Reflections on Evolutionary Growth and the Theological Doctrine of Imago Dei

Christopher Benek

Most Christians globally subscribe to Orthodox Trinitarian Doctrine and to the proposition that indeed Jesus is both fully human and fully God. In a very real sense Christians believe that Jesus is both God and the son of God.

This belief is affirmed in the Christian Scriptures as Jesus is actively referred to as the Word. John 1:14 states,

14 And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of the Father's only Son, full of grace and truth.

Furthermore John 1:1 states,

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

Taking the above information into consideration in addition to the Genesis 1:26 account which says “Then God said, 'Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness,” Christians theologically contend that human beings are made in God's image and that God entered into this Image of God's self on Earth as the Word Incarnate via the person of Jesus. Thus, in Jesus, humanity experiences God dwelling in God's likeness (i.e. human form).

If one considers this theological proposition in relationship to the theory of evolution, it is logical to consider that God created human beings through an evolutionary process by which human beings developed over time. Such a process allowed humanity to evolve in stages of different developed forms of humanness. This process brought about the capabilities and/or possibilities of being human -perhaps even asymptotically closer to the actual Image of God.

In this evolutionary process, human beings have also developed/evolved the capability of imagining technology that can radically increase the rate of evolutionary developmental processes long-term. Through technology such as gene doping, genetic engineering - and immediately through hormone injections/steroid type use - the use of performance enhancing drugs, and even surgical procedures (Lasik eye surgery) - just to name a few. These technological advancements give some human lineages access to such technologies that they have immense evolutionary advantages over other human lineages.

Given the aforementioned theological contentions it is wholly reasonable to infer compatibility between theology and science within such a Biblically and scientifically informed paradigm. But this compatibility then also raises a whole host of additional scientifically and theologically oriented questions regarding ethics and morality in the modern age. Such questions include but are not limited to the following:

  • What are our responsibilities with regard to our physical form in the modern age?
  • What potential eschatological consequences could our actions in this life have on our existence in the future?
  • How can technology that relates to our physical evolutionary advancement be used in ways that are "just" to all persons?
  • Is our technological advancement lending itself to bringing us closer to the Image of God or further away from such an Image?
  • More specifically: Does our evolution toward a more technologically advanced existence somehow lead us toward a state of idolatry?
  • Or, amidst our "progression" do we somehow experience loss of the Imago Dei?
  • If so, are there "advancements" that we should resist? Or, is resistance antievolutionary and thus prohibitive from humankind moving asymptotically closer to the actual Image of God?
  • Is the sacrifice of our bodies for eschatological reasons a more complete understanding of evolutionary theory? In other words, with regard to fulfilling Christ's commands, what are our responsibilities to use our bodies to fulfill such commands?

Such questions are often asked in an effort to help clarify concepts of stewardship as it relates to our physical form. These questions also help integrate the Doctrine of Imago Dei with our responsibilities as Christians to "obey the commands of Jesus" (Matt. 28:18-20). This integration thereby serves to help Christians to have a more systemic understanding of life and ultimate meaning.

Reality Changing Observations:

Q1. How do you think that a scientifically informed view of Trinitarian Doctrine might change how Christians view who they are and what they are meant to do?

Q2. What informs your personal ethic around how you modify or use your body?

Q3. What are other Scripture passages do you think might lend aid to our study on this topic?