One thousand years ago, Islamic civilization had surpassed Europe in nearly every respect. Islamic rulers were wealthier, armies were more powerful, and scholarship was further advanced. But something changed. Now, the Spanish world translates as many books each year as Arabs have translated in the last one thousand years.
What brought about this dramatic rise of the West? My secular professors taught that the secret was the West’s “discovery” of human dignity during the Renaissance. That is true. But they also taught that the Renaissance humanists discovered this view of man in the Greek and Latin classics. That is a myth. The classical writers held many noble ideals, but the inherent value, dignity and equality of each human being was not one of them.
The US Declaration of Independence includes the line: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal…" But human equality has NEVER been self-evident. Virtually every society throughout history kept slaves and made women inferior to men.
So how did the West’s conception of human beings become so radically different?
My professors believed the secular myth that the notion of human dignity originated in ancient Greece. But they didn’t examine the primary sources. A century-long research culminated in a two-volume work by Charles Trinkaus, In Our Image and Likeness. Trinkaus concluded that although Renaissance Humanists quoted and promoted the classics, their peculiar view of human dignity came out of the Bible in deliberate opposition to Greek, Roman, and Islamic thought. Their view of man was derived from the first chapter of the Bible [Genesis 1:26], which says that God made man in His image.
Renaissance writers such as Pico della Mirandola (1463-1494) did not derive their high view of man from only one verse of the Bible about the creation of man. The Bible revealed man’s unique dignity most supremely in the incarnation of Jesus Christ. God saw the misery of man and came as man, to make human beings sons and daughters of God.
Muslim intellectuals asked, “Can God also become a dog?” That reduced man to the level of beasts. Islam’s failure to appreciate the value and dignity of human beings prevented Islamic civilization from developing the full potential of its people. It trapped the masses without the fundamental rights and liberties that made it possible for the West to overtake Islamic civilization.
Saudi Arabia for example refused to sign the United Nation’s “Universal Declaration of Human Rights” [UDHR] because it saw that the Declaration was an anti-Islamic, Judeo-Christian idea, pretending to be “universal.”
Far from violating God’s dignity, the incarnation was to be the ultimate proof of man’s dignity. Man was made in God’s image, but the Bible taught Reformers such as Martin Luther that human beings have fallen in sin. Yet God loved us enough to come and save us from our sin and make us His beloved children. God’s descent means man’s ascent. It confirms that human beings are unique in the created order.
Of course, atheists will tell you that they believe in human equality. That's only because the Bible wrote that notion into their cultural DNA. If atheists were writing the Declaration of Independence, they would have to write something like, "We hold these ideas to be politically correct: that all human beings have evolved equal, and are endowed by natural selection with unalienable rights…" But that would be absurd. There is no observable way in which all human beings are equal. Evolution never asked mosquitos not to kill human beings! No, Equality is a moral and theological idea that evolutionism can't support because it tries to explain inequality self-evident in nature.
Now the question is, will we reduce man to the level of beasts? Or will we recover the historic basis for faith in man’s unique dignity?