What Separates Humans from Animals? 10 Popular Ideas

Back in 1994  “No single, essential difference separates human beings from other animals.”

I’m no scientist, theologian or philosopher, but that seems strangely problematic.

Especially after looking at a variety of ways in which we appear vastly different.

Here are ten of the most popular:

1. Well-formed rational faculties.

Humans develop arguments, explore lines of logic, draw conclusions and form hypothesis.

2. Language.

 Humans engage in deep meaningful conversations. Exhibit complex and large vocabularies. Master difficult grammar.

3. Writing.

Humans articulate arguments on paper, typewriter or blog. They create sweeping stories. They write love letters to each other.

4. Research.

Humans are incorrigibly curious. They nose around dusty libraries. Hound complete strangers for clues. Drill through Wikipedia, Monergism or the .

5. Quest for meaning.

 Humans demand answers to questions like, ”Why do I exist? What’s my purpose? Where am I going? Why was I created?”

6. Anxiety over death.

Humans–especially Kierkegaard–worry about what happens to them after they die.

7. Refined aesthetic sense.

Humans cultivate beautiful flower gardens. Remodel their kitchens after four years. Play classical music all day.

8. Creative impulse.

Humans paint portraits, write poems, sculpt statues, design skyscrapers. Endlessly.  

9. Moral character.

Humans stress virtues and resist vices. They create laws to define those virtues and vices. And offices to defend those laws.

10. Religious bent.

Humans sense the transcendent and holy and try to define it. They practicing spiritual disciplines and craft rituals–from the simple to the complex.

Let me add one more to this list: Humans are tirelessly intrigued to know what makes them different from other animals–and invest enormous amounts of time pinning the differences down.

In fact, theologians earn doctorates attempting to specify one characteristic of humans–or a select few–in which the image of God is primarily seen.

But it boils down to this

What separates humans from animals is that we bear the image of God.

What does that mean? Man is simply like God–rational, moral, creative, aesthetic. More importantly, humans represent God.

And to represent God is to receive a calling that requires humble devotion to the God’s glory.

In the end, it’s not about getting hung up on discovering that single characteristic that defines “the image of God.”


It’s about getting hung up on this simple mandate: We are creatures designed to bring honor to Christ through our gentle, grace-affirming subjugation of the earth for the gospel.

By the way–just for grins–can you think of any more ways that people have tried to define the differences between humans and animals? Please share!

Disclaimer: I fail miserably at nearly all the above categories. So don’t look to me as a model human.

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