Bulletin Banner

Return to January/February 2013 articles.

Article title

FriendsRecently, science programs on television have suggested that animals are capable of some very human mental processes such as grief, love, analyzing past experiences, and contemplating future events. As a biologist, I find these claims a little surprising and more related to the assumptions of the observer than to actual behavior of the animals. In the past we have always thought of humans as the only personal, thinking creatures. It is true that many animals, especially birds and mammals, have complex nervous systems and behavior patterns. Even the most complex animals, however, are not capable of the higher cognitive processes that we associate with humans.

PoodleMost pet owners will readily claim that their favorite animal has a “personality.” I have been around many different kinds of animals and my experience would confirm that animals are capable of exhibiting behavior that seems to suggest “personality.” Although some pet owners may disagree, in reality these are particular behaviors that we interpret as personality.

Unlike humans, animal behavior is controlled primarily by instinct and under certain circumstances even the most domesticated of animals will revert to their natural instinct. I will always remember when Pierre, the toy poodle who was seldom allowed outside unattended, rolled in something smelly in our backyard to the horror of my overly fastidious aunt. Pierre was still a dog, and somewhere under all of that fluffy fur the instincts of that species were hidden, no matter how much he seemed like a “person.”

3 FriendsSo why would these programs claim that animals are capable of this human-like behavior? This is basically an attempt to account for the presence of personality in human beings. In the biblical account human beings are created by and bear the image of a personal God. The fact that we have personality and are capable of complex thought processes comes from the Creator. In naturalistic explanations for the origin of humans, God is eliminated as the source of personality. Complex thought processes and personality in humans are assumed to have arisen through chance events and evolutionary processes. It is for this reason that evolutionists must attempt to look for human-like behaviors in animals.

2 friendsFrancis Schaeffer pointed out in his book Genesis in Space and Time that there are only two possibilities for origins, either an impersonal beginning or a personal beginning. As Schaeffer explained, an impersonal beginning fails to explain the existence and complexity of the universe and the existence of personality in human beings. Only a personal beginning with a personal Creator can fully explain the existence of personality in humans.

Animals were also created by a personal God, and this may explain why animals have some very human-like behavior at times. There are limits, however, to animal behavior. Only human beings bear the image of the Creator, and this is the source of what makes us truly human.

Picture credits (top to bottom):
© sonyae. Image from BigStockPhoto.com
© telliol. Image from BigStockPhoto.com
© websubstance. Image from BigStockPhoto.com
© volare2004. Image from BigStockPhoto.com