Editor's Note: This article originally appeared in the Winter 2010-11 issue of The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, the trade magazine for homeschool families. Read the magazine free at www.TOSMagazine.com or read it on the go and download the free apps at www.TOSApps.com to read the magazine on your mobile devices.

People have an incredible drive and ability to communicate with one another. Clever animals such as chimps may make special sounds to warn about the approach of a hungry leopard, for example. But we communicate using language, which sets us apart from all other creatures (Genesis 1:27).

Dominated by the Creator-evading philosophy of our age, researchers have tried hard to narrow the huge “communications gulf” between animals and humans, whom they regard as simply evolved animals. Some chimps have been trained by people to associate words with particular objects, and some have achieved a very basic form of sign language.1

Some birds, though not supposed to be our close evolutionary cousins, are even more clever, despite having relatively much smaller brains than chimps. “Alex,” an African gray parrot, was able to recognize and name some one hundred different objects, as well as their colour, texture, and shape. He could also count up to six.2 But Alex’s remarkable trained talent pales into insignificance next to the built-in abilities his human teacher would have had, even as a very young child. 

From an early age, we share information with each other—not just about the objects in the world around us, but about abstract things like thoughts, feelings, and ideas. We can use language to project into the past and future too. 

Who Are We?

Our communication also reflects that we have true self-awareness, an idea of ourselves and our place in the world as unique individuals. For some time, evolutionists became optimistic that they could show that chimps and orangutans also possessed this; when an ape saw an unexpected marking on itself in the mirror, it would inspect that part of its actual body. However, more than one researcher is realizing that this response does not indicate true self-awareness. Evolutionist Daniel Povinelli from the University of Southwestern Louisiana said in 1996 that he was becoming “much more open to the possibility that chimps may not develop a mental understanding of themselves and others, at least not to the extent that preschool children do.”3

Humans, however, are capable of much more. Even young children have been shown capable of having a “theory of mind”; they can speculate about what another person might be thinking. Povinelli also said: “By 3 to 5 years of age, children conclude that their peers behave according to unseen beliefs, intentions, and other mental states”—while “chimps may not try to decipher others’ minds in this way.”4 A chimp mother may be seen to grieve on losing an infant, but other chimps, unable to consider what she is feeling, will not comfort her. 

Povinelli’s negative results on chimps were reported with cautious, almost grudging, wording at times. Nevertheless, the results of his studies indicate that “humans operate in a mental realm that may stay off-limits to apes and other animals . . . .”

But there is more. No ape or any other animal exhibits “recursion”—one concept inside another one.  Young children regularly use recursive concepts, e.g.: “Samantha thinks Susan doesn’t want to play with her.” (Susan’s unwillingness to play is the concept within the concept of Samantha having thoughts.)