The Human Exceptionalist- July 2012


The Human Exceptionalist
July 31, 2012
The morality of the 21st century will depend on how we respond to this simple but profound question:  Does every human life have equal moral value simply and merely because it is human?  Answer yes, and we have a chance of achieving universal human rights.  Answer no, and it means that we are merely another animal in the forest.”

— Wesley J. Smith Senior Fellow, Discovery Institute

Dear Exceptional Human:

Free will is one of the crucial moral attributes that distinguishes human beings from animals.” But now, even this long taken for granted attribute is under assault by human exceptionalism deniers.  Oh sure, we think we have free will, this argument goes, but in actuality, we have no choice in our behavior or indeed, even out thoughts.

It is a paradox, is it not?  We can’t help but think that we think what we will, even when we think that the we-really-have-no-free-will meme is pure baloney.

That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t take the increasing attacks on free will seriously, such as the proselytizing atheist, Sam Harris’s, newest book Free Will.  If we have no free will, moral agency is actually a fiction. Without free will, we are reduced to so many automaton slaves of our genes, chemicals, whatever, overlords. In such a worldview, no one could be held morally accountable for their own actions since their biology would have made them do it.

Moreover, if humans have no free will, we are not really moral agents. Once we accepted that premise, the bases for judging behavior and establishing moral standards would eventually collapse. Destroying the unique dignity of man, would, for many, make God go away. Ironically, that would elevate us back into sense of superiority (as opposed to exceptionalism), since in a Godless milieu, our unique “god-like” capabilities would make us even more remarkable, with no theists around urging humility in the face of a Creator. Perhaps, that is the point.

Of course, if humans are just another animal in the forest, why not treat some of us—those with the least power and who are the most vulnerable—as mere natural resources.  Alas, some of the wealthy among us look to the bodies of the destitute as so many corn crops to be harvested, or rented.  Biological colonialism strikes just such a beat, for example, purchasing the kidneys of the destitute and renting the wombs of poor women—sometimes with deadly result.

And, we learn in the New York Times that peas are apparently persons too.  Good grief.

Meanwhile, with your help, the Center on Human Exceptionalism has been steadily raising the public visibility of the issue.  “Rationalists” (if they don’t say so themselves), have launched an attack on HE in general and the Discovery Institute’s Center on Human Exceptionalism specifically in RationalistWiki. (We wear their scorn like a badge of honor.)

On a more positive note, the Human Life Review has a very interesting discussion among human exceptionalists—including contributions from Discovery Institute fellows David Klinghoffer and yours truly—as well as Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, and W. Ross Blackburn, discussing whether HE can be defended from non-religious premises. All of the articles are well written and thought provoking: Highly recommended.

So, the good news is that the importance of human exceptionalism is gaining greater attention in the public square. The bad news is that its enemies are growing ever more adamant that human beings are not special and that our lives have no intrinsic moral worth based simply on being human.

If you would like to contribute to our work bringing this crucial issue of human freedom and thriving to a broader appreciation, please let people know of our work, and if you are of a mind, please hit the “donate” link and give us a helping hand.

Until the next time,

Wesley J. Smith


Biological Colonialism


Kidney Trafficking Worsening Among World’s Destitute

 The illegal trade in kidneys has risen to such a level that an estimated 10,000 black market operations involving purchased human organs now take place annually, or more than one an hour, World Health Organisation experts have revealed. Evidence collected by a worldwide network of doctors shows that traffickers are defying laws intended to curtail their activities and are cashing in on rising international demand for replacement kidneys driven by the increase in diabetes and other diseases. Patients, many of whom will go to China, India or Pakistan for surgery, can pay up to $200,000 (nearly £128,000) for a kidney to gangs who harvest organs from vulnerable, desperate people, sometimes for as little as $5,000.

Continue reading . . .


Surrogate Mother Dies in India

 Renting out her womb to a US couple cost Amraiwadi resident Premila Vaghela, 36, her life. Trying to give a child to the couple, she died on Monday leaving her two sons motherless… Premila’s mother, more than 80 years old, had anger in her voice. “I have lost my daughter. Now, we don’t want anything from anybody,” she said.




