November 5, 2009 | David F. Coppedge

What Is Man?

Science often makes pronouncements about the human species.  We should be mindful of the worldview behind them.
    Live Science published an article with the confident-sounding title, “Human Evolution: Where We Came From,” accompanied by the iconic sketch of Ardi (see 10/02/2009) and an obligatory reference to Darwin.  Even though reporter Charles Q. Choi, in his 10-part series on human evolution, acknowledges “mysteries that remain to be solved,” he felt no qualms in trumping millennia of scholarship by theologians and philosophers because his Darwinian views about humans’ rise from the apes share the aura of “science.”  Yet his last paragraph allows infinite wiggle room about the details: “It is possible that Ardipithecus is a hominid, and that Australopithecus is its direct descendent.  It is also possible that Ardipithecus is the common ancestor of chimpanzees and our ancestors, and that Australopithecus is the first hominid … or that Ardipithecus is a side branch of our family tree.”  Which is it?  Until a more definitive answer is available (including discussion of some alternatives he did not mention), does this deserve to be called science (i.e., knowledge)?  Why should non-Darwinian views not enter the discussion?
    In his 5th entry in the Live Science series, Choi announced a discussion about “Our Closest Living Relatives, the Chimps.”  He repeated the common myth that our DNA is 98.8% identical (but see 06/29/2007).  He also quoted an anthropologist who said, “Emotionally and socially, the psychology of chimps is very similar to humans.”  Be sure to let Mr. Choi know next time a group of academic chimps analyzes you and writes up the results in the Journal of Human Evolution.  He could use a little more data.
    Speaking of psychology, New Scientist gave good press to the views of Carl Gustav Jung (1875-1961), the one-time colleague of Freud whose views were discounted by Nature last month as unscientific (see 10/15/2009).  Jung, whose quasi-spiritualist views included listening to voices in his head and actively promoting the use of imagination, occupied himself with analysis of an arguably occult entity – the unconscious.  The article concerned Jung’s lost “Red Book” of confrontations with dreams and visions that has been found and republished.  A salient observation about this article is that New Scientist considered the views of a man who openly acknowledged spirit guides as worthy of respectful consideration in a science magazine – but almost never applies that right to theologians or non-naturalistic philosophers.
    Most people believe that we are responsible for our actions, but New Scientist also reported a story about an Italian judge who cut a murderer’s sentence by a year because he was told the man had “aggression genes.”  Reporter Ewen Callaway asked the obvious question, “can your genes ever absolve you of responsibility for a particular act?”  Callaway also noted that the argument cuts both ways: prosecutors are just as likely to use genetic evidence as defense attorneys are.  The article discussed the usual nature-vs-nurture arsenal of causes such as “inherited genes, environment and violence” – things that scientists have studied for years (e.g., by tracing family histories and comparing twins).  Callaway neglected to ask whether personal responsibility can be subsumed under those categories.
    One human distinctive is economics.  Wall Street, and the empires of trading and buying and selling, are unheard of outside human society.  In economics, the conceptual realm of mind, information theory, logic, mathematics, ethics would appear to be central, but PhysOrg published the view of some economists at Binghamton University in New York that “economic activity can be regarded as an evolutionary process governed by the second law of thermodynamics.”  Are they just employing a clever analogy to give some predictability to a complex process, or does this imply that group behavior as distinctive as economics (discussed ad nauseum in daytime news shows) is somehow determined by physical laws of nature?
    One of the legacies of Darwin is viewing human beings as continuous with the animals.  It’s not that theologians and philosophers never noticed or thought about the similarities in our physical make-up with those of other mammals – it’s that now humans were to be looked at as nothing more than animals.  Anything “special” about human beings was not to be attributed to purpose or plan or divine endowment, but rather to the unique combination of ecological and environmental factors that natural selection acted on in the trajectory of human evolution – the same process acting on bears (see next entry).  Yet Live Science could not help but notice ten “things that make humans special” in part 2 of its series on human evolution.  Our bodies exhibit features that are hard to explain in Darwinian terms.  In combination, they seem prohibitive to account for in a few million years of mutations.  The countdown is striking: notably, (10) life after children (think grandparents), (9) long childhoods, (8) blushing, (7) use of fire, (6) clothing, (5) speech, (4) hands with fully opposable thumbs, (3) nakedness, (2) upright posture, and (1) extraordinary brains.  No doubt you could add more to the list, like arts, sciences, and religion.
    Another top-ten list for humans can be found on New Scientist – “10 inventions that changed the world.”  What animal ever came close to inventing X-ray machines, culturing penicillin, building a model of DNA’s double helix, launching rockets into space, flying to the moon, employing steam energy for travel, building a computer, making coal accessible by pumping water out of deep mines, building an automobile with replaceable parts in an assembly line, or employing electricity to send messages down a telegraph wire?  Are these also the products of Darwinian evolution?
    The arts are also unique to humans.  Despite the fact that a British dance company is “dancing with Darwin” as New Scientist reported, performing a routine “inspired by evolution and natural selection,” many humans deny they are the end product of a long process of unguided natural processes.  Even in Darwin’s home country 53% of the naked apes feel “other perspectives should be taught.”  The BBC News said that teaching only Darwin’s views “divides opinion.”  The percentages are higher in other countries.  The pro-Darwin educators are wondering how to get their message across without appearing antagonistic to religion.  Even after 200 years of Darwin, and 150 years of The Origin of Species, they admitted, “Darwinism remains controversial.”

Humans are unique, and everybody knows it.  You own your cat; your cat does not own you.  (On second thought, maybe there’s a better example.)  Animal intelligence, though real, does not rise to the level of the arts and sciences.  Animals do not pray; they do not send relief to people they don’t know across the world; they do not write symphonies and novels; they do not derive equations; they do not seek to understand black holes; they do not communicate in abstract language; they do not blush or need to.
    It should be a cinch to stop the secular Darwinists in their tracks.  Just arrange a new debate between modern-day counterparts of Thomas Huxley and Bishop Wilberforce, and let Wilberforce begin by saying this: “Mr. Huxley, I am a man created in the image of God, and you are an evolved mammal.  Everything you do revolves around eating and mating.  Tell me, why should I believe anything you say?”  A little reflection shows that Huxley is trapped.  He wants to reach outside his fur and embrace the conceptual realm, but he can’t.  All Wilberforce has to do is smack his fanny every time Huxley tries to talk about reason, truth, and science.  “Objection!” Bishop cries out.  “Use of Christian presuppositions.  No appeals to logic, truth and morals allowed from my opponent!”  As a coup de grace, Wilberforce pulls a line from Greg Bahnsen’s debate with an atheist, where he remarked, “Your coming to this debate tonight proves that you agree with me.  By showing up, you have conceded that I have won this debate.”

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