Does evolution say that humans are just animals?

The short answer

Not in the sense creationists intend when they ask this kind of thing.

The longer answer

I. Part of the animal kingdom

If in asking this question one is asking simply whether humans are 100% animal rather than, say, half animal and half plant, half animal and half robot, or half animal and half vampire, then of course humans are animals.1 This is pretty much the only interpretation of the question for which it makes sense to give a “yes” answer.

But this rarely is what people mean when they ask the question. What they generally mean is something along the lines of, “I don’t have a very high opinion of other animals, and doesn’t evolution reduce me to their level?”

II. Our origins don’t change our capacities

Everything that was distinctive about us before the evolutionary history of life was uncovered still is there. Most of these distinctive things come in one way or another from our advanced capacity to reason, and our origins do not affect that. The fact that an ancestor of yours walked on all fours, and that a more distant ancestor of yours didn’t even have limbs, does not make you any less capable of contemplating atoms and stars, of writing equations and poems, of reflecting on the past and looking to the future, of recognizing the commonalities between those whom you love most and strangers on the other side of the planet whom you never will meet. All of that still is there. And if evolution establishes a bridge between us and other animals, and helps us to see in them signs of awareness and emotion, of planning and language, of love and altruism to which we otherwise might remain blind, the effect of that is to elevate them, not to diminish us.

We may be animals, but only a creationist would look at all of this and add the word “just.”


1 Half human and half werewolf, you say? First of all, no. Second, don’t you mean three-quarters human and one-quarter wolf?