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Are Humans Special?


Wertbag
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I started discussing this topic with friends, and always found it helps to think of all the ins and outs of a debate by having a good rant about it. Originally I thought it might be leaning to evolution or theology sections, but in the end I seemed to jump ideas and think of new topics as I went so thought I'd stick it in the rant section...

 

The discussion with my friends (several christians and several atheists) started as to whether animals had souls. The christians had differing views, one said animals do not as the Bible only mentions man being special in this way and you wouldn't want heaven crowded with herds of dinosaurs. The other christian said a soul = life force and therefore everything must have a soul. While always interesting to hear christians fail to agree on Gods infallible word, this lead to the discussion as to what made humans special. What is it about us that we think makes us stand apart from the rest of the animal kingdom.

Humans are not suited for any environment. In cold regions we lack blubber, thick skin and fur. In hot regions we lack water retention and have skin that burns. We are not good predators lacking any natural weapons and lacking speed, good vision, hearing and sense of smell. We are not naturally resistant to predators having no natural armour, defences, camouflage or strength.

We are not particularily good swimmers, not good climbers, can't fly, are night blind, have young that cannot look after themselves for many years, suffer parasites and diseases.

Generally the only thing we have going for us is taught and learnt. Our ability to communicate, to use tools, to make shelter, to make clothes, are things that are passed down and slightly improved upon as our collective knowledge base increases. Obviously the brain capacity to do this is a great help, but a great brian without knowledge input is useless.

If you take a human and do not teach them anything at all, they will resort to a primative state. Communication at best is grunting, and food is scavenged. A completely uneducated human is similar in abilities and attitude to gorrilas. Small family units with more communication from body language than speech, travelling to food and sheltering where ever is convenient.

This really begs the question what is it about humans that God apparently made so special? Animals show all the same emotions (love, hate, pain, happiness etc), we are biologically similar to humaniod animals, and apparently we share some 98% of the same genetic code as other primates.

We don't stand out as a particularily good creature, we don't show anything other than education that other animals don't and we also regularily show the ability for self delusion (remember regardless of which, if any, religion is correct the majority of the worlds population must be wrong).

I've heard of a test done to prove self awareness. By taking a chimp and lightly sticking a red sticker to its forehead (light enough so the animal does not realise its there), then showing the animal a reflection of itself in a mirror and seeing if it can realise that it is looking at itself and not just another animal. Theoritically if it recognises itself it will notice the red spot and look to remove it. The test did have this result, it wasn't 100% but whether that was due to apathy, distractions or certain chimps not catching on is hard to say. The same test was tried with other animals (cats, dogs, monkies) but they always seemed to think the animal in the mirror was another creature or at best showed no interest at all.

We think deep thoughts and therefore think we must be unique, but without education we do not have the understanding of the universe or communication skills to think those thoughts.

If we do have a soul it certainly doesn't seem to do anything. If God made us as he greatest work He didn't do a great job.

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Who doesn't like to think that they're not special? Everyone wants to be loved, respected, liked, and accepted. Maybe god isn't the one to blame, but mankind, I don't see any gods sticking their fingers to me and telling me to follow them, its people that have done that to me. We're the ones who created god, religion, etc. We're the ones who think we're something special. I don't think that's wrong, but when people start to think like the christians do, then you run into problems. What's wrong with animals having souls? As a christian I thought that anything that had a body had to have a soul, after all how could a soul exist without a body?

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Hmmm, we almost certainly have MORE self-consciousness than any other creature on the planet (granted, this can't be proven). And the capacity for complex thought and critical thinking... other animals may exhibit these characteristics to an extent, but as cool as it'd be, they aren't anywhere near us.

 

So what if education is needed to cultivate these abilities? Our ability to pass down these skills is a point in favour of humans, not against.

 

Overall, humans have the capacity for great intelligence and benevolence and also for great ignorance and cruelty.

 

As a side note, Christians would respond that anything "bad" you can cite about humans is a result of the Fall, not imperfection of God's creation process. Convenient, innit :o

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We have an evolved brain, capable of thinking about our own existence. We have a more complex (in some ways) communication system than other animals. That is about all. Everything else we do comes out of those two things or basic instinct. We are not that special or that different than other animals.

 

Honestly, I think about ability to think about our own existence is a downfall of humans. It has led to people being able to make decisions that affect the world negatively and stop the natural process of evolution. It has led to the development of religion, arrogance, and the idea that we are above the laws of nature because we can consider them all. We are not. As I once heard on an Atheist parenting site, we are little more than "trousered apes".

 

And on the topic of the soul, there is no proof that a soul exists, nothing even close to proof. It is but another thing humans have thought of because, as advanced as we think we are, we are unable to fathom (and therefore, accept) our own ends.

 

But, people, we are all going to die. And when we do, it will be the end. I can't really imagine death, but I know it is going to happen. I wouldn't want to live forever anyway.

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Humans are special to humans - we're special just because it's what we are. I know that's my perspective, at least. Sure, we can suck royally, too, but we're also pretty damn good in a lot of ways. I gave up my human-hating with Xianity, and always choose to err on the positive side when forming an opinion of my own species of beings.

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I think that just because a creature is "smarter" than another does not mean its necessarily better. I think that all creatures including humans are equal in value.

if you have a pet then you will probably also believe that this business about animals only existing for our use and abuse is absurd.

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Most agree that the worst human traits like warfare, jelousy, and greed are part of our animal nature. However, altruism, compassion, and kindness are not considered part of our animal nature and part of what makes us human. If we are indeed animals, albeit super animals, than both the good and the bad of human nature is animal.

 

Lately, I've been reading about human evolution and it's not our brains that caused the split from early woodland ape to human. It was the ability to walk up right, on two feet. Our brain came later.

 

There is a lot of debate on whether Chimps are our closest animal relatives. The rare Bonobo ape shares 98.4 percent of our DNA and behaves most like us. They were not even discovered until 1929, and study in the wild didn't began on them until the 1970's. It is believed that Bonobo's are most like the earliest humans. They are a very interesting animal, especially their sexual exploits.

 

They have sex in the missionary possion, gaze lovingly into each others eyes, and even french kiss. They participate in homosexuality and lesbianism. They have sex for pleasure, not just to procreate, and have oral sex. It's a matriarchal based society, but it's so subtle that it's more equality with the sexes. It's a very peaceful society becuase the Bonobo's settle any differences with sex. Where chimpanzees hoot and fight often wounding each over things like food, when Bonobo's find food, they have one big orgy, then eat.

 

Taph

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I'm glad you brought up Bonobos, Taph. There's a theory out there that early humans were more like Bonobos, while the warring humans that started taking over around 7000 BC or so are more like your average Chimp. For 40,000+ years we might well have behaved like Bonobos, until the Chimp people came and fucked it up. Damn dirty apes...

 

I think humans are different from any other species, but so is every other species on the planet - different enough that we can recognize species in the first place. Our brains are quite developed and we're highly adaptable buggers, largely because of our capability for tool use (our complete dependence on tools for survival, in fact) and our capacity for a certain level of symbolic thought. We also have a sentience that makes us aware of our own mortality. I don't know if there are any other organisms that have that.

 

But whether that all somehow makes us better or more special than any other organism on the planet, I seriously debate that. I mean every organism has one goal, humans included: make more of themselves. Period. Our means of getting there might be more complex, but it's still the same goal.

 

Frankly I think humans are just majorly into self-worship. It's arrogant and self-centered to think that we're the pinnacle of evolution, or that there's some big sky daddy out there that made us in his own image, and we're so much more special and wonderful than any other creature on the planet... pure self-worship, plain and simple. That's all I think it is.

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