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It's so easy to sink into a discussion of us vs. them, one over another. That very tendency is at the root, I believe, of our failure as a species.
If you're different than I am, I'm supposed to be scared of you, and if you try to be my equal or surpass me in any way, I'm supposed to try to stop you. From the time we were in small groups huddled around the first fires, we felt pitted against nature, against other groups of huddled humans, and animals were either feared, hunted, competition for resources, or ignored if they didn't fall into the other categories. We take similar views of our fellow humans - now and certainly in even more egregious ways throughout our history.
As for the Human vs. Animal debate, I feel that humans ARE animals. We share 98% of our DNA with chimpanzees. Our bodies' systems are strikingly similar within warm-blooded species, and when it comes to emotions, anyone who's ever known a dog, a cat, or any of the other animals people can "get to know," it's clear they have very similar, although possibly more simplistic (as far as we can tell, anyway), feelings. As for "as far as we can tell", again we look at everything through a human-centric lens.
If an animal's language seems like just a bunch of pips or other noises, we say they have no language. If we can't put them through some kind of testing and determine their ability to "reason" or "think", we assume they're not intelligent, or sentient. I can tell you, when I'm listening to people speak Chinese or listening to people from India or Pakistan speak their native languages, it sounds like a lot of noise to me and many of the words sound so similar to my Western ears, I can't tell one from another. I'm used to the cadence of English and Spanish and German, and anything else doesn't sound like a language to me. I "know" that it is, because I see a fellow human speaking it, but that's the point - if you really listen to animals "speak", there's as much complexity in their sounds - it's just even more foreign to our ears.
So how can we know that dolphins or whales or crows or any other "intelligent" animal (and many whom we've written off as not even THAT smart) aren't conversing in languages with as many words or more than we have? How do we know what a dog is feeling? We see how they feel about us, based on their protecting us, being happy we come home, mourning our loss, etc., but can we truly know the depths and complexity of those feelings - or more importantly, their feelings for their fellow dogs? We can't, or so I believe.
To bring this back to a Biblical perspective, even if you believe God made the animals "for" us, if you refer to the same texts that support that view, there is much evidence that the intent was not for us to use them so much as to look out for them. Not like children, which is a slippery slope in terms of respecting them, but the way a pilot is responsible for the safety of the passengers and crew - he's no better than anyone on the plane, but he's got the ability to either fly and land safely or to put everyone's lives in peril.
Clearly, man has chosen to put the passengers' lives in peril. And like the pilot, his own life will be ended if the plane crashes. We could have learned so much from the animals, but we chose to subjugate them, to classify them as "dumb" and to see them as tools or toys.
Go on to: Comments by Joseph - 5 Jul 2009
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