Science in Christian Perspective



God's Image in Man: 
The Source of Human Creativity
W. Jim Neidhardt 
Physics Department 
New Jersey Institute of Technology 
Newark, New Jersey 07102

From: JASA 34 March 1982): 39-42.

Human creativity, a consequence of God's image in man (Dorothy Sayers is known for her advocacy of this viewpoint), is defined as "putting matter together in new patterns and so creating new forms that were not there before." At the core of much creativity is the perceiving of often odd and striking likenesses, the relating of like things in unexpected ways to form a new unity that was never before noticed. It is my thesis that such perceptual acts are crucial to theological, scientific, and artistic creativity. As a Christian, I believe that the theologian, the scientist and the artist are really discovering a never before noticed aspect of reality when they appear to be producing something new. Thus all human creativity is composed of acts embedded in discovery and exploration-any human creator is "thinking God's thoughts after Him. " And faith is essential to all such creativity. Insights gained from the creativity of the artist can be of great help to technologists and engineers today. In particular, mastery of physical reality in creating any new object is best done in a spirit of love where the creator cooperates with, rather than opposes, nature's forms and structures. New technologies created in such a manner are not to be feared if carefully studied and regulated so as to minimize undesirable side-effects; the development of more such new technologies is essential to the well-being of humanity now and in future times. Some biblical presuppositions that enhance creativity in technology as well as other disciplines are listed and discussed.

What is the meaning and implication for our time of the biblical assertion that man is made in the image of God? Genesis I asserts that God made the universe, the whole space-time continium, and declared that it was good. And to climax creation God made man:

"God created man in the image of himself, in the image of God he created him, male and female he created them." (Gen. 1.27)

As Dorothy Sayers had ably pointed out,2 the expression "in the image of himself" has been a source of controversy and perplexity to church people through the ages. It is now generally agreed that the many pictures of God as an austere old gentleman directing creative acts while perched on a great throne embedded in a cloud- bank are to be taken as only symbolically true. The image, whatever the author's meaning, is shared by male and female alike; the agressive masculinity of the pictorial Jehovah is used to symbolize power, rationality, and determination; and nothing more is intended. Man speaks of God only by making analogies to human experience; accordingly the Trinity and man as a species is always presented in the Bible in masculine language which should not be interpreted literally-God is a spirit, He is pure being, "I am that I am."

In what ways does man bear the image of God? Clearly man does not resemble God as a pure spirit; man has a body and parts that are clearly seen to be related to other creaturely life; i.e., the higher animals. It has been argued that man's immortal soul, his self-consciousness, his intellect, and his free will are characteristics of human nature that uniquely relate man to God. Certainly these are all components of the complex nature of man that could be related to man being made in God's image. But is it not possible that the author of Genesis had something particular in mind? As Dorothy Sayers points out:

"It is observable that in the passage leading up to the statement about man, he has given no detailed information about God. Looking at man, he sees in him something essentially divine, but when we turn back to see what he says about the original upon which the 'image' of God was modeled, we find only the single assertion, 'God created'. The characteristic common to God and man is apparently that. the desire and ability to make things (italics mine)."2

In what ways does a man bear God's image in his human creativity? Before we can answer this question it must again be stressed that we are using the language of analogy and metaphor. Whenever we speak of something which lies outside ordinary experience like God's nature we must bridge the gap by making use of analogies to experience with which we are familiar. In doing this we must clearly recognize that if the analogy is pressed too far and too literally, it will break down. Today physicists do this type of thinking routinely. No one has ever seen an electron-we have only a wealth of experimental data from which we must try to extract coherent meaning. Physicist's have found it very useful to think of the electron sometimes as a "wave" and sometimes as a "particle," both pictures being taken from the realm of everyday human experience. These pictures, properly used, present a coherent explanation of the electron's behavior. But the physicist is well aware that both these terms are analogical-they are metaphors which if pressed to their limit are found to be incomplete and mutually contradictory.

