University of Washington psychology professor emeritus David P. Barash is off his meds again. Readers may recall that Barash is the hubristic materialist who intentionally tries to destroy the religious faith of his students, as well as being a notorious human-exceptionalism denier. (Hey, I can play that stupid game too!)
He’s now out with a proposal, published by Nautilus, to use the gene-editing CRISPR technology to manufacture a part-human–part-chimpanzee “humanzee.” Why would we want to conduct such a stupid and cruel experiment? Because he thinks it would somehow prove we are not exceptional. From “It’s Time to Make Chimp/Human Hybrids”:
I propose that the fundamental take-home message of such creation would be to drive a stake into the heart of that destructive disinformation campaign of discontinuity, of human hegemony over all other living things.
There is an immense pile of evidence already demonstrating continuity, including but not limited to physiology, genetics, anatomy, embryology, and paleontology, but it is almost impossible to imagine how the most die-hard advocate of humans having a discontinuously unique biological status could continue to maintain this position if confronted with a real, functioning, human-chimp combination.
Drink some coffee, Professor. Human exceptionalism isn’t about having a unique biological status. It is about understanding that the morally relevant differences between us and every other species are not only of kind, but of a quality that is as vastly different as a knoll is from a mountain.
For example, what other species could even conceive of creating a whole new species, much less accomplishing it (as we have, in a sense, when we transformed wolves into different breeds of dogs)? Moreover — and perhaps more importantly — what other species would know that conducting such an experiment would be profoundly wrong, not only because of the spurious intent, but the cruelty of the experiment itself to the products of our genetic tinkering.
But Barash thinks that the supposed benefit of convincing us to reject human exceptionalism is worth the cruelty to the poor humanzees:
What about those presumably unfortunate individuals thereby produced? Neither fish nor fowl, wouldn’t they find themselves intolerably unspecified and inchoate, doomed to a living hell of biological and social indeterminacy? This is possible, but it is at least arguable that the ultimate benefit of teaching human beings their true nature would be worth the sacrifice paid by a few unfortunates.
Besides, he muses, they might like their lives.
What. A. Crock. It is far from certain that a viable humanzee could be manufactured. Humans and chimps do not have the same number of chromosomes and our apparent genetic similarity is masked by tens of millions of biological differences between our two species.
Moreover, if we did create a humanzee, the lesson would not be that we are just animals, but that our scientific prowess — no other species is scientific — knows few ultimate limits. Or to put it another way, the experiment would prove our exceptionalism in a most unfortunate manner.
Barash isn’t the only Darwinist who seeks to tear us down in this manner. Richard Dawkins has pushed the same noxious idea, as has the transhumanist bioethicist James Hughes — and for the same ridiculous reason: Destroying religious faith. Barash writes:
I propose that generating humanzees or chimphumans would be not only ethical, but profoundly so, even if there were no prospects of enhancing human welfare. How could even the most determinedly homo-centric, animal-denigrating religious fundamentalist maintain that God created us in his image and that we and we alone harbor a spark of the divine, distinct from all other life forms, once confronted with living beings that are indisputably intermediate between human and non-human?
And then he gets emotionally into the old boring claim that if only we knew we were just another animal in the forest, we would cease treating animals cruelly.
Wrong. We are the only truly moral species in the known universe. Only we can be held morally accountable for our actions. Only we have the capacity to rationally determine issues of right and wrong, ought and ought not, etc. Indeed, if being human — in and of itself — isn’t what gives us the moral obligation to treat animals humanely, what in the world does?
And if that duty arises solely and directly from our humanity — which it indisputably does — that means, by definition, that we are exceptional. All other species are amoral and, as such, they don’t owe a duty to each other, us, or anything. Duties, and moral accountability are simply beyond their ken.
It’s all so silly. Whether we evolved out of the primordial goo, were intelligently designed, or were created by the spoken word of the Living God, it is self-evident and undeniable that human beings are exceptional, and moreover, that the differences between us and all other existing life forms that make us exceptional are moral in nature, not just biological.
That’s a good thing because it means we are very unlikely to ever create a pseudo or novel species capable of suffering for the frivolous purpose of making a specious, misguided, and profoundly misanthropic point.
Photo credit: PennyJane, via Pixabay.
Cross-posted at The Corner.