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Creation 40(2):52–54, April 2018

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What humans do but animals don’t

by and

If we humans are not evolved animals, then we should possess abilities and features that animals lack. We will here consider six of these, which are also features of God. They are language, literacy, music, mathematics, creativity, and dominion.

These features not only make us special, they also make us accountable. We can use these features to glorify God or to rebel against His will—even to practise “the works of the devil” (1 John 3:8).

1. Language


Humans are the only species with a spoken language,1 and “there is no society known which lacks speech.”2,3 Not only does language enable us to communicate with each other, and with God in prayer, God used it to communicate with us. The Bible has many references to God speaking; e.g. to Adam and Eve (Genesis 3:9–19), Noah (Genesis 6:13–7:4), Abraham (Genesis 18:22–33), Moses (Exodus 3:4–4:17), Saul (Acts 9:4–6), and the Apostle John (Revelation 1, 2 and 3), to name just a few.

Animals communicate in several ways, including by the sounds they make, facial expression, posture display, body movement, physical contact, and odours, but no animal is capable of speaking grammatical phrases or sentences.1 Nevertheless, in the Bible there are two occasions when animals spoke. In Genesis 3, the serpent spoke to Eve. In Numbers 22:28–30, God used Balaam’s donkey to speak to Balaam; this was a one-off divine miracle for a specific purpose and not the donkey’s normal habit.

2. Literacy


This is a subset of language, and while not all humans are literate, all have the capacity to become so.4 The sophisticated cultures that sprang up in Mesopotamia just after the Flood were literate. Of course, hallmarks of civilization like writing and technology can become lost, especially in rapid dispersion migrations such as would have occurred following the language confusion at Babel.

We know that God writes because He gave Moses the Ten Commandments on two tablets of stone “written with the finger of God” (Exodus 31:18). And God has written the names of all born-again Christians in His ‘book of life’ (Philippians 4:3; Revelation 17:8; 20:12; 21:27). We also know that “All Scripture is God-breathed …” (2 Timothy 3:16). God chose to communicate with us by means of His written Word, which also enshrines the Gospel in the text of Scripture.5

No animal can read or write, so none uses the written word to communicate. Literacy is thus a gift commensurate with our having been made in the image of God.

3. Music


Music is a truly wonderful feature, both in our creation of it and our appreciation of it. It can express and even stir up emotions like suspense, happiness, sadness, humour, love, etc., including in situations where words would be inadequate. We can listen to The Creation by Haydn and be awestruck by the images of the magnificence of creation that the music engenders in our mind.

God sings! Zephaniah 3:17 says of God, “He will exult over you with loud singing.” On a personal level, Ephesians 5:18–19 tells us to “be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with all your heart.”

Do animals sing? Whales, notably Humpback males, make sounds called ‘whale songs’. These may be long groans, low moans, roaring sounds, trills and chirps, that appear to be mating calls or feeding calls. However, they are regular, predictable and repetitious, rather than being individually creative. All the males in a population at any one time make the same sounds, arranged in the same pattern. Toothed whales appear to communicate the same information by means of clicks. Likewise ‘bird songs’ are species-specific mating calls, or territory warnings, or mimicry of noises heard, such as the non-sentient sounds of machinery, e.g. chain saws.

4. Mathematics


Only God and human beings can use and understand mathematics.6 The relative dimensions that God gave to Noah for the Ark (Genesis 6:15) were the optimum to achieve structural safety, anti-overturning stability, and sea-keeping quality for a floating vessel of that size in a stormy sea.7 And it has taken the use of sophisticated mathematical methods for humans to unravel the hidden order which God built into the clicks of dolphins.8 This gives them “a sonar system that is so precise that it’s the envy of the U.S. Navy.”9

Our use of mathematics enables us to understand much about God’s creation, for this behaves according to mathematical rules which He has set in place. Mathematics has enabled scientists to understand the structure and behaviour of many cosmic phenomena, including the orbits of our solar-system planets, and then to calculate the trajectories of spacecraft to take close-up photographs of them. It enabled the development of the theory of relativity, and the relationship between space, motion, gravity and time. Theories derived from this can explain (again using mathematics) how in a relatively young universe we can see stars that are millions of light-years away.10

5. Creativity


If we were to find something as simple as a hammer on a beach we would know a human being had made it, not an ape. This is because, when animals build things, they endlessly reproduce a stereotyped design, rather than being creative. A particular spider instinctively constructs a web of constant pattern, and a particular bird instinctively builds a species-specific nest, but no originality is demonstrated.

Not only are we humans creative, we recognize both the beauty and the complexity of God’s creation, e.g. in a flower, a feather, an eye; indeed in so many things that are a part of His creation.

Indeed, one of the strongest arguments that living things have been designed by God is the many times they have inspired human designers. This is the cutting-edge field of biomimetics, i.e. the study of designs and processes in nature for the purpose of imitating them in practical applications.11

6. Dominion


God gave a specific command to our first parents: “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens, and over every living thing that moves on the earth” (Genesis 1:28). We have thus been given sovereignty over all the other creatures of the earth.