Similarly the bible makes use of analogical, picture-language in describing God's nature. As examples of this use of language consider the biblical references to God as King and as father. Thinking of God as father enables us to picture God as kind, careful, deeply caring, unselfish, and forgiving in his dealings with men just an an ideal father deals similiarly with his children. But we don't press the metaphor to extremes, for we must compare God to an ideal father, not to a father who is selfish and unjust; and the fact that a human father brings about children by procreation has no bearing whatsoever as to how God brings physical reality into existence. In other words we use metaphorical language sensitively, paying full regard to its always partial nature.

Now we can more fully consider how God's creativity may be analogously reflected in man's creativity. There is one clear way in which God as Maker is clearly different from man as maker; God is a maker of something out of nothing whereas man can only rearrange the unalterable and independent units of matter in the universe, building them up into new forms. Note that every man is a maker, for everyone spends his life "putting matter together in new patterns and so creating forms that were not there before.

Figure 1. The structure common to human creative acts-such acts being rooted in exploration and discovery. An essential component of the creative process is commitment to a matrix of basic presuppositions about reality, such commitment enabling the explorer to focus on the objects of interest. These presuppositions are tacitly held by the explorer, he indwells them and they enable the explorer to focus upon striking and unusual likenesses between objects of physical reality, their behavior patterns, and the underlying lawstructures that govern their bebavior patterns, and the underlying law-structures that govern their behavior. The finding of such striking analogies is at the heart of the creative process.

R - Reality; S - S1...Sn - subsidiary clues details, basic presuppositions about reality that the explorer is tacitly committed to; F - Objects of focal attention; P - The person, the explorer, who causes the subsidiaries to bear on the focus of his attention; I - The person indwells the subsidiaries in order to focus on F. Since this indwelling is tacit, we are not able to render them explicity.

---> W Encounters with an objective reality causes the explorer to become committed to these clues, presuppositions..; 1,2,3, -The Exploration Cycle: 1. The explorer indwells a set of subsidiary clues, particulars, basic presuppositions. 2. The subsidiaries bear on the focus of the explorer's attention. 3. The explorer becomes aware of new details, patterns and coherences of the focal objects striking analogies being observed. A new way of structuring reality is thereby recognized; or, if you like, a new reality-structure is brought into being.

+ ii - Of intrinsic interest in this integrative, exploratory activity; -ii - Not of intrinsic interest in this integrative, exploratory activity; MS - Metasystem of culture, general human values; U - Undecidability, basic questions of a discipline that are not decidable from within the discipline. Often, the emphasis on certain subsidiaries and the lack of emphasis of others comes from criteria outside the discipline you are working in.

This is so intimate and universal a function of nature that we scarcely think about it. In a sense, even this kind of creation is creation out of nothing. Though we cannot create matter, we con tinually, by rearrangement, create new and unique entities.", It is the artist who comes closest to God's unique attributes of being able to create something out of nothing for he can create works that exist only in the mind. A creative carpenter must work with rearranging and altering the fixed components of the material world, whereas the artist, say a poet, works with components of the imagination that increase by a continuous and irreversible process, without any destruction of what went before.

What is at the core of all human creative activity? It is the perceiving of often odd and striking likenesses, the relating of like things in unexpected ways to form a new unity that was never before noticed. The artist's or the scientist's imagination creates by perceiving a likeness between a number of things that at first sight appear to have no measurable relation, and it recognizes in them a new kind of unity, a new universe, that can be handled with power as if it existed independently, and whose power is operative in the world of things that can be observed and measured. Both artist and scientist are really explorers who discover a unity of new likenesses that maintains its independent existence due to the activity of the Divine Creator, Maker of Heaven and Earth. Thus any human creator, in a real sense, is "thinking God's thoughts after Him."

