Human Exceptionalism

Human Exceptionalist Released for January

The January Human Exceptionalist is now out for your perusal.  Here is my introductory letter. From the HE:

Dear Exceptional Human:

Happy New Year to all from the Discovery Institute’s Center on Human Exceptionalism!  It may be 2012, but the struggle to maintain human exceptionalism as the foundational principle of society continues. Indeed, if anything, the contest is heating up.

What makes human beings exceptional?  One difference between us and fauna is free will.  Or, to put it another way, human beings alone—among all known species in the universe—possess moral agency.

Or do we? Increasingly some scientists contend that free will is actually an illusion—including the article published in USA Today linked below. Rather than being free, these advocates claim, we actually are mere automatons acting at the unseen behest of our “meat computer” brains—which are, in turn, driven like a car by genes, or chemicals (or whatever). The gist of their argument is that we actually have no control over what we think, say, or do.

It seems to me that such arguments deny the very existence of consciousness. If we have no control over our thoughts or actions, we are merely flotsam and jetsam floating on the tides of physical forces rather than autonomous individuals with human freedom to think and act — and be held accountable for what we do and don’t do.

Ironically, those who deny free will also usually advocate that we somehow use the knowledge of our own slavery as a motive to improve the world. But that is nonsensical since it would require our deciding first, what constitutes a better world, and then second, going out with intentionality to make it so. Besides, denying free will unleashes a wild relativism that allows anything and judges nothing (except supporting intelligent design). But then, that may be the actual point of the entire exercise.

On a different but perhaps related note, neural science may have found a biological basis for human exceptionalism. Genes of the human brain express differently than those of chimpanzees. This discovery could explain some of the physical distinctions between us and animals that translate into such a huge moral difference. 

And speaking of chimpanzees, in this edition of the Human Exceptionalist, you will read about the National Institutes of Health restricting funding of research on our closest genetic relatives. But note: Francis Collins, the head of the NIH, contends that chimps deserve special consideration because of their close affinity with human beings—an affirmation of human exceptionalism! The Human Exceptionalist agrees.

Moving from the sublime to the ridiculous, the BBC named a panda sow one of the women’s faces of the year! Where is Gloria Steinem when you need her? 

Meanwhile, global warming radicals have proposed that “Mother Earth” be accorded rights as a means of fighting climate change. Not only are such proposals akin to a neo earth religion, but they materially threaten human prosperity and thriving. The time has come to stop rolling our eyes at these radical notions and contest them vigorously in the marketplace of ideas.  But then, that’s why the Center on Human Exceptionalism is here; to stand tall for the importance of being human.

I like the HE because it connects dots over a broad array of issues that mostly erode, but sometimes support, human exceptionalism.  Too many people remain complacent in the face of acute and chronic threats to the unique value of human life.

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