There’s a rather vanilla piece in The Philadelphia Inquirer which reviews the ideas of how humans became human. I say vanilla because the headline is somewhat more sensational than the text itself, which seems sober and accurate. But this paragraph jumped out at me:
A main source of the idea that we humans are above the rest of the living world is religion. Even religions that accept evolution espouse a kind of human exceptionalism.
It is obviously true that human religions tend to place a special importance on humans. And it is accurate as well to observe that consistent messages of human uniqueness are most prominently espoused by particular religions. Even those religions such as Neo-paganism and Hinduism which adhere to a monism which collapses the distinction between human and non-human operationally do seem to privilege the human perspective.
But I think for the purposes of analysis we need to step away from the idea that religion is the “source” of any one particular thing. Like morality it’s pretty obvious that human exceptionalism in religion is an extension of our natural intuitions, which derive from the fact that natural selection tends to shape lineages to at least a minimum level of self-absorption. I think this issue needs to be generally kept in mind when we praise religion (e.g., “there would be no charity without religion”) or condemn it (e.g., “there would be no war without religion”). Rather than an ultimate wellspring of human behavior religion is more accurately conceptualized as an intermediating phenomenon. It takes the elements of humanity and recombines them into more complex cultural units. It does does not provide the inputs, it is a function which operates upon the inputs.