The Uniqueness of Man

leonardo-study-of-manI have no problem with the theory of evolution. God could have created our bodies in an evolutionary way as well as any other way. The existence of the soul united to our bodies is a totally different matter. However, if we focus on the biological, we have much in common with our primate friends; but this is saying much more than is often supposed. It is quite the logical leap to say that because man’s body has evolved from the animals, that he is also one of the animals. Man also has the ability to reason, and this is what primarily separates him from the beasts. G. K. Chesterton also noted that what separates man from beast is man’s penchant for dogma – “Man can be defined as an animal that makes dogmas.” There is so much that separates man from animal: the propensity to worship, the desire to paint chapel ceilings, the romantic instinct to compose poetry, the soaring spirit that composes symphonies, and so on. There is indeed a missing link, but as Chesterton also noted, “If there were a missing link in a real chain, it would not be a chain at all.” As I said, I have no problem with the theory of evolution, but the conclusions sometimes drawn from this theory suffer from an astonishing amount of fuzzy thinking. To think that man is only a beast requires a myopic focus on the biological, but what else are we to expect from a culture that puts such a shallow focus on the body. Chesterton paints the picture far better than I could, so I will get out of the way and let him speak.

From the final chapter of Orthodoxy (GKC Collected Works, Vol. 1, Ignatius, 1986):

If you leave off looking at books about beasts and men, if you begin to look at beasts and men then (if you have any humour or imagination, any sense of the frantic or the farcical) you will observe the startling thing is not how like man is to the brutes, but how unlike he is. It is the monstrous scale of his divergence that requires an explanation. That man and brute are like is, in a sense, a truism; but that being so like they should then be so insanely unlike, that is the shock and the enigma. That an ape has hands is far less interesting to the philosopher than the fact that having hands he does next to nothing with them; does not play knuckle-bones or the violin; does not carve marble or carve mutton. People talk of barbaric architecture and debased art. But elephants do not build colossal temples of ivory even in rococo style; camels do not paint even bad pictures, though equipped with the material of many camel’s-hair brushes. Certain modern dreamers say that ants and bees have a society superior to ours. They have, indeed, a civilization; but that very truth only reminds us that it is an inferior civilization. Who ever found an ant-hill decorated with the statues of celebrated ants? Who has seen a bee-hive carved with the images of gorgeous queens of old? No; the chasm between man and other creatures may have a natural explanation, but it is a chasm. We talk of wild animals; but man is the only wild animal. It is man that has broken out. All other animals are tame animals; following the rugged respectability of the tribe or type. All other animals are domestic animals; man alone is ever undomestic, either as a profligate or a monk. So that this first superficial reason for materialism is, if anything, a reason for its opposite; it is exactly where biology leaves off that all religion begins.

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1 Response to “The Uniqueness of Man”


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