Do We Get Our Identity From God Or From Nature?

Question: 1) How much of a person’s identity is uniquely God-given, and how much is merely a combination of genes and environmental factors? Also, 2) how do we know that a human is not merely a highly sophisticated animal? 

Response: These questions seem to imply that if we can fully explain a person based on DNA and environmental factors, we have no need for God. We know this is not true, for if God does not exist, then only matter exists, shaped by pure chemistry and physics. In such a world there would be no abstract thoughts such as the questions given in this post. In a purely material world, we would be the result of natural forces, never able to overcome the external forces that shapes us. But our experience and our reason tells us this is not true. (For longer explanations of this, see here and here and here. )

Further, the biggest assumption in the first question seems to be built upon an either/or fallacy, namely that personality is either given directly by God or it is genetic and environmental. Personality could very well be developed by God using genetics and environmental factors. Certainly a Biblical case could be made that God uses circumstances to develop a person’s character, test one’s faithfulness, and teach us that He is dependable and wise. Theologians refer to God’s providence, which is where He works out situations through circumstances to achieve His will and His purposes. So we are safe in concluding that God brings experiences into our lives to shape us.

But Christians are more than that. The New Testament tells us that we are regenerated, that “if any man be in Christ, he is a new creation: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.” (2 Corinthians 5:17). As new creatures in Christ we have new desires, new purposes, new goals. Many Christians can give testimony that the Bible is correct in that in the new birth, they have a change of direction, a new set of wants and desires.

How much is genes and environment versus direct intervention of God? The apostle Paul tells us even he had a struggle between the old and the new. Paul gives a vivid description in the last part of Romans 7. As Christians, we are both our old self and our new, awaiting the ultimate day when we are redeemed both in body and soul.

As to humans and animals, we know that humans are highly sophisticated animals. The point is that we are not merely and only sophisticated animals. We are told this in the Bible when it says that we are created in the image of God. Animals follow instinct and do not have control over their passions without external training by people. As Vernon McGee once said, if we ever see a monkey on his knees in repentance, then we can take them more seriously as compared to humans.


About humblesmith

Christian Apologist & Philosopher
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3 Responses to Do We Get Our Identity From God Or From Nature?

  1. Thank you so much for taking the time to answer these questions. Please forgive my delayed response. I do have a couple of questions for you based on this post. First, is it at all possible that the immaterial could be explained apart from God? Why is it easier to believe in the existence of God than to believe that the abstract could arise from the material? Is it even truly possible to delineate the abstract and the material? Are they really distinct? For example, are thoughts truly immaterial in nature, or just the product of biological processes? Second, in your statement that animals do not exert self-control without human training, could you not say the same for humans? We are instinct-driven in many ways, as well, and other people train us and shape our behaviors early in life, such that we learn to control ourselves in order to survive. Thank you again!

    • humblesmith says:

      Your question: ” is it at all possible that the immaterial could be explained apart from God? Why is it easier to believe in the existence of God than to believe that the abstract could arise from the material?”
      To answer this, we must consider how we could get abstract things. To get anything abstract, we must have a mind to derrive the abstract. No one has demonstrated any way to get anything abstract without a mind to abstract it. Atheists who have thought these things through will readily agree that humans have a brain but no mind that is distict from brain function. They speak of the world as “causally closed” and hold that all our thoughts are determined and caused. Without a mind that can abstract thoughts, we have no ability to distinguish an abstract. Immaterial objects, such as love, justice, and numbers, do not exist without a mind. Without God, all we have is physics and chemistry with no room for anything immaterial or abstract. The atheist philosophers readily deny that humans have a mind, claiming we only have a brain. Abstract objects do not exist in an atheis world, at least not without a grand inconsistency.

      Now, perhaps someone could bring up something like magnatism that is immaterial but derrives from a purely material world. This is the closest you can get, but even magnatism has a physical force that can be measured. How can we take an instrument and measure justice or love? I once had an atheist ask me “What instrument can I use to measure the soul?” So without a mind that truly exists, we cannot derrive anything immaterial. Since our minds are contingent, we know there must be a mind that necessarily exists. This we call God.

      I will now toss the question back to you. You have said more than once now that “Is it possible that….?” I have given reasons why God must exist. I challenge you to give any reason or explanation how the immaterial can come to exist if there is no ultimate God, and all we are left with is physics? Please give me an explanation of how this could be. If you cannot give one, I will say you have not proven the case that the immaterial could exist without God.

      “Is it even truly possible to delineate the abstract and the material?”
      Yes. The number 4.23678 can exist in my thoughts whether or not anything in the world actually exists that is that number. The same is true for love, justice, beauty, and jealousness. Plus, an analogy that Aquinas used is a stone. A stone can be gray and hard. We can distinguish between the grayness and the hardness, both as concepts, even though we cannot actually separate them in the stone. Further, the mere fact that we commonly talk about abstract ideas is proof that we can distinguish them one from another.

      Regarding your question about human self-control, humans can indeed exert power over themselves. Every day we see humans that come to conclusions on their own and change their behaviour. Addicts, on their own, determine that their addiction is harmful and decide to change their behaviour. People have decided to go on hunger strikes and voluntarily starved themselves to death when food was readily available to them. This can only occur with self control.

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