Is Man No More Than An Ape?

Man is a self-glorified ape. He occupies no special place in the Cosmos — a bigoted, specieist idea — and the differences between him and his hairier, happier relatives are merely quantitative. Man has more intelligence as he has less hair than the gorilla, and this alone is the reason for his apparent apartness from the animal kingdom and his puffed-up sense of dominion over the earth.

The ape uses rudimentary tools to feed itself. The human uses complex tools to feed himself. The ape lives in a basic society, complete with leaders, followers, mates, family members, and even friends. The society of man is a more intricate version of the same. An ape can solve simple puzzles. A man can solve complex puzzles. The difference between the two is the same as that between a Model T and a Lamborghini, a sapling and an oak. The human represents a quantitative improvement over the capacities of the orangoutang. He does not dwell in a entirely separate and elevated sphere of existence.

This belief has half a billion benefits, chief among them this: If we are not unique from beasts, then our complicated practice of morality is merely a social and evolutionary construct, as are the varied practices of the animal kingdom. Though the moral construct may be complex and even useful, ultimately it — with its mandate to monogamy, charity and all the rest  – may be disregarded with the same ease of mind as one casts aside any other social and/or evolutionary construct, like eating three meals a day instead of whenever we’d like to eat.

As someone who loves to sin as much as eat whenever I want, I’d snap up this belief like pike does a mackerel if not for those damn cave-paintings in those stupid caves.

By them, man exhibits a characteristic that can only be described as a quantum leap, a qualitative difference between himself and the beasts, a “1″ where the animal is set at “0″, not a “2″ where the animal is set at “1″. Art. That man from our earliest knowledge of him is an artist is evidence of an infinite, insurmountable gap between him and his naked relatives. It is not, as was the case with tool-using, that the ape is a rudimentary artist and man a better one. No animal draws pictures. There is no art in the animal world, while it shines forth in mankind like a lighthouse in an otherwise murky sea, to the point that it is quite literally the first thing we know about prehistoric man. As the journalist G.K. Chesterton pointed out, “All we can say of this notion of reproducing things in shadow or representative shape is that it exists nowhere in nature except in man; and that we cannot even talk about it without treating man as something separate from nature.”

The fundamental reality of art is depiction. Modern art depicts something, even if that something is an intangible abstraction, and existential angst, or an otherwise frightfully modern emotion. But we’ll leave aside the moderns for the moment and focus on the majority of human depiction, which has been of objects, objects lit up with the glorious light of subjectivity — as in the Impressionists — or pushed towards an attempted objectivity — as with the Realists.

Here’s the crux: Depiction requires the ability to view the thing depicted as useless. This is a difficult concept to nail to a board, so allow me say the same thing in several ways, in the hope that one will ring: Art requires us to view an object outside of the normal realm of that object’s usefulness, to view a cornfield in the fact of its being, not just in the fact that it’s useful for growing food.

Art requires that we are able to experience and “speak” of something outside of its useful context, of the water outside of our thirst, the mate outside of our sexual need, and the cow outside of our hunger.

A peach, to us, is for eating, as it is for the ape. But only the human will depict that peach on the wall of his cave, as if it had value not simply in being eaten, but in the fact of being a peach.

If reality is viewed in terms of need-fulfillment, then art, which fulfills no need besides itself, cannot exist. If use is the method by which a subject views the universe, that same subject cannot take a step back and draw the universe, for art is useless. He cannot view the buffalo as being, just being, available to observation, disinterested admiration, love, or simple depiction, if the buffalo is merely useful for man.

This ability to interact with objects outside of their usefulness to us is evidenced by the fact that we interact with everything, while animals have a limited environment. I know about the Milky Way, the periodic table, and the country of Uruguay, things I have no use for. If the environment is given its scientific definition, “the air, water, minerals, organisms, and all other external factors surrounding and affecting a given organism at any time”, then humans have the remarkable ability to transcend their environment, while the ape continues to interact with its environment, and its environment alone, unless trained to do otherwise (i.e. unless something becomes incorporated into its environment through a system of rewards).

The advent of artistic creation is man, it blossoms in the Cosmos from that one, singular source. The human being stands alone, a being that can interact with the world outside of his environment. Thus the human being does indeed stand in a position at once apart from and elevated over that of the beasts. He has dominion over the world, because he is the only being within the cosmos that has a world, a whole world, while all other conscious life has an environment (by its nature limited).

It’s almost as if the world, in some strange and marvelous capacity, exists for him. But bottle the thought, its implications are drastic.


Millennial Misery
The Spirit of Rebellion
The Real World
The Art of Dying
  • Brock

    Is it safe for me to say that you believe if an animal produced art, then it would no longer be considered a beast?

    • Jonathan Easlick

      If a chimp, a dog, a dolphin, or any other beast on the planet created a work of art, even a simple cave painting, without the guidance of humans I’d rethink my theological notions.

      However, you will never ever ever see this happen in nature. You see animals trained, and remembering repetitions, and nothing else.

      • Loud

        Interesting, but though it seems animals cannot apreciate a thing for simply being, they do apreciate shiny objects; they do love to decorate nests with colored fethers and such things, not merely for warmth, but because they like them. Are they enjoying the beauty of the object because it gives pleasure or is interesting, or because, like you said in another post, it is usless and can be loved simply for itself? In other words, dose the animal admire the shiny rock because it likes the way it tickles its eyes the same why an animal might prefer the way a peach’s flavor tickles the tounge? Or is it perhaps a true appreciation of the thing itself, and therefore a primitive art appreciation? If so, then could one consider animal-self decoration and decoration of nests to be primitive art?

        • Barfly_Kokhba

          But human artistic depictions are often not “ticklish,” i.e aesthetically pleasant. Humans create and find value in art that is thought-provoking or viscerally evocative even if it is disturbing or “ugly.”

  • pprenosil

    I tried to get my hamster to paint the ceiling of his cage. He was singularly uncooperative. I think he was just being stubborn.

  • ImSoMetaEvenThisAcronym

    NYT ran an article about chimp art…I suppose it depends on one’s definition of art to say if it exists in the activities of animals or not.

    • Obliged_Cornball

      Thanks for the article. The comments raise an important objection though, in that it’s not clear what the animals “intend” when creating these works. It’s a bit of a leap to call it “art” given this lack of knowledge, but it’s still really cool nonetheless.

      P.S. I also laughed at your username.

      • Caitlin

        Agreed, I’ve read pieces like this elsewhere, but I don’t think anyone can compare the chimps’ “artwork” with the cave paintings Marc is referencing and keep a straight face.

  • Montague

    As a swift head-off of any people who will try to cite “animal art” stories, I will say firstly that (as far as I know) all these cases are produced by human interaction with animals. No animal draws naturally – it is a learned behavior with human guidance.

