Human Beings: Just Another Species of Animal
The following is another “My Case Against God classic,” which originally ran shortly after I first published The Pro-Fetal Ownership Argument. In the following short essay, I attack one of society’s most sacred myths: The idea that humans have a greater intrinsic worth than the rest of our plant and animal brethren. To me, life is life—whether human or aardvark. Enjoy!
As a relatively new blogger, maybe I should hold off on making excessively controversial statements. Maybe I should stick with ideas that are palatable to the general atheist public. Then again, maybe I should not. After posting The Pro-Fetal Ownership Argument, it spread fairly rapidly around the blogosphere. Some Christians had the occasion to look it over, and I kept hearing the same complaint ad nauseam: It does not take humanity into account. It seems Christians, and indeed some of us brights, entirely are wrapped up in this notion that humans somehow are special. In this post, I will state my position: Intrinsically speaking, humans are no more special than any other form of life (animal or plant).
I reached this conclusion not through philosophy, but rather through science. For those who have read many of my writings, please bear with me as I repeat one of my central claims. Evolution taught me the intrinsic equality of all living things. Evolution teaches that there is one Tree of Life. Universal Common Descent, quite literally, means that every living thing has a common ancestor—the first form of life. Since there is only one Tree of Life, every living thing is a branch or a branch from a branch [from a branch]. As such, I cannot conceive of a method by which one form of life would become more intrinsically valuable than another life form. Of course, Christians might cite the fictions of “special creation” or “ensoulment,” but I am not here to argue about fictions.
From whence would humans get this alleged increased intrinsic worth?
Many times, human-enthusiasts will cite some of our unique characteristics, such as sentience, complex emotions, and a sense of right and wrong. Personally, I think such arguments betray a deep, ingrained speciocentricity. We, as humans, note a bunch of our characteristics and then deem them “value-adding” traits. Why? The answer is obvious: We, as humans, have a self-interested stake in our own survival. Therefore, we have selfish reasons for fabricating the notion that humans have greater intrinsic worth.
Other species also have unique traits:
A snail can sleep for three years.
Hummingbirds are the only animal that can also fly backwards.
The only two animals capable of seeing behind themselves without turning their heads are the rabbit and the parrot.
Dolphins sleep with one eye open.
A giraffe can clean its ears with its 21-inch tongue.
Ants do not sleep.
Why is possessing complex emotions a “value-adding” trait, while sleeping with one eye open is not? Why is possessing a sense of right and wrong a “value-adding” trait, while never having to sleep at all is not? The answer is wholly predictable: In both cases, humans possess the former and lack the latter. Our notion of “value-adding” traits is based on speciocentric self-interest. This is not to say these values are arbitrary; they absolutely are not. However, they bear no relationship to intrinsic worth, as they come from an inherently biased perspective. Thus, the conclusion would be humans are more valuable to humans by virtue of their humanity. Just like frogs are more valuable to frogs by virtue of their "froginess."
I have no problem with the “humans are special” assertion when presented in that form. When one admits that the “humans are special” argument is based upon speciocentric self-interest, I have no objection. I take issue when people introduce the word “intrinsic,” asserting that, whether one is a human or an aardvark or a beaver, humans have more worth. I would call that the very definition of speciocentricity, and a notion entirely lacking a basis in science.
Having settled that, I pose a question: If the notion of humans valuing humans more than other life forms solely is based upon self-interest, why is it so immoral to shun that notion? To deny the “specialness” of humans is to be unselfish. Indeed, those that blather endlessly about how special humans are actually are engaging in selfish behavior [“Promoting the supremacy of humanity is in my survival interest, and I will do whatever is in my survival interest.”] Those individuals certainly are acting in accordance with Natural Selection, though. But that, of course, is supremely ironic, since those who promote the supremacy of humanity often deny Natural Selection, the very scientific basis for their manifest speciocentricity!
I have no prepared conclusion to present. However, perhaps this essay will serve as nutritious food for thought.