How often do we hear that people are just more highly evolved animals? This is often presented as an indisputable fact in support of other false claims. As animals, our embryos are nothing special. Our rights must also be balanced against those of other animals.
If we were animals, that would make some sense. We are not! While we share some physical characteristics, there remains an immense and uncrossable chasm between us and animals so claims built on our alleged “animal nature” are in fact completely false.
God, the creator of everything, has endowed all living things with a soul. Angels, people, animals and plants. These things all have a nature as God created them and that nature is distinct and never changes. The souls of angels and people are immortal. Those of animals and plants are not. Mortal death does not end the existence of a person’s soul as it does for an animal.
People, not animals, possess reason and self-control. People, not animals, are endowed with an intellectual, rational soul. People are beings who are ends in themselves while animals are beings for the perfection of other beings. People have moral and legal authority of possession and corresponding related duties (i.e. rights). Animals may be possessed by people whereas animals may not possess people nor may people possess people. In possessing animals, we have a moral duty of humane treatment but may otherwise use them for service and food.
Holy Scripture begins by explaining this relationship between people and animals. On the sixth day, God created the animals:
Then God said: Let the earth bring forth every kind of living creature: tame animals, crawling things, and every kind of wild animal. And so it happened: God made every kind of wild animal, every kind of tame animal, and every kind of thing that crawls on the ground. God saw that it was good.
Then, separate from creating the animals, He create man:
Then God said: Let us make human beings in our image, after our likeness. Let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, the tame animals, all the wild animals, and all the creatures that crawl on the earth.
God created mankind in his image; in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.
God blessed them and God said to them: Be fertile and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it. Have dominion over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, and all the living things that crawl on the earth. God also said: See, I give you every seed-bearing plant on all the earth and every tree that has seed-bearing fruit on it to be your food; and to all the wild animals, all the birds of the air, and all the living creatures that crawl on the earth, I give all the green plants for food. And so it happened.
Notice the difference between people and animals: people are (1) created in God’s image and likeness and (2) given dominion over all animals.
The second creation narrative similarly shows people and animals made separately:
then the LORD God formed the man out of the dust of the ground and blew into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.
So the LORD God formed out of the ground all the wild animals and all the birds of the air, and he brought them to the man to see what he would call them; whatever the man called each living creature was then its name.
Notice that both people and animals were formed out of the ground, but for people alone God “blew into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.” Notice too that in naming the animals, we are given dominion over them.
Secularists are correct in one ironic sense. When we do not recognize human dignity, we can indeed act like animals!
UPDATE: The Discovery Institute has just announced a new documentary:
See also Wesley J. Smith’s excellent blog on this topic: Human Exceptionalism.