What the authors of Genesis meant, in context.
|"Then God said, 'Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them have stewardship over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.'"
In the time, place, and context where Genesis was written, calling humanity "in our image," or, in the third person, "the Image of God," constitutes both a Temple polemic and a call to missionary work as well as worship. In other words, it must be understood in the context of Ancient Near Eastern Temples.
Consider the Pagan neighbors who surrounded the Israelites or Jews in this era. Each Pagan god had his own respective Temple. In most cases, each Temple had satellite statues or shrines, also known as Images, believed to be the god's messengers to the world outside his Temple.
In that context, there are two things the authors would have meant by calling humanity the Image of God:
1. All humans are called to be God's messengers to each other. Jesus would later reiterate this in the Great Commission (Matthew 28:16-20).
2. Unlike all those Pagan Temples, the Temple of Jerusalem has no need for satellite shrines to act as Images and messengers. This is also reiterated later in Scripture (Exodus 20:4-6).
This is what the Image of God means in the original context. Despite popular modern interpretation, it does not mean humans were created instantaneously in our present form. Even if humans are genealogically related to all other species of life (which we are), that does not preclude us from being the Image of God in the sense that the Ancient Near Eastern authors meant.
That being said, God is our Creator, and the Creator of all things both visible and invisible. His existence is logically demonstrated from the First Cause Argument.
Objection 1: "Why do we make statues and stained glass windows of Jesus and Mary? It violates the Ten Commandments, and as you've demonstrated, it even violates humanity as the Image of God."
Statues of Jesus, and so forth, are merely visual aids that Holy Mother Church permits. They are not messengers of God required for worship, as Pagan statues and shrines were believed to be. As long as they remain mere visual aids and not messengers or stand-ins for God, however, the permission to use them was clarified by the Second Council of Nicea in AD 787.
Objection 2: "What about multiple layers of meaning? Specifically, why can't it also mean that humans were created in our present form in 4004 BC?"
Because the fossil and genetic evidence overwhelmingly favors human evolution. We are called upon to reconcile both the Natural Sciences and the Faith, rather than dismissing science inconvenient to your interpretation.
To quote Saint Augustine of Hippo, Doctor of the Church: "Usually, even a non-Christian knows something about the earth, the heavens, and the other elements of this world, about the motion and orbit of the stars and even their size and relative positions, about the predictable eclipses of the sun and moon, the cycles of the years and the seasons, about the kinds of animals, shrubs, stones, and so forth, and this knowledge he holds to as being certain from reason and experience. Now, it is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for an infidel to hear a Christian, presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking nonsense on these topics; and we should take all means to prevent such an embarrassing situation, in which people demonstrate a vast ignorance in a Christian and laugh it to scorn."
Saint Augustine cautions us against brazen dismissals of science. Listen to him on this!
Quod Erat Demonstrandum.