Before we answer that question, let’s answer a more basic question: Why do we even have such a classification as mammal? Mammals, as a group of organisms, exist because of the classification system that biologists use, invented by creation scientist Carl Linnaeus. This system organizes all living things into kingdom, phylum, class, order, family, genus, and species. Mammalia is one of the classes that creatures can be assigned to. (It’s important to note that, ultimately, since humans are made in God’s image and are unique from the rest of creation, we don’t truly fit into this classification system—more on that below.)
So, what’s a mammal?
For a creature to be considered part of the class Mammalia, it must possess a variety of characteristics:
Mammary glands to feed their young
Hair or fur at some point in their lifetime
A neocortex in the brain
Three bones in the middle ear
A lower jaw that’s just one bone
Teeth that are replaced no more than once in a lifetime
A four-chambered heart
Whew—it’s a pretty long list, and a wide variety of creatures find themselves on it, from mice to tigers to humpback whales to bats to platypuses to humans. But should humans be classed in Mammalia?
Well, humans do possess all the above characteristics. This makes us, from a strictly biological perspective, mammals. These similarities have nothing to do with any kind of evolutionary ancestry, which is an assumption based on a particular view of the past that assumes all of life is related and descended from a universal common ancestor. In a biblical worldview, we can understand that various creatures share similar characteristics because they share a common Designer who used a similar design throughout much of his creation.
But if humans are mammals . . . does that then make us animals? Humans do have all the observable characteristics that would place us in the kingdom Animalia (to which the class Mammalia belongs), but perhaps it would be better to ask, “Are humans just [or merely] animals, and if not, what makes us different?”
The answer depends on your worldview. If you believe all of life is related through a common ancestor, the answer must be that we’re just animals. If biology is all there is, there’s nothing that makes humans unique from the animal kingdom—we’re just more highly evolved than any other known creature.
Important, Foundational Thinking About Humanity
But the biblical worldview answers this question very differently. We understand that we’re far more than just our biology or its classification. We’ve been created in the very image of God (Genesis 1:27), just a little lower than the angels (Psalm 8:5), and given dominion over creation, including the animals (Genesis 1:26; Psalm 8:5–8). This explains why humans can think, speak, create art, write mathematical equations, go on scientific explorations, take trips to the moon, marvel over a sunset, write laws and hold others accountable to those laws, love each other, feel guilt over wrongdoing, and so much more in ways animals simply can’t. It also explains why we recoil when a human kills another human but don’t blink (much, at least) when a fish gobbles up another fish. We instinctively understand there’s a difference!
We aren’t just animals—we’re completely unique in God’s creation because we bear the image of the Creator of the universe.
Sadly, children are routinely taught through the public education system, the media, public museums, and books that they are animals evolved from an ape-like ancestor. But that dehumanizing teaching doesn’t come from God’s Word, and it doesn’t match reality. Help your younger children have a biblical view of anthropology in “Image Bearers,” an episode of Season 2 of Schus Off! now streaming on Answers TV.
Schus Off! is a creation adventure program for 3–8-year-olds, featuring Trevor and Avery Schu and their kids on explorations of God’s creation. In “Image Bearers,” Trevor and Avery meet some incredible creatures which remind us that, as amazing as God’s creation is, there’s really nothing else like us because we alone are made in the image of God.
Check out “Image Bearers” and the rest of Season 2 of Schus Off! with a free seven-day trial of Answers TV.