A comparison of humans and animals

The general principle is that any practice that is acceptable for animals is also acceptable for humans.

First let us look at the relevant similarities and differences between animals and humans to determine the truth of the general principle. Even though there are similarities between dogs, cows and humans, in that they are all mammals, there are many important differences. Humans have a much higher level of Intelligence and self determination than other animals; this level of intelligence gives us freedom of choice at that animals do not possess. Since humans possess freedom of choice, issues related to reproduction should be left to the choice of the individual. A practice that is acceptable for them is not necessarily acceptable for human. Also, if we extend our general principle, we could say that since we routinely kill dogs taken to the dog pound and not claimed after several days, we could kill humans that nobody cares about. Hence the unstated general principle is false.

Narcolepsy – sleeping sickness – is a strange enough disease in humans, but the idea that dogs fall victim to it as well seems far fetched. Except that it’s true – both Doberman pinschers and Labrador Retrievers can suffer from narcolepsy.

Scottish Terriers can suffer from a type of haemophilia; English Springer Spaniels from anaemia, and Golden Retrievers from muscular dystrophy.

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A growing number of genetic diseases, that have similar or in some case exact parallels in man, are being discovered in animals. So far nearly 400 genetic diseases have been identified in dogs alone.

Unlike humans who have 24 pairs of chromosome, dogs have 38, but because these are smaller, and all have their centromeres at one end, they are much harder than human chromosomes to distinguish.

Dr Binns added: “The dog is divided into about 300 breeds. There are something like 380 inherited diseases which have been recognized in dogs. Many of these are exact analogues of human disease.

“For instance, retinitis pigmentosa in man, a blindness condition, is essentially progressive retinal atrophy in dogs. There are something like 25 RPs in man and six or 7 RPA’s in dogs.”

“Copper toxicosis in Bedlington Terriers, which eventually causes liver failure, is like Wilson’s disease in man, although it is not the same gene. It is sometimes hard to collect large enough pedigrees for genetic studies of rare diseases in humans – but in animals you can produce large pedigrees, identify the genetic regions and see if these regions are also involved in the rare conditions in man.”

“In terms of DNA sequence, dog and man are 85 per cent identical. There are many large evolutionarily conserved segments. There’s more in common than there are differences in the structure of a mammal,” he said.

Together with Dr Jim Kaufman, of the Institute for Animal Health, the researchers have made a surprising discovery – the chicken barely has enough immune system genes to keep itself alive. Whereas humans have something in the region of 200 MHC genes, the chicken has just 19.

One particular herpes virus, called Marek’s disease, came close to wiping out chickens as a food resource in the 1960s but since then has been largely controlled by vaccines..

The Distinctiveness of Being Human

Now, again, I’m assuming divine creation through evolutionary processes. So I can ask the question in terms of divine action: What did God give us that makes us truly different from the animals?

Many modern religious believers would say that the main difference between us and animals is that we have souls and animals don’t.

I’m going to list for you what I think are seven of the most important features that we have that distinguish us from the animals.

Self Concept

First of all, we have a more refined self-concept; that is, we not only recognize that this is me, my body, when we see ourselves in the mirror, but we have a concept of ourselves as a human being, as a specific member of a family, as an American, as a Christian–

Theory of Other Minds

Second, given that refined self-concept we have the ability to represent to ourselves the concept of other people’s minds. That is, I realize that I’m conscious, that I have ideas but I also realize that you are conscious. And so I can think about what you think. I can think about what you know; I can think about what you are ignorant of.


Third, we have the capacity for true morality -which is based on having the concept of right and wrong.

Social Structures

Fourth, language gives us the capacity to form social structures. Now, animals have social structures , but not as complex as ours. We, for example, can write bylaws and laws and constitutions..

Awareness of Mortality

Fifth, we have the capacity to anticipate death.

Religious Sensibilities

Sixth, we have the ability to ask questions about what is ultimately important; that is, we can ask about the ultimate cause of everything; we can ask about whether the whole has a purpose. And, in short, we are able to ask what’s traditionally been understood as religious questions.