Friday, September 2, 2011

Qualitatively Different: Humans vs. the Plant and Animal Kingdoms

In my last post, I stated that humanity is qualitatively different from plant and animal species. Man has been given not only the image of God, but the God-given right to rule, subdue, have dominion over every creature and creeping thing on the earth. In this, he is greatly distinct from plant and animal life.

I also stated in my last post that Edward Fudge believes that we are made of the same elements as plants and animals. If one places this beside the fact that Fudge argues for the mortality of the soul (that the soul is not immortal, but mortal), one understands that, like plants and animals, man will die and return to the dust---the only exception being those who believe in Jesus (whom God has granted an immortal soul to at the moment of faith). In short, it seems that annihilationism holds to tenets of theistic evolution. I have only come to this conclusion as a result of my reading...but it is something I’d like to dabble into sometime into the near future...

In this post, however, I have a shocking statement to make: Edward Fudge argues here that man is different from the animals. Humans differ from plants and animals in their death:

Death is lack of relationship with God. In this, men and women differ from the animals, who share their earthly origin and gift of life. Thielicke paints a vivid picture of mankind’s uniqueness among God’s creatures. Only humans are aware of being related to God, are conscious of their sinfulness, can contemplate their own mortality.

The flowers and the grass, the whales and the mountains know nothing of being thus related to God. Only man knows this. Only he with his solitary awareness of death protrudes above the creaturely realm and thus has a different form of perishability, as though his were raised to a higher power. He alone must pose the question of the meaning of God’s action that comes to expression in his death...Because he is compelled to pose the question, it becomes evident that man’s returning to dust is qualitatively different from the simple physical returning to dust of a simply physical being...He sees clearly a decision being made against him here with which he must come to terms’” (Helmut Thielicke, quoted by Edward Fudge, “Human Death,” from The Fire That Consumes: A Biblical and Historical Study of the Doctrine of Final Punishment, Third Edition. Eugene: Cascade Books, 2011).

Thielicke’s quote, a quote that is advocated by Fudge, poses problems for the statements Fudge made some few paragraphs earlier. Just to show the opposition Thielicke’s quote has to Fudge’s, let me reprint Fudge’s quotes here from the last post:

“We are also one with the rest of God’s creation, composed of the same elements found in the rocks and rivers and trees...” (Fudge, “Part of Creation,” from The Fire That Consumes)

We are not constitutionally superior to these things so that we can look on them with disdain” (Ibid.).

Let’s look at the two phrases I’ve underlined in the above quotes that are contained in the same paragraph in the text. The first quote says that we are made of the “same elements” as the rocks, rivers, and trees. If we are, can we be “qualitatively different” from the rocks, rivers, and trees? If we are made of the same elements as the rocks, rivers, and trees, why would human death be any different from the death of trees and rivers? If humans are like rocks, rivers, and trees, humans will only waste away. Again, I don’t see how we can be any different in death if we are composed of what these natural objects are composed of. We are made with the same stuff they are...we will die the same way they do, or be destroyed as they will be (if annihilationism is true). How can one argue that humans die differently (qualitatively) if humans have are not “constitutionally superior” to these objects?

Fudge quotes Thielicke as an authority; but, if Helmut Thielicke is right, then Fudge has provided a refutation to his own annihilationist view. If humans are not “constitutionally superior” to other natural objects, then humans waste away as do these other natural objects. Last but not least, if humans are not constitutionally superior, then this poses problems for annihilationism...because, if only some are granted immortality (due to faith in the Lord Jesus), then some humans are more human than others because some humans have immortality while others do not. As a result, a new kind of “soul election” is created. The reason why such an approach can seem valid, however, is because Fudge (and the annihilationist camp) will argue that the image of God is lost in the fall. See my post “Lost in the Fall,” published August 2011, for more details.

If something is qualitatively different from something else, then two things differ in their quality or essence. If humans differ qualitatively from rocks, rivers, and trees, then humans differ in their essence from these things. How do humans differ in their essence? Fudge notes a few things:

“Only humans are aware of their being related to God, are conscious of their sinfulness, can contemplate their own mortality” (“Part of Creation,” from The Fire That Consumes).

How are humans different from plants and animals? They are cognizant of their relationship to God, possess consciousness, and can contemplate, think deeply upon, their own mortality and finiteness. Where is the image of God in this? It isn’t there, since it is presupposed in annihilationism that the image of God was lost with the fall. We are different from plants and animals only in that we have consciousness and intellect.

But if this is all we have, then when the human body returns to the dust, will not the consciousness and intellect return to the dust with it? How then, does this make man different from the plants and animals? If man is nothing more than flesh and bone, then his consciousness and intellect (no matter how stellar) are still “mortal” and will waste away back to the elements of the earth. So again, I don’t see how man is qualitatively different in any significant way from plants and animals. It seems that man has a few neat “exterior” features to himself...but he will still return to the dust, the same as every other creation under the sun.

The goal of this post was to show that Fudge makes rather interesting statements about man not being “constitutionally superior” to the other creations yet being “qualitatively different, even in death” from them. If earthly things die, and man dies a natural death (as do the plants and animals), how is he any different from them---unless he has an immortal component to himself, a component of his human existence that cannot die? This is the question I pose to annihilationists. God bless.

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