The New York Times is consistently anti-human exceptionalism, never missing an opportunity to publish articles that seek to reduce humans to just another animal in the forest.
Today, the Sunday Review section has University of Washington biology professor, David P. Barash, bragging that he works to destroy faith in his classes (“The Talk”), insisting to his students that science and religion are incompatible.
That kind of ideological indoctrination is par for the disturbing course in universities, but not an issue with which I grapple. However, I would be remiss not to point out that this learned scientist–as so many of his ilk–also engages in profound reductionism by denigrating the unique moral value of humans beings. From, “God, Darwin, and my College Biology Class (my emphases):
Before Darwin, one could believe that human beings were distinct from other life-forms, chips off the old divine block. No more. The most potent take-home message of evolution is the not-so-simple fact that, even though species are identifiable (just as individuals generally are), there is an underlying linkage among them — literally and phylogenetically, via traceable historical connectedness.
Moreover, no literally supernatural trait has ever been found in Homo sapiens; we are perfectly good animals, natural as can be and indistinguishable from the rest of the living world at the level of structure as well as physiological mechanism.
Except we are. Human exceptionalism doesn’t rely on provable “supernatural traits,”–not sure what he means by that. But we alone are creative. In the 1 billion years of life on this planet, no other species has created a sonnet or drawn even the most rudimentary picture on a cave wall or rock outcropping.
No animal has created philosophy. No animal comprehends right and wrong, good and evil. No animals fashion moral codes.
These are distinctions with a huge moral difference regardless of whether we evolved into these natural human capacities through random means, design, or creation.
Indeed, Barash invokes those very moral concepts with regard to suffering–the driving impetus for anti-human exceptionalists:
But just a smidgen of biological insight makes it clear that, although the natural world can be marvelous, it is also filled with ethical horrors: predation, parasitism, fratricide, infanticide, disease, pain, old age and death — and that suffering (like joy) is built into the nature of things.
The more we know of evolution, the more unavoidable is the conclusion that living things, including human beings, are produced by a natural, totally amoral process, with no indication of a benevolent, controlling creator.
But these aren’t ethical horrors at all in the natural world. Indeed, without death and its many causes, natural selection could not operate.
“Ethics” only come into play when the actions or consequences that Barash invoke involve human agency. Indeed, why is it only humans take such offense at these issues? Why do only we make moral judgments about any of this?
Because we are exceptional.
And what other species works so empathetically to mitigate suffering? Perhaps that’s a spark of something indefinable that Barash chooses not to see.
The other day, a friend and I were playing a round of golf and came upon a downed deer, a juvenile male and had clearly been severely injured in a rutting fight. If I had a gun with me, I would have shot the suffering, dying animal.
We stopped golfing and urgently waved down a grounds keeper to get help. He took one look and immediately called the clubhouse, assuring us help would be called. He later told us the deer expired before an animal control officer could arrive.
I mention this not because what we all did was special, but because–for humans–it wasn’t! Any other species coming upon the dying deer would have either eaten it or ignored its travail.
That’s a huge difference, the importance and meaning of which Barash’s oh, so rational mind appears unable to comprehend.
No matter. I always get a chuckle out of ideologues, who so smugly claim the mantle of defender of objective science to push their anti-human exceptionalism (and often, as here, anti-religious) views: They always invoke aspects of our intrinsic uniqueness they huff and puff to deny.
P.S. The Times carries another column about how we are supposedly responsible for mass extinction, and what we can do to save endangered species. One question: If we are not exceptional, how could we cause such a thing–and moreover, why would we care?