A Spirited Nature

A Spirited Nature

There are many high-quality nature shows on television these days, but none as spectacular as Planet Earth. Co-produced by the BBC and the Discovery Channel, the series took five years to complete as crew members took their cameras quite literally to the ends of the earth. The final result transports audiences to never-before-seen locations and introduces them to a wild array of animals, some almost alien.

While watching an episode at my parents’ house, I marveled at the unique creatures profiled by the show. Yet I couldn’t help thinking that as fascinating as animals are, it’s humans that God considers as the crown of creation.

Evolutionary theories promote the idea that all life, including human beings, evolved from a common ancestor via strictly natural processes. In other words, humans are highly evolved animals, differing in degree, but not kind, from other members of the animal kingdom. The absence of a supernatural Creator in the evolutionary paradigm also implies that humans, like animals, lack a spiritual component.

The Bible teaches otherwise. Genesis 2 describes God personally forming both man and woman in His image. They are the only creatures thus distinguished. The Creator further elevates humans by placing them in charge of the entire planet. Right off the bat, humanity differs from animals in a radical way.

But outside of the Bible, is there any evidence supporting the notion that each person possesses an individual spirit? Of course, it’s difficult, if not impossible, to test for the spirit empirically. However, we can observe dramatic differences between human and animal behavior that imply the existence of a spirit in persons.

Curiosity: RTB founder and astronomer, Hugh Ross, points out that human curiosity extends far beyond that of other animals: “Even when creatures ‘store up’ for the season or ‘prepare’ for a coming event, such as a birth, they function in patterned ways according to their survival instinct. Humans, on the other hand, want to know about the earliest moments of life, of cosmic existence, and of the farthest reaches of the future.”

This thirst for knowledge represents a distinctively human characteristic. Certainly many animals exhibit the capability to learn and a curiosity about their immediate environment, but only humans do reason on abstract levels involving mathematics, logic, philosophy, etc.

Art and technology: Evidence indicates that from the beginning, humans have expressed themselves through visual art and music. In his book Who Was Adam? biochemist Fuz Rana writes, “Perhaps one of the most important advances in prehistoric archeology in recent years is the recognition that artistic (including musical) expression simultaneously with humanity’s appearance about 40,000 years ago.1 Archeologists and anthropologists refer to this surge of human culture as ‘the big bang of art.’”

The level of technological sophistication also rose dramatically once humans arrived on the historical scene. Tools and weaponry associated with early humans display an ingenuity of mind entirely lacking in other animals.

Morality: Seeing seals maul king penguins was one of the hardest things to stomach while watching Planet Earth. It made me glad to think the seals would get their comeuppance if they strayed into shark territory. Upsetting as the scene was, it didn’t mean the seals’ behavior was evil. Animals are not moral creatures; humans alone hold this distinction. We contemplate right and wrong and create societal structures and laws to regulate behavior and punish wrong-doing. RTB philosopher/theologian, Kenneth Samples, comments, “Animals can perform good, even heroic acts. A dog might save its owners from a burning house or guide soldiers through dangerous obstacles during combat, but it does not make morally reflective judgments about such acts.”

Hugh puts it this way: humans are “uniquely evil among all life on Earth but also uniquely righteous.”

Spirituality: Of all creatures on Earth, only humans are capable of forming a relationship with their Creator. Kenneth says, “Pursuit of God or the transcendental is a defining characteristic of mankind and is evidenced in such common practices as prayer and worship—so much so that some have designated humans as homo religiosus—‘religious man.’”

Because we have the capacity to think and communicate at conceptual levels, humans inevitably ask, “Why?” Why am I here? How did I get here? What will happen to me when I die? No other animal worries about what will happen to it after it dies.

Some argue the human brain simply adapted to provide an evolutionary advantage to our species. Yet, as Hugh suggests, “For tens of thousands of years humanity carried intellectual capacities that offered no discernable advantage. From a Darwinian perspective, such capacities would be unlikely to arise and, even if they had randomly emerged, they would likely have been eliminated or minimized by natural selection.”

Maybe there’s more to humans than meets the eye.

– Maureen

1. Tim Appenzeller, “Evolution or Revolution?” Science 282 (1998): 1451–1454.