42 How can humans have a special status within creation?

As we continue “fishing in the middle of the lake,” we may now turn to consider the place of humans within creation, the second large category into which questions fall about the theological compatibility of natural history as sketched by biological science and the history of creation and redemption as narrated in the Bible.

As we have already noted, the questions in this category are numerous and significant, and they include the following: (1) If humans developed from the same source as all other species, by the same process, on what basis can it be said that they enjoy a special status within creation, as the Bible teaches? (2) If the evolutionary process is “ateleological,” that is, not pursuing any particular goal, doesn’t this allow for the development of species beyond humankind? How would this square with the Bible’s teaching that humans are the goal and culmination of God’s creation? (3) If, as the Bible teaches, death entered the world first through the disobedience of humans, how could death have been active within the evolutionary process for billions of years before there were any people? (4) How are we to understand the Bible’s teaching that because of this disobedience the created world has “fallen” from a formerly pristine state, if it has rather come about through an uninterrupted process that has led to greater and greater complexity? While it may not be possible to resolve all of these questions definitively, much can be said to show that the scientific and biblical accounts are not as incompatible as they are sometimes thought to be.

Let us first take up the question here of how humans can be said to enjoy a special status within creation if they come from the same source, and have come about through the same process, as other life on earth. It is important to recognize, first of all, that the Bible does not justify humanity’s rule over creation on God’s behalf by appeal to a distinct process of origination. That is, the Bible portrays people and other creatures as having come about through the same process, but teaches that God chose people for a special role nonetheless.

In the second creation account in Genesis, we read that “the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground” and then that “out of the ground the Lord God formed every animal of the field and every bird of the air.” The process is the same.

William Blake, “Elohim Creating Adam,” watercolor, 1795. While Blake’s painting portrays this as a dramatic action, according to Genesis the man was nevertheless formed “from the dust of the ground,” that is, by the same process as the other creatures.

The first account of creation in Genesis is complementary to the second one; in it as well there is no description of a distinct process of origination for humans. They are created on Day 6 with the other land creatures; they thus fit neatly into the realms/populace scheme into which the whole account is organized (the realms created on days 1, 2 and 3 are populated, respectively, by the creatures made on days 4, 5 and 6). In other words, humans are not portrayed here as being an exception within the overall process.

The specific language of this account does not imply this, either. The verb “create” is used for humans in Genesis 1:27, rather than the verb “made,” which is used in most of the rest of the chapter. But we should not attach too much significance to this. The verb “create” is also used for the sea creatures and the sky creatures in v. 21. While God creates throughout the first account by spoken fiat, in some places He says, “let the earth bring forth” or “let the waters bring forth” a particular kind of creature (vegetation in v. 11, water creatures in v. 20, cattle and creeping things in v. 24). Since He does not say “Let the earth bring forth humans” but rather “Let us make humankind in our own image” in v. 27, this may seem to suggest a different process for humans. But nothing “brings forth” the birds, either; God simply says, “Let birds fly above the earth” (v. 20). So while we will still have to explore what creation in the image of God means, it does not necessarily require creation through a special process.

We see in these chapters that what is unique about humans is not the process by which they come about, but rather the purpose for which God makes them. It is certainly not our place to insist that if God is going to use something for a distinct purpose, He needs to bring it into being through a distinct process. We have already seen that the Bible as the word of God does not appear to have come about through a different process from that by which other literature has been produced.

Now a distinct process may be called for in some cases. Christians believe that the virgin birth of Christ, for example, enabled Him to be a sinless representative of the race when He died on the cross. But it was apparently not necessary for humans to have been created by a distinct process in order for them to function as God’s vice-regents on earth. The two opening creation accounts in Genesis describe them as having been made by the same process as other creatures. It is rather God’s choice of them that gives them a special status, and a special responsibility, within creation.

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