Acton Institute Powerblog

A Case against Chimeras: Part II

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Part II of our week-long series on the ethics of chimeras begins with an examination of the creation account in the book of Genesis.

Creation – Genesis 1:26–30

The creation account in Genesis provides us with essential insights into the nature of the created world, from rocks and trees to birds and bees. It also tells us important things about ourselves and the role of human beings in relationship to the rest of creation.

The distinctions between various parts of the created world—plants, animals, and humans—are critical to discerning the best use and attitudes toward them.

We find in verses 29 and 30 of Genesis 1 God’s creational purpose for plantlife. Plants are originally given and intended to provide for the life of the rest of creation, especially those creatures with the “breath of life.” In this way, the original purpose for plants was to be food for humans and animals and in this way to sustain life.

So the first distinction among living creatures is that between plants and those with the “breath of life,” animals and humans. The second major distinction is made among those creatures with the “breath of life,” between animals and humans, the latter created in the “image of God.”

Genesis 1:26–28 forms a complex and interrelated picture of the original state of humanity. Created in the image of God, human beings are placed in dominion over “all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” Thus, verse 26 speaks to the placement of human beings as God’s earthly representatives.

Within the original Ancient Near Eastern (ANE) context of this passage, the language of “image-bearing” would have been immediately understandable. When a vassal or representative of the king spoke or acted with royal authority, he was said to “bear the image” of the king, a physical representation of the king and his authority. Verse 27 narrates the creation of human beings alluded to in the previous verse, and the placement as God’s image-bearers, representatives of the divine King.

There are, of course, no rights or privileges without responsibility, so on the heels of the creation of human beings and their placement in dominion, we find the corresponding responsibilities and blessings laid out in the following verse. Verse 28 is most often understood in terms of “stewardship,” and here again we run up against the political and social structure of the ANE. A steward was one who was in charge of a household or kingdom during the ruler’s absence. Humans, in exercising their exalted place of stewardship, are to be productive and creative rulers of the earth. This is the norm of human existence and the standard to which we are called.

An early exercise of this stewardly dominion over the animal world can be found in Genesis 2:19–20, in which the animals are brought to Adam to be named, “and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name.”

And so we have a tripartite division between plants, animals, and humans displayed in these verses. Plants form the base of the picture, created to give life to those creatures with the “breath of life.” Animals, as possessors of this “breath of life,” live off the plants, but remain distinct from human beings, who alone are created in the “image of God.”

Jordan J. Ballor Jordan J. Ballor (Dr. theol., University of Zurich; Ph.D., Calvin Theological Seminary) is a senior research fellow and director of publishing at the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion & Liberty. He is also a postdoctoral researcher in theology and economics at the VU University Amsterdam as part of the "What Good Markets Are Good For" project. He is author of Get Your Hands Dirty: Essays on Christian Social Thought (and Action) (Wipf & Stock, 2013), Covenant, Causality, and Law: A Study in the Theology of Wolfgang Musculus (Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2012) and Ecumenical Babel: Confusing Economic Ideology and the Church's Social Witness (Christian's Library Press, 2010), as well as editor of numerous works, including Abraham Kuyper Collected Works in Public Theology. Jordan is also associate director of the Junius Institute for Digital Reformation Research at Calvin Theological Seminary.


  • Interesting series! Let me toss something at you, Jordan:

    A host of Christians promote evolution or Intelligent Design as God’s method of establishing plants, animals and people.

    This requires an evolved set of DNA containing a mix of genetic material (or remnants) of all stages of life form development over millions of years.

    Further, ID’ers and theistic evolutionists believe that our humanity comes from being “God Breathed” and filled by the Spirit of God, not by our DNA, which is 99%+ similar to other primates and more in common than not to other mammals.

    So where does the “tripartite” division come from other than Scripture? If anything, the “tripartite” according to biologists would be plants (distinguished by a stiff cell wall), animals (distiguished by a cell membrane), and single-celled critters like viruses that reproduce abiotically.

    The point: With this sort of chimeric thinking dominant in our culture (not to mention education system), it’s not a surprise that being made in the “image of God” is both impractical and esoteric to most Christians. What’s the solution?

    It also seems like you’re making the case that to properly see ourselves as stewards of ecology, we must see ourselves as the handiwork of creation vice the product of evolution. Am I reading you correctly?

  • One way of answering your first set of questions would be to go about defining in what exactly the “image of God” consists, and then attempting, as an apologetics task, ways in which we can appeal to these realities as evidence for differences between animals and humans.

    Rationality may be one place to go. It is a common distinction in classical philosophical thought to acknowledge that animals have “souls,” but that they are irrational rather than rational souls.

    Reported cases of communication, language, and/or tool-usage by primates in my opinion does nothing but underscore and reinforce this difference. As [url=]I’ve written before[/url], there’s a vast difference between a chimpanzee using a stick to get ants out of a hole and you or I picking up a cell-phone (despite whatever assumptions to the contrary are present in ad campaigns like’s “Use Tools, Feel Human” bits).

    I think this can and should be done in a way that does not deny or derogate our relationship and relative continuity with the rest of creation. David P. Barahs, for instance, caricatures the Christian view as one which essentially contends “that we stand outside nature.” My counter-point is to point to our bodies being formed from dust and, indeed, to the Incarnation.

    Regarding your final point, I do agree that it seems to follow well from the special creation of human beings to assuming that there is some special role. But this is a particular way of looking at the “telos” or end of created things, which materialism or naturalistic evolution undercuts. There is no “telos” in the modern naturalistic worldview, and so how can there be any responsibility to guide anything toward an end?