Humans Versus Animals

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Science says there are some major differences between humans and animals or other living creatures. Below is a list with the main ones.


PART 1- differences generally agreed upon

1. Creativity

No other species of animal, including the apes, seems to be able to create and understand images of art and drawing.

2. Abstract thinking

According to Daniel J. Povinelli, from the University of Louisiana’s New Iberia Research Center:

“Humans constantly invoke unobservable phenomena and variables to explain why certain things are happening. Chimps operate in the world of concrete, tangible things that can be seen. The content of their minds is about the observable world.”

(Povinelli, D.J. 1998. Animal Self-Awareness: A Debate Can Animals Empathize? Scientific American.)

3. Social skills and learning

‘Two and one half year old human toddlers were tested against adult chimpanzees and orangutans for cognitive abilities in spatial, quantitative, and causality processing, along with social cognitive abilities in social learning, communication, and theory of mind (gaze following and understanding intentions). Although toddler humans and adult apes had about the same capabilities in spatial observation, counting, and causality, humans were far superior in areas of social cognition. In social learning, humans averaged close to 100%, whereas apes averaged less than 5%. The study discredits the general intelligence hypothesis that human cognition differs from that of apes only in general cognitive processes such as memory, learning, or perceptual processing. Immature human brains operate quite differently from those of mature apes, suggesting that there are some fundamental differences in the structure and/or function of human brains.’

Findings based on the experiment “Humans Have Evolved Specialized Skills of Social Cognition: The Cultural Intelligence Hypothesis Science 317: 1360-1366” by Herrmann, E., J. Call, M. V. Hernández-Lloreda, B. Hare, and M. Tomasello. 2007.

4. Moral judgments and consciousness

Moral judgments

The ability to make moral judgments is also a characteristic that is only found in humans. Even the higher apes cannot make moral judgments about the behavior of other animals. As Dr. Jerome Kagan points out in Three Seductive Ideas, “Not even the cleverest ape could be conditioned to be angry upon seeing one animal steal food from another.” In addition, there are no non-human animal models for human pride, shame, and guilt. (Shweder, R.A. 1999. Humans Really Are Different. Science 283: 798.)

Recent studies have also shown that only humans, among the primates, are capable of certain forms of evil behavior. “Although chimpanzees will exact revenge against another chimpanzee that steals food from them, they are not spiteful, no matter how researchers tried to elicit the response.” (Keith Jensen, Josep Call, and Michael Tomasello. 2007. Chimpanzees Are Vengeful But Not Spiteful. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, USA 104: 13046-50.)


The human consciousness remains a mystery despite all the recent intensive research of neurophysiologists:

“When an organism’s neural pathways grow sufficiently complex, materialists insist, their firings are somehow accompanied by consciousness. But despite decades of effort by philosophers and neurophysiologists, no one has been able to come up with a remotely plausible explanation of how this happens–how the hunk of gray meat in our skull gives rise to private Technicolor experience. One distinguished commentator on the mind-body problem, Daniel Dennett, author of Consciousness Explained, also a well known atheist, has been driven to declare that “there is really no such thing as consciousness–we are all zombies, though we’re unaware of it…”

(Jim Holt. 1997. ‘Science resurrects God’, The Wall Street Journal (December 24, 1997), Dow Jones & Co., Inc)



PART 2- controversy about personality

5. Personality

Over the topic of personality, scientists seem divided.

Charles Siebert in his New York Times article (January 22, 2006) said: “The majority of scientists is not typically disposed to wielding a word like “personality” when talking about animals since it is perceived to border on the scientific heresy of anthropomorphism. And yet a growing number of researchers – from the fields of psychology, evolutionary biology and ecology, animal behavior and welfare – seem to believe that it is becoming increasingly difficult to avoid that term when trying to describe the variety of behaviors from the animal kingdom.

…Nevertheless the standard answer is that animals do not, as far as we know, reflect upon and argue with their experiences, emotions and behaviors in the way that we humans do. They do not possess, in other words, that dynamic, self-reflective, internal dialogue the very outcome of which is, many scientists say, our personality. Of course, whether or not self-knowledge is truly a defining characteristic of personality is a question scientists disagree on, as they do about much else in the field. The whole notion of personality is one that we only began trying to measure and codify in the past century…”

Talking about the concept of human personality Joseph LeDoux, a neuroscientist at New York University said: “We have no idea how our brains make us who we are. There is as yet no neuroscience of personality. We have little understanding of how art and history are experienced by the brain. The meltdown of mental life in psychosis is also still a mystery. In short, we have yet to come up with a theory that can pull all this together.”

