Darwin and the Image of God

The Judeo-Christian worldview is unique among the religions and philosophies of the world in affirming that human beings are made in the image of God. It is the uniqueness of humans that sets these two religions apart from all others.

Humans share a commonality with rocks, trees and animals, in that they are all finite and created, while God is infinite and uncreated. But humans are distinct from the rest of the created order in that they share in God’s likeness and image.

There is much discussion as to how we are to understand image and likeness, but one point can be made here. In the Ancient Near East kings were thought of in at least two ways: as a divine son, and as being in the god’s image. And often a king would erect statues of himself in far-flung parts of his empire. These images of the king were to be very real representations of the king.

But another ANE text – the Hebrew Scriptures – took all this much further. Everyone is seen as an image-bearer of God, not just the king. Every human being is a divine son, and an image and likeness of the living God. All mankind is royal. Thus we have dignity and a unique place in the created realm. We are special.

One way of unpacking all this is to think of how children mirror their parents. We often look at a baby and say, “he’s the spitting image of his old man”. Sharing the same genetic material means we share in the family likeness. As John Walton comments:

“While a baby may be affirmed to be in the image of its father, few can recognise that image. Based on the inherent image and the relationship with the father, the image grows more recognizable as the child matures. This does not essentially take place in a physical way, but rather in the way the child mirrors the attitudes, expressions, and character traits of his or her father. The biblical text, by offering us this explanation, gives us the key that while we are all in the image of God, we likewise have the capacity to become more and more in the image of God, that is, we were created with the potential to mirror divine attributes.”

And just as a prince shares in the king’s honour and glory, so we, as children of the King of Kings, share in that royal uniqueness. All this has ramifications for how we treat one another. Indeed, the idea of the sanctity of human life flows from the concept of being the divine image-bearer. Rikki Watts explains,

“In the ancient world, to deface the image of the king or deity was tantamount to high treason. If one did not want to live in his realm or under his kingship, that could be arranged, either by exile or death. If we take the Genesis 1 account seriously, namely, that every human being is made in God’s image, then we need to know that any act of abuse against another human being is an act of high treason against the God whose image we bear and to whose kingship and sovereignty we therefore inherently bear witness.”

Of course the naturalist version of events cannot ascribe any uniqueness to human beings. We are simply animals, and like the entire natural order, we have no special significance, purpose or meaning. Candid atheists are quite happy to admit as much. Consider just two (of many) admissions:

“The Astonishing Hypothesis is that you, your joys and your sorrows, your memories and your ambitions, your sense of personal identity and free will are, in fact, no more than the behaviour of a vast assembly of nerve cells and their associated molecules. As Lewis Carroll’s Alice might have phrased it ‘You’re nothing but a pack of neurons.’ This hypothesis is so alien to the ideas of most people alive today that it can be truly called astonishing.” (Francis Crick)

“I am a collection of water, calcium and organic molecules called Carl Sagan. You are a collection of almost identical molecules with a different collective label. But is that all? Is there nothing in here but molecules? Some people find this idea somehow demeaning to human dignity. For myself, I find it elevating that our universe permits the evolution of molecular machines as intricate and subtle as we. But the essence of life is not so much the atoms and simple molecules that make us up as the way in which they are put together.” (Carl Sagan)

Chuck Colson picks up this theme, and notes how people made in God’s image find it hard to shake the concept, even as they abandon God. He points to the UK, where the Christian faith is in steep decline. There Darwin’s birthday anniversary is being celebrated big time. Yet he sees a rather strange discrepancy: while faith is in decline and Darwin is all the rage, most Brits seem to have trouble embracing Darwinism.

He cites one recent study which found that “only 37 percent of people in the UK believe that Darwin’s theory of evolution is ‘beyond reasonable doubt.’ Moreover, 51 percent ‘say that Intelligent Design is either definitely or probably true’.” This is not so hard to understand. Says Colson:

“We really should not be surprised. The truth is that humans bear the imago Dei – we are made in the image of God and are designed to long for Him. By contrast, Darwinism supposes an entirely naturalistic worldview or religion. For many people, Darwinian evolution provides answers to the fundamental worldview questions: Where did I come from? Why am I here? Where am I going? Does life have any meaning and purpose? Darwinism’s answers are clear: We came from chance collisions of atoms; there is no purpose to life, no life after death, no objective moral law.”

