Feast upon the Word Blog

A blog focused on LDS scriptures and teaching

Intelligent Design, Human Dignity, and the Natural Man

Posted by BrianJ on November 19, 2007

An important claim appears in a recently aired Nova episode, Judgment Day: Intelligent Design on Trial. Ray Mummert, a pastor in Dover, PA, expresses his concern about the high school science curriculum:

“[Teaching Darwinism is] a slap in my face. [It] takes the dignity away from humanity. What gives dignity to man is that every one of us is created in the image of God.”

I’m not sure what Mummert means by “dignity,” but I think it’s something along the lines of “divinity”—in other words, it’s what separates us from or elevates us above the animals.

Is man ever on the same “level” as animals? Clearly, we have many things in common—enzymes, nucleotides, thirst, sex drive, etc. I think that is what is meant by “natural man” in the scriptures:

For they are carnal and devilish, and the devil has power over them; yea, even that old serpent that did beguile our first parents, which was the cause of their fall; which was the cause of all mankind becoming carnal, sensual, devilish, knowing evil from good, subjecting themselves to the devil. (Mosiah 16:3)

I don’t know about animals being “devilish” (except spiders, which are pure evil), but carnal and sensual seem right. After all, “carnal” simply means “relating to the flesh or bodily appetites” and “sensual” means “relating to the senses or sense organs.” In other words, a dog or worm acts in response to external stimuli (senses) and internal drives (carnal appetites).

That’s okay for dogs and worms, but not for humans. God expects us to base our decisions on more than just our physical needs and wants.

And now, my son, all men that are in a state of nature, or I would say, in a carnal state, are in the gall of bitterness and in the bonds of iniquity; they are without God in the world, and they have gone contrary to the nature of God; therefore, they are in a state contrary to the nature of happiness. (Alma 41:11)

The fact that God created man (nevermind exactly how) with carnal and sensual—natural—desires that must be overcome tells us that man is not dignified by nature. To argue that we are dignified (or divine) because our physical form resembles that of God seems to parallel the idea that we are “chosen people” because of our lineage:

[The Pharisees] answered him, “We be Abraham’s seed….”


Jesus answered them, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, Whosoever committeth sin is the servant of sin. I know that ye are Abraham’s seed; but ye seek to kill me, because my word hath no place in you. …[Ye] do that which ye have seen with your father.”


They answered and said unto him, “Abraham is our father.”


Jesus saith unto them, “If ye were Abraham’s children, ye would do the works of Abraham.”


Then said they to him, “[We] have one Father, even God.”


Jesus said unto them, “If God were your Father, ye would love me….” (John 8:33-42)

How then, does man ever gain dignity? By denying the natural man, being reborn by the Spirit, and becoming a new creature (i.e. a second creation) through Christ:

For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God…. But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. (1 Cor. 2:11-14)


For the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord…. (Mosiah 3:19)


Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new. (2 Cor. 5:17)

29 Responses to “Intelligent Design, Human Dignity, and the Natural Man”

  1. I think snakes are quite evil as well.

    And you also make great points here. Thanks.

  2. Robert C. said

    BrianJ, very interesting post. This is probably only tangentially related to the point of your post, but this has me wondering all over again about Paul’s use esp. of the term “natural” (psychikos or physis), since he seems to use these terms in reference to the Gentiles (as the natural tree, or as the natural man) in a less pejorative sense than you suggest. The best counter scripture I can think of is Rom 2:14 where Paul says that the Gentiles “do by nature” (phusis) the things contained in the law. It seems in this particular case at least, that “nature” is not necessarily bad.

    Also, interestingly, Alma talks about “the nature of God” in Alma 41:11, in contrast to “the nature of man.” In this sense, I would at least want to say that it is not so much “natural man” as “natural man” that is the problem—that is, it seems that since the fall we indeed have animalistic desires that much be changed, and hence made unnatural according to the order of the fall.

    My point, I guess, is that it seems better to think in terms of changing our nature rather than in terms of acting unnaturally. Now, perhaps we can only change our nature by initially doing something that is unnatural to our original/fallen nature, so there isn’t really much difference. But I think the difference can, in fact, be quite important. (This relates to the issue of faith and works, as well as something I’ve been wondering about in terms of love: should we strive to love others by serving them, or should is learning to love something that will not simply come as a result of serving others? Sometimes I think our efforts to serve serve serve and do do do can undermine the development of a change-of-nature kind of loving….)