The conclusion seems to be that some dimensions of personality may be common between humans and animals but the notion is quite different considering the fact that humans have self-cognition on top. Reason why most scientists agree that the word temperament is more appropriate than personality when talking about animals.


Part 3- differences not agreed upon

Below is an additional differencefrom a perspective that disagrees with the theory of evolution and supports intelligent design:

6. Spirit

Besides the obvious differences in the way animals process information in their brains, science confirms humans’ capacity to make moral judgments as opposed to animals who don’t make such judgments. A difference which is believed to be related not just to consciousness but also to the notion of spirit. According to scientists who believe in intelligent design, there seem to be three kinds of life existing in this universe:

Creature: Examples:
Body only Lower life forms, including reptiles, amphibians, fish, and invertebrates
Body and soul From the Hebrew nephesh, or soulish creatures, including birds and mammals
Body, soul and spirit Humans (and spiritual beings)


The soul is best described as the characteristics that make up the advanced brain, including mind, will and emotion. Only birds and mammals exhibit these characteristics, which is why humans can form mutual relationships with birds and mammals.


From the perspective of the scientists supporting intelligent design, the presence of the spirit that was instilled into humans also separates humans from the animals. The spirit is that part of humans that is able to love and experience a relationship with a Higher Being/God, directly.

Is there any evidence that humans possess a spirit?

Recent attempts have been aimed at trying to identify the part of the brain involved in “religious” experiences. The leaders of these studies, Andrew Newberg M.D., Eugene G. D’Aquili Ph.D., and Vince Rause, have claimed to have discovered the biological basis for belief in God. (Newberg, A., E.G. D’Aquili, and V. Rause. 2001. Why God Won’t Go Away: Brain Science and the Biology of Belief). However, according to Daniel Batson, a University of Kansas psychologist: “The brain is the hardware through which religion/faith is experienced. To say the brain produces religion is like saying a piano produces music.’ (Vedantam, S. 2001, “Of mind and spirit”, Washington Post.)

If God did create humans, then it is natural to expect that He would provide a means by which humans could experience Him. Therefore, from a theistic perspective, this area of the brain might be part of God’s design to make humans realize that they are more than just physical creatures. It seems likely that “in the image of God” refers to the characteristics of the human spirit and the ability to make moral judgments – things that are not found in any animal species, not even in those to whom we are said to be closely related.

The evolution theory teaches that humans have evolved through the Cambrian explosion (also known as the biological Big Bang). An issue of Time magazine from December 1995 stated: “New discoveries show that life as we know it began in an amazing biological frenzy that changed the planet almost overnight. For billions of years, simple creatures like planton, bacteria, and algae ruled the earth. Then, suddenly, life got very complicated.”

Still the differences between apes/chimpanzees and humans are quite significant. What about between a human, an earthworm, a clam and a mosquito? Some evolutionists are beginning to recognize the uniqueness of human beings. Dr. Ian Tattersall, in ‘Becoming Human- Evolution and Human Uniqueness’, says humans represent a “totally unprecedented entity” on Earth, and “Homo sapiens is not simply an improved version of its ancestors – it’s a new concept.”

The evolution theory lacks explanation for a significant number of questions related to the human experience, some of its theories requiring nothing else but faith. (See more at Creation and Evolution- both faith based? )


(Sources: Richard Deem– microbiologist California State University, New York Times- )


*some examples of scientists in favor of intelligent design versus evolution:

Sir Fred Hoyle FRS, English astronomer and mathematician from Cambridge

Dr. Edwin Conklin, Princeton professor of biology, “The probability of life originating from accident is comparable to the probability of the Unabridged Dictionary resulting from an explosion in a printing shop.”

Dr. John Polkinghorne, quantum physicist, Cambridge professor.

Francis Collins, physician-geneticist, noted for his discoveries of disease genes and his leadership of the Human Genome Project (HGP)

See other famous scientists who were theists – including some of the founding fathers of modern science- here.