A recent study suggests that what sets us humans apart from our chimpanzee- and orangutan "cousins" might not be any difference in intelligence (which doesn't seem to be especially pronounced). Instead, the crucial difference may be the ability we have evolved to empathize with and to learn from each other, in ways that lower primates don't seem to be capable of.
Human beings have evolved to coordinate complex activities, to gossip and to playact together. It is because they are adapted for such cultural activities — and not because of their cleverness as individuals — that human beings are able to do so many exceptionally complex and impressive things.
Of course, humans beings are not cooperating angels; they also put their heads together to do all kinds of heinous deeds. But such deeds are not usually done to those inside “the group.”
Recent evolutionary models have demonstrated what politicians have long known: the best way to get people to collaborate and to think like a group is to identify an enemy and charge that “they” threaten “us.”
The remarkable human capacity for cooperation thus seems to have evolved mainly for interactions within the group. Such group-mindedness is a major cause of strife and suffering in the world today.
The solution — more easily said than done — is to find new ways to define the group.
Michael Tomasello, How Are Humans Unique?, NY Times, May 25, 2008 (extra paragraphing added).
If this aspect of human evolution has been part of an ongoing continuing creation, it's pretty damned clever of the Creator, wouldn't you say?