    Secondly, they are not linear (intellectual). They do not use a shape (stick-figure) to represent a man, but perhaps (and this is a big if, since similarities of this level are just not rigorous evidence but selective guesswork) a yellow smear to make a “banana”. Leaving aside the fact that this seems not to different from, say, having them fetch a ball of a similar color to one you are holding, or some other similar exercise, this is not a production of a representation of an idea but a sensation. They are not using symbols. But a child of two or three will be drawing with stick-figures, which are in fact representative figures.

    So, in sum, animals, even when “painting,” are firstly taught by humans, and secondly not creating symbolic representations, even if they are images at all.

    This fits in well with Christian Philosophy, which both attributes knowledge of forms (ergo symbols as well) to the rational soul and not animal soul of man; and the (somewhat theoretical) Lewisian idea of Humans pouring into animals a bit of rationality.

  • Claude

    Depiction requires the ability to view the thing depicted as useless. Those cave paintings may have been associated with magic. In that sense the utility of the thing is paramount.

    • Obliged_Cornball

      You do raise a good point. Just because the art we produce today delights in uselessness does not mean that cave paintings were “useless” to those who painted them. There are theories assigning spiritual or communicative functions to them, though I’ll admit I don’t know the specifics.

      • Claude

        From what I remember reading about this ages ago, mimesis might have been thought to facilitate a desired result such as slaughtering a beast for dinner. I got rid of that particular art history book so am unable to refer to it. Sorry!

      • DeGaulle

        That’s all they are, theories, without an iota of proof, by reductionists with an agenda.

    • Pedro

      That’s a good point, but it is missing something. Even if cave paintings were solely for religious purposes (and we have no evidence of such),
      depiction itself is something that no animal can do. The drawing of an
      ox is not an ox. It requires the ability of imagining (it’s no
      coincidence this word roots on “image”), to abstract, to draw oneself
      from present time and place and bring upon something that exists only in
      the mind, not in the current environment. That difference is qualitative, not
      quantitative. Read Marc’s post about existence =)

      • Claude

        But the truth value of the assertion depiction requires the ability to view the thing depicted as useless is independent of Marc’s (well, it’s not really Marc’s) argument that the ability to create art distinguishes man from other animals and that as image-maker man reflects his/her origin in a divine creative power (in what appears to be an apologetic for Genesis 1:26). It’s a statement about the disinterestedness of art, and all I’m saying is that counterexamples exist, at least in theory, to the assertion that art is necessarily disinterested.

        On the other hand, you could say that the bison or whatever the hell it is from Altamira shown above is so artfully rendered that there is something more than mere utility at work, but that would depend on how compelling you find the theory of mimesis. If the degree of naturalism determined the power of your ability to snare the beast and not starve, then this art would be quite interested. But there’s no way of knowing.

        • Claude

          Come to think of it, mimesis is at play in the ordination of women controversy.

          Oh but if it’s not a man in imitation of Christ then it won’t work! A primitive notion, it seems.

        • Claude

          Come to think of it, mimesis is at play in the ordination of women controversy.

          Oh but if it’s not a man in imitation of Christ then it won’t work! A primitive notion, it seems.

          • Pedro

            Well, “imitate” someone and act “in persona” are completely different things… ;)

          • Claude

            I could see that one coming…

            A priests acts in the person of Christ. A priest impersonates Christ. A priest mimics Christ. My point stands, though I should’ve avoided the fraught phrase “imitation of Christ.” My bad.

        • Pedro

          I think I see your point. But I think also that I went a little further than Marc. I assumed an hypothesis of all pre-historic art being useful (that is, used for magic etc.) and yet being something that other animals can’t perform, for it is an activity that transcends the very time and space — that is, the environment — where the “artist” finds him/herself. Even if an image painted on the rock is always and completely useful, it is an image and not the thing itself, and humans can do that because they can relate one thing to another (and animals don’t).

          Art’s useless characteristic is an (strong) evidence that humans possess this ability of transcedence — meaning not religion, but the ability to think forward and backward both materially and metaphorically, in time and space. Animals don’t “plan”, as in making projects and prospection. Animals do not “learn from the past” in other way than in a reward conditioning system, within a natural selection scenario, that becomes instinct over time. This human ability is one of the elements scientists (Piaget included, if I’m not wrong) consider essential to form language and rational thinking. Logic, as a matter of fact, comes from a greek word that means that kind of leap from the material, environmental world to the world of ideas.

          • Claude

            I’m not going to dispute that one of the things that distinguishes humans from animals is the ability to make art. (Although the uproar over Piss Christ, and the Protestant Reformation for that matter, makes me wonder how well some humans appreciate the difference between an image and the thing itself.)

            But I’m skeptical of a number of your other points. Humans are obviously much more evolved than other animals, but animals must certainly possess some of the faculties you mention, such as learning from the past. I don’t want to go into the weeds with this, though, since I don’t know much about animal behavior.

  • Obliged_Cornball

    There’s a rather large logical leap between “man is the only creature with a world” and “the world exists for him.” Especially since the “world” is created by an activity man performs (i.e. interaction with things outside the immediate environment). Without man (or some other creature capable of transcending environment, for those holding out for really smart aliens) there is but a series of potential environments. The “world” is a creation of man, who links potential environments together without regard to his/her own location. You might say that a series of potential environments were created with man in mind, but that would require an entirely different argumentative approach.

    I also disagree with morality being easy to disregard if man is just another beast. Many social animals have “rules” that govern interaction with members of their own species (I scarequote “rule” because while the animal cannot conceive of “rules” the same way humans can, it’s easier to explain their behavior by positing their existence). These rules exist for the benefit of the animals, for a flourishing community helps every animal. We can cast it off like the lone wolf cast aside pack law, but we all know the lone wolf’s odds are worse than the pack’s. Likewise, a human without the stable community made possible by adherence to a moral order is much better off in the long run, even if moral obligation requires short-term sacrifices.

  • Dan Li

    … To be honest, I’d be careful drawing such conclusions about the inherent nature of animal ‘intellects’. While I don’t exactly credit our distant, distant evolutionary cousins with much conscious intentionality (or a capability of appreciation of beauty…), I’d rather we try and figure out how to actually perceive such consciousness in the context of “alien contact – culture shock”. By what means can we determine whether or not a being or species has such? To be honest, when I look at a ‘splatter’ painting and when I look at a dog creating a mini-minefield in my yard, the only reason I can tell one had artistic comprehension is that I know that *someone* actually made that painting…

    Also, as a corollary to the above, are there any others here that would rather we *not* be the only sentient/perceptive/rational species out in the universe?

    • Stephanie Larsen

      Nope. I’m very egotistical about my species. :)

  • Tom

    Shamelessly off-topic solicitation: Can you, once the fracas has died down, do a piece on the Manti Te’o Charlie Foxtrot?

