Thursday, April 15, 2010

Do you think you're special?

It's easy to see human's as a prevailing species on earth. We build sky scrapers, we can destroy the entire planet on a whim, surviving and reproducing usually aren't our chief motivators. Does that make us special? Coyne asks "does our existence have any purpose or meaning that distinguishes us from other creatures?" and adds "If humans are just one of many outcomes of natural selection, maybe we aren't so special after all" (xvii).

I do not intend for this to be an open, theological forum. My challenge is this:
Based on what we know about the different theories of evolution, how would each view point feel about the above question? What aspects of human anatomy, fossil record, and sociology would affect these views. Please compare Creationism, Intelligent Design, and forms of Darwinian evolution.

Then, BRIEFLY share your own views on man's place in the universe.


  1. I say we are special. Creationism and Intelligent Design say we were created for a purpose. I do not believe either of these views. Coyne makes an impenetrable argument in his book about why evolution is true. Still, if evolution is true, then doesn't that just mean we are a mistake, a random blot in evolutionary history? NO. What makes us special is our need for knowledge. Where did we come from? How? Is there anything out there in space? How do we and other species work? What other species asks these questions? Our whole history has revolved around our quest to understand our place in the universe. At first, we turned to religion for the answers because that was religion's purpose. Religions gave and still give us meaning. To be a good Christian means to be charitable. The Muslim faith requires that Muslims always share what they have with guests, even if it is just salt. These religions, with their creationist views, arose because there was no better answer.
    The Enlightenment changed all that. According to the Encyclopedia Brittanica, many major ideas happened during the Enlightenment. Newton started the study of modern physics. Antonie van Leeuwenhoek created the first microscope in 1676, allowing him to see microorganisms for the first time. We started looking at empirical observations (the scientific method was developed at this time by Descartes) as a path to understanding rather than the usual theology. Our understanding has increased much since those beginnings.
    I believe our meaning, as reiterated above, to be to understand the universe around us. Even though our small planet is meaningless when we talk about the huge universe, we can still work for its secrets. Maybe by understanding the universe we'll one day be able to do things now thought impossible. Nature is in many ways as powerful and mighty as a god. We should admire and awe at how amazing nature is.

  2. Creationism would dictate that we are in fact special, that God placed us on this earth with the power to greatly change its destiny. As the Bible and Old Testament read, God created humanity on the sixth day to rule over the rest of his creations from the previous days and maintain order in the world. This is all well and good until scientists began proclaiming that perhaps we are descended from the same ancestors as apes, now this really frightened the Catholic Church (which was and still is the predominant authority on creationism). If man is descended from apes then how is it that we have the power to change the world so drastically but they don’t, they do not even seem relatively sapient although new research is attempting to prove that wrong. How can humans be chosen by god if they are just the same as apes? Intelligent design attempts to reconcile creationism with some new scientific principles but still maintains that humans are special if not for our ability to think and reason. This is our separation from apes because while they appear able to distinguish items and even learn rudimentary language, they also appear to have no moral scale of right versus wrong as well as lacking the ability to make complex decisions with many possible consequences.
    Evolutionists would bring in the argument of human anatomy to prove that we are not as special as we like to think we are. Our anatomies are incredibly similar to that of every animal and our brains are very similar but only larger and more complex. Because of this, an evolutionist might argue that it is possible for any animal to obtain sapience if natural selection would dictate that need. My own personal belief would be categorized as a proponent of theistic evolution because of my faith in Deism and my dedication to all fields of science. Under this, I believe that humans are only special for the moment because we gave ourselves the power to create and destroy with our invention of tools. In essence we have rigged the biological system so that it would be incredibly difficult for us as a species to go extinct without taking the majority of the biosphere with us. Also, who is to say that other animals do not experience the same complex thought processes that we go through? Perhaps their repetitive reactions to stimuli have nothing to do with their cognitive ability to understand morality and decision making but rather prefer one reaction over another. This is simply something for further posters to consider.


