MAN - A UNIQUE BEING
The number of different life forms on this earth is immense. They are classified by biologists first into vegetable and animal kingdoms, then into numerous branches and types, down to individual species. The standpoint of evolution is that all of them have been derived from one common ancestor, changing over long periods of time into their present forms. The standpoint of those who believe the Bible to be the Word of God is that all were created by Him, with differences established in the species at the beginning. Modifications ("micro-evolutions") have occurred within species through selective breeding and isolation of habitat, but the long-term evolution of new species is an unproved theory, although very popular.
Of all the different species, one is unique. That species is man. Man is not related biologically to any animal to which he may have a superficial resemblance, nor to any other creature or its environment even although similar chemical processes drive their metabolisms or similar fluids are found in their cells. Sharing such features is no evidence for a biological or ancestral link, although you may hear otherwise! It just means that that the Creator designed perfect and effective biochemical processes and structural units, and used them in the many living things He created, according to His own designs. This is what an architect does in designing different types of buildings, what an engineer does in producing vastly different machines. But a factory is not related to a school, or a motor car to a sewing machine!
Before we look at the many characteristics of man which are clear evidences of his unique place in creation, let us note carefully what the Bible says about the uniqueness of man.
"What is man?"
This question is asked four times in the Bible in relation to God's concern for man (Job 7.17; Ps 8.4; 144.3; Heb 2.6 - quoting Ps 8). In each case, the background is the apparent smallness or even insignificance of man in the greater scheme of things - the transience of man's troubled life (Job 7), the immense starry universe (Ps 8), the greatness and goodness of God (Ps 144). But the point of the question is the wonder that in man alone has God taken such a personal interest "set thine heart upon him", "visited him", "takest knowledge of himmakest account of him". Whilst it is evident that God cares for all His creation, man is the special object of His interest, affection, and purpose.
Man was created different. On the sixth day of creation when man was made, God said something about that act which He said about no other. The usual creative works of God were prefaced, by "Let there be " (or the equivalent), but this time we read, "Let us make" (Gen 1.26-28). There was deliberate, purposeful, united activity in the Godhead. Three other special things were said. (1) "Let them have dominion". Man was certainly part of creation, but was given unique dominion and stewardship of it. (2) "God created man in His own image." No other creature had such dignity and such potential. (3) God "breathed into his nostrils the breath of life" (Gen 2.7). By a divine act, by the direct breath of God, man became a living soul. His body had been made of the dust of the earth, i.e. composed physically of the same chemical elements which make up the earth, just as "the earth [brought] forth the living creature after his kind" (Gen 1.24). But Adam was different, given life and a soul by the personal touch and breath of the Creator.
Man is constituted different. Man is a "tri-partite being" consisting of "spirit, soul and body" (1 Thess 5.23), resembling his Maker, the triune God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The spirit is man's highest component; it enables contact with God in a spiritual way (Jn 4.24). Man's spirit returns to God at death (Eccl 12.7). The soul is the real person or personality, able to be emotionally and mentally involved with people and things. The soul is immortal, living eternally in heaven or hell after death. The body is the physical structure which contains spirit and soul, through which we express ourselves, by which we become known to others, in which we are called to glorify God (1 Cor 6.20).
At death it decomposes, to be replaced with a new body like Christ's in resurrection (Phil 3.21). The spirit makes us God-conscious, the soul makes us self-conscious, the body makes us world-conscious.
Man is called to be different. God made man to have real meaningful, willing communion with Him. Man made (1) "in the image of God" suggests an essential ability to represent God and display His character, and (2) "after (His) likeness" shows a potential ability to resemble Him and co-operate with Him. Only man has these abilities. They were seriously impaired by Adam's sin, and much of that potential was lost. But through redemption what was lost has been restored and more besides.
There is another very important reason why God made man unique and different. The death of Christ was planned before the foundation of the world (1 Pet 1.20). To die and sacrifice Himself to bear away the sin of the world, the Son of God would become man. So man was created in such a way that God could express Himself perfectly in "flesh and blood" (Heb 2.14). The unique nature of man would fulfil what God had in mind both for man's place in creation and for Himself in the incarnation of His Son.
How is man different?
Is man just a highly developed creature, different only in degree of sophistication from "brothers" or "cousins" in the animal kingdom? In particular, has man "descended" from an ape or ape-like ancestor? No! The evidence is very much against this.
It is not even that man has the best of everything. For example, certain birds and animals have much more acute eyesight, hearing, and sense of smell. Indeed, in terms of behaviour, man can do and has done much worse things than any other creature. Animals do not sinfully abuse their young, nor cruelly murder or sadistically torture one another, nor do they make war on their own species. When predators kill they do so for food, without hate or revenge or desire to hurt. Man is truly capable of the noblest of acts, but fallen man is also capable of the most dreadful of crimes unknown in the natural world.
As for the key differences and evidences for the uniqueness of man, here is an interesting list (more details in reference1). Notice how totally different man is in so many ways from any other creature including the "primates".
Anatomically, only man has a natural erect stance, with feet and toes providing a unique base for support, whilst the hand is the most efficient manipulative tool available. Primates have longer thigh bones and shorter backs, naturally stooping, not standing upright. Their feet are similar to their hands, designed for climbing not walking.
Mentally, only man has the ability to think deeply, to evaluate complex evidence, to make difficult decisions, to be creative and inventive. We can do this because we are made in the image of God, and therefore we can also admire and enjoy beauty and harmony. We can compose music, make and play musical instruments, create artistic things, solve crossword puzzles and mathematical problems, understand abstract concepts of philosophy, science and justice and apply them, with a conscience to know right and wrong.
Only man can speak, read, and write. These amazing abilities are based upon complex systems of sounds or signs, which we have to learn and be able to express. We can communicate feelings and facts, numerical and spiritual. We can laugh and cry.
Only man can make and use tools, some very complex and specialised e.g. a turning lathe, a lock and key, a computer, an aeroplane.
Only man can make, use, master and control fire, leading to the development of metallurgy, technology and commerce, as well as for comfort and cooking.
Only man can organise complex systems, whether information, materials, or whole societies (civilisations). And man can make more mess than any!
Human babies are much more vulnerable and dependent that those of any other species, with slow maturity and long development times. Family care and a safe environment for learning are important.
Man is interested in the past and the future, looking for answers to questions about origins and destinies, and for purpose in life. We can contemplate death. We bury our dead.
Man can love, be faithful and true, both to one another and to God. We can communicate with God as He can communicate with us. This is why He made us the way we are.
To be continued.
1 Evolution or Creation, Doorway Papers Vol 4, Part V, by A C Custance, Zondervan, 1977. www.custance.org.