Thursday, July 26, 2012

What makes humans different from other animals?

Not too long ago I read that a professor was claiming that there is no real difference between people and other animals. Apparently he had never heard an explanation of the differences that satisfied him.

Do we use tools? So do some animals. Do we travel from one continent to another? Look at migratory birds or butterflies. Do we have the ability to use language? Chimps have been taught sign language.

All of this seems like a huge exercise in missing the point. People have an overwhelming sense that we have a purpose -- or should have a purpose -- beyond surviving. We seek mastery of everything -- not just our territory or even our world, mind you; we have left our planet and explored the moon. We have sent probes and explorers out into the solar system, and dream of going beyond. We seek to know everything -- not just what we need to eat and satisfy our bodily needs, but how atoms are put together, how the planets move, how the sun works, why apples fall from trees. We write encyclopedias and fill libraries with books.We even have universities.

As for that professor and his theories -- I'm sure he teaches lots of students. He has probably done it for years. He likely teaches several classes of students each week. No doubt he has colleagues, fellow members of the faculty where he works. And I don't doubt for a moment that every one of them -- students, faculty, staff -- are all human. No rabbits have signed up for his classes on why humans are no different than rabbits. None of the guest lecturers is a cat. Has this never occurred to him, when he is looking for whether there are any differences between humans and other animals? I wonder what explanation he would give for that. He may never have heard a clear and satisfying explanation of our differences from the other animals; that doesn't mean he should discount what we can see with our own eyes until an explanation satisfies him.


Martin LaBar said...


Humans have a well-developed sense of right and wrong, and the ability to ignore it.

Humans use written and oral language extensively.

Humans can plan for the future more than any other known organism.

The above are also related to our ability to form a relationship with God (and with other humans.)

Humans are capable of modifying their environment to a degree probably not equaled in any other organism.

Even so, the professor is at least partly correct. Much of these qualities are also found in other animals, to some extent, anyway, probably more than we are aware of in some cases.

Weekend Fisher said...

Lots of things are partly correct without being fully or wholly correct. To argue from "similarities exist" to "there is no meaningful difference" is a mistake.

Take care & God bless