Saturday, August 08, 2009

I'm back... & Chimpanzee Intelligence

I have been blogging since 2003. Although in 2008 I had a high of 77 post, I have had only four posts so far this year. I aim to change that. I am setting myself a goal to make 2009 a new record for both quantity and quality of posts.

Let me start out with a link to an interesting review featured today at Arts & Letters Daily. Helene Guldberg reviews the book Not a Chimp: The hunt to find the genes that make us human, by Jeremy Taylor. Guldberg writes that:
...despite the dedication of a number of primatologists, the cognitive and linguistic abilities of the great apes have never surpassed those of a two-year-old child.

Taylor sets out to argue that it is ‘as wrong as it is misguided’ to ‘exaggerate the narrowness of the gap between chimpanzees and ourselves’: ‘It plays into the hands of our natural propensity to anthropomorphise our pets and other animals, and even our inanimate possessions, and it has allowed us to distort what the science is trying to tell us.’ His aim is ‘to set the record straight and restore chimpanzees to arm’s length’.[emphasis added]
This is a topic with greater implications than the somewhat obvious fact that man is the only rational animal. In the same way that communists were once able to pretend that they have a scientific answer to religion, so today, animal rights activists such as PETA, frequently claim to have a scientific basis for their belief that all animals should have legal rights. That fight is currently going on in the efforts to establish legal rights for primates. And of course, the religious opponents of such rights, such as Dennis Prager, are quick to point out that it is secular ideas that equate the value of human beings and animals:
9. If there is no God, humans and "other" animals are of equal value. Only if one posits that humans, not animals, are created in the image of God do humans have any greater intrinsic sanctity than baboons. This explains the movement among the secularized elite to equate humans and animals.
Strictly speaking, Prager approaches the topic from his belief that morality must have a divine origin. Nevertheless, if science claims that a chimpanzee's genetic code is 98.4% identical to man's, then Prager can claim that as far as secular science is concerned there is no significant basis for differing value judgments between the two primates. However, if secular scientists are arguing that there is quite a difference between man and chimpanzees, if they claim that:
...despite the very small difference in the gene coding sequence between humans and chimps, some of the important genetic differences are in genes that regulate a whole host of other genes. So a small change can make an immense difference. The genetic difference between us and chimps may be much greater than the 1.6 per cent figure implies, as our uniqueness is based on a powerful network of gene regulation, he argues.
Unlike any other animal ‘we build on very modest foundations and blow them up to extraordinary dimensions of power and complexity’, which has ‘led from the invention of the wheel, less than six thousand years ago, to the wheeling out of the latest passenger jet’.
then these significant secular differences could imply significant secular value differences. Of course, the full value implications require a proper identification of what values are and how they relate to man -- a topic on which Ayn Rand had a thing or two to say.

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