What Does it Mean to be Human?

Posted 3 Nov 2004 at 17:35 UTC by steve Share This

The recent discovery of Homo floresiensis, a meter-high relative of Homo Sapien dubbed the "Hobbit" by the media, has created a religious controversy similar to that posed by machine intelligence. Nearly all creation stories describe man as the unique possessor of certain qualities. Homo floresiensis appears to have been "a thinking, reasoning, toolbuilding, talking, fire-using being, human in all the ways that matter and yet a being of a completely different species". Many of the same folks who resist the idea that machines could become conscious, thinking entities are also alarmed at the idea that another species could possess these qualities. Even worse for tradition (but perhaps good for proponents of machine intelligence), some suggest if Humans are "special" that Homo floresiensis may be "semi-special", implying that a continuum between the two states is possible. Meanwhile, at least one theologian says there is no threat to religion from either Homo floresiensis or intelligent machines - and points out that Hobbits never posed a problem to J.R.R. Tolkien's beliefs. One Anglican theologian says that the new discoveries may be another nail in the coffin of fundamentalism but shouldn't affect mainstream religion at all.

Straw man created & distroyed, victory proclaimed, posted 3 Nov 2004 at 20:24 UTC by Rog-a-matic » (Master)

Let me start by offering a simple "Oh Brother!" :)

As a believer, I have no problem whatsoever with any discovery of bones, but I often do have a problem with the irrational conclusions made by some who unreasonably extrapolate their findings. Thankfully, time often provides an answer for that - the scientific literature is repleat with examples of "the scientists will have to rethink their theorys".

If the bones of a short human-like creature are found with tools, it poses no challenge to my belief system, and shouldn‛TM]t to others. We‛TM]ve had examples of animals using tools for a long time. Even finding life on Mars wouldn‛TM]t cause me a problem. I would gladly jump and down with the NASA rover crews.

If tomorrow, bones from the millions of missing intermediate stages predicted by evolution were found (Ok 1), it still fails to answer the basic questions of the existence of our awesome universe.

I'm sure there are some, maybe even many, that would have their belief in a creator shaken by some new scientific discovery, but I find it sad, and intellectually dishonest to paint all believers with this same brush. It makes for easy target practice I guess. I have no idea how many are like me, but I challenge any Christian, Jew, or Muslim to read their scriptures and be honest about what it says and what it does not.

Peace, Roger

More links, posted 3 Nov 2004 at 23:53 UTC by steve » (Master)

A few more links have been submitted that address the religious/philosophical controvery stirred up by the homo floresiensis finds:

The Guardian UK - Big Little Man

Christian Science Monitor - Branches appearing on human family tree

The Telegraph - A New Piece in the Human Puzzle

And there's a 100+ post discussion of the finds on sci.anthropology: Scientists Find Prehistoric Dwarf Skeleton

Also, someone pointed out that we did an article a while back on Anne Foerst, the Lutheran minister who worked at MIT for a while (as the "theological advisor for Cog and Kismet!) studying the problems of AI, robotics, and consciouness with regard to religion. The article is from two years ago and the links are dead, however. Try these links for more on her work:

Anne Foerst's home page

Anne's God and Computers Project home page


The Courage to Doubt, How to Build Robots as a Theologian, by Anne Foerst.

Who cares about truth? Research $ pays the bills, posted 4 Nov 2004 at 03:55 UTC by The Swirling Brain » (Master)

