Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Does a Chimpanzee Have a Soul?

A chimpanzee can learn to sit in a chair, but it hardly has a soul. Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

Joel Kontinen

The just released documentary Chimpanzee prompted Jane Goodall, the world’s probably best-known chimpanzee researcher, to take a look at the soul of this great ape.

In an interview in Christianity Today, Goodall said that she believes that a chimpanzee might have a soul. She believes in a higher power that is much bigger than humans. She thinks that chimps might also believe in something transcendent.

Goodall’s view is not a recent invention. The Greek storyteller Aesop (ca. 620-564 BC) already saw human traits in animals. Those of us who have read about the exploits of Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck will know that this tendency has not become extinct. Moreover, the film Chimpanzee is produced by Disneynature, so Goodall’s view does not come as a surprise.

We might still see human traits in animals, especially in dogs and cats. In addition to Walt Disney, a Victorian gentleman named Charles Darwin has had an impact on current views of animal cognition.

According to Darwinian thinking, humans and chimpanzees are close relatives. Many natural history museums and school textbooks still spread the outdated assumption that the genetic difference between humans and chimpanzees is only two per cent or so. However, research published in the journal Molecular Biology and Evolution suggests that the real difference could be as big as 23 per cent.

An enormous mental gap separates humans from animals. Only humans have the ability to speak and create new things. Nothing suggests that a chimp might have a soul that survives death.

According to the Bible, humans are unique because only they were created in the image of God. Only humans fell into sin. Because of their fall, the Creator of the universe had to become a man and live for a while among the people He had created. He suffered the penalty that we ought to have suffered.

A chimpanzee cannot partake of the atonement that Jesus prepared for us. Only humans like you and me can - provided we believe in Him.


Greydanus, Steven D. 2012. Interview: Why Jane Goodall Thinks Chimps May Have Souls. Christianity Today (20 April).