Friday, July 30, 2004

Let's start with a controversial question.  What does a foetus have in common with a lab rat?  The answer, of course, is that people are willing to resort to terrorist tactics to defend them both.  In the US, I understand, a fringe of anti-abortion campaigners have long resorted to intimidation, violence, arson and even murder while here the UK it is animal rights extremists who are responsible for the death threats and vandalism.  One irony is that the animal rights crowd, memorably called bunny-fascists by Minette Martin in the Sunday Times, have had a lot more success here than anti-abortionists have had in the US.  Cambridge University has already scrapped plans for a new laboratory and Oxford looks set to go the same way. 

It won't surprise you to hear that I am against abortion in most circumstances and consider it is always an evil, only occasionally out weighed by a greater evil.  I am also totally in favour of animal testing and value human life over any other living creature.  I would wipe out the last damned tiger on the planet for the sake of a single human child. 

Now I appreciate that this is a view shared with many Christians, in part due to the statements in Genesis that man has dominion over the beasts and shares God's image.  But you don't have to be religious to put humans on a pedestal (Minette Martin is an example) or to realize that the reductionist arguments employed by Peter Singer and Richard Dawkins against speciesism are pretty stupid.  They claim that because we are just animals with DNA similar to other creatures, we are wrong to claim there is something fundamentally different about ourselves.  I am aghast intelligent people can believe this as to reduce humanity to genetics ignores all but one of the things that makes us what we are.  Besides, as no other animal cares about its rights and or anything elses', they contradict themselves when they claim that we should be the exception. The only possible reason we could care deeply about other species is that we are NOT like other species.  I am also amused that Singer, as he states in an article in today's Guardian, finds people who believe in the foetus's right to life to be misguided.  This is deeply weird.  How on earth can he claim that a rat, or even a chimp, has a greater right to life than a foetus?  The point of the article is to condemn animal rights extremists, but it really shows just how confused his thinking is.  His reason for condemning them is not just that they are evil (which they are) but that they make it harder to condemn anti-abortion extremists!

Finally, let me explain why a non-theist should also find the idea that all animals have equal rights is bogus.  Non-reductionists do not define our humanity as a ghost in the machine (whatever the late Francis Crick thought) but by our place in a web of language and culture.  No man is an island, as John Donne taught us, and this was given philosophical teeth by Ludwig Wittgenstein who demonstrated that we are defined by our part in a network of communication.  Any efforts to position ourselves outside that network lead to absurdities.  We should also note that other animals form no part of the matrix of humanity and hence we are justified as excluding them as agents in ethical discussions.  We have duties towards other species, but these are a function of our humanity and nothing to do with the animals.  Singer's and Dawkin's efforts to invent a new "-ism" of discriminating against other animals is philosophically wrongheaded.  I can only assume that neither of them have much idea about what it means to be human, and reading their works only re-enforces that point.  


Anonymous said...


But would you really wipe out the last tiger? It seems to display a lack of respect for Creation.


Anonymous said...

I agree with what you say for the most part. In regards to abortion however it seems to me that scientific knowledge has provided evidence that removes the murderous aspect from some applications of abortion. I think most people would agree that the biological container for the human soul is the brain. Routinely individuals who have suffered traumatic brain injuries are declared "Brain Dead" and any artificial life support is discontinued. Indeed, in most parts of the United Sates brain death is a legal definition of death and suspension of artificial life support is not a choice that any family member of the afflicted must decide, it happens as a matter of course. Although some people protest this practice, it is by far and wide an accepted situation much more then abortion is. If we have proven by science that through a brain we are human is it wrong to destroy tissues before it develops a brain? It seems to me that we have enough scientific knowledge concerning the development of human zygotes that an early-term abortion can be performed without the destruction of human life.