The Journal of the American Scientific Affiliation is a publication that provides articles on faith written by scientists who believe in God. In the September 2020 issue, editor James Peterson tells a story about standing in line at a home improvement store. While waiting, he had a discussion with a young couple about wearing a face mask. The two people’s response tells a lot about the condition of our society, thanks to the rejection of God and the Bible as a guide to life. Here is the discussion:
Peterson to Girl: “Are you aware that people wear surgical masks like the one I am wearing to protect other people, not themselves? I know for myself that I don’t like wearing a mask, and it does not protect me. It is to protect you.” Girl to Peterson: “Masks don’t make any difference. You are either going to get the virus or not.” Peterson: “So it is all fate? Nothing you can do?” She nods with resignation. Peterson to her friend: “You see it that way too?” Friend to Peterson: “You don’t want to know what I think.” Peterson to friend: “You sound like you may be angry.” Friend to Peterson in a loud voice: “I am. I don’t give a **** about anybody but me. If it doesn’t help me, I’m not doing it, and you and nobody else is going to make me!!”
Peterson wrote, “So in 30 seconds flat, I had a reminder that we have our work cut out for us, and it matters.” As a Christian and a scientist, Peterson knows that wearing a face mask is only one small indicator of the state of our society. Later in Peterson’s article, he says, “Stuff 300 chimpanzees in a plane and they will tear the plane apart. Most humans just think about it.” His point is that evolutionists suggest that altruism and cooperation result in an evolutionary advantage for passing on our genes.
The American public’s response to the pandemic has been revealing and shows how the rejection of God has already influenced our society. Young adults will attend a party or go to a beach, knowing that they are exposing themselves to a contagious disease. The desire for pleasure while believing they are fit and will survive the virus drives them onward. Thinking of anything but their own immediate comfort causes a vast percentage of our population to refuse social distancing and wearing a face mask.
Some religious people who might care about others have accepted the political propaganda that the whole thing is fake until they see older family members die from the virus. Indeed, our work is cut out for us. We need to get back to basics. There is a God, and He has told us how to live. Taking care of the temple of God (1 Corinthians 3:16) and showing love for others (Leviticus 19:18 and Matthew 19:18) should affect how we deal with the people around us.
Sue Savage-Rumbaugh has made a career of studying bonobo apes. She would have us believe that there is no barrier between bonobos and humans. Her research raises the question of who we are as humans, and she would respond that we are just another animal. There are so many difficulties with this viewpoint that it is hard to know where to start. The most fundamental scientific problem is that there is a difference between communication and language.
Savage-Rumbaugh’s research is the main story in the July/August 2020 issue of Smithsonian magazine. She assumes that environment is not a factor in what distinguishes apes from humans, and she has lived with the bonobos in her research. A tool she uses in studying the bonobos is a “lexigram keyboard” with pictorial symbols corresponding to English words. One particular bonobo named Kanzi has used it to communicate with her. This ape could use some 660 English sentences functioning at a level higher than a two-and-a-half-year-old human child.
The difference between communication and language is an old issue. Aristotle wrote that animals could exchange information, but only humans could articulate what was just and unjust. The famous philosopher Rene’ Descartes in the 1600s, wrote that God had gifted human beings with souls, and, along with souls, language and consciousness. On this website and in our printed materials, we have talked about God’s design in animals that allows elaborate communication. Bees communicate by dancing information to other bees. Birds make sounds that carry meanings and warnings to other birds. The ultrasonic emissions of whales are elaborate communication tools.
Savage-Rumbaugh has shown that bonobos have a flexible capacity to communicate. However, she falls into the old trap of anthropomorphizing animal behavior – reading human interpretations into something an animal does. Statements such as, “She would look at me with a pleading expression on her face” is ascribing human interpretations to the ape’s facial expressions. The symbols on the keyboard are human symbols, and pigeons can learn to peck a particular symbol to get a desired result.
The Smithsonian article quotes one researcher as saying, “Work with Kanzi has always lived somewhere between rigorous science and social closeness and family life.” The difference between communication and language is a topic of hot debate. If you look up the word “language” you will see a significant variation in how different people define it. Humans have language that involves the meaning of symbols, the standards by which we measure behavior, and the values accepted by one’s peers.
The Bible deals with language, and God’s Spirit is involved with our language. When researchers have tried to humanize a chimpanzee by bringing it into their home, they do so with communication, but language is never a part of the process. Trying to turn an animal into a human being has disastrous results. We are created in the image of God, and language is a part of that image.
Books and articles have been published indicating that chimpanzees and humans share about 98.7% of the same genes. So some have suggested that chimpanzees should be considered 98.7% human and have all the rights that humans enjoy. There have been lawsuits to remove chimps from zoos or restrictive areas so they can express their “humanness.”
