A recent New York Times Review of Books* includes a lengthy review by Oliver Sachs. The subject of the several books he reviews is the “mind” of the lower animals and even plants. Scientists as far back as Darwin have been fascinated by signs of thinking and decision making in worms and jelly fish and some plants. By “thinking” they seem to mean the organisms ability to respond to complex and multiple stimuli and even in some rudimentary sense to remember.
I’m no scientist but I do like paying some attention to what the world of science is up to. Not only is the scientific work intriguing and valuable in itself but, in a very broad sense, it is a fulfillment of that ancient command to “fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth” (Genesis 1:28). Science is our primary tool for obeying that charge.
What is tickling my fancy today is the oddity of humankind’s inclination to anthropomorphize whatever we behold. I’m thinking at the moment of the ancient Greeks who, recognizing that there was some sort of force or set of forces beyond nature, could only describe the “gods” by analogy with humans. Absent personal self-revelation by God, the Greeks did the best they could, coming up with an admirable list of qualities of the gods, such as power and immortality. (What they couldn’t incorporate into their panoply of divinities was integrity, so they couldn’t quite conceive of a universe marked by justice.)
What amuses me about popularized science today is that we’re still anthropomorphizing, just describing not gods but apes and worms and venus flytraps in human terms.
Perhaps we just cannot bear our own uniqueness but I think there is something deeper going on. Our Creator created us in his own image; God “theomorphized” us into being. Having broken our connection with God, the connection established by imago dei, we have been trying to reverse the process. It is a futile task which, no matter how devoutly we may pursue it, will never satisfy our need to know just who we are and where we fit into the universe. We were created to be like God, not to recreate the universe to be like us.
The odd quirk in this whole urge to anthropomorhize is that we actually lose our sense of humanness. We are who we are in relation to our Creator, a relationship established by God on God’s own terms, not ours. When we reject that relationship and God’s terms for that relationship, we cease to be the persons we have been created to be. That’s why people as far back as Pico della Mirandola (1463-1494) and even further have sought ways to say that God has given us the freedom to create of ourselves whatever we like. We instinctively recognize our need to be created again.
God didn’t give us the freedom of self-creation – we stole it. It’s time to return the stolen freedom, to tell God we’re sorry for wanting to be our own gods, and to ask the Lord to show our real freedom.
*Accessed 09 Apr 2014 through the website aldaily.com. Have you checked out that website and added it to your Favorites? I hope so.