In one section of his excellent book, Seven Truths That Changed The World, Ken Samples explains how human beings differ from animals. It might seem like a no-brainer to some, but this is important to remember when evolutionary theories are creeping into Christian circles and churches. (Note: as usual, I’ve edited this list to keep it brief, though I recommend the entire section and book.)
“Specific qualities and traits set people apart from all other creatures. According to historic Christianity, and specifically in light of the imago Dei, these acute differences are expected.”
1) Human beings have an inherent spiritual and religious nature. Nearly everyone pursues some form of spiritual truth. People generally have deep-seated religious beliefs and engage in intricate rituals. This defining characteristic of humankind is so apparent that some have designated humans as homo religiosus (religious person). Though animals can be intelligent, they show no sign of spirituality or of concern with ultimate issues.
2) Human beings possess unique intellectual, cultural, and communicative abilities. Humans are thinkers capable of abstract reasoning and able to recognize, apply, and communicate the foundational principles of logic. Only human minds develop propositions, formulate arguments, draw inferences, recognize universal principles, and value logical validity, coherence, and truth.
3) Human beings are conscious of time, reality, and truth. Humans alone recollect the past, recognize the present, and anticipate the future. Only human beings pursue the truth, which has led to the founding and development of philosophy, science, mathematics, logic, the arts, and a religious worldview.
4) Human beings possess a conscience, identity, a value system, and legislate moral laws for society. People have an inner sense of moral right and wrong or good and bad (conscience). They deliberate about moral choices, feel the pull of prescriptive moral obligation, and conform their lives according to a system of ethical conduct.
5) Human beings are uniquely inventive and technological. Human innovation has not only lengthened the human lifespan but also brought the world to the brink of nuclear destruction. In this sobering and humbling fact, people once again prove themselves unique among all living creatures.
6) Human beings possess an intense curiosity to explore and understand the created realm. Birds may look to the star patterns in the sky to guide them in migrations, but humans seek to comprehend the source of starlight and what lies beyond it.
7) Human beings possess aesthetic taste and appreciation for more than just practical purposes. People distinctly create, recognize, and appreciate beauty. Humans often create because they are moved by a deep and mysterious sense of the beautiful.
“These seven characteristics clearly place human beings in a different category from the rest of Earth’s creatures. In many respects humans are different in kind, not just in degree, from the animals. And the distinct attributes of humankind comport well with what Scripture reveals concerning the imago Dei.”