He continues, “This is why the issue of Darwinism versus intelligent design continues to be such a fierce battleground. The debate is not just about fossils or genetic mutations. Our theory of origins determines our identity, our values, our sense of meaning.”

“And this is why – after a century and a half of having Darwinian evolution rammed down their throats by their professors and the media – people still say they believe in God, and that He created heaven and earth. This is one of those cases where intuitive human understanding and reason itself are more reliable than scientific theory. And our non-churchgoing friends in Britain are proof that scientific theory cannot ultimately eradicate what’s written on the human heart. That’s something worth celebrating as we teach our nearer neighbors about the Christian worldview, and how well – unlike Darwinism – it answers the basic questions, not only of our origins, but of life and meaning.”

Quite so. The image of God may have been seriously marred by the Fall, but we still retain it. No amount of atheist fundamentalism will dissuade most people that we are somehow unique, we have a special place in the cosmos, and we are more than a collection of chemicals and DNA.


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14 Replies to “Darwin and the Image of God”

  1. If indeed we were the result of Darwinian evolution, if there was nothing more to life than a material existence, little different to that of animals, we ought like them to be well adapted to our environment. Apart from eating and sleeping animals appear to be content, phlegmatic even, with their lot, apart from the inconvenience of being eaten by others. When we look at humans, however, we find a species ill-adapted to their environment, constantly restless, constantly trying to transcend their existence. If they cannot go up, towards God, they go down into the world of Freudian impulses. The violence and irrationality that we see displayed increasingly in society is a perverted search for spirituality and an attempt to usurp the place of God.

    Augustine was right: “Our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee, O Lord”

    David Skinner, UK

  2. This is now commonly referred to as a “God-shaped hole in our heart”. Cliched but true. In times of desperation mankind still reaches out to God to save us – as they say, there are no athiests in foxholes.

    We are built to worship, and if we don’t worship God then we end up worshiping ourselves. Isn’t that what a ‘self-made man’ is all about?

    Garth Penglase

  3. This is yet another example of why it is so absurd for various major Christian denominations to adopt theistic evolution as their creation apologetic. Either we are made in the image of God or we are evolved from (made in the image of) an ape. As far as the biological processes are concerned there is no difference between naturalistic (Darwinian) evolution and theistic evolution. The latter simply attempts to add God to the concept – a concept which was invented to explain creation without the need for God in the first place.

    Ewan McDonald.

  4. Ewan,

    You may care to enlighten me as to what major Christian denominations adopt theistic evolution as their creation apologetic? As a Catholic I know well that the Church does not officially endorse evolution whether it be Darwin’s or another. Of course the smoke of socialism, the Left and Greens (Satan’s smoke) has pervaded the Church in varying degrees as it is common to find so many clergy, Religious and Laypeople who mindlessly accept it as they do with AGW.

    But individual Priests, Religious and Laypeople do not represent the Church per se. Their views are often so wide of the mark and we see this evident in the scandal that is St Mary’s at South Brisbane. There the parish priest and others do not believe that Jesus was God etc etc etc.

    John FG McMahon

  5. Unfortunately the official Catholic Church position is to endorse thieistic evolution as this following report indicates. This conference is currently being held in Italy.

    “ROME – A Vatican cardinal said Tuesday that the Catholic Church does not stand in the way of scientific realities like evolution, though he described as “absurd” the atheist notion that evolution proves there is no God…..”


    ‘Vatican-backed conference snubs creationism. Organizers say they wanted an intellectually rigorous meeting on science.”

    “ROME – A Vatican-backed conference on evolution is under attack from people who weren’t invited to participate: those espousing creationism and intelligent design….”


    Jennifer Parfenovics

  6. Jennifer,

    Conferences, with or without a Bishop’s/Pope’s Imprimatur, are simply talkfests. Recently there was a conference with Muslim scholars but that doesn’t imply that the Church accepts or endorses the Koran.

    The Church has had conferences with the Anglicans and Catholic Cardinals and others Church representatives have attended and spoken at the Lambeth Conference. That doesn’t mean that the Church accepts and endorses Anglicans beliefs and teaching.

    Likewise the Pope met with Nancy Pelosi, the US Speaker and a Catholic who endorses abortion. Meeting with her doesn’t imply that the Pope accepts her position on abortion.

    The Pope has also met with the Dalai Lama- need I go on?

