Image and Dust: Dignity and Humility in the Human Origins Debate

This paper will consider a common thread between three famous debates on human origins in the last one hundred fifty years: 1) Bishop Samuel Wilberforce vs. Thomas Huxley, 2) William Jennings Bryan in the Scopes Monkey Trial, and 3) Ken Ham vs. Bill Nye. To put it charitably, heat tended to be generated because the stakes were high. One side believed that they were protecting human dignity by absolutely differentiating humans from the animal kingdom, while the opposing side advocated humility in scientifically considering more commonality with different species to the point of common descent.
This paper does not seek to argue for or against the theory of evolution, but to critique theologically the underlying issues of how dignity and humility were advocated in these three debates. The thesis of this paper will be that Genesis 1-2 holds a healthy tension between both dignity and humility in human beings. Thus, the critique will mainly focus on the errors of absolute distinctiveness on one side and absolute commonality on the other.
The first point will focus on dignity. Most Christians would agree that universal human dignity is based on the doctrine of the imago Dei. However, regardless of what one thinks of Darwin, the subsequent debates since the publication of The Origin of Species have exposed a faulty view that dignity requires a certain mode of creation, namely, a de novo creation that was miraculously instantaneous. I will argue that universal dignity is based solely on the imago Dei. Conversely, because of this, there is not only great error, but also potentially great harm of viewing humans as mere animals. I will interact mainly with John Kilner and Richard Lint here.
The second point will focus on humility. As image bearers, human beings do indeed reflect God, which is the highest creaturely honor, but they are not God. The narrative of being created from dust is a reminder of that. Dust throughout the Old Testament is a symbol of humility. Genesis 2 also narrates a commonality between mankind, trees, and animals as God creates all of them from dust. I will interact mainly with Thomas Aquinas in this point.
The third point then explores why human beings are made in the imago Dei. The argument here is that it is only by grace. I will interact with Irenaeus and his theory of recapitulation of grace in reverse. With the grace as the starting point of New Creation in Christ as the second Adam, I will show parallels in reverse that grace also was the starting point of original creation with the first Adam. Therefore, the imago Dei had been conferred on human beings for no other reason than grace.
So, whether one opposes or supports evolution as a legitimate scientific theory, the goal in this paper is to demonstrate that both dignity and humility must both be held together when considering human origins.

3 thoughts on “Image and Dust: Dignity and Humility in the Human Origins Debate”

Leave a Comment