Wentzel van Huyssteen (Emeritus)
Dr. J. Wentzel Van Huyssteen, Ph.D.
Dutch Reformed Church (Presbyterian)
James I. McCord Professor of Theology and Science
Princeton Theological Seminary
Thoughts on Human Origins
When my students ask me, ‘what do you think of evolution?’, the answer is always straightforward and simple: evolution is the way God works. I believe evolution is the amazing and unavoidable tool that God uses to create our world, and everything in it. This clearly means that also us humans, as ‘created in the image if God’, have arrived on this planet through a long complex evolutionary history. Hominid history thus reveals for us the gradual emergence of Homo sapiens, and therefore of the image of God, through natural history.
Of course, the fact that human beings have evolved over many thousands of years from ealier primate and hominid species, is a special and exciting challenge to rethink what it means to be human in a theological context. Most important, I believe, is the realization that the characteristics that are usually claimed to distinguish between humans and animals – our moral sense, empathy, rationality, consciousness and self-awareness – are, as Darwin correctly claimed, differences in degree and not differences in kind. In the Judeo-Christian tradition this not only opens the door for thinking differently about the image of God, but also to see God’s presence and guidance in and through the long process of natural history. In this way we can also realize that science and religion are not in conflict but are in fact highly complementary.