What else is central to the creative activites of man? In their creative activity the scientist and the artist share a similar respect for beauty. As Henri Poincarle points out:

The Scientist does not study nature because it is useful; he studies it because he delights in it, and he delights in it because it is beautiful... intellectual beauty is sufficient unto itself, and it is for its sake, more perhaps than for the future good of humanity, that the scientist devotes himself to long and difficult labors. It is, therefore, the quest of this especial beauty, the sense of the harmony of the cosmos, which makes us choose the facts most fitting to contribute to this harmony, just as the artist chooses from among the features of his model those which perfect the picture and give it character and life.4

Here we see another very important aspect of all human creativity. Man as creator is motivated by his faith that beauty expressed as essential unity exists in all the cosmos. It is by faith that both Artist and Scientist seek greater understanding rather than starting from understanding devoid of all personal commitment. Michael Polanyi, in his many writings,5 has more than adequately shown the central and necessary role that faith plays in scientific understanding. Faith, thought of as essential only to theological activity (as an example, Karl Barth's Church Dogmatics incorporates in it as a primary principle Anselm's dictum-" faith seeking understanding"), is thus seen to be a basic component of all human Creativity.

The ideas developed here are schematically represented in Figure I which portrays human creativity envisioned in terms of acts of exploration and discovery. Subsidiary clues and presuppositions are integrated together, one part of reality being focused upon and perceived as a new conceptual or perceptual whole. A new realitystructure is thereby recognized; or, if you like, brought into being.

Isaac Newton's discovery of the law of universal gravitation provides an example of man's creative activity. He first recognized that the behavior of the falling apple is in its motion analogous to the behavior of the circling planets. Note that he looked only at one aspect of the objects being considered, the common motions; he did not envision a planet as a "big apple" with seeds in it. This would be carrying an analogy much too far. What he then did was to look for a common principle, the pull of gravity, which would provide a unified explanation for both the planet's and the apple's motion. Thus Newton recognized a likeness that was not "seen" before, and this new likeness further unified our understanding of physical reality. In a similiar way, the creative artist composes and arranges musical notes to form likenesses never heard before which thereby provides a greater unity to our auditory experience.

What we have seen is that a key component of man being made in God's image is his ability to create new things. God's central role as the Divine Artist, the Maker of Heaven and Earth, is reflected in man's creative activity. Hence everything we can learn about creativity, human or Divine, will help men to better fulfill their role on earth as God's image bearers. In particular, as pointed out by Dorothy Sayers, the human artist's creative endeavors can teach today's technologists and engineers an insight that is fully in accord with modern ecological understanding and will greatly aid humanity in building a better world of men, nature, and machines:

"Perhaps the first thing that he (modern man) can learn from the artist is that the only way of mastering one's material is to abandon the whole concept of mastery and co-operate with it in love: whosoever will be a lord of life, let him be its servant. If he tries to wrest life out of its true nature, it will revenge itself in judgement, as the work revenges itself upon the domineering artist."6

First is brought to our attention a fact our very materialist, quicksuccess orientated society has forgotten, an insight long respected by both artist and scientist: love is central to all creative activity (recall the quote from Poincar~). Second we are reminded that man in all his creative efforts must cooperate with nature, not exploit nature; this is the proper meaning of the command in Genesis that man have dominion over all the earth as forcefully pointed out by A.R. Peacocke in the following extended quote.

". . As J. Barr put it: 'The whole framework of Genesis I is intended to suggest that man is man when he is in his place within nature. His dominion over nature is given little definition; but, in general, its content is less exploitation and more leadership, a sort of primary liturgical place.' Man exercises the 'dominion' that is accorded him under a delegated authority from God who is the Creator of both man and that over which man is given this derived 'dominion', and which independently of man has value to God as his creation ... so man is created (referring to Genesis 1:26-29, parentheses mine.), not to minister to the Gods as in some Sumerian-Babylonian narratives, but to civilize the earth and this is seen in the context of the history of mankind. The 'dominion' which he is described as being assigned is that of a king. The kingly quality of man is seen in his rule over the animals and in accordance with the concept of kingship in antiquity: 'As lord of his realm, the king is responsible not only for the realm: he is the one who bears and mediates blessings for the realm entrusted to him. Man would fad in his royal office of dominion over the earth were he to exploit the earth's resources to the detriment of the land, plant fife, animals, rivers and seas ... What is decisive is the responsibility of man for the preservation of what he has been entrusted to him; and he can show this responsibility by exercising his royal office of mediator of prosperity and well-being, like the kings of the ancient world.' Although 'dominion' has this kingly reference, it is a caring 'dominion' exercised under the authority of the creator, and so it is a more accurate reflection of the meaning of the Genesis myth to say that it describes man as vicegerent, or steward, or manager, or trustee (as of a property, or a charity) as well as exercising the leadership of a king of creation. He is, in the myth, called to tend the earth and its creatures in responsibility to its Creator. He is accountable. He is responsible."7

