Home » Intelligent Design » My post at MercatorNet: Wild animals are not people

My post at MercatorNet: Wild animals are not people

From my post on animal minds:

Spurred by a horrific recent case, it focuses on their unpredictability, as far as humans are concerned: Herold wants the world to know that she is not a “horrible” person and that Travis is not a “horrible” chimp. According to her, it is a “freak” thing.

Looking at the story from a traditional Christian perspective, I would pass on the question of whether Herold is a horrible person. I agree that Travis is not a horrible chimp. The very idea is an irrelevance; he is a chimp, period, and therefore not responsible for his actions.

But this incident was not a freak event. A wild animal kept in an urban environment may suddenly and unexpectedly rampage (which is why questions have been raised about pet ownership laws in the wake of this incident). All too typically, the stories sound like this

A companion piece by John Young addresses technical issues of animal mind, focusing on Alex the Parrot:

The New York Times obituary of Alex noted the judgment of some scientists that although the parrot learned to communicate in basic expressions, “it did not show the sort of logic and ability to generalize that children acquire at an early age.” That is a key point. Sense knowledge, including the power to imagine and remember, fully explains Alex’s achievements. Constant repetition over many years of training conditioned him to associate objects with sounds and to imitate what his trainers did. In one exercise Dr Pepperberg employed a trainer to compete with Alex for a reward, such as a grape. The parrot saw what the trainer did to get the grape, and imitated him.

So far as I know, Alex genuinely had the skills he was credited with. But – just a caution – many accounts of animal intelligence achievements (“why, they’re just like us, so we are just like them!”) are overblown. (I’m not so sure about Alex’s “last words,” for example … ) There is plenty of scope for observer bias in a field where only the discovery of intelligence will be rewarded and feted, but not the discovery of its absence. That doesn’t mean that researchers are dishonest; only that observer bias is not likely to be addressed very often or very honestly.

The really intriguing part is that if a researcher tries to document animal behaviour that would tend to elevate animals without denigrating humans, he becomes a pop science target rather than a darling. Paging Eric Pianka …
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13 Responses to My post at MercatorNet: Wild animals are not people

  1. this has an interesting side story…this chimp is from missouri, and its mother got out with a few other chimps a few years ago, and attacked a teenager and his girlfriend, while they were in their car, in their own yard. Apparently the kid’s dog distracted the chimps, and he ran and got his shotgun, and blew travis’s mother down. for this he was convicted of a felony, and had to write apologies to all the people who wrote the judge and were upset about him being a ‘chimp killer’.

    I was outraged when I learned of this case. I bet all these people who were upset about a chimp being killed thought they were just cute and cuddly…probably just like the woman who had her face ripped off..wonder what she thinks now?

    the kid should have been given a medal, and the people who owned this chimp locked up for allowing such a dangerous animal to escape. we live in a messed up country…

  2. Tsmith,

    That’s so lame about the teenager being convicted of a felony. Seriously. People can be so stupid (aka the people who got mad at the “chimp killer”). If I was him, I’d probably do the same thing.

  3. HughJass, I am not sure what you mean here. Is Springer known locally as a generous contributor to the Humane Society or Ducks Unlimited?

  4. @ Hughjass

    I have a feeling you have not heard the last from Ex USMC Sgt. Springer.

  5. @ Denyse

    I believe Dave is an active supporter of animal welfare.

  6. tsmith, thanks for bringing this case to our attention. It shows how far down the path our society is going in the false belief that chimpanzees are “just like people.”

    It is not only a false belief but – as events have proved – a very dangerous one.

    It is also an odd belief when you think of it.

    If we assume that chimps and humans are related on a tree of life, it makes no more sense to assume that we can live with them safely than to assume that a rattle snake is as safe to handle as a ribbon snake (a harmless local snake – neither venomous nor a constrictor).

    The assumption that rattle and ribbon snakes descended from a common ancestor says nothing whatever about the comparative degree of danger either would represent if you brought one into your home.

    You and I are definitely descended from the same common ancestor as many serial killers, but commmon descent can be a very poor predictor of behaviour.

    So the “chimp champs” have NO business relying on arguments from the Tree of Life theory to bolster their case.

    Notice that the Darwinists seldom or never take any leadership in addressing this problem. Last I heard, they were trying to get humans and chimps classified in the same genus – which would only give the chimp crazies a boost.

  7. I guess everyone must have heard of Jane Goodall and the chimps she studies at Gombe. Anyone reading of the events there would have no illusions of the dangerous nature of adult wild chimps. Alpha male Frodo, for instance, attacked a woman, took the baby she was carrying, and ate it. Scientists will tell you, chimps are dangerous.

  8. From the Jane Goodall Institute:

    Chimpanzees Don’t Make Good Pets

  9. Thanks, Arthur Smith and Madsen!

    While I appreciate Jane Goodall Institute’s good intentions, the persistent pop science attempt to show that chimps are just like humans undercuts any value of their effort.

    Similarly, trying to get chimps and humans classified in the same genus is an irresponsible move that can only help the chimp crazies, as I noted in a post above.

    Of COURSE chimps don’t make good pets!

    Neither do wolves, coyotes, raccoons, bobcats, cougars, bears, or beavers (mammals that people in my part of the world have tried to domesticate with little success).

    But the difference is that we don’t hear constant propaganda that these animals are genetically or psychologically very close to people.

    How DARE anyone claim incessantly to a wide audience that chimps are really close to people genetically and psychologically – and then coo quietly that they “don’t make good pets” – and expect that to make any difference to the outcome – that people think they are “family”?

    I guess the trick is to just make a quiet, useless statement somewhere but let the torrent of false knowledge (98% chimpanzee rubbish) roll where it will.

  10. 10

    I would think that classifying chimps in the genus “homo” would be a mark against keeping them as pets. For example, we generally frown on keeping fellow humans as pets.

  11. I have a question for everyone about Alex.

    Everyone agrees that concepts are universal in nature. If animals genuinely have even primitive concepts, then they are capable of grasping universals, and not just particulars.

    Here’s my question: did Alex the parrot have the concept of a triangle?

    John Young, in the companion piece cited by Denyse, seems to think not. But in that case, how was Alex able to reliably identify traingles, including new ones whcih he hadn’t seen before?

    Please don’t answer “instinct.” That’s not an answer, because (a) it doesn’t specify a mechanism (as we should be able to do for a creature which lacks a grasp of universals and whose mental powers are far below our own); and (b) it seems inherently unlikely that animals have a triangle-recognition instinct.

    So back to my question: did Alex have concepts? And if not, what kind of behavior would he have had to demonstrate, in order to show that he did possess concepts?

  12. You and I are definitely descended from the same common ancestor as many serial killers, but commmon descent can be a very poor predictor of behaviour

    Evolution is about large groups, and the trends that run through them. Common descent (CD) does not say that every human is alike to every other human in EVERY way, as O’Leary seems to think. Its the differences between individuals within a specie that is the substrate for natural selection.

    How DARE anyone claim incessantly to a wide audience that chimps are really close to people genetically and psychologically – and then coo quietly that they “don’t make good pets”

    Would anybody keep a human as a pet? Great apes and humans have similar morphologies and emotions. They are capable of conscious deceit and other human characteristics. As what CD would predict. But CD also predicts DIFFERENCES between species… otherwise they would be the same specie.

  13. David Kellogg:

    I would think that classifying chimps in the genus “homo” would be a mark against keeping them as pets.

    Right we could then adopt them.

    Then after a few years or generations we could even allow marriage between the different Homos.

    Never mind we have that now. :)

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