Daily Post #98 (Animals and Emotion)

Imago Dei, Emotion, and Animals: In Christian thought, the Latin phrase “Imago Dei” refers to the truth that human beings and only human beings are created in the image of God. The truth is grounded in the following Scripture (among others): So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them (Genesis 1:27).

But what does this mean? Different theologians have had different views on precisely what this means. While my focus is not to try and answer this question, I want to respond to one thought. Some might think that one fundamental part of our unique human nature is our capacity to experience emotion. But this simply isn’t true. Did you know that African elephants grieve the death of another elephant? One source states: Elephants have some of the most elaborate group rituals of any animals. When a beloved member of an elephant troop dies, those left behind will mourn the lost individual by “burying” the body with leaves and grass, and keeping vigil over the body for a week. And just as humans visit the gravesites of their lost loved ones, elephants visit the bones of dead elephants for years to come (Live Science). I find this to be quite moving and even challenging.

This same source explains that research has shown that rats feel empathy and compassion, male bluebirds feel and act out of jealousy, and dolphins feel and express goodwill toward other dolphins. This is truly remarkable and, as the article states, contradicts philosopher Rene Descartes’ 17th-century view that animals are nothing more than robot-like creatures lacking an inner world. Thus, while emotion is a wonderful part of God’s nature that human beings experience, it is not a unique feature of the Imago Dei that is only possessed by us.

Published by B.J. Condrey, PhD

Dr. Condrey holds a Bachelor of Arts in both Philosophy and Psychology from the University of Missouri-KC, a Master of Arts in Philosophy from the University of Southern Mississippi, and a Ph.D. in Ethics & Practical Theology from the University of Edinburgh. He is ACSI certified. Dr. Condrey writes courses and teaches Psychology, Bible, and C.S. Lewis at Enlightium Academy, where he began working in 2016. He has served as a youth, young adult, and small group pastor in the local church, and currently teaches Ethics at the University of Southern Mississippi. He has a book published by Wipf & Stock (Breaking Ground) along with other publications. In his spare time, he enjoys reading and writing, spending time with his family, traveling, trout fishing, family hikes, and drinking coffee! He is passionate about helping young people construct a biblical worldview so that their faith involves both the mind and heart. He has been married since 2009 and has two children.

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