Cosmic Junk?

Author Greg Koukl Published on 04/22/2013

Greg’s response to a letter which asserted there is no qualitative difference between animals and humans.

Let me sum up my thinking on this. My point was not that all of math historically is discovered before any science is done. People are aware of early math (2 + 2 = 4) and they use it in the exploration of the universe. As they learn, and maybe even discover things about the universe that are not explained by math, people probe the area of math more to learn more about it. The exploration of the physical universe stimulates a pursuit of a non-physical thing, the non-physical arena of math. Math isn’t physical, numbers aren’t physical, plus and equal and minus aren’t physical, and equations aren’t physical. We write them on the board and there is a physical representation of them, but those are only tokens. Math isn’t the scratch of chalk on the board. Math is the concept of the numerals in plus and minus and equal relations. So, we can explore this world much like we explore the material realm. But they are two separate disciplines. Our limitations in exploring the material realm might stimulate our exploration in the non-material realm of math so that we can be more effective at exploring the material realm. But, if math came from science, science would not be limited by the lack of development in math. You observe that there was an attempt to make some sense of the movement of the bodies in the heavens that couldn’t be done because the math wasn’t up to speed. If math came from science in an organic relationship, then the science couldn’t be less than the math. The science would always be more than the math, if it was its parent. As it turns out, science was brought somewhat to a standstill, at least in some areas, until the math could be done that could serve the interests of science.

Now with regards to predictability, it was mentioned that there were charts that people had drawn up. I can sit on my porch every day and watch the movement of the sun across the horizon and notice that the length of the day changes in direct relationship to the position that the sun sets each day on the horizon. It moves across the horizon. Further south in the winter, in the northern hemisphere and further north in the summer. I can do this for 365 days and make a chart. Then, based on the chart that I developed inductively by observing the universe—which is a result of, not my mathematical calculations, but of my empirical observations—I could predict the movement of the sun in the future, given that the future is going to be like the past. That is what they did. They didn’t use any math at all, they simply used an empirical test inductively to be able to predict the future. Now when Newtonian mechanics came around, something else happened. Some mathematical truths were discovered that allowed people to predict the future, not inductively like we did earlier by looking at empirical evidence, but based on the application of the immaterial mathematical truth to the movement of bodies in the heavens. Once that was done, we were able to predict something that our senses had not been able to tell us. For example, we could predict the presence of other planets that should be in our solar system that couldn’t be seen yet. In fact, those planets were later discovered. I think there’s still another one out there. I’m using this illustration to point out the difference between scientific empirical assessment and mathematical discovery. They may go hand in hand, they may be happening around the same time, one might even stimulate the development of another, but math is not a result of scientific discovery. What I mean by that is, we don’t discover the theorems of math because we have observed truths about the universe, or because we have put things in a test tube. We discover truths about math in different ways. There may be empirical observations that help us to discover this, but we can’t even begin making empirical observations unless we know some things to be true about math.

Math is logically prior to discovery in the universe and that is why our discovery in the universe is retarded if our math is retarded. Maybe that’s the best way of putting it. That demonstrates that one is dependent upon the other. Science depends on math, and not the other way around. Also I mentioned that science is inductive, but math doesn’t get its validity based on inductive reasoning. We don’t know that 2 plus 2 equals four because we put it on a piece of paper 500 times and it keeps coming out that way, like doing an experiment over and over. You need only to do that once to realize that this is a true statement and it doesn’t have to be repeated in different parts of the globe by different people for us to be able to be justified in believing that it’s true.

There is one other thing that came up in this letter that I will mention right now. It has to do with the qualitative difference between man and animals. Carl Sagan, in the article I was responding to in Sagan and Scientism, had essentially made the comment that there was no qualitative difference between man and animals. I took exception with that. I think man is qualitatively different in that he has a soul made in the image of God. Here is the response from the gentleman who wrote the letter. See if you can see the implicit flaws of his scientific empirical presuppositions, which is philosophy, by the way, and not science.

He says, “Carl Sagan’s thesis on the qualitative differences between man and animals is based on objective fact. Again, any observer can dissect a human and an animal and find no qualitative difference.” Isn’t that a remarkable saying? I say that human beings have a different quality than animals. He says, no there is no different quality. I say, how do you know? He says, easy, you dissect animals you find blood and guts; you dissect human beings, you find blood and guts. Human beings are blood and guts, animals are blood and guts; therefore, they are the same thing. Now, I wonder how he feels about things like animals rights versus human rights. I wonder whether he gasses termites in his house and he doesn’t agree with gassing human beings.

Probably so, because he goes on to talk about my notions of justice and that “justice and rights are just simply expedient features of social co-existence and not intrinsic to man or animal.” This strikes me as a remarkable statement. Basically he is saying that there is no such thing as intrinsic justice and intrinsic rights as we were discussing last hour. These are just ways that we act towards each other to exercise territorial claims. He says, “the territorial claims (rights) of all animals are objectively testifiable and factual. Rights and justice are usually enforced through contests of brute strength. Mankind has resorted to mutually agreed upon laws to define and enforce rights and justice. The assumption of a higher authority enforcing justice and rights is purely wishful thinking. There is no evidence of a higher authority affecting matters of mankind at all.” Then he goes on to make this comment, “The Bosnian conflict and Rwandan civil war are ample evidence of that. If humans were endowed by a Creator with rights and justice, why would war exist at all? Justice is merely the stronger prevailing over the weak.”