    The matter really is interesting, and I have an odd feeling that you’d have something to say about it,

  • Leaf

    Non-human animals don’t create art, but they do other things that are suggestive of them having an inner representation of the world. Squirells bury their nuts and then remember where they left them months later, which suggests some sort of mental map of the forest they live in, since they don’t dig holes at random. Pigeons find their way home using landmarks. Jays seem to have a theory of mind and are more likely to re-hide food if they think another Jay has seen them hide it and might steal it. All kinds of animals play, which has no obvious benefit. Dolphins can be taught a command that tells them to improvise, which involves being creative.

    I also wonder if you count Neanderthals as humans. A Neanderthal flute has been found, as well as a possible painting of a seal, dated to before homo sapiens arrived in Europe.

    Here are some interesting articles about play:

    • Nor

      Do you (and everyone who liked your comment) enjoy meaninglessness? This is honestly not meant to be an antagonistic question. I’ve considered atheism, but I find it near-impossible to function without the meaning that God implies, and I always wonder whether those who are so adamant about proving godlessness are actually content…

      • Will

        Hi Nor,

        For what it’s worth, I am convinced fairly strongly that life is utterly without meaning or purpose. I can’t say that I necessarily “enjoy” the idea, (what’s to enjoy?) but it doesn’t bother me. It’s just the way things are. I wish I could see what a volcano looks like from the caldera during an eruption, or what it’s like to live on Mars, but I’d die. Sucks, but that’s just the way it is. You don’t “enjoy” the fact that there are poisonous animals and crazy people out there who would hurt you in some circumstances, right? It’s just a crappy fact of life. That’s how the meaninglessness thing works. You can try to fake having meaning, or find a religion to tell you what it is, or you can just accept the lack of it and get on with your life. It doesn’t matter either way, heh.

        Look at the alternative, though. If your meaning comes from God, well, first off, you’d better pick the right God, ’cause they have VERY different ideas for your life, depending. Second off, would following a divinely-prescribed “meaning” really give your life any more significance or purpose than just living period? Pursuing a “purpose” that’s set down for you by an authority you’re not even capable of comprehending doesn’t seem to inject a whole lot of actual meaning, just obedience. I don’t see how living without purpose could be considered less desirable than living in slavish obedience to the ideas of an authority you can’t verify, understand, or interact with.

        So, yes, life has no meaning. So what? If you look at your life, you’ll probably find that the vast, overwhelming majority of your daily actions aren’t undertaken in service of some sort of grand plan anyway, it’s just you acting on instinct, getting your brain through another day. One day it’ll peter out and you’ll shut down; so will I. Other people will be born by then. What’s to worry about? The universe got along fine without me for a long time, it will do fine without me when I’m gone.

        • Me2nd

          I could say a lot in response to this post, but I will limit it to responding to the line where you said, “I don’t see how living without purpose could be considered less desirable than living in slavish obedience to the ideas of an authority you can’t verify, understand, or interact with.”

          “slavish obedience” – That’s not how this faith thing works for me. Yes, there are rules I follow because of the God I believe in and the church I’m part of. I don’t believe those rules are there because God or my church is trying to be a tyrant. They’re there to protect me. A parent makes rules for a child (don’t run in the street, don’t touch the hot stove, etc.) out of love, out of a selfless desire for the child’s well-being. That’s how God is with us. Yes, He gives us rules to follow (be faithful and pure in your relationships, don’t steal, take one day a week to rest and reconnect with Him). I don’t think these rules are meant to stifle us, but to help us become the best we can be , to have better relationships. And even more than all this, I believe God that He loves me. Therefore, I trust His rules, and I follow them because of that trust, not because I’m a slave to it. I have tried living apart from this and genuinely felt more enslaved by my inability to quench my own selfishness. (I hope that made sense.)

          “can’t verify” – I cannot PROVE to you that God exists, but I see glimpses of Him every day. There are certain characteristics, “virtues” if you will, present in societies that I cannot come from simple animal instinct. For example, the concept of “honor.” The idea that a soldier should remain with his fellow soldiers in battle even while they are being killed all around him (instead of fleeing) or that a ship captain should go down with his ship are examples of this. “Honor” overrides the animal instinct for survival, choosing love and support for one’s community instead. All that to say….there are these virtues present in society that have nothing to do with continuing society; therefore, these ideas cannot come from pure physical science. There HAS to be something bigger.

          “can’t…understand” – We cannot understand God fully because He is simply greater than us. If we could understand Him, He wouldn’t be God. A gnat cannot understand the complexities of the human mind. We are simply more complex than they are. Similarly, God is more complex, and if we could fully understand Him, He would no longer be great; He would be on the same level as humans. Does that mean we blindly follow and never ask questions? Heck no; we have to do our part to understand as much as we can, but in the end, it really is okay if we don’t understand ALL of it. I don’t understand every single intricate function of my heart, but I trust that it will function beyond my understanding. Just because I don’t get it, doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.

          “can’t…interact with” – This one is going to be painfully short and maybe frustratingly simple. God is Love. The 2 are synonymous. Period. Every experience of love is and experience of God. (This is why I personally have a hard time with the idea of preaching God at people….I think most people already know Him because they love, just might not call Him God like I do.)

          As for purpose…we’re here to love. We’re here to know God and share Him…i.e. love. I came to this conclusion through my time in the church and in relationship with God. Then, I left the church. I realized the times I was happiest, most fulfilled, most “me” were the times I was helping people and loving people. Maybe it sounds a little hippie, but I came back to God and the church. It seemed really complex at the time, but it was really simple. I feel that the fact that I can even fathom wanting to have “meaning” in my life and not just constantly think about food, sleep, survival, etc. means that there is something bigger than my human mind could have made up. My mind can’t fathom something beyond what it has experienced….unless something else put it there. I want meaning. Something had to put that desire there; something has to be able to fulfill it.

    • Phil L

      It makes complete sense that animals would remember where they buried something, find there way home, etc. This is because these actions are tied to the physical, and to come up with examples where non-human animals understand immaterial entities is what we must do to show the difference is only quantitative and not qualitative.

      The main differences between human and non-human animals are that, respectively, one can conceive while the other merely perceives. One cannot tell the difference between 100% correlation and a causal connection. One uses language in a conceptual way, while the other uses it as “natural” signs. Human animals embody immaterial concepts that a non-human animal is not capable of understanding.

      We can understand that some non-human animals are very smart when it comes to physical–reading body language and natural signs.

      But we can also see from the above that there is something important about the human animal that makes it capable of transcending the mere physical. (For the same reason we don’t just build good houses for survival, but rather good houses for survival that are also beautiful and decorated for the sake of it being a good looking house.)

  • anon

    depiction != art, I take it you’ve never assembled Ikea furniture.

    • Claude



  • Brandon Vogt

    Ever. Lasting. Man. :)

  • Two Catholic Men and a Blog

    Besides creating, knowing & loving just for the sake of
    it, Day 7 in Genesis is what separates man from beasts. Man is called to leave
    the beasts behind in Day 6 and find “rest” (convent relationship) with God in Day
    7. How many people relate to God the same way an animal does?
    They do not know or love God, even though they were given the capacity.

