We are more different from apes than apes are from viruses.


I'm at Skepticon, and while waiting for registration to open this morning, I thought I'd peek in at the Discovery Institute, and their Evolution News & Views site. So much entertainingly idiotic stupidity is on display.

There's Casey Luskin, squeaking away in blithe ignorance about his total lack of awareness of the history and philosophy of evolutionary biology (no, really…he gets everything wrong). David Klinghoffer is, of course, indignant about the criminalization of Intelligent Design creationism (writing from his jail cell, no doubt) and announces that Neil deGrasse Tyson is a buffoon…no, that he's not a buffoon, he's a cunning and dangerous man. Both are examples of the vacuous content of ID creationism, but the best has got to be Michael Egnor, who seems to be babbling a great deal lately. I think he's jealous that another, different lunatic neurosurgeon is getting all the press lately, so he's trying to remind everyone that he can be just as kooky as Ben Carson. Maybe he's hoping to get a vice presidential slot.

So he writes this pathetic exercise in human exceptionalism.

We are more different from apes than apes are from viruses. Our difference is a metaphysical chasm. It is obvious and manifest in our biological nature. We are rational animals, and our rationality is all the difference. Systems of taxonomy that emphasize physical and genetic similarities and ignore the fact that human beings are partly immaterial beings who are capable of abstract thought and contemplation of moral law and eternity are pitifully inadequate to describe man.

So he thinks chimpanzees are more like viruses than humans? Astonishing. His whole post works that way: he claims that animals have no power to understand concepts at all, they're all about reflexive, conditioned responses to their environment, while humans all have these totally unique powers of abstraction that are derived from the fact that their minds are partially immaterial. He has no evidence for any of his assertions, and in fact they fly against the existing evidence. But no matter, mere evidence cannot stand against his mighty preconceptions.

Jeffrey Shallit points out the obvious inanity of Egnor's claims, and Egnor rushed over to repeat them. Repeat them a lot. Apparently if you say something stupid, stupid people believe they will sound more intelligent if they say them again.

He also trots out a "challenge". We're apparently supposed to address this claim.

Explain in a post how it is possible to instantiate (not represent) a universal in brain matter.

OK, easy. It is not possible. Egnor is making the claim that we are somehow creating a universal property in our heads, rather than modeling it, and I think it is his responsibility to demonstrate why that ludicrous claim is possible, not ours. But I know exactly how he would defend it: by repeating it 50 times.

Well, I've done my penance now. I don't have to look at Evolution News & Views again for another 6 months, at which time I'll probably find the same cluster of blustering incompetent assholes fuming away.

More like this

On a related note, from time to time, there are stories about animals.

Stories that express shock and astonishment that animals might just possibly possess intelligence. Or self-awareness. Or could manage to communicate. Or have feelings.

These stories are always presented as how it is astonishing that animals could have any of these attributes. And that serious people have long decided that only humans are capable of any of these things. Because we are special, right?

It's deliberate and studied stupidity and denial of the world around us at work. Over and over.

And so we can happily go on enslaving orcas and slaughtering elephants for their teeth. No moral problems here, move along.

We humans have a brain that controls vital functions and we don't even have control over them (heart beat, digestion, etc.) but also we think ,and we think about our thoughts, so our brain has a three level function, can animals think about their thoughts as we do?

If those animals have "language" or a good facsimile thereof, then, probably, yes.
Try Dolphins & Parrots for starters.
If they can manipulate tools?
Also possibly - try the New Guinea Crow?

By Greg Tingey (not verified) on 21 Nov 2015 #permalink