Human Exceptionalism

Dolphins Not So Smart After All

Anti human-exceptionalists are engaged in a multi-front campaign to knock us off our pedestal of uniqueness. The point of these efforts is ideological:

  • Utilitarian bioethicists want to depersonalize some humans, so as to open them up to killing and instrumental use as a natural resource.
  • Animal rights activists claim moral equality between humans and animals, toward the end of eradicating all animal domestication.
  • Radical environmentalists want us to perceive ourselves as merely one species among many, to “save the earth.” 
  • Anti-theists like Richard Dawkins seek to destroy human exceptionalism as a way of undermining faith.
  • Etc.

Science investigating the important question of animal intellectual capacities has been harnessed in the cause of declaring some to be “persons,” “who” are as entitled to “rights” as human beings. Jane Goodall shamefully anthropomorphized the chimps she studied–changing the way such investigations are conducted. Activists such as Peter Singer and Stephen Wise believe that once they break the “species barrier” to obtain one right for one animal human exceptionalism will collapse–which, of course, is the point.

There is even a declaration of cetacean rights, seeking personhood for dolphins and whales. But now, a study says they may not be so smart after all.  From the Der Spiegel story:

For more than 50 years, the dolphin has been viewed as an especially intelligent creature, grouped together with human beings and great apes. But now a dispute on the subject has erupted among scientists, and the smart aleck of the seas may end up being just an average mammal. “We put them on a pedestal for no reason and projected a lot of our desires and wishes on them,” says neuroethologist Paul Manger of the University of the Witwatersrand in South Africa. According to the professor, the claims that dolphins have a particularly complex brain, use a sophisticated language, are self-aware and can use tools are nonsense.

I am not going to argue the science about the level of dolphin brain power or their precise level of intelligence. Rather, I want you to note the part of Manger’s quote I emphasized. Too many study conclusions are driven by desire. The authors are pursuing ideological goals, seeking to demonstrate a pre-determined result, akin to the way in which the Warren Commission decided Oswald was the lone gunman and then set out to prove it. 

Different studies can reach different conclusions about similar subjects and be legitimate scientific inquiries, of course. But it can be difficult to differentiate the wheat of science from the chafe of advocacy, a major factor in the popular loss of trust in science. 

Wesley J. Smith — Wesley J. Smith is a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute’s Center on Human Exceptionalism.

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