    • Loud

      I wouldnt say animals dont know and love God, or at least I wouldnt exactly say it like that. What dose it mean, for example, to be holy?c To be holy, near as I can explain, is to grow closer to the way you are meant to be. Now, humans, having free will, choose to be different from the way God made us, we choose to disobey, to skew our priorities, to mistreat each other, ect. But animals arent guided by morals and concieance, rather, they are guided by the instinct and will act according to it. So when a tree just stands there growing the way a tree should, or a fish eats a smaller fish or a bear eats your dog, they are acting according to the only knowlage they have of their nature, and are therefore acting in accord with holiness. They praise God simply by being. (Humans, however, have to praise God by being, learning, acting on what they learn AND keeping their dogs away from the aforementioned bears.)

  • Noe

    Related to man-as-hairless-ape musings, I picked up recently “Sex at Dusk” by Lynn Saxon, a great response to the book “Sex at Dawn”, a popular missionary tract for pan-sexuality, but also in general a good response to similar ideas floating about regarding proof for our right to freely libidinous behavior due to mere kinship with primates.

  • Adrian

    Marc you may be interested in this:

    • Adrian

      Protestant theologian getting fired for Catholic views

  • reverend robbie

    We’re not descended from these apes. We’re only relatives of theirs. That we would have traits that they appear not to have at all is reasonable and does not separate us from the animal kingdom. And this relentless claim that morality is useless unless it is derived directly from a supernatural source is silly. Constant reexamination of the beneficial and detrimental effects of interactions with our fellow beings is what results in moral progress, not the belief that your actions are endorsed by God while those of others aren’t.

    • Philosiraptor

      I think you’ve missed the relentlessly made point about morality requiring a supernatural source. The key here is that if morality is only an evolved or learned behavior with no supernatural basis, then it has no real authority. It is only another survival mechanism. The concepts “good” and “bad” wouldn’t be real things, even on the very topic of survival of the species. If good and bad are just human inventions, then the statement “survival of humans is good” is no different than “I would like humans to survive.” Should someone decide to start killing off humans for fun, your only appeal could be “I don’t like what you’re doing.” In order to make the statement that this mass murderer *ought* to stop killing people, or in other words that they have a moral obligation to stop, you have to appeal to an authority greater than your personal preferences because why would your preferences trump those of the mass murderer, whose preference is obviously to kill people? If morals have no supernatural basis then you’re stuck – it wouldn’t make sense to judge anyone else’s actions.

      So the fact that cooperative behavior is beneficial to survival does not in and of itself explain these universal obligations that we call morality.

      • RaptorNapalm

        So, which horn do you pick in the Euthyphro dilemma then?

        In your argument, you create a false dichotomy between “every man for himself” and “supernatural authority” as the arbiter of morality. We don’t have to go all the way to “supernatural authority” to get to an authority greater than each individual. We already do that – the authority is society, with moral standards enforced by governments. And it’s a better authority for its ability to be improved upon.

        This is the great thing about humans as opposed to other animals – our reasoning ability has crossed a threshold where we can create complex institutions and adjust them based on empirical observations. A “supernatural” authority, in the only incarnations we’ve ever seen, is stuck more or less with the same bronze age version of morality it had when its followers dreamed it up. Gods must be dragged kicking and screaming into the 21st century by secular moral reasoning.

        If fact, cooperative behavior being beneficial to survival DOES go almost all the way to explaining moral obligations. A very simple principle – calculating what would happen to society if everyone acted a certain way, and encouraging/discouraging behaviors appropriately, is good enough to generate a fairly serviceable moral framework. As scientific methods to reason about sociology improve, we can continue to improve the laws of society to local maxima, maybe even to global maxima.

        “Supernatural” morality will always be as bad as the rules that never give way to something better.

        • Philosiraptor

          I read up on the Euthyphro dilemma, and I believe that it is in fact not a dilemma. God’s moral commands come from God’s very nature. The “second horn” of the dilemma as presented in the referenced wikipedia article supposes that if God commands morality, it has to be an arbitrary command. God’s nature is goodness, therefore his moral commands are good. It is meaningless to say “what if God’s nature was different, then morals would be different” because God’s nature isn’t different. It would be like spending a whole bunch of time and effort figuring out what physics might be like if the gravitational force was repulsive instead of attractive – you’d be studying something purely academic that does not correspond to reality. This doesn’t limit God’s power because any more than saying “God can’t make a square circle,” because those kinds of things would be irrational and God’s perfection would be called into question if he violated his own rational and good nature. To be irrational is what would limit God’s power.

          So what about society being the authority greater than the individual for enforcing morality. This would have a couple of important implications: 1) Morality would be just a “majority rules” game; a pair of isolated individuals could have no morality regarding actions toward each other because neither could out-vote the other. 2) Society’s ability to enforce rules is just saying that a larger group of like-minded people will have more power to enforce their desires than a smaller group. This does not actually produce moral obligations, it only produces a greater ability to enforce individual desires, so the things we’re calling “morals” would still have their sole basis in individual preferences.

          If sociology and anthropology are able to completely explain how humans developed moral codes, and we understand this process, are we not then freed from any binding authority of these moral codes by virtue of having discovered that there is no authority enforcing them – they’re just human inventions? So again we land at Dostoyevsky’s statement that “without God, anything is permissible.”

          • Reverend Robbie

            (One of) the problem(s) with your argument is that even if morality does come from a supernatural source, you have no reasonable evidence that you have identified those morals properly. You only have morals that people claim have come from God. You can claim that about any moral idea you have, which only makes the God claim useful for illegitimately earning credibility for your particular ideas.

            This is where arguments against gay marriage get the only credibility they have. A group of people get an idea that homosexuality is gross, they decide to call gay marriage immoral, and then they claim that God agrees with them. It circumvents the need to demonstrate that gay marriage truly would be detrimental to human well-being.

            Now if you actually could demonstrate that a God exists, that God knows what’s best for us better than we do, and that you actually know what God wants, then your claim would be truly legitimate. Until then, the only arena for real discussion about morality is one that involves observation of the real-world consequences of our actions and how they demonstrably relate to human well-being.

          • Philosiraptor

            You’re still presupposing that people ought to be looking out for human well being. If what you’re calling morals are only derived from the application of science and reason to further the cause of overall human well-being, then what is the driving force behind the obligation to look out for human well-being? It would be circular to suggest that this obligation comes from itself.

            Now if you appeal to evolutionary survival motives to justify this position, you are no longer talking about morals in the sense of obligations, but only of instincts. And we have free will which allows us to choose to disobey our instincts (this in fact is what makes moral behavior possible and sensible). Therefore, if I were to recognize the idea that is at the very core of morality per your definition (i.e., morality is a code established to further human well-being) is only an instinctual behavior, then we again arrive at my point, which is that “morality” as a human invention and not as a supernatural reality has no authority to obligate. It would render all moral judgement superficial. Society’s attempts to enforce morality would be nothing more than an instinctive and purposeless survival attempt.

