Post Author: Bill Pratt
One of the chief answers that Christianity provides is the answer to the question: “Why is man unique?” The Bible answers this question right at the start in the Book of Genesis. Man is unique because man is the only earthly creature made in the image of the Creator himself. No other creature can make this claim, or make any claim at all.
Among most anti-theists, there is the notion that the appearance of man in history was merely a fluke of random mutation and natural selection, and that man is not actually that unique. He is just slightly further along the evolutionary expressway than the rest of the animal kingdom. Give the other animals time and they will catch up or even surpass man. In fact, if we roll back the process of evolution and try it again, the results would have been quite different. We can imagine other animals taking man’s place in the hierarchy of life.
G. K. Chesterton, in his book Everlasting Man, runs the thought experiment of what it might have been like for other animals to ascend.
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.
We can certainly imagine a great many diverse evolutionary paths, but what actually happened is far more fascinating. Chesterton reminds us:
Anyone thinking of what might have happened may conceive a sort of evolutionary equality; but anyone facing what did happen must face an exception and a prodigy. . . . [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.
The arrival of man on the scene is surely one of the greatest mysteries that faces us. Most everyone, according to Chesterton, grants that there is a great mystery in the origin of the universe and another great mystery in the origin of life. But Chesterton points to a third mystery:
Most philosophers have the enlightenment to add that a third mystery attaches to the origin of man himself. In other words, a third bridge was built across a third abyss of the unthinkable when there came into the world what we call reason and what we call will. Man is not merely an evolution but rather a revolution. That he has a backbone or other parts upon a similar pattern to birds and fishes is an obvious fact, whatever be the meaning of the fact. But if we attempt to regard him, as it were, as a quadruped standing on his hind legs, we shall find what follows far more fantastic and subversive than if he were standing on his head.