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Human Exceptionalism

Life and dignity with Wesley J. Smith.

Biological Evidence of Human Exceptionalism



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I have long argued that the difference in humans is moral in nature, not merely biological. But that doesn’t mean that some or all of what makes us unique doesn’t arise out of unique biological differences between us and all other known life.

Scientists have apparently discovered a region in the brain that may help direct the inherent human trait of judging right from wrong.. From a John Walsh column in The Independent:

Scientists at Oxford University have made a startling discovery: they’ve found a region of the brain that makes you wonder if you’ve done something wrong, and whether you’d have been well advised to do something better. There are several things that you should know about this region, which is inside your head, and the head of the lady sitting beside you on the Tube, and the heads of David Cameron and Lady Gaga and Rouge Dragon Pursuivant of the Royal College of Heralds.

That sounds portentous:  

This is about good and bad, right and wrong. This is about the brain’s connection to morality. This means that the Oxford scientists, without apparently realising what they’ve done, have located the conscience.

One, it’s called the lateral frontal pole. Two, it’s unique to humans – they ran tests on monkeys in the course of the research at Oxford and, nope, they don’t have it. Three, it’s the size of “a large Brussels sprout”. And four, it’s a leap beyond current scientific knowledge into realms that can only be described as spooky.

A lot about us is.

This is the bottom line: Whether we evolved, were intelligently designed, were created–or a combination of the above–humans are the only known moral agents in the universe with a sense of “ought,” of right and wrong.

That makes us exceptional! And now, as Walsh posits, scientists may have discovered a biological component that makes that exceptional attribute possible. 



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