  3. Clark said

    The big issue is that while humans have wanted for millennia to have an absolute divide between humans and beasts science tends to break it down. i.e. the difference cognitively between us and apes (or crows, dolphins or other highly intelligent creatures) tends to be a matter of degree. Even the classic difference, language, may be a matter of degree. Even though clearly no animal has anything akin to grammar.

    But from a Mormon view, while we see a separation between man and beast – primarily because of our spiritual heritage we also commonly attribute this to beast as well. (Many, many Mormons assume that at least “higher” animals will also be resurrected) Likewise our rejection of creation ex nihilo tends, from an ontological level, to break down the very notion of divides that one finds in traditional Christianity. (The absolute ontological difference between man and God disappears – and one could argue from non-canonical writings that the divide between man and animal with language also breaks down)

    Given all this, I’ve often wondered why some Mormons feel the need to embrace intelligent design which is so based on the idea of divides that Mormons typically reject.

  4. Clark:

    I am not sure that you will continue to follow this, but I am interested in these divides that Mormons reject.

    A divide I would tend to construct is that mankind are children of God in a literal sense, and that animals are not. Might this be the type of divide you are talking about?

  5. Joe Spencer said

    Thanks for this post, Brian. This question of the “natural man” (which I am, like Robert, reading in terms of the Greek word psychikos) has come to occupy a rather central place in my understanding lately. A thought or two, as a result.

    Though “carnal” can just have reference to the flesh, and though “sensual” can just have reference to the senses, these are not the only meanings of these words. That they are paired with “devilish” is of some significance: should we not interpret these words has having reference to desire, in fact to eros? The difference between man and animal is eros, desire or lack. The natural man is structured by lack, by desire, by want (animals are structured by need, not by want). This is actually closely related to the classic definition of difference between man and animal: language is key because human language is what sets lack in motion, is what regiments desire and thus makes us human. Though there are animals that communicate in one way or another, they do not speak on the grounds of a master signifier that opens up the structure of lack or desire.

    It is for these reasons that Lacan is becoming more and more central to my thinking as well (you could say Freud, if you want, also): in the wake of the Fall, we are structured by lack or desire and thus give ourselves over to obsession or hysteria. The atonement is then a recasting of the human psyche by the Spirit: it is a kind of divine analysis that brings us beyond neurosis (and this is where Freud’s work can never go: analysis terminable or interminable…). Another way to same this same thing is this: the atonement is essentially a kind of typologizing of the human (all too human) psyche.

    I think. I’m thinking all the time.

  6. Joe Spencer said

    Eric, I would like to follow that idea out to some interesting conclusions. Hmm…

  7. Joe Spencer said

    Let me annoy with another shameless self-promotion: I talk about some of these issues at some length—especially the idea of being created in the image of God and what that might have to do with Paul’s discussion of the natural vs. the spiritual in 1 Corinthians 15—in the first four seminary lessons on my podcast site (http://othonors.mypodcast.com/200709_archive.html – the four at the bottom are the first four I did, beginning with the bottom and moving up).

  8. brianj said

    Robert: Good point. I actually had Moses 1:14 (“I can look upon thee in the natural man”) in mind as I wrote this. I am not saying that the natural man is evil—the devilish man is, of course. No, I think the natural man is merely the man that has not changed his fallen nature; has not been reborn. So I don’t see how I am that negative (or pejorative) toward the term “natural.” Perhaps it is when I said that nature must be “overcome.” If so, then I meant something along the lines of “bridled” or “subdued”, not something like “disdained.”

    Clark: I thought some birds have been shown to have grammer; e.g. starlings. But I don’t understand the terms defining differences in grammar to really know. But to your point: I’m very interested in what you say about creation ex nihilo, Mormonism, and intelligent design. I hadn’t thought of the relationship between them (or lack of relationship, as you point out), and I think it is a very helpful way to think about this. It really gets to the heart of the issue.

  9. brianj said

    Joe: I don’t understand what you mean by “animals are structured by need, not want.” I also don’t know what “master signifier” animals are not able to communicate.

  10. Jared* said

    Why isn’t God’s personal interest in us, and desire to have us live with him and be like him, not dignity (or divinity) enough? Why in the world should the method of creation matter in light of that? I would rather be the grandson of a monkey and be given all that God has, than an ignored son of God. “We love him, because he first loved us.” (1 John 4:19)

    To your specific example, this pastor probably equates ‘Darwinism’ with atheism. No God = no dignity. (Yet, who do you think has more extensive views of human dignity: people like the pastor or secular humanists?) But isn’t it theological double-speak to demand a dignified status for man based on the method of creation while subscribing (as I presume he does) to Calvinist teachings like total depravity and unconditional election?

