A thought experiment by philosopher and mathematician David Berlinski echoes something Michael Egnor noted recently: Not only are human beings unique but we are unique despite being animals in nature. Here’s the thought experiment:
“Suppose you were coming from outer space, you’re a biologist, right?,, You come to the Earth and you listen to a long lecture about Darwin, the immense importance of Darwinian biology, but then, you open your own eyes…
What are the two things that would most strike you about living systems on the face of the Earth? Not the Darwinian rhetoric, but just the evidence of your own eyes?… One is that all life is related…. Biochemistry is the same throughout life. All life has very, very many of its properties in common…
The second thing you’d notice, if you are honest, is that there is a vast inseparable distinction between two kinds of living systems—human beings and all the rest. That is something that’s rarely noticed, rarely emphasized.
The distance between a human being and our nearest chimpanzee-like ancestors, common ancestors is much, much, much greater than the difference between a chimpanzee and a flower. We’re talking about a bifurcation in the manifold of Biology. Human beings on one side, the rest of the animal kingdom or the plant kingdom on the other.
These are facts that I think that any untroubled observer, and by untroubled, I mean someone who is not previously adhered to any kind of ideology such as Darwinism. Would it once recognize life is connected? It’s in some sense one living system, but profoundly divided between human beings and all the rest.
That’s the first step towards some sort of system of reconciliation because it prompts the inevitable question. “Hey, how come? Why are human beings so different? Why do they organize themselves differently? Why do they have mathematics, literature? Why do they speak to one another? Why do they have creative thoughts?
A chimpanzee is probably a lovable animal, but nobody ever asked the chimpanzee a question that was possible for the chimpanzee to answer. So, these are I would say, orthogonal to the main axis of ideology.David Berlinski, “David Berlinski on the link between evolution, science and progressivism” at Fox News (2018)
See also: Michael Egnor: How NOT to debate materialists. Egnor: Although ape brains do differ somewhat from human brains in cortical anatomy, it is the similarity between the brains of apes and men, rather than the differences, that provides striking evidence of human exceptionalism.
Hat tip: Philip Cunningham