            So let me ask you this: Why, then, do you say that people are *obligated* to look out for other humans?

            Also, careful with you claim that there is no evidence that gay marriage would be detrimental to overall human well-being. You may disagree with this, but reason-based arguments well beyond with legitimate sociological studies backing them up do exist on this topic, arguments that go well beyond “because the Bible says so”:


          • Philosiraptor

            Please excuse my poor editing of my last sentence – should read as follows: You may disagree with this, but reason-based arguments with legitimate sociological studies backing them up do exist on this topic, arguments that go well beyond “Because the Bible Says So.”

          • Reverend Robbie

            Good lord, I made it about this far in the link you provided: “There is both positive and negative evidence. We will consider the
            positive evidence here and discuss the negative evidence in Part IV. On
            the positive front, explanations for the need for sexual complementarity
            vary, but experience from every world culture shows it to be true. The
            Russian existentialist philosopher Nicholas Berdyaev tried to explain
            the need for sexual complementarity by saying that loneliness is part of
            the human condition and that loneliness occurs because, deep down, we
            all realize that neither a man by himself nor a woman by herself is
            biologically completely human. Each lacks the perfections and
            capabilities of the opposite sex, and in that sense each is
            incomplete-and lonely-without the other.”

            This is not legitimate reasoning, nor does it have any basis in evidence. The article does not make any specific endorsement of this statement, but it makes no efforts to point out how idiotic this statement is either. Sorry, man, but I’m not buying that these “legitimate sociological studies” are anything more than bigotry dressed up in fancy psychological or philosophical terminology. It is not supported by any consensus of psychologists. Rather than send me on a goose chase through some link, please tell me, what do you think is a legitimate argument against same sex marriage?

            And how did you come about this position against gay marriage? Did you read the sociological studies and determine that gay marriage is detrimental to society? Or did you start from your dislike for homosexual activity or your belief that God doesn’t like it and then look for some vague and wordy support for your prejudice? (and no, I didn’t read it all; I’ll admit that up front; I just can’t go down every rabbit hole someone sends me down; I get book recommendations weekly from believers; please articulate your argument to me and I’ll happily read it).

            The bigger point is what I said above. Nobody is making us look out for human well being except for those of us who insist on it. It’s a shame we don’t have better guidance than that of fallible humans, but wishing for a God to tell us what to do does not grant us that wish.

          • Reverend Robbie

            “weekly” is a bit of hyperbole. I get a fair amount of book recommendations.

          • lakingscrzy

            The first two words, “same sex”. It serves no purpose. If a man and a woman wish to get married I have a reason to support it, or not(you can object at a wedding), they can produce children for the rest of us. A same sex relationship is for nobody else but the two getting married, so there is no reason for me to support it. This is purely secular rationalization. Like you two above were arguing about morality, I can only use what I see around me as a guide for what is good and not good, and I see no benefit to me or anybody around me that I support an intrinsicallyunfruitfull marriage.

          • Claude

            Marriage is a stabilizing institution in society. If not it would not, depending on your preference, have developed organically or been decreed by God.

            Furthermore there is no dearth of children. Many gay couples adopt difficult-to-place and other unwanted children. This is obviously a positive thing, and the objection that gay couples make inferior parents is sheer bigotry.

          • Barfly_Kokhba

            Immanuel Kant’s universal law is the best argument against so-called homosexual “marriage.” Using Kant’s categorical imperative is the only realistic way to formulate any collective moral code in a secular society, without resorting to either authoritarian imposition or religious doctrine.

          • Claude

            You are bold, sir. Care to back up these assertions?

          • Barfly_Kokhba

            You think I can explain better than Kant? I’m flattered, but do your own homework.

          • avalpert

            You might need to do your own – I take it you never read Altman’s Kant and Applied Ethics?

          • Barfly_Kokhba

            Matthew Altman writes on Kantian ethics with the specific purpose of denying and/or distorting Kant’s own clear positions. Altman’s opinions mean nothing to me, so I’m not sure what your point is.

          • avalpert

            Actually, I think you make my point quite well. Altman is applying Kant’s categorical imperative, that he sometimes reaches conclusions other than Kant doesn’t change that. Even great philosophers can be fallible.

            You aren’t actually interested in using the categorical imperative to formulate a moral code – you are interested in codifying (probably selectively) some of Kant’s premises which were biased and limited by his cultural context and knowledge (his basis for ‘unnatural sex’ being a great example of that as it demonstrates misunderstandings about the biological basis of sexuality).

            So, the point is that, taking your initial advice and applying the categorical imperative at the very least can reasonably lead to a solid defense of gay marriage and at best is inconclusive depending on what assumptions you make about the nature of homosexual attraction.

            But of course you aren’t interested in Kant unless it conforms to your authoritarian impositions and religious doctrine, are you?

          • Barfly_Kokhba

            I’m not the one recommending a modern commentary to Kant’s work while simultaneously misrepresenting Kant himself in an attempt to discredit and diminish his actual original writing, so your last statement/rhetorical question is the height of disingenuousness and rank hypocrisy. You are the one seeking to twist Kant’s work to your own vain political ends.

          • avalpert

            hahaha, yes you seem to be confusing philosophy for commentary and philosophers for the pope – I’m not surprised, my guess is you probably also confuse theology for philosophy.

            No one is twisting Kant’s work, that some of his premises may have been wrong isn’t a misrepresentation or an attempt to discredit him or diminish his work – it is the consequence of human fallibility and the ongoing work of philosophy and science. In the real world we actually have expanded our knowledge since the 1700s and it does impact the application of ethical frameworks like the categorical imperative.

            Kant wouldn’t take that personally, I don’t know why you do.

          • Barfly_Kokhba

            Here’s the sequence of our discourse thus far, my friend:

            1. I mention Kant’s ethical treatises as containing a fine argument against homosexual “marriage.”

            2. You mention some modern college teacher’s commentary by way of claiming that I need to do more “homework” on Kant

            3. I point out that I am referring to Kant’s original work and his actual clearly-stated positions, and am not concerned with what a modern commentator has to say about them

            4. You accuse me of being, and I quote, “not interested in Kant unless it conforms to [my] authoritarian impositions and religious doctrine.”

            5. I point out that I am the one who brought Kant up and am the one representing Kant’s own positions, so your statement that I am “not interested in Kant unless it conforms to my blah blah blah…” is absurd and hypocritical.

            6. You accuse me of taking things personally.

            Thanks for the laughs. You might be confused, but you are still a funny little person.

          • Claude

            Barfly has offers insult in lieu of making explicit his Kantian argument against gay marriage. Duly noted.

          • Barfly_Kokhba

            “Has offers insult”, eh? Claude, I am well-familiar with the futility of attempting logical debate with you, my friend. You’re smarter than me, smarter than Kant, you’re a veritable avatar of the wisdom of the Brave New World under the Permanent Democratic Majority. Enjoy it, my friend, and don’t worry about me and my silly outdated opinions.