    When a Teaching document is under the Seal of the Curia/Magisterium/Pope then and only then is it official Teaching of the Church ie Dogma/Doctrine. There is a huge difference between what is said at a Catholic organized conference where nothing is binding upon Catholics as opposed to the official Teachings of the Church (as described above) which are binding upon Catholics.

    It is unceasingly amazing how a non Catholic, lapsed Catholic or an otherwise outsider feels that they are better placed to make proclamations about the Church than a Catholic of some 53 years who is reasonably well educated on Catholic matters.

    If these people were to frame their statement in the form of a question or enquiry then that would be considered respectful. But to simply point to something and arrogantly consider that they, the outsider, and not the Catholic, are omniscient on Catholicism is being myopic and a bigot in outlook.

    I challenge you to produce a document under the Seal of the Pope, Curia or Magisterium of the Church which binds Catholics to believe in Darwinism or Evolution in any form. All the Church’s Teachings are thus drawn up and can be accessed. Another source is to refer to the Catholic Catechism which happens to list all Catholic beliefs and Teachings. There is no mention of Evolution but there is mention of the Capital sin of Pride.

    John FG McMahon

  7. Hi John,

    For what it’s worth I was thinking predominately of the Anglican church. It seems you are a tad paranoid re any criticism directed toward the Catholic church.

    You are undoubtedly correct to point out that theistic evolution is not official church doctrine, but neither is evolution officially rejected. In fact it would seem from my reading that Catholic doctrine implicitly allows for Catholics to believe in evolution as long as it is not the naturalistic version. And it seems that many senior clergy and Vatican officials do indeed endorse some version of evolution and even the previous pope said that evolution was “more than a hypothesis”.

    From the news reports, it would appear that the recent “Vatican-backed conference on evolution” has been very one sided in its support for evolution:

    In addition to intelligent design, creationism has come under disdain at the conference. In his opening address, Cardinal William Levada, head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, spoke dismissively of fundamentalist Christians in the U.S. who want schools to teach biblical creationism alongside, or instead of, evolution.

    So it would seem a little disingenuous for you to compare the Catholic church’s treatment of Darwin’s writings to that of its treatment of the Koran. I don’t see too many Catholics coming out and endorsing the Koran, at least not those who wish to avoid excommunication.

    Ewan McDonald.

  8. Ewan,

    No I’m not paranoid but as the Catholic Church was not specifically excluded from the list of major Christian denominations I volunteered comment to ensure that there was no ambiguity. Surely I am entitled to publicly protect my Church, my Christian belief without someone attempting to belittle and ridicule me with claims/suggestions of paranoia?

    My initial comment included reference to the individualistic influence of Socialism, Environmentalism and Liberal Theology within the Church and I provided a specific example where one parish is clearly not Catholic in practice but remains catholic in name only.

    What non-Catholics fail to grasp is that individuals within the Church are entitled, encouraged and above all permitted to have hold personal views on all and every issue whether that be Evolution, Aliens etc. The point that is important is what they preach, teach and convey as official Church Teachings. Public excommunication is a very grave matter and is only carried out when the Church has explored and exhausted all areas and means to resolve the matter. Often this will take years if not decades and is usually done so in public issues only. If an indivudal privately believes in teachings other than the Teachings of the Church then that person automatically privately excommunicates themselves if the issue is serious, such as abortion and voting for a politician who supports it.

    Of course those Catholics attending the conference have their personal opinions and whether they believe, support or endorse Evolution is not an issue as long as they don’t teach it as official Church belief.

    How many times can that be stated?

    If the Church endorsed, supported or believed in Evolution it would be under Seal as previously described or in the widely available Catechism. It is not in both cases so it is NOT Catholic Teaching. How many times can that be stated?

    Ewan, on the subject of paranoia it seems that some are unswervingly intent on linking this conference and the views of the Catholic attendees to official Church Teaching.

    Quote: “Newsday reports some of the world’s top biologists, paleontologists and molecular geneticists joined theologians and philosophers for the five day seminar at the Pontifical Gregorian University marking the 150th anniversary of Darwin’s “The Origin of Species.” .

    A great number of these people are non-Catholics and non-Christians all together. The purpose of the forum is simply for a discussion of the issue between theologians, philosophers and scientists of various disciplines. A person’s religion or other creed is not the issue.

