Animals Farming and How to Define Humans

Animals Farming
When I was in high school in the 1950s, a human was defined in terms of making tools and cultivating food. The idea that tool use is unique to humans has been disproven many times. Birds, apes, and some fish have all been shown to use tools. We even have examples of animals farming.

In 1967 studies were released showing that Attine ants were gathering fungi into groupings, and then using the fungi as their sole food source. Recent studies have verified that Attine ants get the amino acid arginine from the fungus that they grow in plots. The ants provide the moisture the fungus must have, and the fungus provides the arginine the ants need. This symbiotic relationship is one of many in the natural world that show a critical balance in the processes and workers that allows complex life to exist on Earth.

The definition of what is “human” from a scientific standpoint is very difficult, because complex chemical relationships exist in both the plant and animal kingdoms. These processes can duplicate what is considered to be unique to humans. Things like brain size also cannot be used because of the huge variations that exist among all living things.

Since we have observed animals farming, we know that even that is not a human peculiarity. In recent months scientists have found human remains with brain sizes smaller than what is usually ascribed to humans. So how do we define humans? Humans were created in the image of God, and that definition is the only one that really works. You can see it by observing a human’s ability to create art and music, to worship God, to feel guilt and sympathy, and to be able to learn to think and reason.
–John N. Clayton © 2017
Reference: Science News, November 11, 2017 page 4.

“Whose Tools Are These?”

Capuchin Monkey
That is the title of an article in the January 2017 issue of Scientific American (pages 11-12) by Kate Wong. The article deals with the discovery that wild capuchin monkeys in Brazil’s Serra da Capivara National Park have been observed banging rocks together to break them and thus isolating conchoidal fractured chips and flakes which could then be used as cutting tools. When researchers study the flakes and chips, they find that they look very much like the flakes and chips found in caves and shelters where early humans are thought to have lived. However, part of the reason that humans were assumed to have been in those locations was the finding of tools similar to the capuchin monkey flakes.

There are some interesting points connected with all of this. One obvious point is that you cannot define what is human and what is not human by whether they fashioned tools or not, and that has been a method used by scientists studying this question. We have known that some birds and chimps use objects found in the wild to secure food. Chimps use sticks to get ants by pushing the sticks into an ant hill and eating the ants that cling to the sticks. Birds have been observed dropping objects on eggs to crack them open to eat the contents. Making a tool is another issue, but once again this does not seem to be a good indicator of whether or not a specimen was human.

The Bible describes humans as being created in God’s image. This doesn’t involve tool use at all but has to do with human capacity for creative activity, worship, and feeling guilt, sympathy, or self-sacrificing love. That definition is superior to any physical criteria, but it is hard to use in studying a fossil in most cases. –John N. Clayton © 2017