Soylent Green is Fetuses: South Korea Seizes Pills Made From Fetus Flesh

 Thousands of pills filled with powdered human flesh have been discovered by customs officials in South Korea, it was revealed today. The capsules are in demand because they are viewed as being a medicinal ‘cure-all’. The grim trade is being run from China where corrupt medical staff are said to be tipping off medical companies when babies are aborted or delivered still-born. The tiny corpses are then bought, stored in household refrigerators in homes of those involved in the trade before they are removed and taken to clinics where they are placed in medical drying microwaves. Once the skin is tinder dry, it is pummeled into powder and then processed into capsules along with herbs to disguise the true ingredients from health investigators and customs officers.

Continue reading . . .

Free Will

Atheist Sam Harris’ New Book Denies Free Will

 His [Harris’s] absolutist position, I should add, because, as he puts it near the beginning of the book: “Free will is an illusion. Our wills are simply not of our own making. Thoughts and intentions emerge from background causes of which we are unaware and over which we exert no conscious control.” We assume that we could have made other choices in the past, Harris continues, and we also assume that we consciously originate “our thoughts and actions in the present. . .Both of these assumptions are false.” 

Continue reading . . .

Human Exceptionalism

Human Exceptionalism Accused of Being “Creationism”

The most recent usage of the term can be found in Discovery Institute propaganda. Like intelligent design, it’s basically creationism…in a funny hat…The angle the [Discovery Institute] ‘Toot uses for this one is to publish a newsletter called The Human Exceptionalist,[1] a “monthly” report on “the many emerging threats to human dignity and equality” published by the ‘Toot’s “Center for Human Exceptionalism”, headed by Wesley J. Smith. The rationale is that western civilization “depends on accepting the moral importance of being human”, and a conspiracy of “powerful and bounteously financed ideological forces in seemingly unrelated but actually symbiotically connected fields such as bioethics, radical environmentalism, neo Darwinism, scientific materialism, animal rights, radical environmentalism, and futuristic transhumanism, assert with mounting vigor that being human is morally irrelevant.” Western civilization is good, therefore creationism is true. Human exceptionalism is posited by Smith as a justifiable development from plain old anthropocentrism…

Continue reading . . .


Human Life Review Publishes Symposium on Human Exceptionalism

In the Winter/Spring 2011 issue of the Review, Wesley Smith, in his article “The Bioethics Threat to Universal Human Rights,” proposed that in arguing for human exceptionalism one ought to utilize secular terms, because “human dignity can be well defended from secular bases.” To base the defense on religious terms, Smith said, gives the non-religious an excuse to dismiss the arguments entirely. The Rev. W. Ross Blackburn disagrees; he wrote us last fall to see if we would be willing to publish his reply.

His thoughtful article, “Arguing for Human Dignity in Bioethics & Public Policy: A Reply to Wesley J. Smith,” was published in our Winter 2012 issue…We spoke to Smith about Blackburn’s article, and the idea of a symposium was born. As you will see, while all of the nine contributors to “Truth-Telling in the Public Square” agree on the inviolability of human life, each comes at the question of how best to argue for it in the public square from their own unique, and engaging, angle. Some come down on the side of the secular, some the sacred, and some think each argument makes sense . . . to a point. Some question whether one can persuade through argument at all.

Continue reading . . .


Plant Rights


 Philosopher Promotes Personhood for Peas in New York Times

When it comes to a plant, it turns out to be not only a what but also a who — an agent in its milieu, with its own intrinsic value or version of the good. Inquiring into justifications for consuming vegetal beings thus reconceived, we reach one of the final frontiers of dietary ethics…The “renewable” aspects of perennial plants may be accepted by humans as a gift of vegetable being and integrated into their diets. But it would be harder to justify the cultivation of peas and other annual plants, the entire being of which humans devote to externally imposed ends. In other words, ethically inspired decisions cannot postulate the abstract conceptual unity of all plants; they must, rather, take into account the singularity of each species.

Continue reading . . .



A Rat is a Pig is a Dog is a Boy

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Wesley J. Smith

Chair and Senior Fellow, Center on Human Exceptionalism
Wesley J. Smith is Chair and Senior Fellow at the Discovery Institute’s Center on Human Exceptionalism. Wesley is a contributor to National Review and is the author of 14 books, in recent years focusing on human dignity, liberty, and equality. Wesley has been recognized as one of America’s premier public intellectuals on bioethics by National Journal and has been honored by the Human Life Foundation as a “Great Defender of Life” for his work against suicide and euthanasia. Wesley’s most recent book is Culture of Death: The Age of “Do Harm” Medicine, a warning about the dangers to patients of the modern bioethics movement.