Human Exceptionalism

Our Sunday Visitor Clues Readers to Dangers of Anti-Humanism

An article in Our Sunday Visitor, a Catholic publication, warns readers about the dangers of radical environmentalism and animal rights–epitomized by Spain’s pending enactment of the Great Ape Project and Ecuador’s granting rights to “nature” in its new Constitution. The byline is by Thomas A. Szyszkiewicz, who has been very good on these issues, and was kind enough to include my views. From the story:

Catholic teaching is clear that the created order is made by God for our use, but that humans have a responsibility for caring for it. “Man’s dominion over inanimate and other living beings granted by the Creator is not absolute; it is limited by concern for the quality of life of his neighbor, including generations to come; it requires a religious respect for the integrity of creation” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, No. 2415).


But efforts to raise nature to a godlike status is dehumanizing. According to Smith, there is a concerted effort to lose what he calls “human exceptionalism,” the idea that humans are unique in all of creation. Human exceptionalism, he said, expresses “the idea that human beings have unique moral value and moral worth. We are the only moral species and the only species that has a concept of rights.”
If we are made equal to nature, he said, “then universal human rights go out the window.”
“The logical consequences of this law are impossible to comprehend. If nature is a person, then viruses and bacteria are persons as well, since they are part of nature. So what happens then?” Smith said.

Szyszkiewicz warns that this amounts to a new pantheism, which sounds close to me, at least attitudinally. Check out his article, it’s worth reading.