This is the evolutionary explanation of moral things, with justice and rights being two of those moral things. It falls short for a couple of reasons. There are two things wrong with the paragraph that I just read. I want you to listen carefully. Carl Sagan’s thesis is there is no qualitative difference between a man and an animal and this gentleman supports this by saying that when you dissect them both, you find no qualitative difference. This is an example of a category error. In other words, he is looking at the wrong thing to try to discover something.

Let me ask you this question: Is Renoir a great painter? I suspect you would say “Yes.” In other words, he produces quality work. Is your two-year-old a great painter? I doubt it. Ask your friends. In other words, she does not produce quality work. But if you take a painting of Renoir and a painting done by your child and you put them side by side and you dissect them—in other words you look at the physical characteristics of each one—you will not be able to detect a difference. Both are on canvas, both are made of pigments, both made of oil, both made of some kind of paint, brush strokes are on each of them, they both have a wooden frame about them. A purely empirical analysis produces the same kind of characteristics. But, clearly there is a difference between them. Clearly, one is high quality, the other one is low quality, even though the physical assessment is exactly the same. Indeed, an artist can take 20 blocks of different shapes and construct something beautiful out of that. Someone who has no skill whatsoever can throw them all into a box and create a different form of the same physical objects, but it’s not beautiful. Here’s the point: quality is not a physical assessment. You don’t determine quality by assessing the physical characteristics of a thing. That’s patently obvious, it seems to me, with the illustration of Renoir and a child’s drawing. They could have exactly the same amount of paint and canvas and wood, yet one is great and the other one is worthless. Quality is a non-physical assessment of something.

When we go to determining whether there is a qualitative difference, a value difference between humans and animals, it does us no good whatsoever to look at their guts. To look at the chemicals, the placement of organs, and the content of their skin, misses the point entirely. The notion of value is non-physical and what makes a human valuable over an animal is not because they are made of better physical stuff. They are made of better soulish stuff.

That brings us to the next point. This is why the notion of justice applies to human beings and does not apply to animals. The author of the letter says, Oh no, you’ve got it all wrong. Animals have a “justice.” They have “rights.” Rights are just what we agree to allow in terms of territorial claims. What justice is, is merely the stronger prevailing over the weak. In other words, it’s just a behavior pattern of strong people over weak people. That’s all justice is. Let me ask you a question. I’m sure that you’ve said in the past that something is just or unjust. You might have looked at this past trial and said that was terribly unjust or you might have said justice finally prevailed. When you use the word justice, do you mean the stronger prevailing over the weak? Absolutely not. As a matter of fact, the strong using brute force to prevail over the weak is an example of injustice by most people’s assessment. If all justice is is strength, could I by the force of my strength and power, maybe with the help of a gun or something, silence the man who wrote this letter? Taking force over him because my strength with a gun is more powerful than he is? And would he say that it’s justice because I’m merely being stronger, prevailing over the weak? That’s not what justice is at all. That isn’t what we mean when we say “rights.” In fact, if that were the case, then there would be no justice for weak people. That would be a contradiction in terms.

We have an intuitive notion about this. At this point the writer is going to ask, where are your footnotes? My answer is I am the footnote, sir, and humanity is the footnote. Humanity knows that justice isn’t the strong prevailing over the weak. Justice is doing what is right towards the weak and the strong. That which is right, that which is moral, is not a physical thing. The moral rule of justice is not a physical thing. Human beings have rights and we ought to act justly towards them simply because they’re human beings and they aren’t cosmic junk. They aren’t just like everything else. I don’t think that this gentleman believes such a thing. I don’t think he really, down in his gut, believes this. I don’t think he believes that animals and humans are just alike except that they have different territorial claims. We just happen to be stronger than other animals and we call that justice. That isn’t what justice is. Not at all.

He feels my later comments in the letter about man being cosmic junk are “simply a derogatory term that’s emotionally loaded and misleading.” Then he goes on to say, “man is no more and no less than an animal, well-adapted to the conditions of this planet.” Ladies and gentlemen, that is what cosmic junk is! You see that junk out there? See that laying out there in that trash heap? What’s the difference between that and me? Nothing! Not qualitatively. I’m just well-adapted to survive. I maybe have a life force in me, but that isn’t a significant difference. That is not a qualitative difference. If there is no qualitative difference, then we are in fact junk. To say that we aren’t junk is to say that we have more quality than everything else. If we’re offended by that, then maybe we’re offended for good reason. Maybe we’re offended because we realize that there’s something intrinsically valuable about human beings and that’s why we can gas termites and not people. Not because we are just exercising our territorial rights. In fact, the German Nazis were doing that. They were the strongest. This notion of justice justifies what any strong person does against any weak person. But we know that’s not right. Why? Because we understand justice and justice isn’t a physical thing and justice doesn’t apply to animals and to non-physical things and to rocks and to junk in the junk yard. It applies to human beings. We are different.