This was never withdrawn as a result of the Curse, and applies over even the fallen state of our world, as we develop ways of controlling locusts, mosquitoes, weeds, and other pests. It also enables us to develop treatments and cures for various diseases. Our dominion includes control over bacteria and viruses. These were part of God’s original creation (Genesis 1:31), but after the Fall, information-losing mutations caused some of them to become disease-causing.12 God has also entrusted us with dominion over our environment (Psalm 8:6–8) and we are accountable to Him for how we manage it.13

God gave Adam dominion over every tree in the Garden of Eden, except the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 2:15-17) and the tree of life (Genesis 3:22–24). When Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit, they lost their innocence, and became experientially aware of evil, suffering, and death. These came into God’s perfect world because our first parents chose to rebel.

What this means for us

God, who is “holy” (1 Peter 1:15–16), “true” (Jeremiah 10:10), “good” (Psalm 145:9), and has beauty (Psalm 27:4), created man for His glory (Isaiah 43:7). Thus, created not evolved, we can reflect holiness, truth, goodness and beauty in our language, literature, music, mathematics, creativity and dominion, and so fulfil the purpose for which God brought us into being. Or we can rebel. It is true that we have all rebelled, but we can become new creatures in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17; Ephesians 4:24) through repentance and faith in Christ’s death and resurrection on our behalf.

References and notes

  1. Adamthwaite, M., Languages of the post-Diluvian World, J. Creation 30(1) 112–121; creation.com/how-language-develops. Return to text.
  2. “Of all the objections to the evolutionary kinship of man to animal, the most readily observed and easily perceived difference is that of language.” Smith, S., Human consciousness and the image of God, Creation Research Society Quarterly 39(2):40–45, June 2002. Return to text.
  3. Sign language in a deaf community is included, as it has all the features of full-blown grammatical language, merely using visual rather than audible sequences of symbols. Return to text.
  4. Barring pathological damage to the relevant parts of the nervous system, of course. Return to text.
  5. Cosner, L, Why did God give us a book? Creation 37(4):16–17 2015, creation.com/why-book. Return to text.
  6. The complex computations that must take place within the nervous system of certain species, e.g. the archer fish’s ability to aim at where the insect is rather than where it looks to be, are hardwired and not related to the way humans use mathematics. See Sarfati, J., Archer fish use advanced hydrodynamics, Creation 36(3):36–37 July 2014; creation.com/archer-fish. Return to text.
  7. Hong, S.W. et al., Safety investigation of Noah’s Ark in a seaway, J. Creation 8(1):26–36, 1994; creation.com/ark-safety. Return to text.
  8. Howlett, R., Flipper’s Secret, New Scientist 154(2088):34–39, 28 June 1997. Return to text.
  9. Sarfati, J., Refuting Evolution, Ch 5, Creation Book Publishers, USA, 2012, p. 70, creation.com/rech5. Return to text.
  10. See How can we see distant stars in a young universe?, Ch. 5, Creation Answers Book, Creation Book Pub., USA, 2017, creation.com/cab5. Return to text.
  11. For examples, see creation.com/biomimetics. Return to text.
  12. Gurney, R., The carnivorous nature and suffering of animals, J. Creation 18(3):70–75, 2004; creation.com/carniv. Return to text.
  13. Wieland, C., Fouling the Nest: Christianity and the environment, Creation 24(1):10–17, 2001; creation.com/fouling-the-nest. Return to text.

Readers’ comments

Seth M.
7. Sin.
Judgment came when Adam and Eve broke the law. Jesus tells humans, “Depart from me I never knew you.”
Jonathan Sarfati
At least He tells the unredeemed ones that: a literal fate worse than death.
Tim L.
Jonathan Sarfati said above:

Indeed, we are similar but not identical to God. We are similar in that we share God’s communicable attributes such as reason, love, will, discernment, morality, and language. We are not identical since we are creatures, so could never share God’s incommunicable attributes such as omnipotence, omniscience, omnipresence, and self-existence.

This would seem to go against God’s attribute of simplicity in that it groups God’s attributes into two parts: those that humans can possess and those that humans cannot possess. Additionally, while humans obviously cannot be all-powerful, all-knowing, present everywhere, etc., we do have finite expressions of each of those attributes. Further, the nature of the so-called “communicable” attributes God possesses are different from the versions humans possess in that the ones God possesses are infinite, and the ones humans possess are finite. That is why I suggested that the image of God be defined by saying that we were originally designed to possess finite versions of all of God’s attributes. We do not possess all knowledge, but we do possess a finite amount. We are not infinitely loving, but we do have a finite capacity to express love.
Jonathan Sarfati
God’s attribute of simplicity means that He is not composed of parts, not that He can't have different classes of attributes. See Is God ‘simple’?

