New book discusses whether animals have souls

 LONDON - 27 May 2002 - 420 Words

Adam, Darwin and Washoe, by Keiran Proffer
Publishers: Underhill Management Ltd, London. Price £3.99

This short book of 78 pages contains some excellent debating points for those wishing to work out the apparently conflicting claims of creationism and evolution. The fundamentalists, for example, claim literal truth for the Old Testament, but what about all those smitings and beatings and harsh judgements? On the other hand, how exactly does evolution work, and is it still a theory rather than an established process?

Washoe, named in the title, is a chimpanzee who learned to communicate with her trainers. But does learning a language define a human? Was she merely playing, or trying to please her teachers, or adapting successfully to a new environment? Measuring results with computers, and teaching pygmy chimps the Yerkish language (developed originally to help severely retarded children) generate more problems about the limitations of scientific methods. A further discussion about whether chimps use symbols, generalise concepts (trees, for example) and learn in the same way as children, leads the author to a central question for the Christian: how far does language = thought = reason = human uniqueness = immortal soul?

Each of these proposed links is fraught with more questions. For the Christian, Proffer asserts, man is seen as a trinity of body, mind and spirit/soul, with the soul being unique to man. Within the soul we have the capacity to be aware of ourselves, and the capacity to love God and our neighbour. While animals can show some signs of self-recognition, they are unable, according to Proffer, to love God or their neighbour. Incidents reported in which animals appear to have acted selflessly are assigned by the author to a form of socialised behaviour. One possible exception to all this is whales, whom God 'created' rather than 'made' according to the account of the beginning of the world recorded in Genesis. This outstanding exception is not yet resolved, but Proffer invokes a version of Pascal's wager here: just in case whales have souls we should stop killing them.

This book aims to pull together the creationist and evolutionist points of view, alleging that both are true in different ways. Genesis may be full of parables rather than a record of what actually happened, but Adam 'talked with God,' and was therefore fully human. As an aid to discussion - or a text for a lively discussion group- this book is provoking. It would be good if it led readers to delve further into these matters.

Share this story