The Bible tells us that humans are created in the image of God, giving us a spiritual nature – a soul. That means all races and sexes of humans are equal. Galatians 3:28 says it well, “you are all one in Christ Jesus.” While that is speaking of Christians, it applies to all humans since anyone can become a Christian. Those who reject belief in God have a harder time deciding who is human and who isn’t.
In the past, people justified slavery based on the claim that certain racial groups were not human and thus could be exploited by those deemed human. People today use the same illogic to justify abortion.
People use various criteria for deciding who is human and who isn’t. For example, when I was a young college student in the 1950s, we were told that the ability to make and use tools was the deciding factor. That teaching was nullified when researchers found that many animals make and use tools. For example, researchers have seen macaques in Phang Nga Bay in Thailand crack nuts with stones and discard sharp flakes, similar to early human tools.
More recently, anthropologists have suggested that the ability to recognize yourself in a mirror is evidence of self-awareness and is a cognitive ability unique to humans. One reason for this interpretation is that chimps and orangutans show they recognize themselves when they look in a mirror. That led to the conclusion that chimps, orangutans, and humans are all one family. However, a recent study of bluestreak cleaner wrasses by cognitive scientists at Osaka Metropolitan University in Japan has shown that these inch-long fish can recognize themselves in a mirror.
When researchers put a parasite-like mark on cleaner wrasses’ throats and allowed the fish to see their reflection in a mirror, they rubbed themselves on rocks to remove the mark. The wrasse could also pick its picture out of four photos that included three other wrasses. It’s essential to point out that self-awareness allows the physical survival of these fish because the wrasses eat parasites off the bodies of other fish. Knowing which fish will seek their help and which will eat them involves recognizing faces. This private awareness is a survival feature God has given them and doesn’t translate to emotions, thoughts, or language.
Humans are unique because of our spiritual nature, created in God’s image. Therefore, other criteria for deciding who is human and who isn’t are doomed to failure.
— John N. Clayton © 2023
Reference: Scientific American, June 2023, pages 16 and 19.