  3. Well Jon, I'd like to start by saying good job at Showcase rehearsal today. Your band was really good.

    But more on topic, you asked how the theory of evolution changes our place in the universe and whether or not it objectivies our existence. Well, according to the theory of evolution, we are solely a product of natural selection and the survival of the fittest (I know that is a Social Darwinist phrase, but I feel like it fits). This entirely objectivies our existence because, based off the theory, we are no different than the myriad of other species populating our Earth. They too are all products of natural selection. And currently, especially based on the evidence presented by Jerry Coyne in this book (such as vestiges and fossil records), it appears as if we are animals that just evolved from a common ancestor as chimps. Therefore, we are nothing special.

    However, based on other theories on how we came to be, we are much more than just "fitter" animals than our ancestors. Creastionism for example is a very religious belief that life and humanity was created by a "supernatural agency" often a God figure. Also, it is taught in the bible that God created man in His own image. This certainly makes us special, right? Therefore, Creationist would not appreciate objectifying the humanity as evolution does. They believe that we were created special and given talents that no other animals have like our supremely advanced neurological power. We are the only animals on earth that have built skyscrapers and massive WMDs. So we are essentially better than the other organisms. Also, if the human race was compared to that of chimps, who can be seen in the zoo throwing feces at one another, our lives would lose meaning (according to Creationists).

    Personally, I believe that we are the products of evolution, however, we are obviously the most advanced animals in terms of brain power. We have sent humans to the moon, and the only monkeys that went to space went on our rockets. This is essentially our planet, and we simply allow the other organisms to live on it (seeing as we could easily kill them all). I think its nice of us to let other organisms live on earth because they keep us company and provide us with meat.

    I'd like to end with a quote, or what I remember of a quote...
    "I'd rather be a bag of chemicals than a sack of meat"
    --Truth Seekers Poster

    Sr. Erdmann
    Jerry Coyne
    The Bible
    All other information compiled by humans (the supreme species)

  4. Men have surely displayed our superiority to all other species. Whether this is because of our superior brain power, our opposable thumbs, or our extensive use of tools, no matter how we look at it, it is us that control the world. Since we control the world, we obviously have a special place. We are special not because we are so advanced and so much more intelligent than all the other species. However, just because we are the most dominant, doesn’t mean that our existence means any more than any other animal. All animals serve their purpose. Whether it is to serve for the high food chain or if it’s simply just to survive and reproduce. However, if you’re trying to hint at any divine spirit granting us such a power, I seriously doubt it, as I believe we are still the byproducts of evolution.
    Creationists and Intelligent Design proponents believe that each species was created for a reason, and thus has its own “purpose” to serve during its life, and that we are indeed “special”. Most of these people heavily believed in some form of theistic religion and believe that god created humans to rule over the rest of his creations on Earth. In fact, creationism has sometimes been deemed as a religion itself (Thinkquest). The reason they are strongly anti-evolution is due to the fact that if humans did indeed come from mere ancestors of apes, then we would no longer have a special place, just as when Galileo first revealed the fact that the Sun was the center of our galaxy. Since this obviously must not be, Creationists and Intelligent Design proponents strong oppose evolution (Wiki).
    Darwinists, however, believe in evolution and the fact that we share common ancestors with apes. If we do share common ancestors with apes, then we would probably not be as special as we think. We would be, as Coyne nicely quotes William S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan, “Darwinian man, though well behaved, at best is only a monkey shaved.” (Coyne 190)

    Why Evolution is True

  5. Creationists would disagree. They would say that we were created by a supernatural force (God)and so were all other life. We were created uniquely and individually for our own purposes. All organisms have a purpose and humans' would be to serve God.
    Intelligent Design advocates would use humans as evidence for intelligent design over natural selection. They'd say that we are deffinitely special and that there are many parts of humans that have irreducible complexity, falsifying natural selection, and also that we are evidence of specified complexity that only an intelligent agent could have created.
    Darwinian evolution supporters would most likely say that just because we were created through natural selection and evolution, doesn't mean we aren't special. There is no doubting that humans are the most complicated and sophisticated organisms in the world. We are the most advanced and intelligent to have walked the planet, so of course we are special, but we have evolved from less complicated and sophisticated organisms through natural selection.
    My views are very similar to what i stated in the Darwinian evolution portion. I completely believe in natural selection and the evolution in humans. I do not see how it is possible to not believe in evolution of humans, especially with all the evidence like the Australopithecus africanus known as the "missing link" between humans and apes. I do believe that humans are special though. I like to think of us as superior to other organisms because we are the most advanced and capable of comprehending the most. Then again, that might just be "natural solipsism".

