Jeffrey Kluger's recent Time magazine cover story, "What Animals Think," explores new research about the human-like intelligence of animals. A Bonobo (cousin of the chimpanzee) can learn hundreds of words. Dogs demonstrate social skills by following a pointed finger to its object. Crows bend wires to create fishing hooks. Elephants appear to mourn their dead.
Christians can and should marvel at the surprising points of connection between human and animal. But overemphasizing our commonalities can lead to dangerous territory. The Bible articulates a hierarchical model of creation, with humans "ruling" over the animals (Gen. 1:26). (Of course, much depends upon how we interpret the word rule. More on that later.) Genesis depicts humans as set apart from the rest of creation, for only humans have been created "in God's image" (Gen. 1:27). In addition to prioritizing humans through the actions of his ministry, Jesus affirms the distinct nature of humans when he addresses human anxiety: "You are worth more than many sparrows" (Matt. 10:31). In other words, God cares for all of creation, but God endows humans with particular worth.
Unfortunately, as Kluger notes, "For many people, the Bible offers the most powerful argument [against animal rights] of all. Human beings were granted 'dominion over the beasts of the field,' and there the discussion can more or less stop." He is right: The Bible has been used to wrongly justify disregarding, even abusing animals. In contrast, a proper understanding of humans "ruling" or "stewarding" role should lead to greater flourishing for human and animal alike.
It's no surprise that Singer, an atheist, denies the biblical hierarchy. But when the distinction between human and animal is disregarded, ...1
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