  11. robf said

    I’m really interested in seeing where this goes. Meanwhile, let me just throw a few things out.

    (#4) We are different because “mankind are children of God in a literal sense, and…animals are not”.

    I’m not sure we know enough about this. Lots of speculation over the years, with several possible views. But if we accept at face value the teaching that all intelligences are eternal–including animal intelligences–then perhaps we aren’t so different from the animals. Where do animal spirits or intelligences come from? How were they “organized”? What does it even mean to be “organized”? How radical is our view of agency? How much agency do animals have compared to us?

    Well, that’s enough for now…Dancing With The Stars is on!

  12. Robert C. said

    robf and others, I tend to think about animals as quite similar to human beings, but they haven’t been given (1) commandments and (2) dominion or the power to name (which I think are related). I’m not sure how this relates to the way other Mormons do or have thought about it, but I’m interested in learning….

  13. robf said

    Robert C, I’m not sure we can say that animals haven’t been given commandments. As for dominion, I’m not sure what we are to make of that either. Ecologically, its true that we have dominion to the extent that humans are able to be the most significant species in any environment that they inhabit–ie. we “dominate” every ecosystem. That seems to be related to what may be our uniquely developed human intelligence–especially a highly advanced capacity for symbolic thought.

  14. Robert C. said

    BrianJ #9, of course Joe can speak for himself (though whether anyone can understand him is another matter! :-)), but I think Joe has in mind a notion of need that is, essentially, unselfconscious. To tie this somewhat to my own thoughts above, it seems animals, for example, cannot be self-conscious about being naked, like the way Adam and Eve became self-conscious in the Garden.

    Physical appetites or needs for animals, then, are not culturally defined like they are for humans. It is this role of others in our own self-consciousness that I think is very important in Lacan’s notion of desire. Also, though I’m not sure how directly related this is, desire—at least for Levinas—is something that cannot ever be satiated, whereas need can, at least temporarily. What I think is interesting (and I’d love to hear Joe write up his own post on this), is that I think this differentiation between need and desire is crucial in understanding our capacity to sin. But this is where I get confused: on the one hand it seems silly to think about animals as fornicating in a sinful way; but, on the other hand, it seems animals can be more or less obedient which seems something related to sin….

  15. robf said

    Robert C, there is a lot of room for animal learning–and so not sure we can say that many animals don’t have “culturally defined” expressions of need. There’s a lot we haven’t really thought through when it comes to a theology of co-eternal animals. What we don’t seem to have are “creatures”–beings created by God out of nothing for his own good will and pleasure. So unlike ecological evangelicals that think we should care for God’s creatures because a) they are his or b) we are commanded to–our scriptures seem to recognize some other special relationship with them.

  16. Joe Spencer said

    I really like the way rob is forcing us to rethink some of these questions about animals. Even as I’m letting that change my thinking, I’m going to continue talking here in a more familiar tone, according to which man is the rational animal.

    Robert’s comments articulate pretty well what I’m getting at with the need/want distinction. A want cannot be fulfilled without its being cancelled, while a need can.

    The master signifier thing is a bit complex… and I don’t think I want to hash it out tonight. It would probably be good for me to work out a post or two on all of my collective ideas on this. I’ve actually toyed with somehow coercing Adam Miller into a co-writing a paper on the idea of the anthropos psychikon in Paul’s first epistle to the Corinthians (anyone have any good info on him I can use for blackmail?). I really think that this idea deserves a great deal more attention. I’ve actually written up recently a bibliography of texts that I’d like to take up in a careful, extended study of the subject: Boman’s Hebrew Versus Greek Thinking; Foucault’s Hermeneutics of the Subject; Kierkegaard’s Fear and Trembling; Kojeve’s Introduction to the Reading of Hegel; Lacan’s Ecrits; Marcuse’s Eros and Civilization; Patocka’s Plato and Europe; Ricoeur’s Oneself As Another; and Plato’s Symposium. As you can see, I’ve really, really been obsessing over this idea, and I’d really like to think it out at further length.

    At any rate… perhaps I’ll write a few follow-up posts over the Thanksgiving break (I think I’ve convinced myself not to do any school work during the break, only to work on this paper on Mormon discourse I’ve been writing and to begin doing work on a second book… am I really thinking that?).

