In 1997 a group of scientists issued a declaration in which, among other things, they argued that “human capabilities appear to differ in degree, not in kind, from those found among the higher animals. Humankind’s rich repertoire of thoughts, feelings, aspirations and hopes seems to arise from electrochemical brain processes, not from an immaterial soul”.
Is that all we are? Where, on this definition, will we place the book of Psalms, King Lear, Monet’s water lilies or the Bodleian Library, Oxford? Where will we locate the individuals who risked their lives to save lives during the massacre in Rwanda, or the Buddhist monks today who confront the military regime in Burma in the name of freedom? Do we adequately capture the parameters of the human spirit by reducing it to “electrochemical brain processes”? Clearly not.
The declaration is guilty of an elementary mistake of logic, the genetic fallacy, the belief that because Y “arises from” X, Y is no more than X. An oak arises from an acorn, a butterfly from a caterpillar, but they are not the same things. Music arises from a disturbance of airwaves, but that does not make music mere noise. Everything that lives can be traced back to the first ribo-organisms. But that does not mean that all forms of life are essentially the same.