For a long time I accepted a young earth model and read Genesis literally. Recently, I’ve had a lot of conversations about evolution and the evidence that points us to that as a possibility. I feel that it is possible to believe God had a hand in evolution and used that as a means for getting us to where we are today. However, I get tripped up when in Genesis we are told “God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” I feel that there is a clear separation between man and animal. For some one who is both a Christian and an evolutionist, how might they resolve the issue that man is evolved from animals, yet distinctly made in the image of God.
I definitely agree with the direction in which your thinking has been taking you. I know of two similar but not identical explanations of the claim that God made human beings in his image.
One possibility is that Adam and Eve were created ex nihilo. This is a very fancy way of saying that they were created out of nothing. In other words God simply formed Adam and Eve out of simpler materials or created them by creating matter in living form. According to this view, the fact that Adam and Eve were in the image of God has nothing to do with their physical form. God does not have ears and lips, toes, fingers and an appendix. Their being created in God’s image involves having a soul, a spiritual nature, free will, the ability to create and to respond morally, etc. The problem with this explanation is that according to anthropologists and paleontologists, there were very primitive and less intelligent pre-humans walking the earth in the not-too-distant past. What happened to these creatures and why did God choose to create Adam and Eve from scratch if these pre-humans were already in place?
The second possibility which I have seen proposed is that God took an evolved intelligent hominid several thousand years and changed him so that he was in the image of God. The result would be Adam. A similar process occurred for Eve. If this is true, God did not literally create Adam and Eve out of whole cloth, but he transformed them into sentient, self-conscious beings with a conscience, a free will–in other words with the image of God.
Either one of these requires some level of faith on the part of the believer. Both of them is consistent with Old Testament theology as far as I know. Personally, I lean toward the first view. I believe that Adam and Eve were created, both physically and spiritually, from nothing.
As for evolution, one thing we can say for sure is that no random process, no matter how long the available time, would produce a creature in God’s image. Evolution does not create a spirit, free will, self-consciosness and so forth. I also agree with you that God probably influenced and directed the course of evolution.