OH NO, my religious beliefs are all wrong! Whatever will I do? Scientists are so smart and I always believe them and especially the media's TOTALLY undestorted view of what the scientists said when they say that these were humans. Oh wait, now they're saying these definately were never humans but that they were apes. Sure it's contradictory, but I believe the scientists wholehearedly. So to help resolve this contradiction, and to keep the argument going, the scientists scientifically named them homo-something to help us realize that these apes are perhaps human contradictilly speaking. Naw, they're not really apes after all, they're hobbit-humans. Wait did, they say "human" they meant apes, but really they're something else. Yeah, they're like apes, like humans, they're hobbit humans. They're special, because the scientists say so. Yeah, they weren't ever human, and then they are. That's so cool. That's special. Wow scientists are so smart. I'm glad I believe everything they say about these human-not-humans who lived 18 million years ago. Or was it they lived up until yesterday? 18 million years ago or yesterday, it's all the same to me. Yeah, I believe everything scientists say. They say christians are just religious nuts and they'll prove them wrong too. I really believe they're showing everyone how smart they are. I really believe everything they say, don't you?

So what if these things were humans or not humans? Isn't it more important that at first they said they were 18 million years old, and then they said, no wait they were here as soon as yesterday? If their dating equipment is that far off, then doesn't that just show how much they really don't know and how off the dating equipment has been all along? Their credibility really suffers. And then, hey, they started saying they were definately humans, then they came back and said, no wait, these guys were never humans, they were some type of ape, but we'll call them homo-fecicious. Yeah, that's it, they were little hobbit type humans (as if they still were a type of human which they already said they weren't that they were ape). So it just goes to show you how scientists will say anything even when they know it's not true just to keep a dumb argument going and to keep on getting research money. There's really nothing to see here when it all comes down to it. I mean, they already admitted that regular apes were closer to humans than this thing was. Just a bunch of fanatic scientists trying to hold on to something that isn't there to try and start something. They're not even sure themselves what they've got there. My guess, is when they quit pointing the finger at all those "hyper-fundamentalist zeolots" that they'll be the ones saying, (without saying "we were wrong") we have to look at this deeper, and explain about how they're being more objective than the religious nuts are and how that Christians still don't really know anything.

Ok, so after this one blows over, we'll all be waiting with baited breath for the next time they find some more bones. Watch as they can say, "I told you so" and then a few days later to say, "we need to look at this and it will take more research." It's a cycle that repeats itself over and over. But we should always believe the scientists really know these things are what they say they are.

In reality, it's a scientists dream to either find a new human species themselves or see a scientist find a new human species. They're so wanting this to happen that they'll do just about anything, even create a hoax. It's like winning the homo-lottery! However, the record isn't too good. Many of the so-called homo-whatevers have been discounted as either apes or pigs or strangely come up missing or else are just contemporary old men or women with arthritis. So it just goes to show you that scientists will do just about anything to get this great honor. Even if only for a moment in the lime light. So when you see one of their "human discoveries" in the news, and again how the religious nuts will shrivel, just sit back and say, "yeah right" and go on about your businesness. It'll all blow over, and there won't be anything of substance left when it's all fully investigated. I mean, scientists have been doing this for years. If they really had irrefutible proof, then it would be on the web. You can see both creation and evolution sites that effectivly refute whats out there. It also goes to show you how rabid and hungrily salivating the media machine is on this topic too. They WANT the scientists to win and the religious nuts to be put to shame.

wow, posted 4 Nov 2004 at 04:50 UTC by steve » (Master)

Reading that made my brain swirl... ;-) I actually thought the media coverage was pretty balanced on this one. The BBC website presented both the Desmond Morris rant that said the discovery could "destroy all religion" and the article by theologian David Wilkinson suggesting the discovery poses no problem at all for religion. I'm definitely in the latter camp. Religion has survived plenty of controversy before (like coping with the discovery that the earth isn't the center of the universe), so I don't see any reason to think this will do it in.

The info I've seen on the find itself seems both pretty consistent about the dating and the classification. And given that there are multiple complete skeletons (not just a few fossils), it seems improbable that this is anything other than a real find, whatever the eventual significance to science and religion.

I do find the similarities to the machine intelligence fascinating however. I've often argued theology in the area of robotics/AI or even alien intelligence but this brings that same argument to something in the realm of fact instead of conjecture, which makes things more fun.

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