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March 22nd, 2009

Mar. 22nd, 2009

In a response to an earlier post, mythusmage had this to say:

Parrots aren't smart? Parrots are smart, at being parrots. When you say that " can find enthusiasts even of 'intelligent parrots'", you are saying that parrots -if not other animals- may be treated as objects, in the face of evidence that we are animals ourselves, and so could be called objects if animals be objects.

Evolution shows us that we are descended from a common ancestor with all other life on and in this planet. This includes slow life bacteria dwelling miles beneath us in the crust. Parrots, being amniotic, tetrapodic vertebrates like us, have much more in common with us. This including a brain of some complexity, along with an accompanying sentience and personality.

In other words, a personality and accompanying sense of humor. To say that only humans can be individuals is creationist, and I say that's crap.

That is what many people fail to learn from Charles Darwin, that we are a part of this world and cannot hold ourselves distinct from it. It is what religious creationists hate about evolution, the fact it says we are not some special creation, put together for some unique purpose.

What I wrote was that "today, one can find enthusiasts even of 'intelligent parrots'!!"  This does not mean that parrots are not smart at being parrots.  Indeed, parroting is a difficult profession and requires the mastery of many tricks of the trade -- what to eat; how to find mates; what sort of nest to build, and where; how to evade predators (especially with such anti-Darwinianly bright-colored plumage); and so on.  This is not a job for amateurs!  Nor does it mean that parrots aren't "smart," whatever "smart" may mean. 

I am confused because you used so many different terms: smart, objects, a brain, sentience, personality, individual.  These are all very different propositions, most of which I never proposed.  Further, common ancestry (implicit in the Genesis account by which man was formed on the same "day" as the other higher animals) does not mean that those common descendants are all the same kind of things and can or should be treated the same way.  Plants and animals also supposedly share a common ancestor, but we don't put animals in the ground and hope to grow more.  Even humans may be treated objectively -- as for example, by a surgeon when he is in the act of operating, or by a pharma lab in the course of developing a medicine. 

As I understand the creationists, the parrot, too, has been specially created and has some unique purpose.  In fact, everything in the universe is portrayed as having been specially created "with a plan."  The problem is that creationists so desperately want their beliefs to be validated by science that they get their theology screwed up.  Creation is the bringing into and sustaining in existence [creatio ex nihilo et creatio continuo].  It is not the transformation of one form into another.  If something like an ape became something like a man, that is not creation.  A thing's nature is matter+form; and since matter is at base a constant, form = nature.  It has always been supposed by the Latin Church that God had endowed natures with the ability to act directly upon one another by means of what they called "the natural law."  Augustine, for example, conjectured that the forms of new things were implicit in the forms of older things and could emerge from them when the conditions were right.  Thus, creation could be instantaneous, but trans-form-ation could occur at various times.  Since we now understand the biological form to be encoded in the genome, it is easy to see that Augustine was correct and new genomes can emerge from older genomes through mutation, doubling, etc. 

Thomas Aquinas put animal dignity this way: 

Again we must observe that if an animal were only moved by the pleasing and disagreeable things affecting the sense, there would be no need to suppose that an animal has a power beyond the apprehension of those forms which the senses perceive, and in which the animal takes pleasure, or from which it shrinks with horror. But the animal needs to seek or to avoid certain things, not only because they are pleasing to the senses (or not), but also on account of other advantages and disadvantages and uses: just as the sheep runs away when it sees a wolf not on account of its color or shape, but as a natural enemy; and again a bird gathers together straws not because they are pleasant to the sense, but because they are useful for building its nest. So animals need to perceive such intentions which the exterior sense does not perceive. Some distinct principle is necessary for this; since the perception of the sensible for it comes by an immutation caused by the sensible, which is not the case with the perception of those intentions.
--Summa theologiae, I q. 78 a. 4

It was the Cartesian scientists who discarded Aristotle's fourth "because" and, by stripping animals of teleology, reduced them to mechanical automata. 

James Chastek, who has a nice way of explaining Aristotelian principles wrote an essat entitled What is the thomist account of ‘uniquely human’ traits?    He wrote in reaction to a silly Cartesian article in New Scientist about "Six 'uniquely human' traits now found in animals":  Thomas and Aristotle would have thought the author nuts. I have extracted the article below the snip.
What Really Are Uniquely Human Traits?Collapse )


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