Where Science and Faith Converge

Scientific Discovery & God: Human Exceptionalism, Part 4

By Kenneth R. Samples - February 12, 2019

Some people think the advance of science continues to remove any reason for believing in God, but in reality scientific discovery over the last century has opened up vistas of knowledge that are best explained by the worldview of theism over atheistic naturalism. In the three previous parts of this series (see here, here, and here), I explained that what secular scientists thought they would discover concerning the universe, the solar system, and Earth were very different from what they actually uncovered. The universe’s extraordinary beginning, the solar system’s fine-tuning for life, and Earth’s distinctiveness as a hospitable home for intelligent life have all been surprising finds for a secular view.

In this final segment, I want to explain how human beings’ distinctiveness has also surprised scientists who embrace a purely naturalistic worldview.

The Human Exceptionalism Hypothesis

A consensus of today’s scientific community holds that modern human beings evolved naturalistically from apelike ancestors (known as common descent). But modern humans appear to possess qualities and characteristics that make them different not merely in degree from other primates (which seems to be what evolution would predict) but different in kind. This apparent difference in kind may be called the human exceptionalism hypothesis.

RTB scientists Fazale Rana and Hugh Ross summarize human exceptionalism in this way:

A wealth of scientific evidence shows that humans alone, as distinct from Neanderthals, Homo erectus, and other species, possess the capacity for symbolic recognition, for complex language, art, and music, and for spiritual and philosophical engagement. Humans alone manifest awareness of God, sin, moral judgment, and life beyond death. Humans alone demonstrate technological advancement, including the development of agriculture and civilization. New evidence shows that even during episodes of extreme environmental instability, humans were able to maintain small mixed farms (with multiple species of crops and livestock) and to manufacture flour and clothing.1

Imago Dei (Image of God)

From a Christian philosophical and theological perspective, humans show this difference in kind by possessing six qualities or endowments that the Bible grounds in their being made in God’s image (Genesis 1:26–27). Animals share some of these qualities in a limited degree, but humans differ profoundly from animals by being:2

  1. spiritual and religious;
  2. personal, self-conscious, and rational;
  3. deliberative and volitional;
  4. relational;
  5. immortal; and
  6. powerful (having dominion over nature).

The human exceptionalism hypothesis seems to comport well with a theistic, even biblical, perspective of the imago Dei, but seems unexpected and out of place from an atheistic, naturalistic perspective. So what would human beings look like if biblical theism were true? Apparently very much like they appear right now.

Thus, I would contend that for people who look to science to offer evidence that helps negate or affirm worldview claims, the verdict is in. Many atheists insist otherwise, but scientific discovery over the last century seems compatible with belief in a theistic God.

Reflections: Your Turn

In your opinion, what feature about human beings makes them the most different from animals? Visit Reflections on WordPress to comment with your response.


  1. Hugh Ross, “Five Best Scientific Evidences for the God of the Bible,” Today’s New Reason to Believe (blog), Reasons to Believe, June 4, 2018, http://www.reasons.org/explore/blogs/todays-new-reason-to-believe/read/todays-new-reason-to-believe/2018/06/04/five-best-scientific-evidences-for-the-god-of-the-bible.
  2. Kenneth Richard Samples, 7 Truths That Changed the World: Discovering Christianity’s Most Dangerous Ideas (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2012), 168–69.

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