Culture & Ethics Icon Culture & Ethics

Why “Humanize”? A New Effort to Defend the Unique Dignity of Human Beings

Hello. My name is Wesley J. Smith and I am honored to be chairman of Discovery Institute’s Center on Human Exceptionalism. I am writing to you here to introduce the CHE’s new blog, which we call Humanize. Humanize will complement and supplement the important work of the Center for Science & Culture and its invaluable Evolution News site. 

Why did we choose “Humanize” as the name for the site? The once self-evident truth of human exceptionalism is under intensifying attack, as readers of Evolution News know well. Indeed, one of the tragic trends in thinking about evolution has been to blur the distinction between humans and animals. History warns us not to regard this lightly. Recent documentaries by Discovery Institute Vice President John West, Human Zoos and The Biology of the Second Reich, illuminate the evils that came from this tendency in the past century.

Today, whether it is to denigrate the intrinsic equal dignity of all human beings or the proposed or actual breaching of our human duty to care for the weakest and most vulnerable of our fellow humans, the time is ripe to robustly advocate for the unique dignity and equal moral worth of all human beings.

Our approach will be principled and intellectually rigorous, standing steadfastly for human equality, without being unduly esoteric. For example, we have joined the world’s rising chorus against the forced organ harvesting of Falun Gong practitioners in China, the mass incarceration by that country’s government of Uyghur Muslims, and the establishment of a tyrannical “social credit” system that deploys powerful technologies such as facial recognition and AI to effectively persecute religious believers and heterodox thinkers with societal excommunication.

Public Health and Public Good

Our work is as current as today’s headlines. In the current COVID-19 crisis, we have supported medical efforts to limit the spread of the virus, but have also insisted that the pandemic not become a justification to dehumanize and abandon devalued people such as our frail elderly in the name of protecting the public health. In this regard, we are not naïve and understand that there are times of emergency when unthinkably difficult choices may have to be made. Thus, at the height of the crisis — when it appeared that there might be insufficient medical resources to treat all who needed care — we explained the crucial moral distinction between the awful, but sometimes necessary medical act of triage, in which all patients are viewed as equals, while forcefully rejecting utilitarian approaches to rationing care based on ideologies such as the inherently discriminatory and invidious “quality of life ethic” promoted ubiquitously in bioethics literature.

When it comes to the environment, we enthusiastically endorse the human duty to treat our world responsibly and with proper approaches to conservation and remediation of polluted areas, while rejecting misanthropic approaches that would unduly interfere with human thriving and liberty. For example, a new “nature rights” movement would declare geological features such as rivers and glaciers to be akin to “persons” with the “right” to “exist, persist, maintain and regenerate its vital cycles, structure, functions and processes in evolution.” These laws have the potential to thwart most enterprises because they permit anyone to sue to defend the supposedly violated rights of nature. Such an approach has the potential to bring economic development to a screeching halt. Alarmingly, “nature rights” has been endorsed by science journals and the movement has succeeded in having four rivers and two glaciers declared to be rights-bearing entities.

Animal Rights Versus Animal Welfare

Similarly, Humanize will support the establishment of proper animal welfare standards, while rejecting “animal rights.” The former concept recognizes the crucial moral distinction between humans and animals, recognizes the propriety of making use of animals for our benefit, while also insisting that animals be treated humanely and with due respect for their ability to experience pain and feel emotions. In contrast, “animal rights” is an ideology that denies any moral distinction between humans and animals, and that seeks ultimately to prevent all human ownership of animals or their use for any reason. The harm this would cause, for example, to medical research is beyond quantifying.

Humanize will also focus readers’ attention on bioethical issues and controversies that roil our public discourse. We see assisted suicide/euthanasia as a profound abandonment of those who are most in need of our support and care. We will fight against the ongoing drive to allow infanticide of babies born with disabilities or not wanted by parents, and will resist deconstructing the ethics of organ donation, for example, the proposal to permit vital organs to be harvested as a means of voluntary euthanasia. And we will resist the “transhumanist” movement’s attempt to deploy technology to manufacture a “post-human species.”

A Cross-Program Effort

In addition to my contributions here, our Research Fellow Tom Shakely will also be a regular writer, bringing with him a youthful energy and understanding of contemporary cultural trends to enliven the discussion. 

The Center on Human Exceptionalism reflects Discovery Institute’s larger vision of human uniqueness, of “purpose, creativity, and innovation,” as Discovery President Steven Buri has summarized the Institute’s mission. Humanize will thus share the work of Fellows representing other Discovery Institute programs. For example, we will feature John West’s powerful critiques of the threat of a new eugenics, discussed in his book Darwin Day In America: How Our Politics and Culture Have Been Dehumanized in the Name of Science, as well as neurosurgeon Michael Egnor’s cogent takes on technology, the neurological sciences, and theories of the mind. The latter are points of emphasis for Discovery’s Walter Bradley Center for Natural and Artificial Intelligence. Evolution News editor David Klinghoffer, of the Center for Science & Culture, recently contributed a thoughtful reflection on the potential dehumanizing impact of ubiquitous wearing of masks during the pandemic. All of Discovery’s programs, an intellectual community serving the public and made possible by our supporters and our readers, are advanced by this exchange of ideas.

We hope that you will subscribe — it’s free — and join us in the understanding that the morality of the 21st century will depend on our responding energetically and affirmatively to this simple but profound question: “Does every human life have equal moral value simply and merely because it is human?” 

Image: La Bella Principessa, perhaps by Leonardo da Vinci, via Wikimedia Commons.