The division of God's attributes into communicable and incommunicable attributes is standard systematic theology. The reason might be clearer if we define the incommunicable attributes, mainly the omni– ones, in their original intended meanings, which were actually negative—to indicate that God had no limitations outside Himself (see Questioning God’s many attributes). So it’s not man having lesser versions of such attributes, but that man as a creature is limited while God as Creator is not.
Tim L.
Would it be correct to say that when Christians say that man was created “in the image of God” we mean that we have finite versions of all of God's attributes? After the Fall, that image was marred in many ways, which results in not just sin, but also things that prevent us from fully displaying God's image like we were intended to (e.g. mental/physical handicaps, etc.).

I ask because many times people seem to limit the expression of God's image in is to just our creativity, or something like that. But it would seem to me to be far more than that.
Jonathan Sarfati
The article Broken images might help. Also in The Genesis Account, Ch. 10, there is:

Also, this phrasing [of Genesis 1:26–28] singles out humans as special creations of God. Systematic theologian Wayne Grudem summarizes:
When God says, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness” (Genesis 1:26), the meaning is that God plans to make a creature similar to himself. Both the Hebrew word for ‘image’ (tselem) and the Hebrew word for ‘likeness’ (demût) refer to something that is similar but not identical to the thing it represents or is an ‘image’ of.

Indeed, we are similar but not identical to God. We are similar in that we share God’s communicable attributes such as reason, love, will, discernment, morality, and language. We are not identical since we are creatures, so could never share God’s incommunicable attributes such as omnipotence, omniscience, omnipresence, and self-existence.

“In our image” is one compound Hebrew word bətsalmenû —from tselem (BDB). This word indeed means an imitation. It can refer to imitations both of God and of idols (Numbers 33:52, 1 Samuel 6:5,11, 2 Kings 11:18, 2 Chronicles 23:17, Ezekiel 7:20, 16:17, 23:14, Amos 5:26). Sometimes tselem is very much a lesser imitation, e.g. the word is more clearly used of something that is similar but lesser, such as, “Surely a man goes about as a shadow/phantom” (tselem—Psalm 39:6); “Like a dream when one awakes, O Lord, when you rouse yourself, you despise them as phantoms” (tselem—Psalm 73:20).

There is also a connotation in the ancient world that the ‘image’ was a representative. Even in the NT, there is a clear example of this. When the Pharisees and Herodians try to trick Jesus about taxes (Matthew 22:15–22, Mark 12:13–17, Luke 20:20–26), Jesus demanded to see a coin and asked whose image or likeness (eikōn εἰκών) this was. They said “Caesar’s”. So Jesus replied: “Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s”. The point was that since the coin bore Caesar’s image, it was his representative to some extent so belonged to him. But Jesus didn’t stop there. Just as coins belong to Caesar because they bear his image, so must man belong to God because he bears God’s image. Hence Jesus famously added, “and [render] to God the things that are God’s.”
David G.
Humans enjoy beauty and humour, irony and even sarcasm. My budgie does none of these.
Rene B.
I believe that laughter is also a characteristic that distinguishes us from animals. It is well known that laughter is unique to humans
Jim M.
Wouldn’t worship also be another difference? Free will seems to be a difference too. I guess it enables all of the above. Appreciating beauty was briefly mentioned, but this seems to me like it could be a whole separate point. The ability to appreciate beauty enables worship of God. Do animals have a conscience—an understanding of right and wrong? No, right? Sometimes it may seem like they do—like when your dog disobeys you. It knows it did something it shouldn’t have, but it seems to me that is a bit different than understanding right and wrong. The dog just knows he did something you didn't want him to do. I don't think it has an understanding of right and wrong.
John Z.
I'm not sure I agree that every person has the capability to become literate (severely mentally disabled individuals, for example). Thanks for your work and the nice article.
JIm M.
Just curious what number 7 is.
Jonathan Sarfati
The article intentionally listed only six. Perhaps it was because the number six in the Bible is often symbolic of man.
Gina T.
Another great article. But this time I have a question. I understand that honey bees can do maths. If you Google “honey bees maths” you'll find a myriad of articles saying that honey bees have been found to understand mathematics. I’d be interested to hear your comments. Thanks.
Jonathan Sarfati
We don't need to Google (or use alternative search engines) for that, because we already have articles on this:

  1. Dancing bees

  2. Can it bee?

  3. Bees outsmart supercomputers

  4. Bees’ guidance strategy for avoiding crash landings

And a while ago, I wrote Ants find their way by advanced mathematics.

However, all this is instinct, not conscious calculation. The programming is amazing, pointing to a Programmer with abilities far in advance of our own, and what's more, programming a computer only as big as a pinhead. But the insects are no more thinking of mathematics than AlphaZero is really ‘playing’ when its game algorithms for chess, go, and shogi are calculating to achieve a mathematical result.
Greg S.
Here are another two things that man can do that animals can not:

  • Only man can receive, store and transmit information through time. He can do this in a number of ways, eg, writing, film CD, MP 3 etc.

  • Only man has ethical/moral attributes. For instance, if you put an animal in heat with the male species, there is only one thing the male animal can do. However a human can say no, I will not be unfaithful to my wife.

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