John Lennox on what happens to ethics when you accept (or reject) the idea that humans are made in God’s image.
The biblical claim that every man and woman is made in the image of God is regarded by many people, actually, as the foundation of morality. If we reject the transcendent dimension to morality, we’re left to discover a base for ethics within the world – down here, in there – and so we’re going to find it where? We’re going to find it either in genetics, or in the development and evolution of society and so on. But that leads very rapidly to a subjectivism.
I mean a classic example is Darwin, who was a kindly man with a big beard. And he studied ants and said, well there’s a basis for altruism. But his contemporary Spencer looked at the same nature and said it’s red in tooth and claw, and talked about the survival of the fittest. Now both of those theories have been tragically – particularly the second – applied in ethics. And I think we’re seeing, in Europe particularly, the result of ignoring the Genesis story and therefore trying to get some sort of ethical foundations by moving away from the human to the animal.
Whereas if we look at the human and what’s said about human beings – “made in the image of God” – what does that mean? Well it means first of all that they are rational. God is revealed as personal in the Bible. It also gives them infinite dignity and value. And of course our values are crucially tied to our ethical systems. And I recall once being in Siberia and talking about these things – for the very first time by the way, in a lecture, first time in 75 years that had been allowed – in the elite university in Novosibirsk, and I said if I took that one statement, that human beings were made in the image of God, I wouldn’t murder one of you let alone the 70 million that Stalin did. And it was most interesting to watch, I got a standing ovation – it was very moving as they all simply stood. They’d realised the colossal impact of that statement. So I think it’s central to all ethical systems that are meaningful. And we neglect it at our peril, because we ultimately end up by ethics being virtually purely subjective.