I believe that humans are distinguished from all other known life by differences that are moral in naure, not merely biological. For example, while our bipedalism has certainly helped us become who we are, it is not what makes us exceptional. After all, penguins are bipedal too.
But our moral agency does set us apart. So too, our rationality, creativity, and ability to step outside of Darwinistic forces and environmental pressures to forge our own path.
I have struggled to describe the last point in a way that satisfies me and makes the best argument. But I saw a blog entry today in a Website called Gather that makes part of that point better than I ever have. From “Human Exceptionalism,” by a writer named Simon P.:
We are the only species on the planet whose evolution is no longer entirely genetic but mostly cultural. And our cultural evolution is driven not by our genes but by our unique brains. The ordinary processes of genetic evolution gave us these brains, but then the brains took over. The way we live is completely different from the way human beings lived 40,000 years ago. It is different from the way human beings lived 400 years ago, and even 4 years ago. For all other species, this is never true. Chimpanzees of today live exactly as they did 4 million years ago.
A lot has been made of the fact that other animals can solve problems, show altruism, make pictures, communicate, have emotions, have social structures and do “all” the things that humans do. That is beside the point. What humans do that no other living creature does, is change. Humans use their huge and complex brains to overcome all their biological limitations imposed by a genome that changes very very slowly.
Yes, other animals can appear to think, reason, emote and worry. We can teach them all kinds of things. But they don’t teach each other anything new. Their phenotypes are slaves to their genes. We, and only we, are free from our genes. If we are slaves to anything it is to our brains. But that is a whole nother story.
I wouldn’t say we are entirely free from our genes. But we aren’t slaves to them, either. Nor to our brains. But, as the man said, that is a whole nother story.