  6. I see theistic evolution as a great way to explain the apparent differences between humans and other animals. If humans evolved from ape-like ancestors--which is what TE would support--there are still big differences between humans and their runner-ups as far as intellect, even if these differences are only in the magnitude rather than in the existence or nonexistence of mental capabilities. In the TE perspective, humans are special, but were created through the divine and beautiful process of evolution. I have gone into great detail about TE through book citations in my post on Beatriz’s prompt entitled “evolution or a creator?” if you want to know more.

    So my point here is that it’s not so crazy to think we might be special and also have evolved to get where we are. As Jonathan said, “We build sky scrapers, we can destroy the entire planet on a whim, surviving and reproducing usually aren't our chief motivators;” this in addition to our intelligence to appreciate and understand religion seem to fit perfectly with the idea that God used evolution as a mechanism to create something that He would eventually give free will to, along with a Moral Law. If only to give theses things to a single species on earth, humans would be the best suited, and their differences from other species being so great that they are the only species conceivably above the very mechanism that created life (as we can manipulate evolution) implies that they are “special.” And, as I said in the other post mentioned, if you can actually find yourself in a sure connection with God, then you can establish that some religion is true. Depending on how this experience goes, it might lead you to the conclusion that humans are special.

    Personally, I don’t believe we are special, but I do believe there might be a god. I am an agnostic evolutionist. I don’t believe we are special because it seems like kind of a random thing for God to do, and why make a Moral Law? Why allow humans to “fall” and disobey the Moral Law? What purpose is there to having both good and evil? Why not just good, forever, to an infinite degree? What is the difference between the Moral Law and simple evolutionary altruistic cooperation within a species? Some of these are not necessary to believe we are special, but they are some of the main reasons why we say we are special.

    I, however, am very special, as we know by observing my amazingness.

  7. Intelligent design is just a non-denominational creationism, but it is implied that the intelligent designer is the Christian god, so they are essentially the same thing. Having said this, creationists would strongly refute the idea that humans are not special; Genesis 1:26 says “And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.” Clearly, man was made in the image of God and not much will convince them otherwise. Not even solid and irrefutable evidence like our book will convince most hardline creationists. These people will not reconcile religious dogma with scientific facts.
    Evolution does show that humans are just a product of natural selection, however that does not mean that humans cannot occupy a special place in the world. As the most intelligent organisms, we have so many more possibilities to learn and discover meaning in our live, maybe that’s why we evolved our big brain in the first place.
    In my personal opinion, in our universe, we are completely insignificant compared to what may be out there. Our earth is just a tiny speck in our solar system and our solar system an even tinier speck in our galaxy.
    I really like this quote from Carl Sagan, “Consider again that dot (the dot: That's here, that's home, that's us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every corrupt politician, every "superstar," every "supreme leader," every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there – on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.”
    While we are insignificant in the universe, on our blue dot, I think we are a somewhat species. We are the most intelligent species and are capable of complex thought. We can think from many different perspectives, we can manipulate nature, to an extent, for our own ends, and just in general, have a uniqueness in being able to learn about things.

  8. My belief on our place in this universe is complicated. While shaped by evolution, one can only marvel at the chances of our reality occurring. A universe created from a speck of tiny dust 13.6 billion years ago that included all of the matter in the world, which exploded and unleashed all forces and all particles. Flash forward 9 billion years, about 115 million lifetimes. A tiny rock placed in optimal conditions around a developing star contained liquid water. 4% closer, and the water would have evaporated. 1% farther, and the water wouldn't melt. On this rock, a tiny chemical gained the ability through chemical means to reproduce itself, and evolution kicked in. The tiny chemical differences had an impact on which ones could replicate better than the others, and RNA spread. In a negatively charged cocoon of phospholipids, these chemicals split and spread over millions of years, ending with where we are today. Humans, the paragon of animals, with brains that create thought, a process unexplained by science consisting of ions traveling through a membrane at high speeds. So Jon, do I care that I am a product of evolution? No. The chances of arriving here blow my mind and show me how special we are, created by a God or not. We need to take a step back from our lives sometimes to see the entire picture, which is quite incredible.