Uniqueness of Social Cognition in Humans
One of the cornerstone doctrines of the Christian faith is that humans alone among all life-forms on Earth are created in the image of God. Part of this image entails that humans are spiritual beings uniquely endowed with the physical apparatus to engage in spiritual activity. According to the Bible, this image of God did not evolve within the human species. It appeared fully established and fully functional when God created the first human male and female.
Given how extensively and specifically the Bible describes humanity’s image of God (for example, Genesis 1:26-27; 9:6; James 3:9), it should not be difficult to develop scientific tests to confirm or refute the doctrine. However, little research effort has been devoted to putting the image of God to any kind of scientific test because much of the biological research community has been entrenched in Darwinism. That view holds that humans have evolved naturally from ape-like ancestors and that humanity’s mental capabilities differ from the animals’ only by degree and not by kind.
A team of European and American anthropologists unwittingly provided dramatic evidence for the Bible’s image of God doctrine. The evidence arose out of a comparative study they performed on the mental capabilities of adult orangutans and chimpanzees with human children aged just 2.5 years.1 In selecting children aged 2.5 years the team eliminated any possible benefit from education or literacy from the human test subjects.
The researchers discovered that the human toddlers manifested no significant advantage over the adult apes in their ability to learn from their physical environment. However, their capacity to share and gain knowledge, understanding, and comprehension from their social interactions was far superior to anything manifested by either adult chimpanzees or adult orangutans. As the researchers put it, “Humans are not just social but ‘ultra-social.’”2
Without an extraordinary capability of interacting, communicating, and learning from social interactions no spiritual activity would be possible. The fact that even the most intelligent non-human animals lack the social interaction capability necessary to support spiritual activity while even toddler humans do provides evidence for the biblical doctrine that humans alone among all life on Earth are spiritual creatures.
The lead authors of the research team work for the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology and in the title of their paper they state, “Humans Have Evolved Specialized Skills of Social Cognition.” However, nowhere in their paper do they provide any evidence that present-day humans manifest a higher social interaction capability than do the earliest humans. Nor do they show that the hominids that preceded human beings (Homo sapiens sapiens) demonstrated a level of social interaction capability adequate to support spiritual activity.
In fact, archeological evidence strongly supports the conclusion that the first humans were just as capable of practicing spiritual activity as are humans today. Thus, the biblical doctrine that the first humans possessed a fully functional capacity to engage in spiritual activity has gained scientific support.
Esther Herrmann et al., “Humans Have Evolved Specialized Skills of Social Cognition: The Cultural Intelligence Hypothesis,” Science 317 (September 7, 2007): 1360-66.
Herrmann et al., 1360.