Animal Rights and Wrongs

Anthony Weber —  May 4, 2012 — 15 Comments

 “What is man,” asked the Psalmist, “that Thou [God] are mindful of him?” An excellent question, and one which has aroused considerable controversy within the context of the arguments surrounding animal rights.

What, if anything, separates humans from the rest of the animal kingdom, and what are the implications of one’s belief in this area? While these are certainly not new questions, they have become increasingly contentious in a world in which the line separating the human animal from the rest of the animal kingdom has become increasingly elusive.

 Stephen Jay Gould once stated that “biology has shifted our status from a simulacrum of God to a naked, upright ape.” If that is the case, then the movement to elevate the status of non-human animals seems long overdue.  At any rate, the animal rights movement has been remarkably successful in recent years. Switzerland passed a law in 1992 recognizing animals as beings; in 2002, Germany added “and animals” to its constitution, which already obligated the state to protect and respect the dignity of people.  The Great Apes Project, founded by Peter Singer, the father of the modern animal rights movement, is lobbying the United Nations to include a wide range of simians in the “community of equals” with humans, thus extending the right to life, the protection of individual liberty, and the prohibition of torture.

The surge in animal rights is not limited to other countries.  Beginning in 1999, Harvard began offering its first course in animal rights.  During a recent election, the state of Florida made it a constitutional right for gestating sows to have space large enough to turnaround.  And Princeton is home to Peter Singer, a bioethics professor, who believes that “it can no longer be maintained by anyone but a religious fanatic that man is the special darling of the universe, or that animals were created to provide us with food, or that we have divine authority over them, and divine permission to kill them.”

While the animals rights movement is diverse in both its stance and its level of activism, there is plenty of common ground to be found in the defense of animals, both philosophically and pragmatically.  The philosophical core of the argument usually takes one of two approaches:  The Argument from Equality, or the Argument from Pain.

The Argument from Equality

The Argument from Equality is an analogical argument stating that non-human animals are similar enough to people that they should be granted some of the same core rights that humans enjoy.  Proponents argue that since animals (well, perhaps not mollusks, but at least the higher order animals) are sentient and self-aware, and they certainly seem to have an interest in leading their own lives, they deserve rights on par with those of the human species.Proponents include Arthur Schopenhauer, who argues that animals have the same essence as humans; virtually anyone involved in the Great Apes Project; and Gary Francione, who has stated that sentience is the only valid determination for moral standing.

For the most part, proponents see the differences in humans and beasts as one of degree rather than kind.  Some proponents of this view make a distinction between self-aware animals and lower life forms, while others see equality in all life forms, even those without nervous systems or self-consciousness.

Tom Regan is perhaps the leading spokesman for this “direct duty” that humans have to other animals.  He argues that animals have intrinsic value, and thus have rights. In fact, non-human animals bear the same rights as humans; therefore, humanity has a moral obligation to treat them equally. Animals should not be raised for food, commercially farmed, experimented on for medical or cosmetic purposes, trapped or hunted.

In light of these foundational claims, perhaps one can understand why the Vegan Voice claims that “it was speciesist to think that the September 11 attack on the World Trade Center was a greater tragedy than what millions of chickens endured that day and what they endure every day because they cannot defend themselves against the concerted human appetites arrayed against them.” After all, sentience is sentience, be it human or chicken, and we therefore have direct duty to protect all animal life.

 The Argument from Pain

Unlike the Argument from Equality, the Argument from Pain does not claim that animals have intrinsic rights; in this sense, it will not call upon a “direct duty” humanity has, but an “indirect duty.” This indirect duty comes from the claim that the reality of pain is enough to create a moral obligation to stop causing pain in any part of the animal kingdom. This view, which has found a current voice in such advocates as Peter Singer, Michael Berumen, and Matthew Scully, has its modern foundation in the philosophy of Jeremy Bentham.

Jeremy Bentham argued for utilitarianism, from which springs an argument claiming that which is ethically correct is that which gives the greatest good for the greatest number of people.  This, for Bentham, involved the avoidance of pain and the pursuit of pleasure.  Since animals are just as capable of feeling pain as people are, then “the question is not, Can they reason? nor Can the talk? but, Can they suffer?” His stated desire was a day when “the rest of the animal creation may acquire those rights which never could have been withholden from them by the hand of tyranny.” Needless to say, philosophers like Descartes, who thought of animals as machines whose cries of pain were the sounds of “broken machinery,” have not been admired by the philosophical descendants of Bentham.

This is the foundation of Peter Singer’s philosophy, a philosophy based only on the principle of minimizing suffering.  In fact, he believes that humans specifically do not have rights because of anything distinctly human.  Animal equality does not depend on “intelligence, moral capacity, physical strength, or similar matters of fact.”

 To support this view, Singer invokes what is called the Argument from Marginal Cases.  For example, if a person were comatose, incapable of showing intelligence, exercising reason, or exhibiting a moral sense, would people treat that person inhumanely?  Of course not, says Singer, because that person can still feel pain, and that fact alone creates a moral obligation based on Bentham’s utilitarian principles. Since distinctly human characteristics are not the basis for rights, certain non-human animals have lives more valuable than certain human lives, and are thus more deserving of rights than some humans.

