The Need to Feel Superior to Other Forms of Life

huggingmonkeysI find it strange when people need to feel superior to other forms of life. I recently had a mini-discussion with a Christian who posted a rather interesting blog post.

He had this to say about evolution:

“Evolution:  I have been “evolving” in my understanding of this subject.  It seems certain that evolution occurs on some scale, though I am convinced that it does not hold the answers to all questions involving the millions of species and variations of plant and animal life.  On the smaller, “micro evolution” scale it undoubtedly occurs:  bacteria and viruses evolve immunities to antibiotics; fossil evidence shows gradual changes in many species.  But how far “up the ladder” this occurs is still unclear.  Transitional fossils are rare.  And of the many matters for which it cannot account, the greatest is the humanity of man – our uniqueness.  We are God’s unique creation.”

Besides the information being incorrect – there are lots of examples of transition fossils and evolution is backed by a mountain of evidence – the idea that really struck me is the part about how we’re supposedly ‘unique’.

Of course, Bill isn’t the first one to voice such a sentiment. In fact, he voiced it in a very polite way. I’ve often run into theists who say something similar. Some seem to get rather offended because they think evolution means they’re nothing more than a monkey. A few have said this with a sneer, as if monkey’s are beneath them.

And that’s the problem, I think, with some religious thought. It teaches we’re above the other animals on this planet – that we’re somehow more beloved of a creator God and are here to use or safe-guard this planet, which we’re doing a horrendous job of, by the way.

The difference (genome-wise) between us and chimpanzees is a minuscule 1.2%. Even the common fruit fly is remarkably similar to us:

“Genetically speaking, people and fruit flies are surprisingly alike, explains biologist Sharmila Bhattacharya of NASA’s Ames Research Center. “About 61% of known human disease genes have a recognizable match in the genetic code of fruit flies, and 50% of fly protein sequences have mammalian analogues.”

Even the idea that all living things are fundamentally alike doesn’t seem to stop religion and the wish that we were somehow different and therefore  superior to other living organisms.

The truth is that we’re not better. Each life form is unique and we’re no better than other animals. Some might argue that we’re superior because we’re more intelligent but that isn’t even necessarily true:

Think humans are way smarter than other animals? Not so fast, Einstein!

Researchers from the University of Adelaide in Australia argue in an upcoming book,The Dynamic Human, that humans really aren’t much smarter than other creatures — and that some animals may actually be brighter than we are.

“For millennia, all kinds of authorities — from religion to eminent scholars — have been repeating the same idea ad nauseam, that humans are exceptional by virtue that they are the smartest in the animal kingdom,” the book’s co-author Dr. Arthur Saniotis, a visiting research fellow with the university’s School of Medical Sciences, said in a written statement. “However, science tells us that animals can have cognitive faculties that are superior to human beings.”

Not to mention, ongoing research on intelligence and primate brain evolution backs the idea that humans aren’t the cleverest creatures on Earth, co-author Dr. Maciej Henneberg, a professor also at the School of Medical Sciences, told The Huffington Post in an email.

The researchers said the belief in the superiority of that human intelligence can be traced back around 10,000 years to the Agricultural Revolution, when humans began domesticating animals. The idea was reinforced with the advent of organized religion, which emphasized human beings’ superiority over other creatures.

“The belief of human cognitive superiority became entrenched in human philosophy and sciences,” Saniotis said in the statement. “Even Aristotle, probably the most influential of all thinkers, argued that humans were superior to other animals due to our exclusive ability to reason.”

But reasoning, Saniotis and Henneberg argue, is just one form of intelligence.

“The fact that [animals] may not understand us, while we do not understand them, does not mean our ‘intelligences’ are at different levels, they are just of different kinds,” Henneberg said in the statement.

You might argue that we’re better than other life forms because we have the ability to wonder. Even in that area you might find that we’re not all that unique.

So Dr Watanabe and colleagues did PET scans of the brains of awake Japanese macaques. They also measured the blood flowing within the key brain areas associated with having internal thought processes.

In all three monkeys tested this way, their brains showed a similar pattern to humans.

“Similar to the human default system, all monkeys showed higher rest-related activity in the medial prefrontal and medial periatal areas,” writes Dr Watanabe in the journal Behavioural Brain Research.

In Dr Watanabe’s words: “That suggests that there might be internal thought processes in the monkey.”

Monkeys are intelligent, tool-using animals that live in complex societies. They display deceptive and altruistic behaviours and can even make judgements about fairness.

So it makes sense that they have a degree of social intelligence, Dr Watanabe says, and might process ideas about “self”.

So monkeys do wonder it seems.

I think we need to put aside our selfish, egotistical wish to be superior to other forms of life. We’ve caused enough harm by putting it to use. Even if we think in terms of sheer dominance, bacteria has us beat hands down.

It’s just one more thing the Bible (and other religions) have gotten wrong.

And if you’re going to insist that we’re unique, special and even made in the image of some omnipotent deity, at least don’t pretend you’re being humble.

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8 Comments

  1. Hi Mike! I like what you’ve done with the new place. This is timely because I was just commenting (yesterday) to some joker on NV about evolution. His comments extolled willful ignorance continuing to throw out the tired “theory” meme and “I’m not an ape” crap. He quit after I pointed out how he ignored 155 years of data, research and testing in multiple areas of science because he “believes” evolution is false.

    • Hi Evil! Nice to ‘see’ you. I’m glad you like the new layout. I much prefer the WordPress platform. Much, much easier to use. I might have to drop in on NV and see what’s up. Does it still have the horrible layout and user-unfriendliness?

      To be honest, I don’t have a lot of sympathy for people who have the internet and still don’t understand evolution. The information is right at their fingertips.

      I’m all for criticizing and debate, but if you’re going to debate or criticize something, you should know a bit about what you’re talking about.That means reading something other than your ancient magic book.

  2. Yeah NV is still the same only with more trolls.

    There is so much data out there and more is being discovered all the time, I can’t fathom how someone could ask such silly questions and then come up with “believe” in the middle of all that bs. I guess that goes back to that same mindset you were talking about in “It Takes More Faith To Be An Atheist Than A Theist” article. This kind of pretzel logic amazes me every time.

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