Scientific Testimonies to Human Uniqueness

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at

Interesting post. It occurred to me that although many aspects of evolution are indisputable facts, there are other aspects of it that we can – and should – legitimately reject. In particular, we shouldn’t accept anything that reduces us in status to no more than Just Another Animal. Regardless of what we did or didn’t evolve from, the Bible does make it clear that we are made in the image of God, and as such, we have been given an authority over creation – and with it, an accountability – that hasn’t been given to the rest of the animal kingdom.

It’s interesting in particular that you talk about humans having concepts of moral responsibility that the rest of the animal kingdom does not. There are behaviours that are widespread among animals that nobody in their right mind would consider acceptable among humans. Cannibalism is just one example that comes to mind here. Accordingly, we shouldn’t allow our moral or ethical standards to be defined by what we see among animals in the wild either.

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I would mention, that with respect to biological evolution (the scientific reality of it), there is nothing that objectively reduces us to being no more than “Just Another Animal”. Some proponents of evolution do this, and try to tie this to atheism (as the only rational option), but this is a subjective value judgement, not warranted by the evidence. Meaning, culture, and other attributes discussed in this article somehow overlay on or arise from biological processes, but we can’t infer they are less real because of that.

Watching Israel and Gaza this last while and remembering seeing Auschwitz in 1974 it is very hard to see humans as differing much from the guereza that inhabited the forests where I grew up in Africa. Morally we are probably worse than say the Lucy who lived a few hundred miles from the Awash river crossing we went over as we were coming home from evil residential school. The apes and monkeys killed those at arms length or within rock throwing distance, we kill at a distance cleanly as in Japan at the end of WWII or Dresden.

Well yes, it’s certainly true that we see humans behaving in ways that are no better than the animals (and in some cases even a whole lot worse!) but we don’t see it as being morally acceptable. As I’ve said, the Bible calls us to a higher standard of behaviour. Look at Galatians 5:19-26 for example:

The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.

That’s really what I mean. “The works of the flesh” about which Paul speaks here involve thinking about yourself – and your fellow human beings – as no more than Just Another Animal. “The fruit of the Spirit,” on the other hand, involves thinking about yourself and your fellow human beings as being made in the image of God, and therefore valuing, honouring, respecting, looking out for, and protecting one another.

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Jim requested, “If you know of other similar quotations, please put them in the comments.”

On Language & Cooperation
“A core issue in the evolution of language is that sharing detailed, truthful information involves a degree of cooperation…. We now know that it is anything but obvious how such a system would evolve: the evolution of cooperation raises deep problems from the viewpoint of modern evolutionary theory. The cooperative sharing of information thus remains a central puzzle in language evolution.” W.T. Fitch, The Evolution of Language

“If human cooperative communication had arisen initially to enable more complex forms of competition and deception, then we would not expect to see a common cognitive infrastructure with collaborative activity, nor would we expect to see as its most basic motivation the desire to help others by providing them with the information they need.” Michael Tomasello, Origins of Human Communication

On Cognition
"(T)he biological adaptation we are looking for is one that is rooted in primate cognition but then provides humans with the cognitive tools and motivations to create artifacts and practices collectively with members of their social group – that then structure their and their offspring’s cognitive interactions with the world. We are thus looking for a small difference that, by creating the possibility of culture and cultural evolution, made a big difference in human cognition.

“Our proposal for this “small difference that made a big difference” is an adaptation for participating in collaborative activities involving shared intentionality – which requires selection during human evolution for powerful skills of intention reading as well as for a motivation to share psychological states with others. In ontogeny, these two components – the understanding of intentional action and the motivation to share psychological states with others – intermingle from the beginning to produce a unique developmental pathway for human cultural cognition, involving unique forms of social engagement, symbolic communication, and cognitive representation.” Michael Tomasello et al, “Understanding and sharing intentions: The origins of cultural cognition,” Behavioral and Brain Sciences 28, no. 05 (2005)

I’ll stop here. :wink:

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