Q. Let’s deal with a related subject, namely what constitutes a human being, being human? The answer in Genesis is that we are uniquely created ‘in the image of God and after his likeness’. This is a theological statement, not a statement about brain capacity, ability to reason as a personal agent etc. It may presuppose all that sort of thing, both in terms of ontology and function, but as Mike Heiser has demonstrated to my satisfaction, the tselm is not about ontology or function— it’s about status. We are given the status of being the ‘idol’ (which is what ‘tselem’ means literally) of God on earth— his representatives, who are meant to be on a lesser scale rulers, tenders, creators like God. Mike puts it this way in a strong personal email to me which he says I am free to quote: “The image is a status, for which function we are given attributes. Bill conflates these things. A radio and radio waves are an illustration. They must both be present for the “radio experience” but they are not at all the same thing. That God didn’t share his attributes with anything other than humans and supernatural beings (both are lesser versions of himself) tells us the imaging status is primary. Have that status? You are given the tools to fulfill it. There is no *necessary* reason to invert the two the way Bill does. He does that because it’s fits a philosophical notion of personal agency. Consider the question about a new born baby— is Bill presupposing a newborn exercises rationality and free choice and self-awareness? Huh?! Where? How about the zygote, Bill? His linking of his definition of the image to personal agency puts us in a very bad ethical place.” Now I would say this is perhaps a bit too strong a reaction, but I think he right about the image referring to a conferred status, not an attribute, not a list of function or ontological capacity or equipment. Comments?
Q. In saying, “The image is a status, for which function we are given attributes,” Heiser apparently equates status with function. Therefore I refer you to my discussion in the book of Richard Middleton’s work on the image of God where I dispute this equation. One cannot have a certain status or function without having the properties necessary to fulfill that status or function. Thus Middleton himself admits that a functional understanding presupposes substantivalism concerning God’s image. Heiser’s radio analogy is obscure: neither the radio, nor the radio waves, nor the experience of listening to the radio is a function or status of the radio. The question concerns explanatory order. A thing’s properties are explanatorily prior to the function or status that it actually has. A thing, such as a screwdriver, cannot have an actual function unless it already possesses the properties necessary to carry out that function. A person cannot have a particular status, like being an heir or being royal, without having certain qualifying properties.
I suspect that Heiser has confused the cognitive and the ontological orders (ordo cognoscendi and ordo essendi). God says, “I want man to serve as my representative on earth. What properties must I give him in order to have that status and to carry out that function?” In the ordo cognoscendi the status or function can be specified before the bestowal of the properties; but a thing cannot actually have that status or function as intended unless and until it has ontologically those properties that enable it so to function. There is no Ancient Near Eastern evidence for thinking that “image” denotes status or function. See discussion in the book. Being created “in the image of God and after his likeness” describes the way in which we resemble God, not our status (cf. Gen 5.3).
By the way, I think that zygotes and fetuses are persons endowed with a rational soul and therefore are personal agents. They are not potential persons; rather they are persons with potential. This is the case even though they are not functioning as God’s co-regents. Should we say that because they are not functioning as God’s co-regents, they are not in God’s image? In that case they would not be human. What are the ethical implications of that?