  17. robf said

    Happened to read this post about monkeys on a blog this morning. Makes me think about monkey morality, which leads me to think more about our own human “animality”. How much of the life we experience as humans is based on the neuro-chemical and emotional experiences we share with other animals as Adam made from the dust vs. directed by a spiritual existence that we somehow have as created in a divine image? I think until we do a better job of knowing ourselves as Adam that we will have a harder time clearly seeing what of our “natures” may come from a higher eternal source. The human/animal divide is undergoing lots of research right now and we have a lot to learn!

  18. brianj said

    Jared*: I’m glad you found the post. I agree that it is difficult to reconcile the pastor’s views (or what we assume are his views).

    robf: You said the most important thing here: “Dancing With The Stars is on!”

    Robert and Joe: I’m going to echo a little of what I think robf is getting at. Forgive me if I sound dismissive (it may be due to my ignorance), but I am reluctant to put any limits on animals. Every time we come up with a defining line—animals don’t use tools, animals don’t have recreational sex, animals don’t _____ —we find exceptions. And that is only taking into account extant species; the defining line would be much more elusive if we had some Homo erectus, H. neanderthalensis, etc. around to “study.”

  19. Robert C. said

    BrianJ and robf, I agree that what we are learning about animals is very interesting. I suppose I’m simply trying to raise questions about how to read the scriptural texts more than anything, where I think we do see important distinctions being made (Gen 1-2 esp.).

  20. Clark said

    A few quick thoughts. (Perhaps more later if I can manage to find the time)

    1. I think the natural/spiritual dichotomy is based upon where you intents are set. The things of this world or the things of the next. Seeing it as significantly more than that is probably wrong. One can expand this in terms of abstraction into a “what is present” vs. “what is absent” focus. (Arguably Heidegger, following Paul, does this with his authentic/inauthentic distinction we’ve discussed relative to Ricoeur’s hermeneutics) But the frequent breakdown of natural as “earthy” in the sense of origin is clearly wrong. (Look at Mosiah’s use of the dichotomy for instance where that kind of physicalist break down simply makes no sense) It’s a dualism more based upon the authors view of what’s important.

    2. The idea of separating us from the animals due to our spiritual parentage is what I was thinking of. We are all sons of God in a way my dog isn’t. Yet clearly we have no idea exactly what a spirit is, what it does, or how it relates to our cognitive processes. Clearly as science progresses we find the brain and body does more and the spirit less than we thought.

    My bigger point though was to suggest that even this divide isn’t as big as we think. That’s because Mormons often read the JST version of creation (Moses 2-3) to entail a spiritual pre-existence for animals. Mormons, following some common early GA quotes, also tend to ascribe there a resurrection of at least higher animals. Joseph appears to take literally the players in Revelation and thereby ascribed language to some creatures – at least in the next life. In other words while our parentage may be more powerful (given that it is God) it may not be a difference of kind (since there are other spiritual creatures). It is much more a difference of degree. (Admittedly a huge degree, but then one could argue that the difference between a Telestial human and a Celestial perfected human is a huge degree as well)

    My point simply is to suggest that in the ontological plane the differences aren’t great.

    3. Regarding Grammar. Some claims were made for starlings having Grammar. I think this is generally discounted. (See this discussion at my favorite blog for instance) One has to be clear what one means by grammar though. While songs can be complex and even recursive I don’t think that entails grammatical language. So far as I’ve ever heard only humans have that. The big debate is why. (And Chomsky and others have some interesting debates on the evolution of language but there is no real answer yet) Could this be a place for an unique “hook” for the necessary role of a spirit? Perhaps, although given past trends I’d be leery of making such a claim. Whenever people place spiritual phenomena as occuring in the “gaps” of our scientific understanding science tends to expand and eliminate the gaps.

    4. The idea that “physical appetites” aren’t socially influenced in animals seems incorrect as well. It’s true that even among higher apes the ability to have a shared intent is difficult. However recent discoveries have show that such things do occur. (Thus, for example, tool use can be taught rather than having to be rediscovered by accident as was long thought) In terms of cognitive function this then entails that as a matter of limited degree some animals have shared physical appetites.

  21. robf said

    Robert C.
    I agree, and think that if we ask some of these questions in light of a doctrine of eternal progression–not just for us, but for all “intelligences”–than we have some very interesting things to think about and say that other scripture readers aren’t equipped to handle.

