I am not sure why some materialists are so fervently anti human exceptionalism. I suspect they believe that by humbling us into believing our lives are no more important than that of animals, it would undermine Judeo/Christiam moral philosophy in general and theism in particular. Some too, I think, wish to have us sacrifice ourselves to “save the planet,” in pursuit of the neo- nature worship that seems to be growing.

This desire leads some materialists to yearn for scientists to find (or create) a human/chimpanzee hybrid that could interbreed with both species, and thereby “break the species” barrier. James Hughes yearned for such a hybrid to be manufactured through genetic engineering in Citizen Cyborg, because he wrote, it would prove humans are not special and undermine what he calls “human racism.” Similarly, the crusading atheist and biologist, Richard Dawkins has repeatedly expressed the same desire, for example in supporting the Great Ape Project in an essay in the book of the same name in 1993. (The illustration on the left at the top of this post is a depiction of what such an animal might look from Dawkins’ essay.)

Dawkins is at it again at The Edge, answering the question, “What will change everything,” he answered, “Breaking the Species Barrier.” He writes:

Our ethics and our politics assume, largely without question or serious discussion, that the division between human and ‘animal’ is absolute. ‘Pro-life’, to take just one example, is a potent political badge, associated with a gamut of ethical issues such as opposition to abortion and euthanasia. What it really means is pro-human-life. Abortion clinic bombers are not known for their veganism, nor do Roman Catholics show any particular reluctance to have their suffering pets ‘put to sleep’. In the minds of many confused people, a single-celled human zygote, which has no nerves and cannot suffer, is infinitely sacred, simply because it is ‘human’. No other cells enjoy this exalted status.

But such ‘essentialism’ is deeply un-evolutionary. If there were a heaven in which all the animals who ever lived could frolic, we would find an interbreeding continuum between every species and every other. For example I could interbreed with a female who could interbreed with a male who could . . . fill in a few gaps, probably not very many in this case . . . who could interbreed with a chimpanzee. We could construct longer, but still unbroken chains of interbreeding individuals to connect a human with a warthog, a kangaroo, a catfish. This is not a matter of speculative conjecture; it necessarily follows from the fact of evolution.
To which I respond, so what? How would that change the moral value of humans vis a vis that of catfish and kangaroos? Besides, the contrary is true: Supporting human exceptionalism could fit within the neo evolutionary paradigm since caring exclusively for one’s own species is almost universal within the natural world, and certainly caring for one’s own species the most is. Why should we be held to a different standard? The only reason would be because we are exceptional, which also explains why our lives have greater value than animals that our genetic ancestors might once have been able to interbreed with—although even Dawkins would admit that hasn’t been true since the emergence of modern man 100-000-1 million years ago.

Dawkins also claims that that the question of why we should be considered separate and apart from the rest of the fauna goes unasked. What world is he living in? Anti-human exceptionalism views are all the rage among the intelligentsia of a certain philosophical persuasion, which is part of what is leading us toward a culture of death. And then there is the popular culture that is moving swiftly in the same direction-think the horrible remake of The Day the Earth Stood Still.

If the species barrier is ever broken, Dawkins says he will experience “a frisson of enjoyment,” a fancy way of saying he would experience the same thrill talk show host Chris Matthews reported ran up his leg while listening to President Elect Obama speak. I have to admit that if the Dawkins of the world are successful in destroying society’s belief in human exceptionalism, it would send a thrill up my leg too. But unlike his frisson, mine would be of cold fear based on my sure knowledge that doing so would result in the undermining of universal human equality and on the concomitant universal rights that flow, as the UN Charter states, simply from being human.

Articles by Wesley J. Smith

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