          • Claude

            “Has offers insult”

            “Just don’t be an ass.”

            And I’m not your friend.

          • avalpert

            Ah, I see you are still confused on what Philosophy is and Philosophers as opposed to dogma and popes. Okay, let me annotate your understanding to help you out:

            “1. I mention Kant’s ethical treatises as containing a fine argument against homosexual “marriage.”” What you meant to say was you mentioned Kant’s categorical imperative as the best basis for a secular morality. The categorical imperative can be a perfectly good framework without Kant’s application of it to specific ethics being 100% correct. Philosophers are infallible and their treatise don’t go unquestioned – parts of it can be right and parts wrong. In this case, when you evaluate the basis for his argument against homosexuality (and masturbation for that matter) you find that he has some false premises on the nature of sexual desire and some questionable assumptions regarding its ends and the way it impacts ones humanity.

            “2. You mention some modern college teacher’s commentary by way of claiming that I need to do more “homework” on Kant”

            I mentioned a Doctor of Philosophy who is a university professor (you don’t have to be a dick just because he is more accomplished in the field than you are) and as a philosopher has written extensively about the application of the categorical imperative. So yes, if you want to understand what the implications of that are for applied ethics you do need to do more homework.

            “3. I point out that I am referring to Kant’s original work and his actual clearly-stated positions, and am not concerned with what a modern commentator has to say about them”

            Right, you confuse Kant’s ethics for the last word on the categorical imperative because you don’t understand how philosophy works. You are concerned with how modern philosophers have viewed it because you aren’t concerned with philosophy; you are concerned with justifying your religious dogma.

            “5. I point out that I am the one who brought Kant up and am the one representing Kant’s own positions, so your statement that I am “not interested in Kant unless it conforms to my blah blah blah…” is absurd and hypocritical.”

            Actually, my pointing out that you don’t care about Kant unless it conforms is astute and a useful observation for others who might mistake your citation of Kant as an implication that you are interested in philosophical investigation of ethics as opposed to just a post-hoc justification of your religion

            “6. You accuse me of taking things personally.”

            Because you do

            “Thanks for the laughs. You might be confused, but you are still a funny little person.”

            I wish you were funny, it would at least make your confusion interesting. But no, you are just a run of the mill dogmatist who does know crap about philosophy but when you see a conclusion you agree with pretend that the framework works for you. Even if that conclusion is based on premises now known to be clearly false.

          • Barfly_Kokhba

            Here’s what I got from your latest screed:

            “Philosophers are infallible…I mentioned a Doctor of Philosophy who is a university professor …he is more accomplished in the field than you are…you don’t understand how philosophy works…my pointing out that you don’t care about Kant unless it conforms is astute and a useful observation …you are just a run of the mill dogmatist who does know crap about philosophy.”

            Yes, my friend. You win. It is I who am dogmatic and taking things personally, and you are clearly the impartial arbiter of impersonal objectivity in this discussion. Enjoy your stunning intellectual victory and the rest of your day.

          • avalpert

            Yeah it figures you would skip through the substance. I would say it is a shame you aren’t interested in philosophy and prefer ideology, but whatever no loss to the world.

          • Claude

            I’ve read it; let’s hear it with regard to your assertion that:

            Immanuel Kant’s universal law is the best argument against so-called homosexual “marriage.”

          • Reverend Robbie

            I’m not appealing to anything. There is, as far as I can tell, no “obligation to look out for human well being”. I simply insist on it, and I will do everything I can to get others to strive for it. I know you think that makes my claim invalid, but just claiming that a supernatural being insists that we look out for human well being does not make it so.

            Morality is complicated and there may be nobody dictating whether or not we have to be nice to people. But some of us have decided that we like the world better if we treat each other well and that we will encourage each other to do so. Why we need more motivation than that to form a cooperative society is beyond me.

            Again, just deciding how you want people to act and then claiming that God agrees with you doesn’t get you anywhere unless people give credibility to your made-up endorsement from the supernatural.

          • Philosiraptor

            Well it seems we have reached agreement then -
            without the supernatural basis, there is no obligation to look out for human well being, it is mere preference. The necessary conclusion of this is that it does not make sense to morally judge others’ actions. An example is that you cannot claim that the actions of the Nazis in the Holocaust were wrong, but only that they were different. The Jews being oppressed would have been on your side, not preferring the Holocaust, but they didn’t have the
            power to enforce their desires, so they lost. And since there’s no real basis for morality, who are we to say that the Nazis were wrong? We can only say that we personally would have done differently.

            That, to me, is wholly unsatisfying. Upon hearing that, my sense of
            justice screams foul. It is completely contrary to the human experience. This was one of the main drivers that made me begin to question my atheism – when challenged on my prior position of materialism, and when I honestly looked at how my atheist position could not support the evidence of my life experience (that I have free will and that morality actually obligates me), I began to consider the possibility that perhaps the vast majority of all humanity that has believed in the divine might be on to something. So I went looking for the evidence, and found it consistent with my life experience. The Catholic explanation fits reality. It fits history. It its science. It fits good philosophy. Above all it fits the human experience. Of course, if you start off by presupposing materialism, you’ll reject any evidence of the supernatural purely on the basis that it doesn’t fit your presupposed assumption, but that’s not being intellectually honest. That’s how I lived the first 20 years of my life, and I realize now what a mistake it was. In Catholicism I have found freedom and joy, true love for my fellow humans (even ones with same-sex attraction), and a source of peace.

            I believe that Catholicism is true on the basis of evidence, experience, philosophy, and even science to the limited extent that science can provide evidence of the supernatural (that is, it cannot prove supernatural positions, but it can demonstrate that it is consistent with supernatural doctrines by not contradicting any of them). However, I want to briefly consider what the role of religion in society would be if atheism were true. Since all “moral” guidance would be based on personal preference alone, and not on any transcendent truth, it would not actually matter if peoples’ beliefs corresponded to reality. Therefore, if a set of false beliefs existed that gave millions upon millions of people a sense of peace and joy, and that motivated them to love and support their neighbors, this would be a desirable institution. That is what you have in something like The Catholic Church. You may argue that carrying out Catholic beliefs is oppressive to some (though I think you’d be mistaken), but to NOT carry out those beliefs would deprive millions of others of their peace, so that would be unfair too. This is just some food for thought, since you’re obviously on a bit of a war path against Catholic teaching – just wanted to point out that your own ideas on morality don’t justify your anti-Catholic position.

            I want to thank you for the opportunity you’ve given me to lay out some of my ideas in words – this is always a beneficial exercise in being able to defend my faith. I hope that you will honestly
            consider the possibility of a supernatural reality and be willing the judge the evidence fairly. If God could guide a devoutly anti-Catholic atheist like me home to the faith, I’m sure He can do it for you too, in due time, if only you’ll let Him. This is my last response on this thread. May God bless you, whether you know it or not.

