Thursday, 2 November 2017

Animals Refute Creationism By Rational Thought

Cameron Buckner, assistant professor of philosophy at UH, says empirical evidence suggests a variety of animal species are able to make rational decisions, despite the lack of a human-like language.
Do Animals Think Rationally? - University of Houston

Do animals other than humans think rationally?

Cameron Buckner, assistant professor of philosophy at the University of Houston, think some at least do and believes he has evidence to support that view. His article is published a few days ago Philosophy and Phenomenological Research sets out his reasoning.

Regrettably, it sits behind an expensive paywall but a News release by Jeannie Kever of Huston University explains his findings:

"These data suggest that not only do some animals have a subjective take on the suitability of the option they are evaluating for their goal, they possess a subjective, internal signal regarding their confidence in this take that can be deployed to select amongst different options," he [Cameron Buckner] wrote.

The question has been debated since the days of the ancient philosophers, as people considered what it means to be human. One way to address that, Buckner said, is to determine exactly what sets humans apart from other animals.

Language remains a key differentiator, and Buckner notes that serious attempts in the 1970s and ‘80s to teach animals human language – teaching chimpanzees to use sign language, for example – found that although they were able to express simple ideas, they did not engage in complex thought and language structures.

Ancient philosophers relied upon anecdotal evidence to study the issue, but today’s researchers conduct sophisticated controlled experiments. Buckner, working with Thomas Bugnyar and Stephan A. Reber, cognitive biologists at the University of Vienna, last year published the results of a study that determined ravens share at least some of the human ability to think abstractly about other minds, adapting their behavior by attributing their own perceptions to others.

In his latest paper, Buckner offers several examples to support his argument:

  • Matriarchal elephants in Kenya’s Amboseli National Park were able to determine the threat level of human intruders by differentiating ethnicity, gender and age, suggesting an understanding that adult Maasai tribesmen sometimes kill elephants in competition for grazing or in retaliation for attacks against humans, while Kamba tribesmen and women and children from both tribes don’t pose a threat.
  • Giraffes are not generally considered prey by lions in Africa, due to the long-necked animals’ ability to deliver skull-crushing kicks. Lions in South Africa’s Selous Game Reserve, however, are reported to have learned that giraffes found in a sandy river bed can get stuck and even trip, making them suitable prey.

His goal, Buckner said, was to compile the empirical research, “to see that we’ve accumulated enough evidence to say that animals really are rational in a distinctive way.”

The evidence that non-human animals can identify and assess the relative merits of various options blurs yet further any distinction between humans an other animals, as creationists of all types like to pretend exist, even offering it as evidence of special creation of humans or of a special relationship to a creator god.

Biologically, the interesting thing is that these examples of rational thought appear to be without language. It is assumed that humans use language when thinking but animals seem to be using an internal signalling system to assess confidence in a particular outcome from a course of action.

And of course, a sense of self is essential in assessing various options and their likely outcome. Until relatively recently we thought a sense of self was unique to humans.

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