  22. Clark said

    To add, that while we can make a dualism in terms of origin (we’re all sons of God) notice that this doesn’t entail a logical separation of ontology. To make an analogy I am a son of my earthly father in a way none of you are. We thus have a dualism of parentage. But that doesn’t lead to there being an ontological difference between you and I. Clearly all those reading this are very, very similar physically and our differences are primarily differences of kind.

    I’ll avoid the deeper philosophical question of whether there is something that makes us into us and uniquely makes us particular – something like a Cartesian soul or a Leibnizean monad. Clearly if one pushes the role of “degree” vs. “kind” too far you’ll end up into that philosophical debate. My personal feeling is that philosophically Mormonism doesn’t demand an answer. Although both of the main popular interpretations of “intelligence” in Mormon history (say Orson Pratt’s adoption of something like a monad or B. H. Robert’s use of a Cartesian soul) end up having a unique substance that makes us into who we are. But there are clearly other alternatives. (My personal opinion is that Brigham Young rejects both of these approaches and ends up with something much more neoPlatonic in nature)

  23. Joe Spencer said

    Resisting… urge… to slam… Chomsky…

    As for the natural/spiritual business, I’ll suspend any further comment until I can write up a detailed post… hopefully tomorrow.

  24. Clark said

    Let me add that I disagree with Chomsky generally. But I think his point in this case is very well made. Also note that this is in his area of expertise rather than in the area of politics.

  25. s james said

    I’m jumping in here (call this an interlude or an intertext)on the issue of natural/spiritual through an interesting paper by James Christianson (BYU), where in his discussion of Noah, the Ark and the Flood, he provides an interesting analysis beginning in Genesis 1 and working sequentially through to Genesis 9 in KJV & JST versions, drawing attention to a distinction made between ‘…creations that are distinctly alive due to their having been granted the “breath of life” and pseudo-life forms found in the “lone and dreary world” that do not possess “the breath of life”, in other words those that we might designate ‘spiritual’ and those which we might designate ‘natural’.

    In short, Christianson suggests the possibility that the Lord is telling us that there are plants and animals that might be designated ‘living souls’,(‘all in whose nostrils the Lord had breathed the breath of life’). Such he suggests are eternal ‘not only in the sense that all matter is eternal’.

    He contrasts this group with animals and plants that are alive only until their death on earth; which have no enduring existence beyond mortality.

    The argument is that certain animals and plants were prepared by God and pronounced ‘good’ and for the ‘benefit of man’, but not others. These came forth after the fall, like thorns and annoying insects (my interpolation) which do not have the breath of life.

    An interesting aside is his view on the serpent in the Garden of Eden belonging to the category ‘not of God’. Reasoning from the scriptures:

    The serpent was made more subtle than any beast of the field which the Lord God made

    and the condemnation,

    Thou shalt be cursed above all cattle, and above every beast of the field which, I the Lord God, have made. (JST Gen 3:20),

    he notes ‘(b)y not classifying the serpent as the most subtle of the beasts which God had made and by cursing him above those which God had made, the scripture suggests that the serpent was … something separate from those specific life forms gifted with “the breath of life”‘.
    He suggests that this may have been why the serpent was allowed to tempt Eve, as in the Garden God’s creations were declared ‘good’ and would not have done so.

    Christianson makes a number of other interesting observations which I have found useful: one such is the observation that the Earth as a ‘living entity’ is capable of producing a variety of life, all of which will return to the earth from which it came. Unlike those who have the breath of life, have a spirit, will be resurrected and live on.

    This is a reduction of his thoughtful perspective but provides an interesting lens through which to view the natural/spiritual in relation to animals and plants.

    Now back to Chomsky …

  26. robf said

    s james, do you have a reference for this Christianson paper? I have to admit that this line of reasoning strikes me as strange, so perhaps I should take a look at the original.

  27. Joe Spencer said

    Actually, at times I wonder whether Chomsky isn’t more cogent in his political arguments than his philosophy of language/mind. Note: that is not meant as an approval of Chomsky’s political work at all; it is rather a real disparagement of his work in his field of expertise. “Deep structures” indeed!

  28. Clark said

    Well, as I said, I typically disagree with him. But I do think there is something to the idea of his grammar.

  29. s james said

    robf, I dont have a link, but the text reference is:

    Christianson, J R (1986) Noah, the Ark, the Flood, A Pondered Perspective, The Old Testament and The Latter-Day Saints, Sperry Symposium, 1986, Randall Books.

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