The Distance Between Man and Everything Else

Post Author: Bill Pratt

One of the most striking evidences for the Christian God is the uniqueness of man among all of the animals.  God exalts in The Book of Genesis, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”  The Bible dramatically lifts man over the remainder of creation.

G. K. Chesterton, in his book  The Everlasting Man, wonders what the world would be like if other animals reached the heights of man in this passage:

If there was ever a moment when man was only an animal, we can if we choose make a fancy picture of his career transferred to some other animal. An entertaining fantasia might be made in which elephants built in elephantine architecture, with towers and turrets like tusks and trunks, cities beyond the scale of any colossus. A pleasant fable might be conceived in which a cow had developed a costume, and put on four boots and two pairs of trousers. We could imagine a Supermonkey more marvellous than any Superman, a quadrumanous creature carving and painting with his hands and cooking and carpentering with his feet. But if we are considering what did happen, we shall certainly decide that man has distanced everything else with a distance like that of the astronomical spaces and a speed like that of the still thunderbolt of the light.

Nobody says things quite like Chesterton does.

8 thoughts on “The Distance Between Man and Everything Else”

  1. Elephants would presumably need to evolve fingers and opposable thumbs before being able to build things. I don’t get the Chesterton’s point. Yes, it’s amusing to imagine other animals evolving extra brain power; yes, man is by many degrees a lot smarter than any other animal. What has this to do with religion though? No other animal has grown as large as a whale or as fast as a cheetah.

    Presumably if another animal had gained advantage by being much smarter, and we had remained as other primates or mammals, then it would be they, not us, wondering at their superiority over the rest of the animal kingdom, and perhaps wondering why they were chosen for special treatment.

    Imagining monkeys evolving to be super intelligent though is a bit pointless. Jared Diamond pointed out that if an alien was confronted with a shaved chimpanzee and a naked human side-by-side in cages, it would probably struggle to pick out much difference between the two. Certainly it would notice a far greater similarity than between, say a Pitbull and a Great Dane.

  2. Using monkeys is an even worse example. The study of animals has improved much since GK Chesterton’s day. In his time there were countless examples of ‘things only humans do’ that we have since found examples of in other animals, such as using tools, mourning dead, being able to plan ahead, using language to communicate, self-awareness, altruism etc

  3. One of the most striking evidences for the Elephant God Ganesh is the uniqueness of the Elephant among all of the animals.

    For while other animals might be faster, smarter or more agile, the Elephant is most unique, in that it has the longest, strongest and most agile nose of all the animals.

  4. Bill,

    Here’s a little thought experiment for you.

    Spend one day caring for a professionally-trained chimpanzee — perhaps one of the adorable ones employed by Hollywood. Then spend a second day caring for a profoundly autistic child.

    Then come back and tell me what you think of this post!

  5. I’ve had occasion to imagine this scenario. It plays to the unlikeliness of our being what we are and our willingness to attribute that unlikeliness to a creator. It’s sort of like the Goldilocks planet argument that earth was built just perfect for human life. Just like we’re so unique on the planet. However, the earth was not built perfect for us, instead we evolved based on the atmosphere the earth contained. Just as we are so unique in the animal kingdom has less to do with a creator and more to do with a fantastic story of survival and evolution.

    On a side note, I’ve always wondered who the “us” is in Genesis. “Let us make him in our likeness” why is it plural? The likeness of God and who?

  6. To Whom It May Concern:

    Animals recognize signals, but they do not create signs. Attempts to teach language, foolhardy as they are, will not even if successful create in animals the capacity to create a language. Ref: Lost in the Cosmos, by Percy Walker.

  7. Ben, as far as I can ascertain, Percy Walker had no expertise in the study of animals, and has no authority to make that claim.

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