Today mankind is faced with some basic dilemmas. World population and expectations for material prosperity are rising while, at the same time, humankind is rapidly using up available living space and polluting a finite environment beyond safe limits. At the same time humanity is rapidly depleting the earth's finite store of essential natural resources which supply energy, food, transportation, and shelter needs. Clearly uncontrolled growth must be brought into control so that adequate living space is maintained, finite supplies of natural resources are preserved by recycling, and technologies that pollute the environment are regulated to lower pollutants to acceptable levels. The best way of achieving such controlled growth of technology is to follow the example of the artist by:

1. Learning as much as one can about basic structure and pro perties of the material being used.

2. Then using this knowledge to cooperate with the natural inner shapes, flows, and stresses of the material rather than forcing the material into a highly stressed an unstable form.

As an example of these principles, a bridge designer specifies concrete, a material strong in compression, for the columns where the loading is compressive. Other members of the bridge that undergo tensile loads are made of steel, strong in tension. And by designing with the flow of stresses in the bridge, avoiding sharp and sudden changes in stress, the bridge designer can minimize the amounts of materials needed for the bridge's construction.

If such a stance is adopted it does not necessarily signify a return to more primitive technologies as many urge. Part of the meaning of man being made in the image of God is that man is a creator and that attribute may be used to glorify God by creating new technological concepts and objects. Such new technologies are initially morally neutral. If their operating characteristics are studied and understood they can be used to benefit both humanity and the environment. For then undesirable characteristics are fully recognized and so can be properly regulated. This is ethically good. On the other hand, if the operating characteristics are not fully understood and such technologies are rushed into use without proper regulation, evil will result. An example from my field, science education, is instructive. The newly developed handheld calculator is of great benefit only when the effect upon the educational process of the quickness and automatic nature of its operations is taken into account. Introduced at the proper stage of a student's career he is spared the drudgery of excessive routine paperand-pencil calculations and has much more time to study the basic principles of science and engineering that the calculations illustrate. However, if intruduced too early in his career, use of the handheld calculator prevents the student from adequately mastering basic mathematical operations (multiplication and division of numerical expressions involving brackets as an example) and he really does not understand these basic operations. When, in his later years, he is asked to learn advanced mathematics which depends upon a full comprehension of basic mathematical operations he has great difficulty in mastering these new concepts. In this example it is clearly seen that the new technology itself; i.e. the handheld calculator, is not at fault; the improper introduction too early in the student's intellectual development is the source of the trouble. Misuse of a new creation, not the creation's existence, is the source of difficulty.

The reflection of God's creativity in man as shown in the creation of new technologies is, properly understood, something to praise God for as we ask Him for guidance in not allowing human sin to distort its proper use. As Morris Tanenbaum has argued, such creativity is necessary for human survival, more new technology being needed rather than less:

"Given a broader view of our society's goals, of the obstacles we face, of the means at hand for surmounting them, an unavoidable conclusion emerges: To solve the ptoblems of the 1980s and beyond
will call for more technology (the context of his talk indicates he means new technology)-not less.

It will take more technology-not less-to discover and develop alternate energy sources. It will take more technology-not less-to assure the manageability and livability of our cities and the national development of their infrastructures-transportation, communication, power.

