Are You a Glorified Ape?
Evolutionists seem in a bit of a quandary lately. They are convinced that humans evolved from apes, but cannot deny the large cognitive gaps between humans and the alleged nearest ancestors, the great apes. It’s not just a matter of IQ. The social skills, language, reasoning, altruism and empathy humans express have no parallels in the animal kingdom. Some recent articles explored the great divide and wondered whether evolutionary theory can bridge it.
“Humans not just ‘big-brained apes,’ researcher says,” was the title of an article on World Science. It discussed a recent paper in PNAS by David Premack, a psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania, entitled, “Human and animal cognition: Continuity and discontinuity.”1 Premack does not doubt evolutionary theory, but decided it’s time to focus on the differences between men and animals, not just the similarities. For instance, a paper in Science summarized by Elizabeth Pennisi alleged that monkeys expect each other to act rationally, and that this represents “humanlike reasoning”.2 Yet this was concluded only on the basis of experiments with food-getting. Nevertheless, the press release on EurekAlert claimed, “This study suggests that this ability evolved as long as 40 million years ago, with non-human primates.”
Premack, however, disdained this kind of similarity-hunting. He questioned Charles Darwin’s assumption that “humans were essentially ‘big-brained apes’.” Neuroscientists have shown unique structures in the human brain not found in any animal brain, he said. These neural differences translate into mental and cognitive differences that are unique to humans. He did not begin to explain how these differences arose by an evolutionary process.
Though animals often display traits once thought to be uniquely human, Premack focused on eight areas of the divide: teaching, short-term memory, causal reasoning, planning, deception, transitive inference, theory of mind, and language – and found “in all cases, the similarities between animal and human abilities are small, dissimilarities large.” Animal intelligence and behavior seems focused on a single goal (e.g., getting food), whereas human intelligence can focus on an infinite number of goals. Premack left it an unsolved problem how the cellular differences between the brains of animals and people translate into cognitive differences.
Another article accentuated the differences. EurekAlert reported from a Science special feature on social cognition that higher social skills are distinctly human. For instance, experiments at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig found that children are much better than apes at following nonverbal cues. For instance, “Apes bite and try to break a tube to retrieve the food inside while children follow the experimenter’s example to get inside the tube to retrieve the prize, showing that even before preschool, toddlers are more sophisticated in their social learning skills than their closest primate relatives.” The article did not doubt that evolution produced these differences, but wondered whether it was due to brain evolution or cultural evolution.
To what extent is there animal in us, and us in animal? Alison Abbott reviewed a book Nature on this subject:3 The Human Animal in Western Art and Science by Martin Kemp (University of Chicago Press: 2007). The whimsical book surveyed how philosophers, artists, and scientists have dealt with the animal side of our natures. No one has doubted that humans resemble animals in many ways, both physical and mental; we are, after all, classified with the mammals. We compare ourselves with the animals (Richard the Lion-Hearted) and we attribute personalities to our pets. But till the mid-18th century, human nature was kept in a separate category. “Until Darwin came along, such cross-attribution never shook the deeply held belief that humans, with their capacity for abstraction, were cleanly distinct from animals, with their inability to rationalize their feelings or control their instincts, appetites and passions,” Abbott writes. In his book, Kemp denies a clear distinction. Abbott summarized the book’s viewpoint: “Science, from Darwin to the latest neuroscience and genomics, has shown that there is no sharp animal-human divide, only a sliding scale.” Yet this seems to beg the question. The situation might be a sliding scale in one direction but not the other. Surely some humans degenerate toward beastly behavior on a sliding scale, but it is one thing to claim humans act like animals, and another to claim animals act like humans. No animal appears to possess the unique human capabilities for reason, language, true altruism, morality and abstract thinking. Premack, remember, said that the dissimilarities are large. An injury or mental illness might render a man indistinguishable from an animal, but the converse is not true: we do not see chimpanzees discussing philosophy and morality and holding presidential primaries. The sliding scale might be continuous downward, but appears to hit a canyon upward.
