Just an animal?

20 04 2007

That’s it; I’ve had enough of this “People do bad things because they think they’re just animals” BS from creationists, especially when they use the argument to try and tie evolution to things like the VT massacre and other atrocities. Surely, religion never caused anyone to kill, torture, censor, or do anything else bad, right? (If you couldn’t catch the sarcasm there, you need to have your sarcasm detector fixed) PZ quotes another loathsome creationist making this big blunder;

And at Virginia Tech, what do we have? … We have a person who, unfortunately, thought that humans had no more value than cats and dogs — and unfortunately, I think, probably felt the same way about themselves.

Ugh. I’m not “just an animal”, nor do I consider the gorillas in the Bronx Zoo or many other creatures to be “just animals.” While I’m not about to argue that animals have souls or anything like that, I think the whole concept of something being merely an animal stems from behaviorist thought, that all organisms are merely respond to certain stimuli in certain ways because that’s what they’re meant to do. This kind of science, which stems from hubris, creates the illusion that animals do not feel pleasure, pain, lonliness, or even have the power to think and learn; it’s all just pre-programmed.

Even if we ignore this point about the inherent inaccuracy of the phrase, considering evolution to be valid does not automatically require someone to be an atheist or to reject all meaning in life, viewing others as mere assemblages of molecules walking around. Yesterday I managed to read the whole of George Gaylord Simpsons’ Life of the Past: An Introduction to Paleontology, and he closes with a sentiment also found in the conclusion of The Meaning of Evolution. He writes;

[Mankind] responds to no plan and fulfills no supernal purpose. He stands alone in the universe, a unique product of a long, unconscious, impersonal material process, with unique understanding and potentialities. These he owes to no one but himself, and it is to himself that he is responsible. He is not the creature of uncontrollable and undeterminable forces, but his own master. He can and must decide and manage his own destiny.

These conclusions, which embody the most profound of all the values of paleontology, cannot help but arouse emotion. In some the emotion is fear. In all the emotions should be pleasure in human self-reliance and determination for the proper excercise of man’s responsibility to man.

Indeed, evolution shows us what is, but does not dictate to us how things should be. Acceptance of evolution does not make people believe they are animals any more than they realize they already are; I didn’t start knuckle-walking, hooting, and beating up people for fruit when I realized evolution was incontrovertable. The idea that there is no morality or meaning aside from religion is absolute nonsense, and if we are to accept religion as our role model than history shows we’d have a pretty poor teacher, definitely on the order of the “Do as I say, not as I do” authoritarian variety. The universe makes no demands on us, it does nothing to comfort or condemn, and so we must create meaning for ourselves through our responsibility to each other. As a matter of fact, I think that’s what (for better and worse) we have been doing all along.




5 responses

20 04 2007
B. Dewhirst

The use of “just” in the creationist quote above is an example of reductionist falacy. I am comprised of atoms… but I am more than the sum of my parts.

If you unpack what is being said, there are unspoken assumptions about “dominion over the beasts” intruding from the author’s Fundy-Christian worldview.

Stone-age barbarism, on offer at every streetcorner church.

20 04 2007

Thanks for the comment. I agree that the issue of dominion over nature, and even the duty to subdue it, is dangerous and easily visible in many of religion’s dealings with science and nature. I did, however, include the behaviorist view because even in scientific circles there can be the propensity to go too far the other way, to reduce us to the point where matter and energy are all we are. We are neither the crown of all creation nor mindless robots shooting genetic material at each other; the truth lies somewhere in between.

20 04 2007
20 04 2007
Chris Harrison

Good post Brian. An atheist professor at VT posted a reply to D’Souza’s crap here:

I thought he put it perfectly, and with eloquence.

20 04 2007

Thanks for the compliment and the link Chris. I think the professor responded perfectly and I hope his post wakes a lot of people up to the fact that atheists are not inherently amoral, evil, etc. Like he points out, many atheists/agnostics may even be more horrified and saddened by the VT events because there is only one life to live and be lost, something stolen that can never be given back or replaced by empty promises of “God will make good come from this.” Regardless of how life came to be, we’re here, and to me that’s a miracle (in the sense of a wonder or marvel). If someone’s a creationist, they should respect every life as being willfully brought into existence as something sacred, and if someone’s an atheist how precious then is every life that has come into existence without supernatural cause and cannot be replaced? While it may be primarily a religious term, I think there is a sanctity of life that transcends religious affiliation, and to suggest that merely lacking a belief system makes someone a soulless monster is a horrible lie.

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