    It is apparent that some are determined to “prove” that with this conference that the Catholic Church believes in Evolution. Of course this then serves their own purposes. It is the same approach that the AGW lot take. They seize upon a single event, some “evidence” and then without any proper scientific inquiry and without further ado they claim that their theory/belief is correct and plausible. For example an AGW believer may witness the thawing and breaking up of ice in the Antarctic region during Summer and film it. Of course this break-up of ice is normal during the Summer but when footage of this film is shown it is claimed it is proof of man-made global warming and climate change. No mention of course that it was filmed in Summer and is a normal expected event. It is a deceitful person who engages in this practice.

    Similarly some non-Catholic may witness Catholics sitting down and talking with some who believe and promote Evolution. An outsider is not entitled then to take upon themselves to point the finger and claim “See, I told you. Catholics believe in Evolution!”. It is not guilt by association other Jesus would have been condemned.

    Dialogue is important and should be encouraged. It is after all not only a reasonable everyday democratic practice but also an important means and opportunity of explaining one’s Faith to another.

    Again I throw down the challenge. Produce written proof under Church Seal that the Evolution is part of Catholic Teachings. If it is not in the Catholic Catechism it is not part of Church doctrine. If it is not in there it is specifically rejected. End of story. Otherwise the Church would have volumes upon volumes upon volumes of specific exclusions such as say a belief that angels being minor gods.

    John FG McMahon

  9. Dear John, I humbly offer my apologies and this article especially the video at the end of ‘Yes Prime Minister’.


    Every thoroughly grounded Biblical Christian should have confidence in standing by the authority of the Word of God. Hense there is no compromise with believing the man made pseudo science of Darwinian evolution. Fairytales invented for adults. It is totally at odds with 6 day 6000 years ago ( just do simple arithmetic and add the generations in the Table of Nations Genesis11 and Luke’s Gospel from Jesus , our kinsman redeemer, back to Adam )creation revealed in the Bible.

    “The Vatican under Pope Benedict XVI has been trying to stress its belief that there is no incompatibility between faith and reason, and the five-day conference at Rome’s Pontifical Gregorian University is a key demonstration of its efforts to engage with the scientific community.

    Church teaching holds that Catholicism and evolutionary theory are not necessarily at odds. But the Vatican’s position became somewhat confused in recent years, in part because of a 2005 New York Times op-ed piece written by a close Benedict collaborator, Austrian Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn.

    In the piece, Schoenborn seemed to reject traditional church teaching and back intelligent design, the view that life is too complex to have developed through evolution alone, and that a higher power has had a hand in changes among species over time.

    Vatican officials later made clear they did not believe intelligent design was science and that teaching it alongside evolutionary theory in school classrooms only created confusion.

    The evolution conference will explore intelligent design later this week, although not as science or theology but as a cultural phenomenon.”

    Also these photos of beautiful two tone twins are great evidence that we are all one blood and go back to the bootleneck of 8 people after the Global Flood. We have certainly not evolved from ape like origins !


    Jennifer Parfenovics

  10. Ewan and Jennifer,

    Over the years I have had the misfortune of coming across loud vulgar people who, without invitation, shove their faces under one’s nose and almost scream hysterically that unless their version of Christianity is accepted then they (the innocent person quietly going about their business) won’t be “saved” and will be condemned to Hell. On these occasions I quietly give witness to my own Faith and mention that I practise my own Catholic Faith. With this the inevitable reaction is to hear abuse of the Catholic Church with accusations of the Church being the Harlot, the Great Whore, the Great Beast and the Satan. Personally, I am accused of being an idol worshiper, of being a fool and other vitriol/bile. Each attack makes one only more resolute and steadfast in one’s Faith.

    Only late last year I was in a public swimming pool with a young family friend and my six year old son. I was at the deep end when I witnessed the young family friend and my son accosted by a middle-aged woman at the shallow end. She was clearly berating them over some matter. By the time I arrived down there she was overbearingly exhorting them to convert to her “Christian” faith (cult) and warning them that otherwise they will be terribly punished. My six year old son was terrified of her and was crying. Naturally I approached and asked her to leave them alone and to reserve her beliefs to herself. She turned on me in a vicious and vehment manner and loudly, if not hysterically so, proclaimed that I too would be condemned if I didn’t do as she said. I mentioned that I have my own Christian Faith, a Catholic, which I practise quietly without disturbing others. Well, she almost became apoplectic at this and if she wasn’t hysterical before she become so then, screaming warnings and abuse about my Catholicity.

