When Donald Trump’s controversial “animals” tweet hit the news, I really had to wonder what the fuss was all about. Secularists have been calling everyone animals for a long time. Not every secularist, of course, but a lot of them, including some with considerable influence. It leaves room to wonder whether any of them really know what they’re talking about.
I had just started reading Richard Weikart’s book The Death of Humanity and the Case for Life at that time. One chapter deals with this humans-as-animals theme in depth. (Here are the articles he’s written for The Stream.)
It goes back a long, long way, as Weikart explains it. Following the 1859 publication of Darwin’s Origin of the Species, one of Darwin’s “leading German apostles” said Darwin had unveiled to us that humans “a natural product like any other creature.” Animals, in essence.
Evolution Means We Really Are Just Animals
It makes sense, really. If Darwin were right, and if we’re products of the same evolutionary processes as every other organism, what makes us any different from them? Nothing.
If you learned about “higher” evolved creatures in school, your science teacher taught you wrong. If evolution is a purely unguided natural process, then it isn’t progressing in any particular direction, not up, not down, not sideways or anything at all. It knows nothing about “higher.”
So the transition from apes to humans wasn’t from lower to higher, just from one animal to another. Humans have no right to claim we’re anything special. We’re animals. That’s straight evolutionary teaching.
Some evolutionary thinkers have understood that. Unsurprisingly, most of them are atheists or secularists. Biblical thinking leads another direction, as we’ll see shortly.
Secularists Who Get It
Weikart tells of David Strauss, a mid-19th century German theologian famous for his highly influential writings — now discredited — undermining the gospel accounts of Jesus. An avid follower of Darwinism, Strauss “argued that humans were not distinct from animals.”
But we need not reach back so far into history. Princeton University philosopher Peter Singer said in a 2004 interview, “All we are doing is catching up with Darwin. He showed in the nineteenth century that we are simply animals.”
The London Zoo in August 2005 featured a four day exhibit of homo sapiens in its primate area. Weikart quotes a spokesperson: “Seeing people in a different environment, among other animals, teaches members of the public that the human is just another primate.” One of the “primates” on display was a 26 year-old chemist, who said, “A lot of people think humans are above other animals. When they see humans as animals here, it kind of reminds us that we’re not that special.”
The Copenhagen zoo had presented a similar exhibit 9 years earlier, and the Adelaide zoo followed with a month-long human exhibit in 2007.
Scientists at the Texas Academy of Science gave University of Texas, Austin evolutionary ecologist Eric Pianka a standing ovation for his 2006 speech suggesting it would be good for the world if something like the Ebola virus would wipe out 90 percent of humans. Humans are no better than bacteria, he said.
But When Trump Said It…
A lot of them objected when Trump said members of MS-13 were “animals.” They thought he was saying “These people are sub-human.” He said it only metaphorically, and it was to their political advantage to ignore that. Trump can’t get away with calling anyone an animal metaphorically, while secular thought leaders can — and do — call everyone literally animals.
Yet I find something heartening in their inconsistency. It shows they understand somewhere deep inside that we’re not mere animals after all; that we really can claim to be something higher. Evolution gives no basis for thinking that — yet we all know it’s true anyway.
Meanwhile we’ve got to hold on to humanness. That’s getting harder these days. The animal issue is only one piece of it. “Transhumanism” says we’re about to “evolve” into something else, and soon. The euthanasia movement denies the essential dignity of human life, making function or comfort the higher value.
Abortion proponents can’t deny that an unborn child is a unique human life, so they resort to saying that being human isn’t what matters; one has to be a “person,” which is apparently one step up from being human. Or down; since courts and legislatures around the world are now granting “human” rights to rivers and such.
Hold On to Humanness
Some secular people truly want to be genuinely human. There’s only one way we can hold on to humanness. Just one way. That’s knowing we’re specially created by God, in His image, for a special purpose given to no other animal.
Nature has no power to do that. But God can, and the Scriptures tell us clearly He has.
Tom Gilson is a senior editor with The Stream and the author of A Christian Mind: Thoughts on Life and Truth in Jesus Christ. Follow him on Twitter: @TomGilsonAuthor