And it will take more technology-not less-to provide all people in all nations with the food and shelter, the health care, the education and economic opportunities they need to become full-fledged productive members of a stable and secure world community."8


New Technologies are a result of a human creativity that owes its existence to man bearing God's image. Faith is a central component of all such creativity; the creativity that can bring about beneficial new technologies thrives when embedded in a God-given matrix of basic presuppositions about God, man, and the world. Some basic beliefs, derivable from biblical theology, that will do much to ensure the health of any creative efforts are now listed and discussed. These beliefs summarize and add to arguments heretofore developed.

1. A good God created and continually holds in being a good creation. As physical reality is created it is not Divine and hence it can be studied and experimented with by men.

2. A truly rational God is completely trustworthy, thereby guaranteeing the existence of regular patterns governing created reality; such patterns are capable of being found by rational human inquiry.

3. God is the ultimate source of all beauty and imparts that beauty to physical reality by maintaining unified law structures in even the most complex physical phenomena; God further gives man a mind that can appreciate, comprehend and love such beauty (another implication of man bein; made in God's image).

Scripturally there is ample justification for assertion 3; in Psa. 27:4 David wishes to behold the beauty of the Lord, Eccl. 3:11 asserts that God has made everything beautiful in its time, and Isa. 45:18-19 states that God created not a chaos, but a place to be lived in-a cosmos.

Human creativity in its widest context further supports this thesis that beauty is an essential component of all creative efforts. Beauty is commonly associated with the creative activities of artists; but other areas of human creativity are also marked by beauty, modern science being an example. Beauty is an essential component of scientific theory formulation; "notions of elegance and economy, especially as expressed in mathematical form have frequently proved valuable guides to a better understanding of the physical world. It is a recognized technique in elementary particle physics to seek theories which are compact and mathematically beautiful, in the expectation that they will then prove to be the ones realized in nature. This is a striking fact."9

I conclude this brief discussion of beauty as one aspect of creativity by mentioning two criteria of beauty that have been proposed to serve as guides in the creation of new scientific formulations, theoretical and experimental. These criteria are, in my opinion, useful aids for creating beauty in all disciplines, technical or artistic.

The first is the criterion of Francis Bacon: "There is no excellent beauty that hath not some strangeness in the proportion!" (Strangeness, in this context, has the meaning 'exceptional to a degree that excites wonderment and surprise!')

The second criterion, as formulated by Heisenberg, is complementary to Bacon's: "Beauty is the proper conformity of the parts to one another and to the whole."9

4. God's very nature is love; He has made the universe in such a way that love is central to its well-being. Hence man must seek to work cooperatively and in harmony not only with other human beings but with all physical reality.

5. Man, being made in the image of God, has the capacity, perhaps even a mandate, to create new things. These new creations can be good, just as God's creations are good, if adequate time is taken to properly study their characteristics so that they may be used in ways that minimize harmful effects.


1The author is greatly indebted to the insights of Dorothy L. Sayers concerning human and Divine creativity. My introduction to her came in a collection of her essays, The Whimsical Christian, Macmillan Publishing Co., Inc., New York, 1978, pp. 93-150.

2Sayers, Ibid., p. 114.

3Sayers, Ibid., p. 119. 

4This quote is contained in Chase, Chance, and Creativity by James H. Austin, Columbia University Press, New York, 1978, p. 144.

5Michael Polanyi's key books are: a. Science, Faith, and Society, The University of Chicago Press,
Chicago, 1966. b. Personal Knowledge, Harper Torch books, New York, 1964. c. Meaning with Harry Prosch. The University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1975.

6Sayers, Op. Cit., p. 126.

7A.R. Peacocke, Creation and the World of Science, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1979, pp. 281-283. ,

8Taken from an address given by Morris Tanenbaum at the 1980 commencement of New Jersey Institute of Technology. Mr. Tanenbaum is president of New Jersey Bell Telephone Company.

9J.C. Polkinghorne, The Particle Play, W.H. Freeman and Company Limited, Oxford and San Francisco, 1979, pp. 1-2.

10S. Chandrasekhar, "Beauty and the quest for beauty in science", Aesthetics and Science, Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, Batavia, Ill., 1979, p. 82.