    I grabbed my son and with the young family friend swam away from this enemy of Christ. She had brought discredit and shame upon her “Christian” faith, better described as a cult of sorts.

    Catholics go about practising their Faith and lives without the need to criticise and condemn those of other Christian Faiths or cults. Catholics do not need to shore up their Faith by tearing down the faith of others. Our Faith is so rich that we simply don’t have the time to do so. Beside it’s not what Jesus would have done. Take for example the woman at the well from whom Jesus asked for a drink. She wasn’t a Jew but He didn’t condemn her for that.

    However it seems more than evident, as you know, that other Christian Faiths and cults deem it a necessary part of their creed to viciously tear down and condemn the Catholic Church. They are always on the lookout for an opportunity to do so rather than quietly going about the practice of their own creed. Apparently, and sadly, hatred of the Catholic Church is a most important and crucial element of their empty “Christianity”.

    The Catholic Church does not hold up the Bible’s account of Creation as being essential to one’s salvation. If it is not necessary, and it isn’t, why would one waste so much time throwing mud at the Catholic Church? What is important and necessary is to live our lives as followers of Jesus and to love and accept one another and to do so in the manner prescribed by our Lord. In all of the Gospels and Teachings of our Lord I have not yet come across any reference by Him to the Genesis account of Creation being critical to that salvation. By the way do the Ten Commandments explicitly compel Christians to believe in Creation according to Genesis? If a belief in Genesis is so necessary to one’s salvation then God would have written so. If it is not written there then show me where God specifically included it.

    Loving one’s neighbour is however one of those crucial criteria ( and is expressed explicitly so by Jesus) and constantly harping on about and attacking the Faith of another person is not demonstrative of that Christian love. If you wish to convert another then do so by quietly demonstrating that love for Christ, not hounding them. That is how of course the early Christians increased in their numbers; not by attacking the Roman authorities. Jesus deliberately shied away from this unproductive approach.

    In conclusion, as a Catholic I unambiguously state that Evolution/Darwinism is an instrument of evil used by Satan to turn people away from God. It promotes the idea that Mankind is the end result of a Godless process and thus that we are ourselves answerable to no-one. I don’t need to believe in Creation to understand that. It just so happens that I do voluntarily believe in Creation as it fits hand in glove with the Catholic belief in God. Having said all this Ewan and Jennifer, I should emphasize that the Catholic Church and its members are not answerable to you and to others (as you are not answerable to others for your creed) and does not have to produce evidence of this or that to satisfy your demands. Go out and seek the answers for yourself but in the meantime the Catholic Church and its members will go about practising the Christian Faith unhindered and unfettered by such unprincipled demands. The Catholic Church and Catholics are not accountable to outsiders such as yourselves for our beliefs and practices. If an outsider is uncomfortable or otherwise with those beliefs and practices then it is their concern and not a concern for the Church. As it is said in Papua New Guinea “Worri bilong yu”. (Refer Matthew)

    John FG McMahon

  11. Hi John,

    What have I done to warrant such a withering diatribe from you? I don’t appreciate being compared to “loud vulgar people who, without invitation, shove their faces under one’s nose and almost scream hysterically that unless their version of Christianity is accepted then they……won’t be “saved” and will be condemned to Hell.” If I didn’t already think you are paranoid about criticism of the Catholic church, I do now. Might I remind you that I didn’t even mention the Catholic church in my original comment and only did so in response to your preemptive questioning.

    Ewan McDonald.

  12. Thanks guys

    As this is sort of an ecumenical gathering, we have to learn to get along where possible, and show some respect for one another, even though we may have some genuine differences of opinion as followers of Jesus. So maybe we can allow this particular thread to cool off a bit. Thanks,

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  13. Hi Mr. Muehlenberg

    I love reading your blog. Thank you for all your good work and reflections.

    I’m looking for a book that revises the theory of evolution in a scientific approach. I would like to know the scientific weaknesses to Darwinism. Do you have any suggestion?

    Your help would be much appreciated.
    Pascal Denault, Quebec

  14. Thanks Pascal

    Perhaps the easiest way for me to reply is to refer you to a large bibliography I posted last year: https://billmuehlenberg.com/2008/03/09/readings-in-science-and-creation/

    Of those authors, the Intelligent Design group would be helpful. See also the works by Denton (who is not a Christian by the way). Another non-Christian well worth reading is David Berlinski, The Devil’s Delusion (Crown Forum, 2008).

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

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