The Hebrew words of Genesis 1:26-27 reveal God's great plan and ultimate purpose for mankind! When God molded Adam of the dust, he was shaped in the "likeness" - the outward form and shape - of God Himself. God did not form any of the other creatures to be an exact clay replica of Himself. This unique form and shape was given to man alone!
Notice again that God says, "Let Us make man in our image. . . ." The Hebrew here indicates far more than merely the outward form and shape of God - His likeness. "Image" refers to mind and character! God intended for man - to whom He gave the gift of a thinking, reasoning mind - to develop the very mind and character of God!
Each animal was created with a brain suited for each animal kind. But animals do not have the potential of mind and character, which God gave only to man. No animal was ever given the gift of mind power!
It is this very special attribute of mind and character that separates men from animals. Animals do not have reasoning, self-conscious minds. Animals follow instinctive habit patterns in their feeding, nesting, migration, and reproduction. God has "programmed" their brains, so to speak, with particular instinctive aptitudes. Thus beavers build dams, birds build nests, etc. These aptitudes are inherited - they are not the result of logical cognitive processes.
For example, thousands of birds flock south each year as winter approaches in the Northern Hemisphere. They do not stop to "reason" why, they do not ask themselves whether they should, they do not "plan ahead" an itinerary for the trip. At a given signal - like the pre-set alarm of a clock - they leave their summer feeding grounds in the north and travel thousands of miles south. Scientists do not even now fully understand why - they merely observe the operation of this animal instinct.
Each species or kind of bird builds different nests, feeds on different foods, and migrates in different ways at different times to different places. But none of these actions is planned by the birds. They are merely the capability and proclivity which Almighty God built into the instinct of each kind at creation.
But man is vastly different. Man is able to perceive and understand various ways to do any one thing. Man can reason from memorized facts and knowledge, draw conclusions, make decisions, will to act according to a thought-out plan. Each man may build a different house, eat different foods - live an entirely different way of life - from every other man. If a man wants to change his way of life, he can! Man is not subject to instinct. He is not governed by a set of pre-determined habit patterns as animals are.
Man can choose - he has free moral agency. He can devise codes of conduct and exercise self-discipline. Man can originate ideas and evaluate scientific knowledge because he has a mind which is patterned after God's own mind! Man can devise, plan, and bring his plans to fruition because he has been given some of the very creative powers of God!
Man alone can wonder, "Why was I born? What is life? What is death? Is there a purpose in human existence?" Man, unlike the animals, not only "knows" how to do certain things, but he also knows he knows - that is, he is aware that he has "knowledge." He is conscious of the fact. He is self-conscious, aware of his own existence as a unique being.
The attributes of mind and character make man God's unique physical creation. God has shared some of His own qualities with man and expects him to develop the "image" of God's perfect mind and holy character!