Though the above articles disagree on how these large cognitive and social differences between humans and apes arose, none of them questioned the reigning paradigm that humans evolved from apes, or that the differences can eventually be attributed to physical differences in the brain. A new book challenges that orthodoxy. The Spiritual Brain: A Neuroscientist’s Case for the Existence of the Soul by Beauregard and O’Leary (Harper One, 2007), released Sept. 4, re-opens the old philosophical dichotomy between mind and brain (see review by Anika Smith). It’s time to shed the physicalist bias, the book description explains,
Many scientists ignore hard evidence that challenges their materialistic prejudice, clinging to the limited view that our experiences are explainable only by material causes, in the obstinate conviction that the physical world is the only reality. But scientific materialism is at a loss to explain irrefutable accounts of mind over matter, of intuition, willpower, and leaps of faith, of the “placebo effect” in medicine, of near-death experiences on the operating table, and of psychic premonitions of a loved one in crisis, to say nothing of the occasional sense of oneness with nature and mystical experiences in meditation or prayer. Traditional science explains away these and other occurrences as delusions or misunderstandings, but by exploring the latest neurological research on phenomena such as these, The Spiritual Brain gets to their real source.
Beauregard is a PhD neuroscientist, and O’Leary is a journalist and blogger at the Mindful Hack. They are calling materialism a dead end. Until scientists acknowledge that the immaterial soul is real, they will never be able to explain human cognition or the gap between humans and animals. Philosophers and theologians will perk up at this resurrection of an idea thought mortally wounded by Darwin.
1David Premack, “Human and animal cognition: Continuity and discontinuity,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA, August 28, 2007, vol. 104, no. 35, pp. 13861-13867.
2Elizabeth Pennisi, “Nonhuman Primates Demonstrate Humanlike Reasoning,” Science, 7 September 2007: Vol. 317. no. 5843, p. 1308, DOI: 10.1126/science.317.5843.1308.
3Alison Abbott, “The animal in us,” Nature 449, 26-27 (6 September 2007) | doi:10.1038/449026a.
Here’s how you can know that the materialists are wrong. Without a soul, reasoning is impossible. Why? Because reasoning depends on unchangeable, intangible realities: truth and the laws of logic. You cannot get unchangeable, intangible realities out of colliding particles or forces. Evolution proposes a constantly shifting, purposeless, aimless trend of life that can lay no claim to truth or logic. Arguments about human-ape similarities and differences, and whether human brains are physically unique or not, are pointless. You cannot even argue at all within a materialistic world view. All you can say is that lips are moving or pencils are making marks on paper – but even that requires assuming that observations are reliable and sentences are logical. Trying to argue within materialism reduces to making incomprehensible noises.
The only way Premack, Pennisi and all the other evolutionary materialists out there can think and reason about human and animal brains, therefore, is by borrowing theological assumptions: i.e., that truth and logic exist, and that their souls have access to these immaterial realities. This means that by reasoning they are assuming the very thing they deny. This is a self-refuting position. It must, therefore, be false. Why? Because to refute something is to falsify it. Materialism is, therefore, false, and it is irrational to listen to materialists try to explain anything, especially the mind, because they are believing opposite things. So let’s all get rational here. It follows that any reasoned explanation using evidence and logic, if presumed to be a attempt at uncovering something that is or might be true, requires acknowledging an immaterial reality that is eternal and reliable. Belief in truth and the laws of logic is a precondition to the intelligibility of any proposition. This precondition makes sense in the Christian world view. It makes no sense within materialism.
Darwin’s disciples have had 140 years to bury the soul, but it won’t stay interred. It keeps whispering into the brain, “there is more here than meets the eye.” Shutting one’s physical ears is no escape from the voice inside. But since inner voices are notoriously inconsistent and unreliable, our souls need to take instruction from a more reliable source, one that is eternal, wise, omniscient, morally good and truthful. It stands to reason that only a person can communicate with another person, so the source needs to be personal. And the only Person who knows everything is the Inventor who came before the invention (the universe). Good news: He communicates. More good news: He has bridged the mind-body divide (Acts 17:22-29, Hebrews 1:1-3).