I know, I know, why would anyone bother? Well, I just finished reading Fred Clark’s excellent discussion of how Jim Wallis went wrong, a broad defense of the principle that “whoever is not against us is for us.” John Derbyshire is against a lot of good things, but when IDolators attack, I feel obliged to stand up for truth. Wesley Smith, a DI fellow, took issue with Derbyshire’s comments on his loss of religious faith, writing:
What I think Derbyshire lost along with his faith is the realization that human beings are much more than the mere sum of our parts and functions. We, unlike any other species, have taken a bold step outside the Darwinian realm of genetic impulse, instinct, and reflex. We are moral and intellectual beings with the ability to create, civilize, project over time, and transcend.
The Derb rightly notes that Smith’s defense of exceptionalism is lacking:
He doesn’t offer anything that I would call evidence for this, though. He just says it’s so. The nearest he gets to offering evidence is: “Understanding that there is such a thing as evil action proves we are special in the known universe.” I take this to mean that (1) we are special by virtue of having a moral sense, and (2) this specialness proves that we are special in the particular way Wesley says we are—chosen and gifted by God.
I don’t accept either proposition.
He claims I grant humans a special place because we are “chosen and gifted by God.” I never wrote any such thing–ever. My position is entirely secularly based.
Now, let’s grant Smith’s claim that he didn’t actually mention any particular supernatural force by name. So what? He still offered no a priori justification of the claim that humans actually are exceptional in some cosmic sense.
Like Derbyshire, I’d start by pointing out all the ways in which various species are unique. Beetles are incredibly diverse. Some bacteria can survive in the depths of rock without any energy source but radioactive decay. Whales can stay under water for hours, and they have complex language, moral systems and culture. Ravens are supposed to be able to learn simple human language, and the basics of a moral sense have been documented in dogs. Ravens can fly, dogs can smell better and run faster than humans. Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors by Carl Sagan and Ann Druyan covers this ground nicely.
Smith’s claim that only humans care for other species is readily demolished by evidence of dolphins protecting human swimmers, gorillas protecting kittens, and so on and so forth.
So the claim that humans are special in some special way deserves some justification, not a defense based only on repetition and an assertion of intellectual dishonesty. The only argument that hasn’t been neatly dismantled by evidence is … the supernatural claims that Smith insisted he wasn’t making (and which are definitionally unfalsifiable).