Human Exceptionalism

Life and dignity with Wesley J. Smith.

Fish Don’t “Do” Evil


There’s too much anthropomorphizing in science reporting these days–thanks to (sometimes) fiction writer, Jane Goodall. Small case in point: An on-line science/futurist publication called, io9 We Come From The Future, posted an article claiming that scientists have found evil fish. From, “These Fish Are Evidence That Humans Aren’t the Only Evil Animals,” by Joseph Bennington Castro:

It’s a common (but evil) survival strategy in zombie movies: Injure somebody else and run like hell while they get eaten. But humans aren’t the only bastards who do this. Some shoaling fish also use this selfish tactic when they’re being chased by predators, according to new research…

Scientists often see passive, or indirect, selfish behavior in animals — for example, they may see an animal hide behind its neighbor to escape from a predator. “That’s common to observe,” says Robert Young, a biologist with the University of Salford Manchester in the U.K. “They may be hiding behind someone else, but they’re not actively pushing someone forward.” Active selfish behavior — where an individual benefits by injuring or exposing a group member to a predator — has never been recorded. Until now.

Interesting biology, but it’s not “evil.”

In its essence, evil is not just a brutal or selfish “action,” it is a moral judgment made about the action. “Doing evil” requires moral agency and the ability to choose to do “good” instead of evil–or at least refrain from wickedness–and to distinguish right from wrong. In short, it requires free will.

That is not at all what these fish are about. As the story said, the response is purely instinctive, based on chemicals.

Importantly, the fish exhibited this aggressive behavior from the very first active search predator trial, showing that the behavior is innate, not learned. However, the fish did chase and bite more with successive trials, suggesting, in a sense, that they could become better at evading predators in the wild over time. And tests showed that the fish did indeed release their alarm chemicals after getting bitten (note: the bites didn’t draw blood, they only removed scales).

Humans are the only evil animals. And, dogs aside–which we intelligently designed–we are the only good animals. Branding the fish in question “evil,” is a uniquely human judgment based on moral considerations that only exceptional humans are capable of making. 



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