Once again - I am pleased with our great discussion, but I must warn you that I completely disagree with some of your opinions... be warned.
You wrote -
"If there is a God who cares about humans, I don't think God would apply the same rules to animals as to us since us humans are rational creatures, at least most of the time. Even my four year old daughters have grasped that us humans are different from other animals, and in many ways superior to them."
Ouch!! Are you related to Cliff? It sounds as though you guys share some of the same beliefs.
So you are saying that our ability to be rational makes us God's "favorites". Being rational is next to Godliness. I disagree. We are animals. Plain and simple. Our ability to be rational, in my mind, is no different than a cheetah's ability to run very fast or a plants ability to absorb nutrients effectively. It is a trait that we have acquired through natural selection. As I have mentioned in earlier posts, our ability to think and reason is more than likely the cause of our high suicide rate and predisposition for depression. It isn't necessarily always a good thing!
As far as other animals are concerned, they are all different and alike. Yes, we are different than other animals, but all animals are different. We all share similar body plans, parental nurturing, and sexual strategies, but we have different traits that allow us to thrive in our environment. The only way I am superior to other animals is that I am at the top of the food chain in my ecosystem (which happens to be everywhere due to our large numbers and technology). But you have to realize that top predators in any ecosystem are not as important as the underlying foundational species. We are much more dependent on primary producers than they are of us.
You wrote -
"Do you really believe that everything you do is based on instinct? If I had a big grizzly bear chasing after me, I'm going to run like hell, now that's instinct. My Dad's birthday is coming, so I'm going to go out and get him something. I don't think that my wish to get my Dad something is instinct but rather my own choice apart from my genetics."
Yes I do. I think our human instincts and quite possibly the instincts of lots of other animals are not very well understood. Why do you love your father? Is it because the bible says something about honoring thy mother and father? I doubt it. You were dependent upon them and they loved you to ensure your survival into the next generation or at least reproductive age. Kin selection and altruism towards same species is an undeniable part of evolution processes. Love is a necessity of mammal existence. We expend a lot of energy on rearing our children. Does a mother reptile invest as much time as a mother mammal? No (for the most part). Your emotional attachment to your father is a choice that has been strengthened through his nurturing of you as a child. There is no nature versus nurture; it is both acting in unison.
"My daughters are identical twins, so they have similar genetic makeup, yet one wanted to watch one movie on TV and the other one wanted to watch something different. Now is that instinct or are they making choices apart from genetics and instinct?"
That is cultural which is also not exclusive to human beings. Studies in the area of primatology are exposing the ability for chimps and bonobos to pass along learned behaviors. Medicine in certain leaves, ways to extract termites, mourning death, ritualistic behaviors, dominance and submission amongst groups. Our culture is an extension of our environment, it seems unique to us but dolphins, whales, apes, and insects could care less.
Hope we can continue along these lines