-biblical and therefore disrespectful. Since we are clearly declared to be made in God’s image, lowering ourselves would be an insult to God. Christians should tread carefully here. Let us go back to the beginning of creation to see more clearly why this is.

“And God said, “Let the earth bring forth living creatures according to their kinds—livestock and creeping things and beasts of the earth according to their kinds.” And it was so. And God made the beasts of the earth according to their kinds and the livestock according to their kinds, and everything that creeps on the ground according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”
(Genesis 1:24–28, ESV) 

This passage tells us that animals were made as different “kinds” from one another, and this implies that they are also different kinds from us. God goes on to say that we humans were made in his particular image, further differentiating us from animal kind. God goes on again and says that he gave humankind dominion over all the other kinds. Friend, it comes directly from God that we are different by type, exalted by image and superior to every creature that walks the earth. With all that laid out in no uncertain terms (and from the lips of God), you still ask, where is the proof? We are the ones who are in agreement with the empirical, both natural and revelatory. As such, we do not have to prove anything. It is the people who insist that the picture is upside down that have the burden of proof. Therefore, be selective (prayerful) about spending your time disproving the ridiculous. There is an unfortunate tendency among the general public that even the ridiculous will seem plausible with continual exposure.

The thing that I am not doing here is arguing that we are biologically superior in every way to the animals. Indeed, many animals could “eat our lunch” so to speak (…or eat us for lunch, if we let them). Additionally, some animals live longer, some live in a more earnest community, some are larger and some are faster. They are, in many ways, superior to us. Yet, who rules the world? We do. And through what biological advantage have we done this? Our brains. Relative to our body size, we have huge brains — and by thinking we have conquered. And since we have already conquered the world, I do not even have to dip into the Bible to prove that we are the superior species. Just look around. We won! But there is something more going on. We are like God. But how?

Look at what we’re doing right now. We are reasoning through some very esoteric ideas. In a Darwinian world, I do not see how this would give us a survival advantage. Indeed, this seems like it would be a waste of time in the world of eat-or-be-eaten — and that world surely exists! We live and work in it… but with mixed results. Sure, we’ve won, but I’ll not argue that humans often act even lower than animals because of our sin natures. That being said, the evil actions of some people do not change the intrinsic qualities of a whole people, and what differentiates us from the animals is that we are more than a function of our natures. We commune with God! We act with intelligent energy to perform his will. The result? We have conquered the earth just as God told us to do. We have multiplied ourselves all over it just as God told us to do. We are spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ just as God told us to do.

Now, are we doing any of these things perfectly? Hardly. But does that change us categorically? Not at all. We are still the species that has always been the very image of God and the very agents of his will. It is true that our hearts and our environment are under the curse of sin, and the way we do God’s business is often messy because of this. But at the end of the day, it is still God’s business that we do, and it is unique to us. We were made in his image, and we are his hands.

You may ask, doesn’t science say that we are no better than other animals — just different? Not specifically. Do not make a category mistake in thinking that because certain branches of science use a taxonomy which divides all biological life (including we humans) into phylum, class, order, family, genus and species — but without an honor-based ranking system — that we are common because of this. This is merely a sensible way to organize the millions of specimens that God caused to populate our planet.

But think about the implications of the difficulty of that task. The hours of collection, the painstaking assigning to a category, the peer review and the like — but most importantly, think of the impulse to do this. Out of the estimated 8.7 million species in the world, it is we humans that are the only ones who are compelled to categorize them. My friend, when I consider all of the extra-biblical indicators that give credence to God, our proclivity to make sense of the world tops my list.  

The very fact that we are compelled to explore, to dominate our environment, to consider our history and our future, and yes… to categorize things — is a blinking neon sign 10,000 feet high with sirens! Not only are we different, but exponentially so. We are vastly more able to do God’s bidding than is our nearest competitor. What this means for your question is that the process of science (which is likely the engine of your doubt) is the very activity that proves humans as superior! Therefore, scientific methodology vindicates God in this question. To understand this better, let’s take a closer look at the taxonomy.

First of all, I am for this taxonomy. It helps us see the similarities and the differences between biological organisms. When viewed within the taxonomy, we are just like any other biological organism; we are meat on a list, so to speak. But this is not problematic; it is how the system works. According to the Linnaean taxonomy (and there are other taxonomies), we are a species defined as Animalia, Chordata, Mammalia, Primates, Hominidae, Homo, Sapien, and other creatures will have their own unique path. All are different but none superior. Scientists and taxonomists have their reasons for making these divisions (the details of which are not important to our discussion), but what is important to know is that no amount of observation and classification changes our intrinsic qualities. We are who we are (…and who we have always been). 

These classifications are merely labels (designations, not stickers) that we humans apply to the different types of creatures, and I’ve yet to see a label change anything. They merely tell us which category the labeler thinks applies to an item. It is subjective. The problem comes when noncritical thinkers see a list with humans (Homo sapiens) and a cat (Felis catus Linnaeus) as relative equals — but then assume that since this is a "scientific" list, that this is the only list that matters!

Sorry. This taxonomy is merely one system of organization among many. I choose to focus on the account in Genesis — the one where we sit under God… but on top of everything else. Why this list? This is the only worldview that satisfies both the empirical and the revelatory. In other words, its truth is evident by just looking… and… God agrees with our assessment. This is not a theological conclusion. It’s a, “Hey…look around!” conclusion.

So, here is the root problem. People, whom God created as volitional moral agents, get to choose their lists and their labels. God describes this perfectly in the book of Romans. 

“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.”
(Romans 1:18–20, ESV).

We all have the same data. God is very democratic about that. Also, we all (by and large) have critical thinking skills. What throws the whole thing into a mess is that God will not do our thinking for us. We are volitional beings — free to live, love and think as we wish. Unfortunately, our conclusions show that we have prejudices that might skew the analysis. We, who have bowed our knees (and our brains) to God, corroborate his will without prejudice. Those who are unbowed must believe that God is wrong — or else assent to hell! With that incentive, no wonder they look right at something and do not see it. Fear is blinding their eyes!

My question for you is, are you going to listen to men who dismiss God a priori out of fear, or will you listen to God himself? We have nothing to prove to anyone that God has not already proven, so choose the truth for yourself — and then move on. We are greater than the animals.

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