Evolutionary Creationism and the Image of God in Mankind

Dear Dr. Craig,

First off let me congratulate you on your amazing defense of Christianity as you travel about the world, debate, and lecture. I am a major fan, to say the least. However I have a question that has been put on my mind lately, concerning your views about creation and evolution. First off, I think you are spot on when you say evolution (in its many meanings) is not incompatible with Theism, rendering it useless as a objection to the concept of God. Aside from this, if I understand you right, you hold that views such as evolution[ary] creationism are compatible with the account of Genesis in the Bible. What bothers me about this is that I think, by holding this view, that God used evolution to bring about the diversity of life upon the Earth, including humans, you weaken and eliminate the notion that mankind was created in God's image, or at least make it problematic. Now hopefully I understand you to mean by evolutionary creationism that you think God created life at a basic level, that being cellular, and directed it to create the diversity we see everywhere and at some point on the evolutionary timeline humans came about and where then chosen to be special to God. If I characterize your view wrongly, please clarify in detail. So that brings me to the question, how do you hold the view of evolutionary creationism while holding firmly that man was created in the image of God?


United States

Since I’m not an evolutionary creationist, Andrew, I guess my answer to your question would have to be “I don’t.” Evolutionary creationism is the currently chic name given to what we used to call theistic evolution, which is the view that the current evolutionary paradigm is entirely adequate, so that the evolution of presently observed biological complexity requires no causal input from God. As my current lectures on Creation and Evolution in our Defenders class make clear, however, I am not yet convinced that the mechanisms posited by the current evolutionary paradigm are adequate to explain the biological diversity that we observe today.

One cannot exaggerate just how extraordinary an extrapolation the current paradigm involves. Many of us probably think that if random mutation and natural selection can explain, for example, the evolution of the horse, then that surely shows the power of the neo-Darwinian mechanisms to account for biological diversity. In fact, evolution within a single kind like this is nothing compared to the vast range of life. You might think that if we could show that random mutation and natural selection could explain, say, how a bat and a whale evolved from a common ancestor, that would certainly show the power of these mechanisms. Think again! A bat and a whale are both mammals, which is just one of the groups of the phylum Vertebrates. Even the evolution of a bat and a whale from a common ancestor is an utter triviality compared to the vast range of the animal kingdom. Such a demonstration would do nothing to explain, for example, how a bat and a sea urchin evolved from a common ancestor, not to speak of a bat and a sponge. This represents an extrapolation of gargantuan proportions. Indeed, it represents an enormous leap of faith in the efficacy of the Darwinian mechanisms.

Moreover, the entire animal and plant kingdoms are just two twigs on the branch of Eukaryotes. There are still the two other branches of the Bacteria and Archaea to be accounted for. The extrapolation of the Darwinian mechanisms from peppered moths and fruit flies and finch beaks to the production and evolution of every living thing is a breathtaking extrapolation of gargantuan, brobdingnagian proportions. We know that in science such extrapolations often fail. For example, Albert Einstein attempted to extrapolate his principle of relativity from the special theory to a general principle of relativity that would relativize not only uniform motion but also accelerated and rotary motion. But the extrapolation failed. Instead, what Einstein discovered was a new theory of gravitation. The name “general theory of relativity” is thus something of a misnomer.

So, I ask, where is the evidence for the extraordinary extrapolation the current paradigm involves? Michael Behe says that “the evidence for common descent seems compelling,” but “. . . except at life’s periphery the evidence for a pivotal role for random mutations is terrible.” Now if he’s wrong about this, then what is the evidence? I’m genuinely open to it. But what is it? When I, as an objective observer, look at the evidence, it seems to me that we haven’t been shown any good reason to think that the neo-Darwinian mechanisms are sufficient to explain the evolution of the extraordinary diversity of life that we see on this planet during the time available.

So I’m not convinced that evolutionary creationism is true. It seems to me that so-called progressive creationism fits the evidence quite nicely. Progressive creationism suggests that God intervenes periodically to bring about miraculously new forms of life and then allows evolutionary change to take place with respect to those life forms. But as for grand evolutionary change, this would not take place by the mechanisms of natural selection and mutation undirected by God. Rather we would need miraculous interventions of God in the process of biological evolution to bring about broad evolutionary change. So instead of evolutionary creationism, we would have a kind of progressive creationism whereby God creates biological complexity over time.

That being said, however, I do not understand why the evolutionary creationist and progressive creationist alike cannot affirm that man is created in the image of God. My Old Testament colleagues tell me that the notion of man as God’s image, in the Ancient Near Eastern context, likely refers to man as God’s representative regent on Earth. Now in order to fulfill such a function, man would have to possess certain properties inherent to personhood, like self-consciousness, rationality, freedom, and the ability to stand in personal relationships. These are the sort of properties which theologians have traditionally identified as constitutive of God’s image in man. These are not properties belonging to man’s hominid body but to his soul. So it seems a matter of indifference how man’s physical body might have originated. However God chose to bring about our hominid bodies, the crucial thing that makes us human is our soul, invested with the sort of properties just described.