Who is really a human being? This is certainly one of the biggest questions ever asked throughout history. Philosophers, theologians, anthropologists, artists, and even common people have asked this question time and time again, offering all kinds of answers, from mythology to science to simple laughable ideas.
In this challenging world we now live, the question about who is really a human being has resurfaced in two contexts: law (specifically, human rights) and science, showing that, in spite of millennia of having our best minds (and some not so good ones) analyzing the question, we still lack a satisfactory answer.
During the recent World Science Festival in New York City, several scientists offered different answers about who is a human being: “A species with ways of transmitting information” (Marvin Minsky), “The nervous system of the planet” (Daniel Dennett), “An unique brain structure” (Patricia Churchland), and “An extraordinary form of symbolic cognition” (Ian Tattersall).
Other scientists spoke about the fact that we, humans, are the only known species able to question our own identity and essence, or the only species wanting to transcend time, either though history or religion. For more information, click here.
However, in spite of all those outstanding scientific contributions, the question about who (or what) is human being is still open.
In fact, at this very same time, the European Court of Human Rights, in Strasbourg, France, is trying to decide whether Matthew Hiasl Pan, 26 and resident in Vienna, Austria, is a human person with legal rights.
Why the court is still undecided about the humanity of Matthew? Because Matthew is a chimpanzee living at an animal sanctuary.
Paula Stibbe, the activist who began the legal action in favor of Matthew, said there are obvious differences between humans and chimpanzees. However, at the same time, the definition of who is a human being is still, at best, ambiguous and always changing. And, taking into account that the DNA of humans is 96 percent similar to the DNA of chimpanzees, Matthew should be classified as a human person. For details, click here.
It is unclear if Matthew really wants to be classified as a human person, knowing that, if he is, he will then have to obey the law and, for example, to pay taxes and use the seat belt.
Stibbe said that if her request to have Matthew recognized as a human is successful, then the next step will be to include dogs and dolphins in the same category as chimpanzees.
My question, then, is this: If dogs and dolphins are accepted as being “human,” what other animals will soon also be included and where the list is going to stop?
While in Europe they are defending the “human” rights of a chimpanzee, in Denver, Colorado for Equal Rights is also proposing a new definition of human being, to include in this case “any human being from the moment of fertilization,” because not always unborn babies are classified as “human.”
The Amendment 48, entitled "Definition of a Person," was recently approved for a statewide vote when the Secretary of State validated 103,000 signatures on petitions for the ballot initiative, that is, 27,000 more than required. The issue will be decided by popular vote next November.
(If you have doubts about the humanity of babies, please read Psalm 139:13-16)
“We at Colorado for Equal Rights are incredibly thankful for our many volunteers who worked so hard for each signature we delivered to the secretary of state's office and the churches who stood behind us and supported us,” said Kristi Burton, 20, who organized the petition drive.
“This victory is the voice of the people, and all credit goes to our Creator,” she added. For more information, click here.
I would like to know what American human babies still inside their mothers’ womb will say if they knew that, in many respects, they have less rights than an European chimpanzee.
However, even if unborn babies and chimpanzees eventually succeed in being recognized as humans, they still have to face serious competition from yet another group who also wants rights: aliens.
I am not talking here about those aliens who cross the border to come here, but aliens who cross inter-stellar space to come here. Extraterrestrial aliens, that is.
According to Jeff Peckman, a Denver entrepreneur, aliens, those who supposedly come in spaceships, should also have their own rights. So, he is promoting an initiative to create a “commission for extraterrestrial creatures,” so Denver residents will be ready in case of an “alien invasion.” (See details here.)
So far, Peckman said nothing about asking immigration papers to those aliens.
These examples clearly show how fragmented and distorted our current understanding of who is a human being is. We don’t even know if our primate cousins are just cousins or perhaps our brothers.
We don’t know if human babies are human enough to be recognized as humans. And we don’t know if we have some yet-unknown cousins out there, ready to visit us to reclaim their rights.
All the problems about immigration, about saving traditional marriage, about education, about foreign relations, are in reality a fight about who we really are. It should not be a surprise to anybody that, if you deny the humanity of human babies and accept the humanity of chimpanzees, then you distort who we humans really are, and, therefore, accept behaviors unbecoming to humans.
The Apostle Paul already wrote about these same issues in Romans 1:21-25:
21For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools 23and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles. 24Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. 25They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen.
Having distorted who God is, we have also distorted who we really are. And who are we? David already wrote about that many centuries ago in Psalm 8:4-6:
4. “What is man that you are mindful of him,
the son of man that you care for him?
5 You made him a little lower than the heavenly beings (=Elohim)
and crowned him with glory and honor.
6 You made him ruler over the works of your hands;
you put everything under his feet:
No immigration debate will be solved, no traditional marriage will be saved, no anti-family legislation will be repealed until first we understand who we are. A distorted image of God and, therefore, a distorted image of ourselves (see Genesis 1:26), will also distort all our laws, all our rights, and all the attempted solutions for our problems.
Francisco Miraval is the founder and director of Project Vision 21, LLC, a bilingual news and information service based in Aurora, Colorado. He is also the director of the Hispanic Group of the US Christian Chamber of Commerce and a member of the NHCLC board.