Would a feral human descendant species still be in the Image of God?

First post On this forum - and it is an honor.

If humanity remains on this earth for several million years hence, it is inevitable that humanity shall undergo a speciation event, splitting into two or more brother-species sundered from each other by some quirks of morphology or behavior. It is also entirely plausible that one or more or humanity’s sons may come into a place where it is in fact beneficial to lose the grand intelligence we are reknowned for(or, rather, beneficial to lose the absurd energy drain that comes with our high intelligence). Accordingly, it is entirely possible for a hypothetical descendant to fall to a level of intelligence like that of the Chimpanzee or even lower.

My question is this: would that hypothetical descendant - unspeaking, unknowing, unable to be consciously aware of the presence of God - still possess the Image of God as a collective whole? I am not asking if a developmentally challenged person possesses the Image of God - that is an unquestioned “yes” - but whether or not a descendant fundament different from humanity as we know it today, collectively devoid of one of the attributes we associate with humanity, would still be made in the Image of God.

Thoughts?

Hello, Crusader - and welcome to the forum.

Interesting hypothetical! Is this question all that different from asking if or how a mentally-impaired human today bears the image of God? I trust most believers here would agree that such a person still does. Hence it would seem that we already refuse to tie the “image of God” significance to the possession of some minimal amount of mental capacity.

Personally, I would be astounded if life millions of years from now would even be recognizable to us, given how fast things can change even just on a scale of thousands of years. It seems to me that such distant future existence is probably well over our current mental horizons - even our imaginative horizons. The bits of sci-fi that ventures into such far future territory (and I can’t remember the name of any of these shows to back up my impression here - it remains for me only a speculative impression) is that it inevitably still projects our current mental images of humanity onto these future peoples - as it must if it is to connect in any meaningful way with today’s audiences at all. I.e. the role of sci-fi isn’t so much purely predictive as it is to give a narrative of its own that still relates back to our existing narratives now.

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Welcome! That is a new take on the question of what it means to be human or to be made in the image of God. Iwonder if a speciation event is possible unless there is a huge catastrophe as at present the human race seems to be homogenous in its interactions and breeding habits. We are all floating in the same gene pool. Certainly, over the course of a million years, I suppose it is likely that war, disease or natural disaster could break down society leaving scattered pockets of genetically and geographically isolated people groups, who might then diverge into distinct species.
If that happened, my thought is that being made in the image of God involves being capable of carrying out God’s purpose in bringing order to a disordered world, and expressing love. I could see that it might be possible for an isolated group to lose that ability and return to a state of non-image bearing.
Thought provoking.

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Thank you for the reply. I suppose my question differs from the question of “whether or not a mentally impaired person is still in the Image of God” on the basis of collectivity. We know from Scripture that Mankind as a whole Possesses the Image of God, so any other individual would possess it also barring Scriptural precedent. The Image of God is often associated with our collective intelligence - I was curious about others’ opinions on this topic.

Bible scholars say it has more to do with a collective vocation than collective capacities (intelligence, moral awareness, etc.) Obviously, were a species to lose capacities, they may become unfit for the vocation, but I think it’s good to keep in mind that image of God is a relational, covenental, choseness kind of thing, not something humans evolved and can therefore devolve. If you accept that God is sovereign over creation and shepherding the human species in a personal way toward his desired ends, it would seem out of line with his character to allow a scenario you are describing. That would require a theology where God is super hands off with regard to the destiny of the world, and if that’s the theology, I wonder what place the concept of image of God has in it anyway. If creation is not proceeding toward a divinely willed telos, why would it matter that humans were called to participate in that?

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I will admit I am somewhat Deistic in this regard. I feel that the Almighty does not usually directly intervene in the biological development of His Creation, being more concerned with the spiritual development thereof. I do not feel there is an overarching “telos” beyond simply existing for the pleasure of God. I do feel, however, that our spiritual development is very dear to God, hence the coming of Christ and the rest of God’s actions towards humanity.

