Most people would immediately say intelligence, but think about it. Pigs, elephants, and dolphins are extremely intelligent. Research suggests that in some ways chimps are our intellectual equals or even superiors.1 Besides, if intelligence really does give us worth, would that not make smarter people more people than those who are less intelligent? In that case, are not intellectually challenged individuals non-persons? Or if there is a line somewhere between personhood and non-personhood, what right have we, humans, to place that line?
So what makes us people then? Culture? Even bees and ants have a culture of a sort, and in that case, were our ancestors who were hunter-gatherers not people as yet they had none? Yes, we can do things that animals cannot. We can speak in long and dull phrases that are supposed to be thought eloquent. We can sing of elves, dwarves, and gods. We can fly airplanes and we invented the internet. We have developed the skill of reading and writing. But what could possibly give us personhood from that? I could not develop all these things on my own. How can the ability to make the most complicated tech of all the animals make us more special? I heard someone say that we are people because unlike bees we can function by ourselves and unlike chimps we can function in large civilizations. But what gives us personhood on account of that? How is it that because we can function in more scenarios than most animals that we have more personhood and worth? Even we cannot function entirely secluded for long stretches of time or we would go insane. We, humans, can have others too close together as well. We need our private space. What of empathy? There is some evidence that other animals such as pigs, can empathize.2 In that case, do psychopaths count as people? Emotion? Animals have emotion of their own sort although perhaps less complicated. How can somewhat more complicated emotion give us personhood? Some humans are better with both emotion and empathy than others, and there is much we do not even yet know about how various animals think and feel. Besides, if all these things sprouted as a product of evolution, why do they give us personhood and therefore dignity? And if we are really descended from animals as the current scientific theory holds, why should we declare that we have greater personhood than our ancestors? In that case, should not humans of races who are thought to be more evolved have greater personhood? Is that not how Hitler justified the Holocaust, calling himself ethnically superior to Jews? How on earth can Nature generate personhood? Yes, perhaps we are more complicated, but why should that make us more people? In that case, a chainsaw is more a person than a rock and a computer is more a person than a chainsaw which is ridiculous. Yes, there are many traits that separate us from animals, but why should they make us better than animals? Most of these traits seem to me devised by researchers pointing out that various attributes about us cannot be found in animals. Therefore, that must be the trait that gives us personhood. But then, various attributes of any given species can also not be found in other animals, and there is much we still do not know about the minds of various animals. Think for a moment. Do you really think these human researchers are non-biased? Do you really think that they do not go with the assumption that we are greater and then seek to prove it? And why on earth should any evolutionary difference give us worth?
So you might, if you have followed my line of reasoning, be wondering at this point whether we ought to treat animals, at least the more intelligent ones such as chimps, dolphins, and pigs, as persons. What might not have occurred to you is the question as to how persons actually ought to be treated. Why is it actually wrong to walk down the street and shoot someone? The average reader would argue that it hurts people. But what is wrong with hurting people? What gives people dignity enough that it would be wrong to do them injury? Yes, society would crumble, but why is that a bad thing? If human society were to crumble, that might do good to nature and bring an end to global warming and pollution. Think about it. Are we not all made of six basic elements: carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, sulfur and phosphorus? What really makes us greater than these elements? It cannot be that we are more complicated as I have already explained. What really makes us better than naturally formed robots? Free will has never been discovered in the brain. If we act entirely on instinct, what gives us the right to correct those who do something wrong to another if they are acting only as they were programmed by evolution? Can a robot do what is wrong? It acts entirely on its programming. What makes us any different?
You are probably waiting at this point for my brilliant answers to all these questions which I have put forth. I actually know of none that can be thought of in the natural world. Nevertheless, I am not a nihilist. I cannot, as I have said, think of any answers in the natural world. I can think of the Answer, but it is not natural but metaphysical, that being God.
That is how you have dignity. God made you in His own image. He endowed you with a spiritual and immortal soul. We are the only earthly creature God made for our own sake. You know that some things are wrong because God wrote His Law on your heart.2 God makes us greater than the animals. God gives us free will. God gives each one of us the graces to become true Catholics of Honor. You may agree with none of what I have written hear, but before you bash me with angry comments, ask yourself one question: can you think of a better answer?
Bonum Certamen Certemus
I am the Catholic of Honor
1https://psmag.com/environment/chimps-smart-82875 Accessed June 13, 2020
2https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/not-bad-science/can-pigs-empathize/ Accessed June 13, 2020
3Catechism of the Catholic Church ¶1700, 1703, 1860