Tools, Intelligence, and Definitions of Man

One of the most important problems involved in looking at the question of the evolution of man is the question of how you define man. From a biblical perspective, this is not much of an issue. Man is defined biblically as "that being created in the image of God." In the Genesis account, man is clearly separated from the rest of the creation by being created in God's image. The challenge to this notion involves how we know it is true. A skeptic who does not believe in God will suggest that this is just a religious ego trip with no basis of support. Many animal rights activists assert that we have no special place in the creation, and no right to use animals for food, medicine, clothing, or all the other things that we use animal material for.

Black bird carrying a cluster of berries In physical anthropology class in college, you may have been given a list of criteria that an animal must have to qualify as being human. Involved in this list would be things like brain size, the location of the foramen magnum (the opening to the brain that the spinal column passes through), the size of the eyebrow ridges, the shape of the back of the skull, the arrangement of the teeth or of the cusps in the teeth, and perhaps the ratio of body limbs. All of these characteristics are physical characteristics. Many claims that say that a specimen is an ancient ancestor of man are based upon the fact that the specimen found had one of the criteria listed above.

In cultural anthropology the criteria for determining if a specimen was human might include tool construction, the use of fire, evidence of language (not just communication), and signs of organized communities. The problem with this definition is that the more we learn about animals, the more we see that animals can do most of the things that have in the past been thought to be peculiar to man. In USA Today (August 9, 2002, page 2A), there is a story about a crow at Oxford University that has learned how to make tools. Researchers put a piece of food in a tube and laid two wires out for the crows to use to get the food--a straight wire and a hooked wire. The crows quickly used the hooked wire to get at the food. When only one hooked wire was available, the crow without the hooked wire took the straight wire and using its beak made a hook and then fished the food out of the tube.

Early age man working with tools Over the years researchers have seen animals use rocks to break things to get at the food inside. Chimps use sticks to reach into tree trunks to get insects to eat. Birds drop small rocks while in flight on eggs of other birds to break them, and eat them. I am reminded of a comment that the famous archeologist Louis Leakey made when Jane Goodall discovered chimps using tools. He said "Either we are going to have to change our definition of man, or we are going to have to invite the chimps to send a representative to the United Nations."

It should he obvious that intelligence is not the issue here. Crows do interesting things, but they are not of high intelligence. Insects also do remarkable things, and clearly intelligence is not what gives them the ability to do it. Retarded humans might not be able to do some of the things that animals do. What is it about man that we can use to demonstrate that the definition of man as that being created in the image of God is valid?

We would suggest that there are many things that can be seen in man which demonstrate his creation in the image of God. Let us look at a few briefly.

Early age man doing cave paintings Creativeness. Man's ability to create art, music, abstract ideas, and to be taught to think in these areas is unique to man. None of these things are a function of man's intelligence. Retarded people do these things, and in many cases do them incredibly well. Animals with very high intelligence do not do these things. There have been claims of elephant art and chimp art and the like, but when you examine these claims they are anthropomorphizations and not creations which demonstrate a spiritual make up.

Someone kneeling in prayer A Concept of God. Why does man worship God? Why do we seek God? What is it that causes us to want to worship. Why do we seek heaven and fear hell? Once again, we do not see this in any way in other life forms on our planet, and we do see it even in the most feeble minded among us.

A Concept of Self. What is it that makes us want to be remembered when we die? Why do we bury the body and erect a stone or other memorial for a family member? Why are we willing to die for an idea, or what makes us worry and why do we seek forgiveness of others. What causes us to experience guilt? All of these things are a manifestation of the fact that we are aware that we are an individual with an identity that goes beyond survival.

These are not survival skills. They do not make us more fit for survival. They are not a function of our IQ and they do not depend on our culture or our education. All people in all societies do these things and have these characteristics. Our tools and our bodies are not what make us human. How God formed our bodies is not really the issue about what it is about man that sets man apart. It is our soul that sets us apart, and the evidence that we are spiritual beings is seen in those characteristics which are uniquely seen in every one of us. The challenge to each of us is to make sure that this soul which is uniquely created and which is the real person is in a saved relationship with the God who created it. "The spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God" (Romans 8:16). 

--John N. Clayton

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