If you wish for a more personal metaphor, imagine a father interacting with His unborn child. The biological development proceeds mostly on its own, according to predetermined laws and random chance, but the Father may interact with the resultant children in any way He chooses.

As for how Humanity came to possess the Image of God, I feel it is more akin to humanity simply, spontaneously developing the conscious intelligence required to interact with God on a level the rest of the animals cannot. When we fell from the state of innocence and grace that we naturally enjoyed as beasts, that prompted God to begin interacting with the humanity on level our weakness required.

In the image of God is never fully explained. We don’t know exactly what it means but one thing is clear it’s related to being able to choose righteousness or choose evil. That’s what sets humans apart from all other animals at this time. If in the future somehow humans “devolved” into something that can’t reason good or evil then they would not be able to be a image of God.

But ultimately, since the image of God is not fully explained there will always be loopholes snd contradictions involved in trying to define it completely.

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The “image of God” is not something we “possess.” To be the image of God in our world is our God-given vocation. We are to reflect God’s image out to (1) God in worship and (2) to all others by living out God’s sacrificial love. God chose our species to be the ones to reflect his image. That is what makes our lives sacred. I don’t think the “hypothetical” situation fits in with God’s plan.

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This is not really a question for me since I don’t support the black and white treatment of “image of God” as a sharp distinction from other living organisms. Though for me this is not simply about biological capabilities but also a memetic inheritance of ideas which our humanity is founded on. The implication of your use of the word “feral” is that this inheritance would be lost.

Suppose I add to your scenario some robots (in which we have duplicated human mental life) and in which these ideas survive. In that case I would be inclined to say that these are more human than those biological “feral” remnants you describe.

I also support the vocation idea as a parent-child relationship with God. Children is what you create when you create in your own image, even if it is not in the sense of biological offspring.

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C.A., I think that, rather than speculation about future speciation of Homo sapiens, a better approach to answering your question about Image is suggested in your final paragraph quoted above–to look at current examples; i.e., into the numerous cases of (1) “feral children”–children reared in the wild by wolves etc.; or (2) children with such severe mental handicaps that they are unable to communicate with other humans. This allows us to deal with factual medical observations. In reference to (1), I don’t know of any authenticated case of a child under the age of one year to have become ‘feral’, and so they must have had some minimal exposure to human influences before becoming ‘feral’. While it does not fit the strict parameters demanded by (1), the case of Helen Keller deserves close attention.

Helen was 19 months old when stricken with an ailment that robbed her of the primary tools of communication: sight and hearing. This disability blocked any gentle guidance from her loving parents, and, by the age of five, she had become a selfish and unmanageable rogue–hardly what one would call the Image of God. Fortunately her parents had the means to hire a tutor, Anne Sullivan, who did fit that description. The story of how Anne used the tactile feeling of water to connect Helen to the Word, and thus provide a foundation for her to learn language is delightfully told in “Miracle Worker”. (It also may provide some insights to why John (1:14) used “Word” to describe Jesus’ role in the world.)

Approach (2) involves more difficult problems to resolve, for there are a wider variety of disabilities that might get in the pathway towards true humanity. The pathway from fertilized zygote to a living, air breathing infant is a perilous one–one in which human intervention now plays an ever increasing role. At each step, distinction between “potential” and “truly” becomes more important, as does the assignment of legal rights. Ironically, many good adult human lives have been sacrificed in the conflicts that look for a solution.
Al Leo

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Very theoretical…in fact, how do we even suppose that anything will be here in several million years? Will the sun be entering red giant stage? or is that in the “billions and billions of years” into the future?

Well, you did say “if”…but being “in the image of God” is God’s decision about aspects of His creation. You and I can only speculate, to some extents, as to what “being in the image of God” entails…So I would say that you would need to consult God for the answer on that one.

Interesting question though.

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