by Hugh Ross – April 20, 2020 – for Reasons to Believe
How many origin events has Earth’s life undergone? From a naturalistic perspective there is just one origin of life: the origin of the Last Universal Common Ancestor (LUCA). Naturalistic models for life posit that somehow physics and chemistry on the early Earth gave rise to a simple bacterium from which all organisms presently have a common descent. These models also claim that all life can be explained by physics and chemistry alone.
Genesis 1 declares that there were three distinct origins of life: (1) the origin of purely physical life on creation day 1; (2) the origin of life-forms that are both physical and soulish (the nephesh creatures) on creation day 5; and (3) the origin of humanity on creation day 6. Human beings are the one and only species that God endowed with a spirit, in addition to physical body and soul.
The Hebrew word nephesh appears 754 times in the Old Testament. It refers to those animal kinds (Hebrew word mîn) that exhibit a nurturing, sacrificing care of their mate and especially of their progeny. Nephesh animals are endowed by God with mind, will, and emotions.
Unlike all other creatures, nephesh animals possess the capability of forming emotional bonds and relationships with other members of their species and with humans. When emotionally bonded to one or more humans, nephesh animals can be trained to perform tasks irrelevant to their survival or well-being. They respond to human authority and adapt to human personality. Dogs are the most famous and long-standing example. Additionally, nephesh animals of different species can bond emotionally to each other provided they are bonded to the same human being. (One example is companion dogs that zoos provide for cheetahs.)
God had placed within each nephesh animal a desire to relate to human beings and to serve and/or please us. However, it is because of human sin and abuse that we do not always see this desire being manifested. Adam, before he disobeyed God and sinned, was assigned the task of naming nephesh animals (see Genesis 2:19–20). I would posit that this means Adam was able to spend time with the different nephesh animals, observe how God had designed them in different ways, and discern how they were designed to relate to him and serve and please him. It is likely such observations and experiences would have enabled Adam to choose meaningful names for the animals.
Today, the desire of nephesh animals to interact with humans still can be observed in wild animals that have never been harmed or abused by humans. Figure 1 shows a mountain goat who came to visit me while I was photographing the scenery. Figure 2 shows a hoary marmot who entertained me from five feet away with a dance routine that lasted about four minutes.
Figure 1: Mountain goats that have never been hunted or mistreated by humans show a strong desire to be near humans.
Image credit: Hugh Ross
Figure 2: Hoary marmots love to entertain friendly humans.
Image credit: Hugh Ross
Most Exceptional Nephesh
Naturalistic models for the origin and history of life predict that animals that come closest to matching our morphological features likewise will come closest to us in matching our intellectual capabilities. Therefore, naturalists had predicted that chimpanzees and orangutans would prove to be the most intellectually capable non-human animals.
Chimpanzees and orangutans are, indeed, smart animals. However, field and laboratory experiments now show that they are not the smartest nonhuman animals. Ravens, crows, and jays far outperform chimpanzees and orangutans in problem-solving ability.1 For example, one crow solved an eight-step problem to retrieve a treat, without training from the researchers observing it.
There is an enormous gulf between the attributes and capabilities of nephesh animals compared to non-nephesh animals that cannot be explained by strictly naturalistic processes. Consider the difference, for example, between a parrot and a cockroach. There is a similar gulf between the attributes and capabilities of human beings compared to nephesh animals. Compared to all other life on Earth, both past and present, humans possess many unique capacities and abilities. Table 1 lists a few. Table 2 lists unique physical morphological features of humans.
Table 1: Behavioral Qualities Unique to Humans
- Capacity for symbolic expression
- Ability to invent and manipulate symbols
- Ability to invent and manufacture complex tools
- Capacity for explosive technological advance
- Ability to manufacture and wear clothes
- Ability to invent and use complex languages
- Capacity to form complex social structures
- Ability to invent and use complex trading and transportation systems
- Ability to engage in mathematics, literature, philosophy, and theology
- Ability to tame, domesticate, and train nephesh animals
Table 2: Exceptional Human Morphological Features
- Large, globular-shaped skull to accommodate a huge parietal brain lobe
- Hand dexterity for manipulating complex tools at high speeds and for long durations (e.g., playing the piano, typing, performing surgery)
- High, sustained metabolic rate
- Long life span
- Long infant and adolescent development time
- Tall, slender skeletal frame
- Very little body hair/fur
- Efficient cooling designs and systems
The last feature in Table 2 is especially significant. Of all Earth’s large animals, humans possess the greatest ability to stay active under sustained heat. Humans are tall, bipedal, and slim. Hence, our exposure to direct sunlight is minimized. Our minimal body hair means we retain less body heat. Humans also are endowed with an amazing perspiration system. However, the human body is poorly designed to deal with cold. This handicap, though, is easily overcome by humans’ ability to manufacture and wear clothes.
Anyone who has had a pet nephesh animal knows how easy it is to anthropomorphize their behavior. Scientists do this, too. In their observations of animal behavior and of artifacts and fossils of bipedal nonhuman primates (e.g., Neanderthals), they often surmise that these animals possessed human-like attributes and behaviors when they did not.
One reason for such confusion is that God designed nephesh animals to form emotional relationships with humans. For such relationships to be possible, where the nephesh animals meaningfully serve and please humans, it is crucial for them to share many attributes and capabilities in common with human beings. It is the exceptionalism of nephesh animals that explains why we connect with them to the point of “seeing ourselves” in them.
Nephesh animals are designed to relate to and serve and please human beings and human beings are designed to relate to and serve and please God.
Lessons from Exceptional Animals
Biblical figure Job in his debate with his three friends exhorted them to “ask the beasts [land mammals], and they will teach you; and the birds of the air, and let them tell you” (Job 12:7). Job was not referring to zoological education. Rather, Job was exhorting his friends to learn spiritual lessons from their observations of mammals and birds. Briefly, Job was referring to the following lessons:
- Just as our sin causes these animals to run away from us rather than toward us, so, too, our sin causes us to run away from God rather than toward him.
- As sin damages our relationships with nephesh animals, so it also damages our relationship with God.
- Just as it takes a higher being to tame a mammal or bird, likewise it takes a higher Being to “tame” a human.
- As some nephesh species are more difficult for us humans to tame than others, so too are some humans more difficult to tame than others.
- Just as the full potential and capability of a bird or mammal is only realized when they are emotionally bonded and in submission to a human being, similarly the full potential and capability of a human is only fully realized when that human is emotionally bonded and in submission to God.
In the twenty-first century there is another lesson we can learn. There is a direct correlation between the rise of atheism and agnosticism and the percentage of humans living in densely populated megacities.2 Most people living in such cities have little or no contact with wild birds and mammals. Hence, they are largely cut off from the spiritual lessons that these animals can teach them.
How should we who reside in such cities then live? I would advise that at least once in a while we put aside our high-tech tools and toys and spend a few days in the wilderness where we can commune with wild birds and mammals and enjoy the beauty of God’s creation. As my Facebook posts testify, I make it a point to build such times into my vacations. It reinvigorates my soul and spirit. It just might do the same for you.
- Johan J. Bolhuis and Clive D. L. Wynne, “Can Evolution Explain How Minds Work?”, Nature 458 (April 16, 2009): 832–33, doi:10.1038/458832a.
- See for example, Pew Research Center, In U.S., Decline of Christianity Continues at Rapid Pace (October 17, 2019), https://www.pewforum.org/2019/10/17/in-u-s-decline-of-christianity-continues-at-rapid-pace/; Hannah Ritchie and Max Roser, “Urbanization,” Our World in Data (2020), published online at OurWorldInData.org; https://ourworldindata.org/urbanization.