“According to Aristotle, man is the only rational animal, the only being capable of choosing his own path or contemplating the cosmos in which he lives. According to the Hebrew Bible, man is the only being created ‘in the image of God’; capable of sin, aware of death, with longings for immortality, he is also ruler of the other animals. While the philosophy of Athens and the revelations of Jerusalem differ greatly on what elevates man, they agree that humans beings are, or are meant to be, superior to everything else on earth.
“Modern science, by contrast, is not so certain. Its radical ambivalence about man is traceable to the mixed marriage that gave it birth. First came Descartes, who treated the whole material world, including the human body, as a collection of aimless stuff to be mastered and manipulated by the human mind, which stands high above it all. Then came Darwin, who assimilated the whole of man, both mind and body, to the rest of biological life in a seamless continuum. Taken together, modern science treats man as both radically similar to and radically different from everything else in nature.
“Thus [. . .] modern biologists aim to convince us that man is just another animal. [. . .] The scientist’s pride in his biological discoveries is humbled only by his belief that pride and shame and everything else are just Darwinian survival mechanisms repackaged in human form.”
Eric Cohen, writing on “The Human Difference,” in the December issue of Commentary