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Do animals possess morality?

Do humans only differ in degree from animals?

Published: 26 May 2012 (GMT+10)
wikipedia.org/innoxiuss Inherent reasoning and syntactic language abilities are two defining characteristics that set humans apart from the rest of creation.
Inherent reasoning and syntactic language abilities are two defining characteristics that set humans apart from the rest of creation.

Evolutionists often use instances of animal ‘altruism’ and tool use as evidence that humans differs only in degree, not in kind, from the rest of the animal kingdom. CMI’s Lita Cosner shows how this fails to consider that uniquely human traits such as reasoning and language that set humans apart from any other creature God has made.

D.M. from Canada writes:


I recently did some research into what evolutionists call is some sort of “animal morality”, and found out about various forms of “altruism”, and even “fairness”, in different animal species.

This is from Wikipedia:

  • Animals such as Capuchin monkeys and dogs also display an understanding of fairness, refusing to co-operate when presented unequal rewards for the same behaviors.
  • Dogs often adopt orphaned cats, squirrels, ducks and even tigers.
  • Dolphins support sick or injured animals, swimming under them for hours at a time and pushing them to the surface so they can breathe.
  • Wolves and wild dogs bring meat back to members of the pack not present at the kill.
  • Male baboons threaten predators and cover the rear as the troop retreats.
  • Gibbons and chimpanzees with food will, in response to a gesture, share their food with others of the group. Chimpanzees will help humans and conspecifics without any reward in return.
  • Bonobos have been observed aiding injured or handicapped bonobos.
  • Vampire bats commonly regurgitate blood to share with unlucky or sick roost mates that have been unable to find a meal, often forming a buddy system.
  • Raccoons inform conspecifics about feeding grounds by droppings left on commonly shared latrines. A similar information system has been observed to be used by common ravens.
  • In numerous bird species, a breeding pair receives support in raising its young from other “helper” birds, including help with the feeding of its fledglings. Some will even go as far as protecting an unrelated bird’s young from predators-Most mammal carnivores like wolves or dogs have a habit of not harming pack members below certain age, of opposite sex or in surrendering position (in case of some animals, the behavior exists within entire species rather than one pack).
  • Vervet Monkeys give alarm calls to warn fellow monkeys of the presence of predators, even though in doing so they attract attention to themselves, increasing their personal chance of being attacked.
  • Walruses have been seen adopting orphans who lost their parents to predators.
  • Some termites and ants release a sticky secretion by fatally rupturing a specialized gland. This autothysis altruistically aids the colony at the expense of the individual insect. For example, defending against invading ants by creating a tar baby effect.
  • Meerkats often have one standing guard to warn whilst the rest feed in case of predators attack.
  • African buffalo will rescue a member of the herd captured by predators.

“Many social animals such as primates, dolphins and whales have shown to exhibit what Michael Shermer refers to as premoral sentiments. According to Shermer, the following characteristics are shared by humans and other social animals, particularly the great apes:

“‘attachment and bonding, cooperation and mutual aid, sympathy and empathy, direct and indirect reciprocity, altruism and reciprocal altruism, conflict resolution and peacemaking, deception and deception detection, community concern and caring about what others think about you, and awareness of and response to the social rules of the group.’”

I have to admit, in my mind, suddenly the evolutionist doesn’t seem so wrong to claim there is only a difference of degree instead of kind between us and animals, at least when it comes to key aspects of our behavior. It seems that this morality for animals is more along the lines of what helps the species survive, as a group. But morality for humanity seems to be much more than that. In fact, lots of times, doing the right thing, maybe not always benefit you. Still, this argument has probably been encountered by evolutionists and they probably have a response to it.

What can I say to the above proof?

CMI’s Lita Cosner responds:

Dear D.,

Many animals have fascinating behaviors such as those you cited in your email. But it isn’t clear to what extent this is ‘instinct’ and to what extent the animal is consciously deciding, or is able to consciously decide, to behave in an altruistic manner. In any case, these behaviors are consistent with the animals having a good creator who gave them the ability to act in these ways. One should be careful, however, not to overly anthropomorphize animals by giving them human motives.

The tendency to argue that animals have emotions, too, and that these are different in degree only, not kind, from human emotions may have originated with Charles Darwin in the 1871 book The Descent of Man. He wrote a controversial book in 1872 entitled The Expression of Emotion in Man and Animals, which was one of the first books to utilize photography for scientific study. The problem was, many of the photos were faked! This is documented in several places, including The Dark Side of Charles Darwin by Jerry Bergman.