          • Reverend Robbie

            I find it deeply satisfying that we have to decide for ourselves what kind of world we want to live in.

            Welp, back off to my war path, I guess! Congrats on Godwin!

          • Barfly_Kokhba

            Reverend Robbie, after following the back-and-forth here, no offense, but you don’t seem to be deeply satisfied with the idea that “we have to decide for ourselves what kind of world we want to live in.”

            Also, your understanding of evolution seems rather simplistic and incomplete, not to mention highly ironic in the sense that you seem to be giving it some linear trajectory and moral character of its own.

            There is no reason to think, from any scientific standpoint, that man is the culmination or apex of any evolutionary process (as opposed to merely one current permutation among many). Proportionately speaking, germs have killed more men than men have killed germs. It seems quite possible, if not likely, that our own technology will end up destroying our civilizations before it ever helps us collectively “transcend” our ultimate limitations. Current bio-science indicates support for the idea that animals–including humans–might actually be massive ecosystems, comprised mainly out of microbes. There is no reason to think that humans will outlast all other species of (even physiologically similar) animals in the long-term.

            The idea that human standards of morality “evolved” due to social benefits presents a dilemma similar to that of the “hard” question of subjective human consciousness. We understand more and more “how” human consciousness works, as far as process. Yet we get no closer, not even a little, to understanding why it exists in the first place. We can see how moral standards benefit us collectively only “from the outside, looking in.” But how–not to mention why–did we develop the capacity to see from “the outside” in the first place?
            Aside from the fear of being caught and punished, how did “pre-religious” man (not that it seems there actually ever was any such creature) come upon or “evolve” the idea that stealing is wrong?

            And if moral standards developed only concomitantly with religious practices, how can mere human will ever separate the two? Do you honestly think it can be done with the ideas of national allegiance or civic duty? Leave aside whether you think it is desirable or not–do you honestly think it is even possible, without turning humanity for all intents and purposes into a might-makes-right, highly technological monkey troop, the self-created “moral codes” of which will eventually be directed AGINST the exact “progressive” principles that modern, secular industrialized Westerners take as somehow self-evident? Can you give any sort of historical or physical evidence for such an idea, apart from it seeming like it would be nice?

          • Reverend Robbie

            Ummm, I didn’t say any of that outside of your quote in the first sentence. I specifically stated at the beginning that my morals DON’T come from evolution. Aside from that I said absolutely nothing about evolution. I definitely never said that humans are the apex of evolution or that evolution is linear (whatever that would even mean), especially since I stated that we are relatives of current apes rather than descendents of them. That is a clear acknowledgment of the branching of evolution. The entire body of your response after the first sentence is centered around these straw men.

            Before I move on, however, I need to make a concession related to that first sentence. I will happily concede what you stated in your first sentence. I’m not entirely satisfied that our morals are up to us. I should not have said that. I find discussions about the complexity of morality satisfying, but I am disappointed that such a thing is left up to flawed humans such as ourselves. Good point there.

            Now, to recap the rest of what I said: I see no evidence that there is an objective morality handed down from a supernatural being. I choose my values, and I choose to value that which advances human well being (or perhaps what furthers the well being of conscious creatures, as Sam Harris says). Full stop.

            As I just conceded, it’s a shame if there’s no omniscient source that can tell us how to pull that off, but I see no potential progress in simply making up such a being and then saying that he tells you what we should do. That’s what I think religion, in a nutshell, tries to do, and it just mucks up the process of evaluating the cause and effect relationships of our actions on human well being. What it can do is artificially generate credibility for your particular ideas about morality. While I can see some potential benefit from this (if the morals you say God endorses come from a good evaluation of what actions further human well being), I find it at least dishonest and at worst detrimental (if the morals you say God endorses come from self-serving interests or poor rationality rather than those that are actually best for human well being).

            UNLESS you demonstrate that there is an omniscient being and that it does communicate to you what is best for us, then we’re left with the less-than-satisfying, but nonetheless accurate, statement that we’ve got to come up with our values for ourselves, encourage others to uphold those values as best we can, and try our best to determine what actions will achieve those values. I don’t for a second think that this is an easy task.

            That part about demonstrating that there is an omniscient being that communicates with you and has the best interests of conscious creatures in mind is really the rub, then.

          • Barfly_Kokhba

            If human life is the result of evolution (and I believe it is) then how could any of our social conventions–from moral standards to interpersonal communication to religious practices–NOT be the result of evolution? If they didn’t evolve with us as part of our fundamental make-up then where did we get them? You are positing a fully materialistic worldview. Whence, then, have moral standards derived heretofore?

          • Reverend Robbie

            I see what you mean. I think this is a great avenue for us to pursue, and I may have an answer for you but it would depend on your help defining a term. When you say, “Whence have moral standards derived heretofore,” what do you mean when you say “moral standards”? Here are some possibilities. Don’t feel restricted to choosing from this list, but please do consider whether one of them actually represents your meaning of moral standards. I’m not trying to pigeon-hole you into any semantics trap. I really do think that one of these must be the definition:

            1. Moral Standards = those behaviors that benefit, more or less collectively, human well being or the well being of conscious creatures while on this planet.

            2. Moral Standards = those behaviors that benefit, more or less collectively, human well being or the well being of conscious creatures while on this planet. This standard can only be understood by listening to the God, as he is omniscient, cares for our well being, and provides a method of communicating with him to understand what behaviors will best benefit us.

            3. Moral Standards = those behaviors that God dictates, regardless of whether they benefit human well being on this planet, because God has moral standards that impact our standing in the afterlife, and the primary purpose of morality is to achieve the best afterlife.

            Feel free to goof with my wording or anything like that to form a better definition, but I hope you will provide me with something relatively meaningful. Something like “Moral Standards = that which is right” I would find difficult to work with. By all means please say so if you think that’s an appropriate definition, but that may derail any progress. I guess what is most useful to me is understanding how you think the definition of “Moral Standards” relates to human well being, if in fact you think it relates to that at all.

            If you provide me with an answer to that, I think I MAY have a satisfactory answer for you.

          • Reverend Robbie

            I think I should add a fourth possibility:

            4.Moral Standards = those behaviors that God dictates, regardless of
            whether they benefit human well being on this planet, because what is important is doing what God wants regardless of the impacts on humans or other conscious creatures.

            Mostly just thinking out loud. Let me know your thoughts!

          • Reverend Robbie

            And I realize that basically what you’re saying is, “Where did we ever get any urge to care for general human well being?” I’m planning to go there, but your definition will still be helpful.

          • DeGaulle

            ‘I simply insist on it…’: and who in hell are you, sonny boy?

          • Reverend Robbie

            I’m nobody. It would be nice if I could say, “… and a supernatural, all-powerful being agrees with me,” but I can’t say that in good conscience. What do you want me to do, say it anyway just because it would be effective? That seems dishonest and manipulative to me.

