More Than Animals?

The Copenhagen Zoo’s exhibit of homo sapiens lasted only a few weeks in 1996. In a glass-walled cage located in the primate house, a pair of homo sapiens were on display. The zookeeper touted the exhibit as a way of forcing people to “confront their origins” and accept that “we are all primates.”

Humans and apes share 98.5 percent of the same chromosomes. Are we merely animals—the end of an evolutionary chain that began in the primordial soup and is merely the product of chance? Or are humans created in the image of God—are we more than animals?

The test of any worldview is how does it work in the real world, which brings us back to the homo sapien exhibit. The other inhabitants of the primate house, swung from bars, eliminated waste, and mated in full view of visitors. The homo sapiens needed privacy, and when asked if they would engage in intimate behavior in public, protested “That’s not interesting.” As the monkeys picked lice off each other’s pelts, the homo sapiens read books, checked their email, and worked on a motorcycle. They could adjust the air conditioning in their quarters or go out for a movie and dinner.1

Did the exhibit prove the zookeepers contention that we should just accept that we are merely primates, or did the exhibit’s failure suggest that homo sapiens are more than animals?

Genesis chapter one gives an explanation of why we are like the animals yet different. We are like the animals because we have the same Designer and are made from the same kind of material. We are different because “God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them” (Genesis 1:27, NASB). Millard Erickson observes, “The image is the powers of personality which make man, like God, a being capable of interacting with other persons, of thinking and reflecting, and of willing freely.”2

This view sanctifies human life. It rules as out of bounds abortion and euthanasia. It also teaches that all people should be treated with dignity. Properly understood, it eliminates all forms of elitism because we are all subject to the same Lord. It also suggests that there is meaning beyond the material world. Our greatest purpose is to be in a relationship with our Creator. As Augustine observed centuries ago, “You made us for yourself, and our hearts find no peace until they rest in you.” Humanity’s freedom of will grants the capacity for great nobility and extreme cruelty. The result often depends on whether we think we are “merely animals” or “created in the image of God.”

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1Steve Weizman, “Copenhagen Zoo Displays the Most Dangerous Animals,” 12 September 1996, on-line Reuters North American Wire as cited in Chuck Colson, How Now Shall We Live?, pp. 129-130.

2Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology, p. 513.

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