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Human Exceptionalism is a Central Theme for Novelist Dean Koontz

Bestselling author Dean Koontz talks fiction, human exceptionalism, and transhumanism with Wesley J. Smith in new podcast episode (Part II)

In Part I of this two-part series, we looked at Dean Koontz’s remarks on the purpose of art and the unique role of the novelist in today’s “everything is political” environment. But that’s not all he and Smith discussed on the Humanize Podcast on September 12th. Both had a lot to say about human exceptionalism, authoritarianism, and also…dogs! Koontz spoke about his love for the pups at the end of the episode, but first, discussed how the “animal rights” movement has gone wrong, and how a materialistic worldview can lead to despair.  

Dean Koontz and Wesley J. Smith on the Humanize Podcast

Smith commented how human exceptionalism is a central theme in Koontz’s novels and asked the reason, to which Koontz responded,

“There’s no civilization if we don’t recognize human exceptionalism. I know a lot of people are going to shy away from the idea of human exceptionalism, because they love nature, and they love animals. But it’s human exceptionalism that encourages us to take care of animals and to serve nature in an intelligent way.”

Koontz pointed out that while animals have the right not to be abused, they should never be given equal status to humans. To give a minor example from my own experience, a few years ago a German shepherd attacked my brother while he was running near our home in Oklahoma. To escape getting mauled, my brother jumped into a ditch and fended the dog off with a stick. He walked back to the house in the rain, bloodied up and feeling quite manly and heroic. (He’s never been afraid to weather a storm!) The dog’s owner, however, rationalized the attack by explaining that the dog was “on edge” because of a distant peal of thunder. She was more worried about her dog’s anxiety than my brother’s safety. I, like Koontz, love dogs, but we can’t seriously think that the German shepherd should be defended in court or legally held accountable for its actions. You can’t advocate animal rights and leave out animal responsibilities. Squirrels and badgers don’t have to make moral decisions, so they’re off the hook.

Dean Koontz

To sum up some of these ideas, Smith read the following quote, which Koontz wrote in his introduction to Smith’s 2010 book A Rat is a Pig is a Dog is a Boy:

“Ironically, the movement to deny human exceptionalism has risen primarily if not exclusively in the Christian West. Its roots are in the desire to deny the roundness of creation and to force upon society a simple and intellectually hollow materialism that reduces nature to a machine lacking in mystery, and reduces all the splendid, diverse creatures on the earth to one in the same thing. Meat. It is a denial of the world’s profound depth of meaning and sacred order. Like every other anti-democratic ideology, this one is by definition anti-human, and like anti-human ideology it ultimately deteriorates into a nihilistic bitterness that is anti-life.”

Koontz and Smith went on to consider how such a view leads to despair because it offers humans no significant role to play in the world. When there’s no inherent meaning in life, and there’s nothing sacred about the world around us, one might wonder why it’s incumbent upon us to protect nature and animals at all. Koontz then expressed how important it is to keep hope at the center of one’s life, and how, contrary to the materialistic worldview, our world is full of meaning and beauty if we just look for it. Our lives can also bear evidence of providential design, or what psychologist Carl Jung called “synchronicity.”

“A lot in life is synchronicity. It just isn’t an occasional amazing set of coincidences. It is fundamentally the nature of the world. And it isn’t coincidence—it’s patterns within the world that we generally don’t recognize.”

This is at odds with the materialist who says all events are byproducts of chance. If nature bears a purposeful design, then it makes sense to suppose that human life and history have a telos, too.  

Smith also brought up transhumanism, another consistent theme in Koontz’s work. Koontz commented that there’s a whole transhumanist movement that wants to move humanity “above the limitations of the human form and mind.” These people want to maximize human intelligence and leave our “creatureliness” behind. Achieving a sort of semi-immortality, however, would mean abandoning the things that make us human. Koontz said,

“The values of that civilization would be more machine-like than they would be human. It would be a cold, heartless, and self-involved civilization. And I don’t think we’d want to go there.”

Smith also offered his own insights on this issue:

“[Transhumanists] never talk about the need to improve love. And that’s because love isn’t mechanistic. Love is something that you have to work on as a virtue. And transhumanism just wants to be able to have magic pills and magic implants to improve life. But they don’t have any concept, for example, of people with Down Syndrome who are developmentally disabled, but they’re the most loving, sweet, truly human beings you’ll ever meet.”

And even though I mentioned a rogue German shepherd earlier, Koontz and Smith ended their conversation by duly praising the canines. Koontz is a famous dog lover and appreciates them for their capacity for love and connection. A good dog can be a steadfast companion and a source of joy for people, according to Koontz. Service dogs are essential for many disabled people, and petting a friendly animal can relieve stress. And if I may be so bold to say it: cats are cool, too.

I hope you can listen to the Humanize Podcast episode in its entirety. There’s much more Koontz and Smith talked about that’s worth listening to, and you can access it both here on this page or at the Center for Human Exceptionalism website.

Here’s Part 1: Art, propaganda, and the role of the novelist. Bestselling author Dean Koontz talks fiction, human exceptionalism, and transhumanism with Wesley J. Smith in new podcast episode. Dean Koontz believes fiction should both entertain and enlighten, and focusing too much on either role threatens the integrity and purpose of art.


Peter Biles

Peter Biles graduated from Wheaton College in Illinois in 2019 and went on to receive a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from Seattle Pacific University. He is the author of Hillbilly Hymn (Resource Publications, 2022) and Keep and Other Stories (Resource Publications, 2022). He has also written for a variety of publications, including Plough, Dappled Things, The Gospel Coalition, Salvo, and Breaking Ground. Born and raised in Ada, Oklahoma, he currently serves as Content & Communications Fellow for the Chesterton House, a Christian Study Center at Cornell University.

Human Exceptionalism is a Central Theme for Novelist Dean Koontz