          • soren

            “Now if you actually could demonstrate that a God exists” – cf. miracles and the recordings of miracles (and of course to underscore this point – enter into the historicity of Scripture: intellectual honesty needed); “that God knows what’s best for us better than we do” – that creator knows better than created is easy; “that you actually know what God wants” – again, Bible/OT is testimony of God’s revelation of self, preceding of course his actual incarnation, which too has been recorded (again, with intellectual honesty engage in the long proofs of critical study – not to mention the revelation of himself through nature); “then your claim would be truly legitimate” – thank you. Be careful not to judge the person by its constituents. BTW – the biblical authority against homosexuality does not stem from OT law, but rather the principle (as explained in Romans 2) that all worship of God stems from honoring Him as the creator God, and that homosexuality is de facto a living parable of human’s refusal to honor God (and his creation) as the creator. This also leads us to the real-world consequences, which is that the survival of humans is dependent upon the family and the first commandment of be fruitful and multiply. God first created an environment and then the family and means to procreate. This speaks to a biblical understanding of family, and the para phusin of homosexuality… There is a context within which procreation should be enjoyed as endowed and ordained stewards of creation who are commanded to be fruitful and multiply. P.S. I can provide an answer as to why evil exists… can you provide one as to why beauty and the truly good exist?

          • Reverend Robbie

            Yup, no other way we could have recordings of miracles than if they actually happened. Your “thank you” can only be responded to with “you’re welcome.” Take your victory lap, sir. Oh, beauty and good could be subjective, and “truly” good could be non-existent. I don’t recall asking why evil exists (I have asked it before just I don’t recall asking in this thread), but I’m guessing you will say, “man’s folly” or “devil”, or something else that couldn’t possibly be post hoc explanations or raise more questions than they answer. Given that, take an additional lap for the race I didn’t know we were having.

          • GOD

            Hi, it’s GOD here. Sorry it took a while to get around to this (been busy elsewhere). OK, along with everything else (including the internet), I invented the “Forum Moderator”, but sadly obviously not enough of them, otherwise I wouldn’t need to moderate these things myself. OK, so where was I, oh yeah, your little undergraduate debate about morality, um, sorry, but no points scored on either side. I wish I could offer encouragement, or even a few clues, but you’re all so wide of the mark with your heads up your own asses, I’m afraid it would be another waste of my time, as this is (I’m missing Golden Girls for this).

      • Reverend Robbie

        It’s a false dichotomy that morality is either evolved or supernatural. Our urges are evolved, but they do not sum up morality, and some of our urges and instincts are very much immoral. Reasonable morality is the result of critical observation of the impacts of our decisions, and determining which actions contribute to human well-being and which diminish it.

        A great way to circumvent such such a real-world analysis of consequences is simply to state that you have a better idea of what’s moral and that it’s endorsed by God. You may apply God’s endorsement to actions that correspond to consequentialist morals, or you may apply God’s endorsement to actions that conflict with these morals. Either way, the claim that God agrees with your morals is either unnecessary or counterproductive.

        On the other hand, consequentialist morality stands on its own if we, as a society, choose to encourage behaviors that contribute to human well-being, and discourage or legally punish (depending on the severity) actions that conflict with progress toward human well-being. Appealing to God only works to gain credibility without appealing to real-world consequences.

    • Agni Ashwin

      True, no currently living human has descended from any currently living ape.

      • reverend robbie

        Notre from any currently existing species of ape.

        • Reverend Robbie


  • Reality_Check

    Except chimps *DO* have art. Your whole argument fails.

    • Dumbo
      • Cameron

        We should probably understand that the two cases of animal art brought up are both experiments of classical conditioning on animals. The same way you can teach a dog to sit is the way you would teach an elephant to make a proper brush stroke. Do this a bunch of times and the elephant appears to be creating a picture all on its own. This is exactly how we’ve taught animals to paint. Not by explaining to them what they are doing but by rewarding them when they create proper brush strokes.

        Saying that an elephant conceptualizes and paints when led by its trainer would be like saying my computer conceptualizes and paints when I move the mouse to draw on word.

        Some more info about the elephant is linked here:

    • Cal-J

      When humans teach and otherwise interact with them, they do. Notice how they artistry of the elephant in Dumbo’s video comes complete with her mahout whispering in her ear.

  • John

    This is an interesting concept, the idea of beauty as uselessness. But being somewhat more soulessly rational than Marc, I’d prefer Feser’s explanation (or at least his angle of approach): when it comes to behaviour such as this.

  • BAM!
  • Cherelynn

    Well howdy ho to this super Saturday! Great article here…I hope you are enjoying the weekend and getting to do some fun family activities! Be sure and put a note in your snood that TEEN WEEK starts Feb 1st on the Makeup University blog with MASSIVE giveaways and celebrity guest blog posts! See you soon!
    Ciao ciao for now!

  • Tommy O’Donnell

    I wonder if maybe C.S. Lewis gives the best response to the “What if animals did one day create art?” debate in the Space Trilogy. Lewis demonstrates for us how other species (on other planets) can live in harmony with God and yet not be destined for heaven or have the same sort of elevated existence as humans. God loves those creatures, but his plans for them are more simply relegated to that of their current environment. The other species encountered in Out of the Silent Planet *do have an awareness of God, a self-awareness, and are artistic beings, but that doesn’t mean that they are higher than humans in the chain of being. Humans, although fallen (while the new species Dr. Ransom encounters are not fallen) are known to be God’s favorite (because he took our form). I’m not saying that chimps or whales or dolphins are as smart as pfifltriggi or hrossa, but that in Lewis’ sci-fi theology, the primacy of humanity is not brought into question by the presence of other intelligent species. What it *does call into question is how we treat those species. If we one day learned that whales were super-intelligent beings, we might be more careful in our management of the oceans.

    Overall though, I don’t think we need to worry about the intelligence of other known species. I’m just pointing out that the possibility of it shouldn’t call one’s faith into question. Great post!

  • RM

    Elephant painting a picture

  • Contra Mundo

    I think the other thing that separates men from animals is how we interact with our environment. Animals adapt to their environment while men adapt their environment to themselves. Wolves eat cattle. People breed cattle to be tastier. Apes use tools to get more food. People use tools to alter our environment to get more food.

  • Anna E

    Marc, your articles on art and beauty are always so inspiring. I’m a painter myself, but I find it hard to communicate the idea of beauty in written and spoken words without sounding so cheesy. You, on the other hand, sound rather Thomistic (and okay, Chestertonian for sure, if you start throwing out triple parentheses); you are able to convey the metaphysical, the spiritual quality of beauty very clearly. Thank you and God bless you.

  • Blake Edward Adams
  • Leonhard

    A peccadillo: All humans are apes, that’s correct. However orangutangs aren’t apes.

  • Reverend Robbie

    Has anyone already discussed the Vogelkop Bowerbird?