In their book Who Was Adam?, Fazale Rana and Hugh Ross identify four human characteristics that theologians attribute to the image of God, based on Genesis 1:26–27 and 5:1–2 (take special note of the second, which I’ve emphasized):
- Human beings possess a moral component. They inherently understand right and wrong and have a strong innate sense of justice.
- Humans are spiritual beings who recognize a reality beyond this universe and physical life. Mankind intuitively acknowledges the existence of God and has a propensity toward worship and prayer.
- Human beings relate to God, to themselves, to other people, and to other creatures. There is a relational aspect to God’s image.
- Humanity’s mental capacity reflects God’s image. Human beings possess the ability to reason and think logically. They can engage in symbolic thought. People express themselves with complex, abstract language. They are aware of the past, present, and future. Human beings display intense creativity through art, music, literature, science, and technological inventions.9
Thus, theologians recognize our intuitive knowledge of God’s existence as an attribute of His image within us.
Inferences to the Best Explanation
It is my argument that this intuitive knowledge is what the researchers indirectly detected in their survey of university students. Scripture points to this conclusion directly.
Why do people often perceive their awareness of God’s existence as an intuition, a “gut feeling”? Why isn’t it perceived more tangibly or clearly? In Romans 1:18–20, Paul wrote concerning the “. . . unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness . . . that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse” (NASB,10 emphasis added).
We can draw an important inference here, particularly from the emphasized words above. Since God makes His existence and attributes known to us through creation— to such a degree that the unrighteous are “without excuse” when they sin (vv. 18–23)—His handiwork11 is so evident that unrighteous individuals perceive it subconsciously even though they consciously disregard it! They have a subconscious awareness of God, while at the same time, they consciously “suppress the truth in unrighteousness” (v. 18).
By the way, the existence of the subconscious or “unconscious mind” is, for all intents and purposes, acknowledged in Scripture and often described as the “heart” (e.g., Deuteronomy 6:6; 11:18; Psalm 119:11; Proverbs 4:23; 7:1–3; 16:23; Jeremiah 17:9; 31:33; Matthew 12:34–35; 15:18–19; Mark 7:20–23; Luke 6:45; Titus 1:15; Hebrews 4:12; 10:16). Implicit and procedural memories testify to the existence of the unconscious mind. (The conscious mind pertains to our conscious awareness and to explicit memories.) Conditions like post-traumatic stress disorder also confirm the existence of the subconscious mind. If the subconscious didn’t exist, neither would these conditions.
Perhaps our subconscious awareness of God began with the “intuitive creationist beliefs about origins”12 in childhood (cited in the paper), which even unrighteous individuals retain in their memories today. The documented discovery of subliminal messages suggests another possible scenario: since these very brief or momentary messages can be detected by the subconscious, how much more can the Creator’s handiwork13 be detected, which is steadily before our eyes?
Whatever scenario you prefer, how else could the unrighteous be “without excuse” when they sin if they were not intuitively aware of God’s existence and attributes? They consciously suppress the truth, but He has nonetheless made it “evident within them” (NASB). The Amplified Bible renders Romans 1:19 as, “For that which is known about God is evident to them and made plain in their inner consciousness, because God [Himself] has shown it to them.” This explains why our awareness of Him is often manifested as an intuition or “gut feeling.” We perceive His handiwork subconsciously—for example, in gazing up at the night sky, far from city lights and pollution (cf. Psalm 19:1–4; Isaiah 40:26). We are struck with and taste the awesomeness of God—without reasoning it through on a conscious level, at least initially.
A word of clarification: to state that every person intuitively knows that God exists is notto say that denying His existence (atheism) is a deliberate lie. Rather, I suggest that the human mind has a great capacity to dismiss concepts opposed to one’s personal agenda and already-formulated beliefs. It is entirely possible, then, that atheists have consciously dismissed or rationalized away their intuitive awareness of God to the degree that, in the seeming-absence of evidence, they have become convinced He doesn’t exist. As a former atheist myself, I know that this was the case with me.
Many in today’s society are utterly unaware that cogent evidences for a Creator exist.14I was; this made it easy for me to profess atheism. But the evidences for a Creator don’t disappear because of the preferred-beliefs of some. Since the biblical God exists, the disbelief of all the world’s atheists doesn’t have the power to annihilate Him.
In part 4, I’ll explore the basis in the Greek text for the Amplified Bible’s rendering “made plain in their inner consciousness” and I’ll examine a logical corollary derived from these conclusions—a corollary that explains the intuitive resistance to evolution detected by the researchers.
This article has been reviewed by RTB biochemist Fazale Rana.
Roger Bennett is an apologist and former amateur astronomer. He has also studied chemistry, physics, theology, and biblical Greek.