This post is going to be about people. I will take the opportunity to plug an article that just appeared in the journal Perspectives in Science and Christian Faith on Imago Dei. In that piece, (which can also be found in the I zine God and Nature):
I present my views on the nature of human beings. The modern view that humans are basically worthless, or even an evil side show in a mostly bacterial world, and that there is nothing special about us, is a fairly new concept among atheists. In fact the humanist creed, the belief that human beings are quite special, was shared by most of the atheists I knew growing up. It is now out of fashion.
Starting in the 1960s counter culture, and blooming with the new atheist work of Dennet and Dawkins, humans are no longer considered to be important or special in any way. Love, humor, art, music, science, creativity, and all other uniquely human attributes are denigrated as being “merely” artifacts of natural selection. (I am not clear why the idea that we evolved should be used as an argument against the point that our transcendent qualities have real importance). Even human consciousness has been explained away as an illusion. We have been told that bacteria are the true masters of the Earth, and that we thinking hominids are just a useless after thought of an otherwise glorious ecosystem.
I find that philosophical view much more disturbing than atheism. In fact when I was an atheist, I always believed in the transcendent nature of humanity as something special in the universe. I guess I have always really liked human beings. They can smile in a way that bacteria never seem to match. I have seen poetry that elevates the writer to a level far above that of most gorillas. And even the cleverest group of chimps have not yet managed to communicate via a blog covering at least three continents.
But there is an even more disturbing aspect of the denial of Imago Dei among a large section of the population, which also has its roots in the 1960s, and that is the view that humans are actually evil, and have wrought great destruction on the planet, and continue to do so. A month or so ago, I mentioned on Biologos that this view, along with a good deal of current environmentalist dogma, includes a great deal of what I called magical thinking, for which I was interrogated by a number of commenters. I was reluctant to engage in that discussion, since I felt it was a distraction from the main topics of the post, and I didn’t want to bring the discussion here for similar reasons.
But because of the connection with my thoughts on Imago Dei, I will mention here some part of what I think about this (a complete set of my views is found in my book Where We Stand).
We are not bad for the planet. The planet is fine. The ecosystem cannot be destroyed by us. Even human-made ecological disasters, like oil spills etc., are not bad for the planet, they are bad FOR US. Species extinction is not bad for the planet (happens all the time) but it is bad for us. Global warming is not bad for the planet, its bad for us. Loss of habitats, poisoning of water, pollution, you name it makes no difference to the planet or the biosphere, but they are all BAD FOR US. Is a garbage dump worse than a pristine mountain? Worse for whom? Actually for many species, (Seagulls, rats, all kinds of bacteria,) maybe a garbage dump is better. But not for us.
Should we care about the state of the planet? Yes we should. We need to take care of the planet, not for the bacteria or the seagulls or the polar bears, but because it is OUR HOME, and we are important. The bacteria, seagulls and polar bears don’t care at all. If you are a theist, you could say that God cares, but if you an atheist, you don’t even have that option. For atheists, the only reason to care for the planet is because if we don’t it will be bad for human beings. If one truly thinks that people are a blight on the face of the Earth, the solution is simple, forget about worrying about pollution or war or the future, and just do whatever it takes to commit mass suicide and lets all go extinct.
I hope the irony of the situation is apparent. We thrill at movies and depictions of global apocalypse, all of which were made by, seen by, acted in by, produced by, critiqued by and eventually forgotten by humans. And only humans. Even the Planet of the Apes, turns out to have been a fiction not made by actual apes, or even dolphins or ravens or dogs, but by, yes, once again the only self hating species on the planet, human beings.
Our atheists insist that we are “bad” while denying any source of moral judgment outside of us, ourselves. I trust that the total inconsistency of this view is obvious. I would be quite happy if the militant anti theists would at least have the decency to admit that human beings are actually pretty special. That would not only give their creed a slight degree of internal coherence, but would also go a long way toward allowing some acknowledgment of the basic truth of the concept of Imago Dei.