The Darwinian revolution in biology opened the way for a new conviction that man is an animal deserving the title Homo sapiens. The path was an exciting one, following the pioneering efforts of secularists like the eighteenth-century philosophes to establish a utopia in which man would, having vainly sought paradise for centuries, finally find fulfillment in a spiritually untransformed and godless cosmos. By the time Darwin died in 1882, man as imago Dei–the “image of God”–seemed irrecoverable.
Yet by discarding a divinely transcendent vision of man, the West stumbled into the greatest anthropological morass of its history.
One of Christendom’s “lost realities” is the conviction that humanity stands in a totally unique category of being, separated from all other forms of life as the “image of God” (imago Dei in Latin; ikon Theou in Greek). This theological conviction long governed the way the West looked on itself and the rest of the world. But in the nineteenth century, as modern biology displaced theology, a rival assertion about human being appeared. The new conviction was that man was simply an animal deserving a taxonomy like any other animal. Accordingly, he is not imago Dei but Homo sapiens. And though he might be superior to the earth’s other animals, he is, in the end, only an animal. This conviction marked the West’s greatest anthropological revolution since Pentecost.