Weblog of a Christian philosophy student

Weblog of a Christian philosophy student. Please feel free to comment. All of my posts are public domain. Subscribe to posts [Atom]. Email me at countaltair [at] yahoo.com.au. I also run a Chinese to English translation business at www.willfanyi.com.

Location: Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Who are we? How are we made in the image of God?

Who are we, and in what sense are we made in the image of God?

Genesis 1:27 says that humans are made in the image of God, but what does that mean?

Is it our ability to reason, to know that 2 + 2 = 4 and other rational truths, that makes us in the image of God?

Maybe. But then again, computers can reason in a sense. With advanced enough technology, we could easily make thinking computers just as smart as we are. So either humans can design and build stuff in God's image, or being made in God's image is something more than this.

Let's look at the God who made us. There's an important distinction that people often forget about God, which is that He is infinite. Not infinitely good, or infinitely smart, but actually infinite. So we're made in the image of an infinite God.

This raises an interesting question: how can anything finite be made in the image of the infinite? You literally cannot imagine anything more different than a finite object and an infinite object. Humans in one sense have more in common with rocks than with God if we're finite, because at least rocks are finite. Yeah, but rocks can't think, you might say. But if thinking is just a matter of doing mental calculations, then actually we have more in common with computers than with God, because computers can 'think' in a sense and are also finite like we are. And advanced enough computers could think as intelligently as humans or be even more intelligent.

So there are a couple of problems with thinking that we have much in common with God if we're finite and God is infinite. Actually, it's relatively common to think that our finite language and knowledge are utterly inadequate to talk about the infinite hence = agnosticism.

Yet the apparent alternative of saying that humans are infinite like God makes no sense... it's even worse than saying that we're finite. If we were infinite then we could do an infinite number of calculations a second. Obviously, we can't. Being infinite would also make us equal to God, which is not the Christian view. Does this mean that we have to see humans as being *finitely* made in God's image, despite the problems?

But could there be a third option? What if you said that humans are partly infinite and partly finite? That way you could have the best of both worlds. If you said that human reasoning, knowledge and bodies are finite then you could make sense of our limited knowledge, power and understanding. And by saying that we're partly infinite you could show how we're made in the image of an infinite God without making humans in any way equal to God.

But why are we partly infinite rather than completely infinite? It's easy enough to suggest a reason: God *is* the infinite, all that is infinite is God, and there can be only one infinite ("Hear O Israel: the Lord is our God, and the Lord is one" - Deu 6:4). So we can use (or 'borrow') some of the infinite, but not all of it, as then we'd be God.

We're made in the image of God, and that means that we're like God in some way. What is God like? He feels things: happiness, love, hurt, joy, anger and so on. We're like that as well. Where do we get it from? I'd say from our infinite part. God has free will, so we get free will from there as well. And moral knowledge in the same way. Our infinite part could be called our (infinite) 'soul'.

But because we can't be fully infinite, we have to be made out of parts that are not infinite, and that means finite parts. Finite parts are infinitely less than God. So the rest of us, whatever isn't our soul, has to be made out of finite stuff, and that stuff is our physical body in this universe (a 'spirit' as distinct from a 'soul' - Heb 4:12 - is a finite 'nonphysical body'.) Through God's power, the infinite can have some kind of contact with the finite (but the finite cannot of its own power interact with the infinite).

God had to give all His children finite reasoning and understanding because every child of God had to be made partly finite. There's something about having infinite reasoning that is one and the same with being fully infinite, and only God can be fully infinite, see for instance Matt 24:36 "But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, but My Father only". Also see Ecclesiastes 3:11 "God has set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end". I.e. our soul is infinite, but our reasoning is finite, because only God can be fully infinite.

There's a question of how we can have our own personality if we're actually borrowing our soul from God. I would speculate that as long as not all of infinity is used (i.e. all of God), then God can reuse infinity as many times as He wants to make many creatures. And that through our finite body and infinite soul interacting we take on our own personality different to God's.

But is there any need for a soul? Can't the brain account for why people act the way they do?

Well, just because we see our brain working when we make decisions doesn't mean that the brain is all that a human is. God needs to connect the finite to the infinite to make creatures, because creatures cannot be all-infinite. We must get our reasoning from something in the finite world, so why not use the brain as the source of finite reasoning and knowledge in humans? So clearly God has to give the brain a lot to do, since it is responsible for our reasoning, knowledge, and carrying out the free choices that we make through our soul. When we look at the brain doing lots of things, we're really looking at the brain doing its required tasks as the finite aspect of humanity, whereas we cannot look at the soul, as that's actually infinite (and yet infinity is all around us as shown by Zeno's paradox).

Wait a second, if we get the stuff that makes us like God from the infinite soul, then that means we get feeling from the soul. But don't we get feeling from the brain?

Not in the way that we might think. God wanted to put something in our brains that would allow us to react quickly and easily when something happened in the physical world. So when a person reacts to pain, God wanted there to be something in the brain that would allow a quick response to pain. God wants our bodies to have automatic responses, to deal quickly and easily with situations that come up. And that requires circuitry in the brain that deals with emotions and feelings more generally. But I don't think that the circuitry in the brain actually does feel anything, I think it's just like the circuitry in a computer, only organic and a lot more complicated. It only helps our bodies react/act when we make choices in the infinite world. The circuitry itself feels nothing, any more than a box or a couch feels anything.

God has also given infinite souls to animals and other living things so that they can feel things. We can know this because our moral intuitions tell us that animals need to be protected, that come from God. They are given much less understanding of the things of God, however (Job 39:13-17).



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