When I was in college, my basic logic instructor asked us a simple question: What is it — specifically — that differentiates humans from the rest of the animals? Predictably, one of the first suggestions from the class was that humans are sentient, but our instructor quickly reminded us that many animals meet the definition of ‘sentient.’ Next, the class offered the notion that humans are self-aware. Again, our instructor reminded us that work with higher primates suggest they are capable of self-awareness, at least on the most basic levels. After several more suggestions, our instructor suggested the quality that separates humans from all other animals is the ability to reason. Unfortunately, our instructor was also wrong. Anyone who has been around a dog, bird, primate or other animal of higher intelligence is well aware that they can reason. So what is it that separates humans from animals, and why was my instructor — a certified genius and member of “Whose Who Among American Geniuses” — why was he wrong?
The answer is actually simple: man is the only creature capable of recognizing and making moral decisions. The reason my instructor didn’t understand this is because he was an Atheist, and morality demands a Creator. Without a Creator, there can be no such thing as morality — only culture and ethics. Thus, my instructor couldn’t define the thing that separates humans from animals because he was blind to the true nature of the very thing he was trying to define.
The issue is actually less complicated than people like to believe. In order for something to be a moral law, it must be universal. In other words, it must apply equally to all people, everywhere, and at all times — past, present and future. But many people think that differences in how these universal laws are recognized proves there are different moral codes. This is not the case. All we are seeing is cultural differences in how the laws are recognized and honored. In fact, my professor provided a perfect illustration of my point.
The first day of our logic class, our instructor told us that what makes us ‘human’ is our rationality. He also said that, if we are presented with a sound, valid and rational argument, and we cannot counter it or refuse to accept it, we are irrational. Thus, we are no longer human. Then he told us our final exam would be to write one of two papers. We either had to prove the unborn was a person, or that God existed. He did not believe in either, so he thought this was his version of the Kobayashi Maru test. I discovered I have a natural knack for logic, so I excelled in his class. However, on the last day of class, I did not turn in a final exam paper. When he asked me why, I told him I didn’t need to: I could give mine orally, in class — if he let me. So he agreed.
I started by asking him to affirm two prepositions: that we lived in the United States of America, and that the U.S. Constitution was the highest law in the nation. He agreed to both and told me to proceed. So I explained that the Constitution admits to the per-existence of the United States. As he was intellectually honest, my instructor granted my point. So I then pointed to the fact that the document that actually founded the nation was the Declaration of Independence. Again, he granted my point. At this point, I got up and started walking up to the stage from where he taught, reciting “We hold these truths to be self-evident. That all men are Created equal, and endowed by their Creator with the right to life…” I was walking up the stairs when I said “Created means at conception, not birth. And endowed by their Creator means our right to life is given to us — by God — at the moment of conception. Therefore, there is not only a God, but the unborn is human.”
By now I was facing him on the stage, so I asked him: “Now, do you believe in God, and that the unborn is a person?”
My instructor said no!
So I asked: “Is my argument sound?”
He said yes.
“Is it valid?”
He said yes.
“Is it rational?” (I started walking toward him).
He hesitated, but then said yes.
“So you now believe in God and that the unborn is a person, right?”
He said no (I was just a few steps away at this point).
“Then that makes you irrational, and if you are irrational, you are not human. I can kill you without consequence if you are not human. After all, if you are irrational, you are just an animal…”
It was at this moment that the lights went on in his head and he started to back away from me smiling and holding his hands up in a gesture meant to stop my advance and get him out of the trap he had laid on the first day of class (you see, he was a small man, and, at the time, I was still in the Marines and quite a bit larger than he was — so I was an imposing threat to him).
Now here is the point: by his own standard, I had just ‘proven’ my instructor was not human and I could kill him like any other animal. Yet, he objected. He still believed he had a right to his own life — and he did. But why, after he made the rules to the game, did he object? Because morality is universal, and all humans instinctively know this from birth — just as The Book of Romans says (incidentally, The Book of Romans is where John Locke got his ideas for government, and Locke was the second most cited source in our founders writings on this nation’s government — right behind the Bible).
This same reality was claimed by the Allies as the basis for the Nuremberg Trials. When Axis war criminals tried to claim they were just following orders, the Allies countered by saying there are universal laws which govern individual behavior, and they take precedence to man-made law. Were this not true, then the Allies would have been wrong to try, convict and punish the NAZI’s for their many crimes. After all, if morality is different for different nations, then the Holocaust — which was legal — would have simply been Germany’s morality. How could the U.S. then impose its morality on Germany without admitting that morality is nothing more than “might-makes-right?” And if morality is just “might-makes-right,” then there can be no such thing as a right or the rule of law. All that exists is what one person or group can force on another — which means slavery was a moral action and we are wrong to judge the Colonial South for the practice.
Now for the hard part of this post. If you do not see my point by now, then you do not see and recognize the universal moral law governing all human behavior. The logical conclusion which follows this circumstance would then place you back in my instructor’s shoes on the day I demonstrated to him that — by his own definition — he is not human.
[NOTE: I no longer think of my voice as anything special. There was a time when I believed I had something important to say, but not so much these days. I write now because I feel driven to do so. Something inside me will not let me rest until I post the pages you just read. I’d just as soon not bother anymore. It all seems like no one is listening and I do more harm than good. So I have come to trust that whatever it is driving me has all this under control. Personally, I believe it is God, but others may not. All I ask is that, if anything I write helps you, or you think it might help others in any way, please, share this page. Re-blog it, share it on FB or send the link to your friends. So long as you feel it will do more good than harm, then please, use this page however you wish. Thank you.]
3 thoughts on “Exactly What Is It That Separates Humans From All Other Animals?”
“I no longer think of my voice as anything special. There was a time when I believed I had something important to say, but not so much these days. I write now because I feel driven to do so. Something inside me will not let me rest until I post the pages you just read.”
Your words – voice driven by the spirit that moves you to write and explain what you are given to say – mean more than I can explain in a typed out reply. I look forward to your posts as they do more to galvanize my beliefs that I don’t know how to explain. You do have something more important to say – at least to me. Thank you for being obedient.
No, it is I who thank you. Every time I question the Lord about whether or not I am doing His will, he sends me someone to affirm my actions — like you just did. Your words are a blessing to me. He has used you to speak to me, to encourage me and to lift me up. So…thank you 🙂
May the Lord bless and keep you. And do not worry: I will continue to obey (if I don’t He will consume me with fire from within).