My apologies for the delay in continuing this thread. Maureen Koplow responded to my comments on the etymology of words beginning with dom and her response set the wheels in my head spinning again. However, other duties have kept me away from the blog for the past several days. Here is Maureen’s response, followed by mine.
Maureen: My reason for asking has to do with my animal advocacy – I’ve discussed the idea of the biblical phrase where Adam is supposedly told to have “dominion” over the animal kingdom. For many people, they use this as an argument in favor of exploiting animals. I’ve tried to explain that the word dominion is related to the more positive concepts of stewardship, of being godlike and taking responsibility for animals. I’ve used the concept that many people pray to a deity and ask for mercy, for tenderness, for consideration.
Such people also usually believe that man is created in the image of that deity. My argument is that if people are indeed created to be in “God’s” image, and if we pray to a merciful “God,” are we not then supposed to act “Godlike” toward those over whom we have “dominion”?
The connectedness of the words beginning with dom makes it clear to me that the original intention of the commandment “to have dominion” was to have mercy and compassion, to care for and nurture. For those who believe in a religious argument which favors use and exploitation of animals, the biblical commandment would seem to contradict that claim.
Dr. Goodword: I am led to the same conclusion by a different strain of logic. I am a linguist and linguists are impressed by the fact that only the human species can speak. No chimp, gorilla, whale, or dolphin has ever done anything resembling human speech, despite repeated efforts (“Can Chimpanzees Talk“).
The only explanation to this is that human intelligence is qualitatively different from that of other species. That is don’t simply have more brains than other species; the difference is not quantitative. We have a totally different kind of intelligence, one that allows us to create, learn, and unconsciously pass on language from generation to generation.
That is a large part of the definition of God. God is an entirely different kind of intelligence. Because other species cannot attain the kind of intelligence we have, yet we are a species, it behooves humans to take care of the Earth. No other species can destroy this planet, so no other species can be expected to preserve it. Other species just eat, sleep, and reproduce; that is all they can do. We are the intellectual powerhouses—though looking at our corporate, religious, and political you sometimes wonder. We need a qualitatively different sense of responsibility to go along with our intelligence.