Even if we grant that the animals consciously decide to be altruistic in some circumstances, this hardly means that the difference between them and us is only one of degree, not of kind. For one thing, humans are uniquely able to reason about their conceptions of right and wrong—that’s how we get the branch of philosophy called ethics. The Bible teaches that humans, and humans alone, are created in the image of God, and only we have been given a dominion mandate over creation. Humans alone have the ability to communicate with language—some birds and apes have been taught some vocabulary, and as impressive as some of the relevant studies are, no animal has made the leap from vocabulary to the sort of grammar and syntax that a small child intuitively knows and uses.

Furthermore, humans seem to be uniquely able to create tools that are a means to a remote end. What I mean is this: a bird may use a stick to fish bugs out of a hole in a tree, some birds will even bend the stick in the correct way to get the most possible out of it. An orangutan might use a big leaf to shelter itself from the rain, or a rock to bash open a gourd.

All of these are examples of rudimentary tool use, and animals even have a basic, limited ability to shape these tools to suit their needs. But they don’t show a critical leap that even ancient man showed in making a tool as a means to a remote end-these are called metatools. In each of the instances, Tool A met need B—the stick and the rock provided access to food, and the leaf provided shelter. Ancient humans, however, were able to make a hand axe by using a hammerstone to shape a stone to create an effective cutting edge. Here, the hammerstone is tool A1, a metatool, and the hand axe is tool A2. The significant point is that the hammerstone doesn’t provide any means to an immediate end—it doesn’t provide food, warmth, shelter, or anything else in and of itself. But it shows that humans, even humans who are wrongly thought of as ‘primitive’, had the forethought and intelligence to see remote ends, which is something no animal can do. Of course, this is a very basic example; we do the same thing over and over again. And this is without even discussing things like jewelry and cosmetics that only serve an aesthetic or symbolic purpose, which are unique to humans.

I hope these few thoughts have been helpful. See also Is man a spiritualized hominid?


Lita Cosner

Helpful Resources

Readers’ comments

Kim W.
I believe that God has given to all creatures a level of wisdom/cognative ability befitting their purpose in life. The bible speaks of the ostrich in Job 39:13-17 as being unwise with her eggs because God has made her that way. Again, in proverbs 6:6-8 and 30:24-25, the ant is considered a wise creature,even without a leader.Lastly,Romans 1:23 and 1Corinthians 15:39 state that all flesh is not the same but there is a glory of man apart from the glory of animals.It is God who lays up sound wisdom and knowlege. It is clear animals possess their own language and other such qualities but it is for a reason. Like Cosner said, these abilities are a means to an end or coincide with the purposes of such creatures. In short, they are what I would consider behaviors, much like a dog chasing it's tail. Does that mean they have a higher conscience other than that which has been given to them by God?...probably not. A machinist does not make a device for nothing. He makes it with a purpose in mind, boasting its own unique features. Furthermore, I wholeheartedly agree that the biggest difference between animals and humans is that one is made in the image of God, meant to possess a higher cognative ability while the other was not. In short, the glory of God is expressed in all of His creatures through different ways but He has appointed only one to be steward over the rest. Furthermore, animals don't have hospitals. they cannot heal themselves of some potentially fatal illness and yet, humans can. Something to think about.Be blessed!
Jim P.
I may be wrong, but it seems to me that what appears in animals as 'altruism' or emotions and actions similar to humans are likely to be a reflection of some of the qualities of the Creator who originally designed them to behave and express themselves in various ways. It would seem logical that a loving and caring Creator would have these attitudes expressed in the creatures He created.
Graham P.
Excellent. It's also ironic that while evolutionists paint nature as "Red in tooth and claw", they simultaneously say animals are altruistic. They ignore the vast majority of animal-to-animal cruelty and focus on a tiny drop of abnormal animal kindness: but what sort of point is that? In reality, the existence of kindness anywhere is a threat to Darwinism, irrespective of animal or human source. Arthur C Clarke ceded this point clearly in the movie "2001, a space odyssey", when his primordial monkeys become moral after being influenced by the alien monolith.
Michael S.
This is just another prime example of how the GENUINE facts don't support evolution. If we evolved, why the infinite gap between man and the animals?

It's also a clever fallacy of conflation because Creationists have never argued that we don't have DNA like the animals, or behaviours or that we are not mammals, etc.. that we don't breathe. God has made us to be of the same created-structure, and we obviously share a lot with the animals but the animals do not build cities or write bible or pray to God in churches.

The fundamental evidence is that we pray to God, write the scriptures, pray in the spirit, and reason and puzzle until we find the answers, but no other animal can do this, no animal could ever figure out English, but we can figure out mating calls of the animals, etc.

The evolutionist shows us the things we share with animals, but we already know what things we share, it is logically what we DON'T share that matters. The example of tools is an excellent point in this article, the logic is sound, there is no getting around it.
Leaton J.
It is possible - highly likely in fact - that animals were naturally altruistic before the Fall, and that the rare examples listed here are a distant echo of Edenic life.

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