Objective observers who study chimp behavior in detail do not see chimps as human. The Bible makes it clear that only humans are created in the image of God. Being in God’s image leads to attributes that are unique to humans. Those include not only creative ability such as in art and music, but they also include the way we treat one another. In Galatians 3:28, Paul makes it clear that as Christians, there is no distinction between one human and another. Paul specifically includes “no male nor female” in his list of who are equals. The whole notion of marriage (Genesis 2:24) and the role of women (Proverbs 31:10-31) esteem and protects women.
Chimpanzees and humans are not alike. In his book The Human Swarm, Dr. Mark Moffett describes the real life of female chimpanzees. When female chimps reach sexual maturity, they leave their group never to return. Female chimps are beaten up or ignored by males except when they are in heat, and then sex is forced upon them. Female chimps do not befriend each other. They give birth in a private, hidden place to avoid having their babies killed by other females. Male chimps have no role in parenting or protecting the mother and baby.
There is an adage said in jest that we often hear in the break room at the graduate center, “Make sure your data conforms to your conclusions.” It is easy for us to interpret animal behavior as human-like, especially comparing chimpanzees and humans. But we must recognize human uniqueness. We have heard the horror story of a pet chimp turning on and seriously injuring a human. You can remove the chimp from its fellow animals, but you cannot remove the animal behavior from the chimp. We are the only beings created in God’s image.
When I took my first anthropology course at Indiana University in 1958, the professors said that humans are the only animals that fashion and use tools. Later, scientists discovered that chimpanzees could smash rocks until they get one that has a sharp edge. Then they use that sharp edge as a tool to cut open fruit or dig for ants. Louis Leakey, the anthropology guru of that time, stated, “We are either going to have to change our definition of man, or invite the chimps to send a representative to the United Nations.” Tool use is not what makes humans unique.
Since that time, other animals have been observed using tools and some even manufacturing tools. Nuthatches can find a stick that they can slide under the bark of a tree to get at a bug. Crows can fashion a stick and use it to get into a milk bottle. The picture shows a macaque using a stone to smash a crab shell for food. Science now says that less than one percent of all animals use tools, but that number keeps growing. Discover Magazine for November 2019 (page 22), contained an article about skunks picking up a rock and pounding on the ice in a pond to make a hole for drinking.
The Oxford English Dictionary defines anthropomorphism as “the attribution of human traits, emotions or intentions to non-human entities.” We are all guilty of anthropomorphism when we attribute the behavior of our pets to human emotions. The Oxford dictionary goes on to say that anthropomorphism “is considered to be an innate tendency of human psychology.”
When a dog is jumping around and barking and licking us, we assume that the behavior of the dog is because of joy. In reality, this is an instinctive behavior in animals when establishing dominance within the pack. When the same dog tucks its tail between its legs and slinks away, we assume it is feeling guilty when it is an act of submission for fear of being attacked.
Some scientists attempt to prove that humans are just animals acting out animal responses to various environments. They conduct experiments to show that animals do the things we think are unique to humans. An example is attempting to explain the human smile. For us humans, a smile is an expression of happiness, warmth, and friendliness. When an animal grins, it shows its teeth expressing terror or aggression. When you see a monkey or ape grin on a commercial, sitcom, or movie, there is a trainer behind the camera threatening it.
Human traits which are not seen in animals include worship, guilt, sympathy, and creativity in art and music. It is essential to look at other explanations when considering the behavior of animals. Recently people witnessed a female whale carrying her dead calf for nearly a week. Several newspaper articles were guilty of anthropomorphism by saying that the whale was expressing grief. Many times animals in the wild avoid the scavenging of a dead sibling or offspring by maintaining a vigil over the corpse. That instinctive action assures that the offspring is, in fact, dead, and avoids spreading the disease that killed the dead animal.
I remember a field trip I had in my NSF graduate workshop for science teachers. At an aquarium in Chicago, we watched a demonstration of natural selection. A hungry northern pike was placed in an aquarium with three small fish. One was a wounded and incapacitated minnow. Another was a slightly wounded but otherwise relatively healthy fish of the same species. The third was a healthy well-fed fish. The lesson plan said that the students should predict which of the three fish the pike would eat. Our group of teachers all agreed it would be the incapacitated minnow. For the next 30 minutes, we watched the pike tear up the aquarium trying to get the healthy minnow and avoiding the two wounded fish. We teachers debated as to why that happened, but the aquarium workers said it was frequently the case.
Humans are unique because we are created in the image of God. That allows us to do things that reflect that unique makeup. When we interpret animal behavior in human terms, we are guilty of anthropomorphism.