So whether humanity’s duty is direct or indirect, whether we grant rights based on sentience or suffering, the implications are the same. For example, the animal rights movement loudly declaims animal testing, either because the animals are so like us in exhibiting sentience or because they are so like us in feeling pain.  This is a position with serious implications, as almost every major medical advance in the 20th century has been the result of animal testing.

This is where the philosophical rubber meets the day-to-day road.  Ideas have consequences, and validity of the arguments aside, the implications of the animal rights position are enormous.

  Bodies, Souls, and Spirits

So how is a Christian to respond to this position? On the one hand, God makes covenants with people and animals, and both thepristine realm of Eden and the New Heaven and Earth present what appears to be an ideal of vegetarianism and peace on behalf of all of creation.  When God gave people dominion, they were originally instructed to eat plants, not animals (Genesis 1:29).  Tom Reagan has noted:

“The whole fabric of Christian agape is woven from the threads of sacrificial acts.  To abstain, on principle, from eating animals, therefore, although it is not the end-all, can be the begin-all of our conscientious effort to journey back (or forward) to Eden, can be one way (among others) to reestablish or create that relationship to the earth that, if Genesis 1 is to be trusted, was part of God’s original hopes for and plans in creation.”

On the other hand, the Bible presents a clear break between mankind – as the only part of Creation bearing the image of God in body, soul and spirit – and the rest of the animal kingdom. While the Hebrew word Nephesh indicates a “soulishness”  in some non-human animals in creation, mankind alone was created in the image of God, and mankind alone was given the authority and responsibility of having stewardship over the rest of the world, including animals. (Genesis 1:26-1:28).

So are we just another animal?  Do we deserve Peter Singer’s label “speciesist” if we view and treat the rest of the animal kingdom differently than we do ourselves?

From a philosophical perspective, rationality has always been the measure of a tremendous ontological gap between humans and animals. Immanuel Kant, for example, believed that the fact that people are capable of analyzing their desires and choosing a course of action, as well as the fact that they are self-aware, creates a crucial gap between humanity and the other animals.

Bambi and Babe and White Fang have helped to create an image of animals as analogous to people, but they are, after all, just fictional.  People have argued that if animals could read, talk and tell us what they think, we would be surprised.

But they don’t, and we aren’t.

Christians do not ignore that fact that animals exhibit varying degrees of human attributes. However, surface anthropomorphic similarities do not make for ontological similarity. Wesley Smith has pointed out in “Money Headed To The Wrong Kingdom”:  “Chimpanzees are highly intelligent creatures that exhibit sophisticated social behavior.  They have a higher capacity to suffer than do mice, rates, or birds.  Hence– as empathetic, moral beings — we have a higher duty to treat them properly and humanely…But as intelligent as chimpanzees are, as sophisticated as their social interactions may be, as easy as it is to anthropomorphize their lives, we must also never forget that they are animals, not persons.”

Numerous Christian theologians have made the point that the image of God humanity reflects is not physical, since God is spirit.  The shared similarities in DNA point more to a common Designer than to an equivalent worth.  The imago Dei involves such aspects of our nature as creativity, consciousness, personality, the ability to think abstractly and the capacity to make moral judgments.

In addition, there are three key categories in the realm of creation:  creatures of body only, such as amphibians and reptiles; animals with a body and a soulishness, the nephesh, such as birds and mammals; and creatures with body, soul, and spirit, which are humans (1 Thessalonians 5:23). While humans and animals can both have mind, will and emotions, only humanity has a free will with which to override instinct, an immortal soul that Christ died to redeem, and a spirit to experience God and form a relationship with him.

Sentience and Rights

C.S. Lewis wrote  in The Problem of Pain that the very order of creation speaks against viewing man and animals as having equal worth in their relationship to God.

“Man is to be understood only in his relation to God.  The beasts are to be understood only in their relation to man and, through man, to God….Atheists naturally regard the co-existence of man and the animals as a mere contingent result of interacting biological facts…but a Christian must not think so.  Man was appointed by God to have dominion over the beasts, and everything a man does to an animal is either a lawful exercise, or a sacrilegious abuse, of an authority by Divine Right.”

From an ethical perspective, philosophers have made that argument that only moral agents have moral rights, and because of this status people are held morally responsible for their actions.  Animals are not moral agents, which is why we do not hold the cheetah accountable for killing the crippled gazelle.  While there are always Singer’s marginal cases of people who do not fully share the capabilities of other people, their handicaps does not diminish their ontological nature. There is an image of God found in humanity in general which is unique to the group as a whole; it is not the same are sentience and reason, and it is not found in the rest of the animal kingdom .

Just the fact that humanity even discusses the morality of the issue of animal rights suggests a significant distinction. Only humans have even considered the idea of freedom, democracy, and rights, both human and animal. Thomas Hobbes and others have even gone so far as to argue that moral rights only occur in the context of contracts between rational beings who clearly have their own interest in mind.  Since this is not the case with animals, they are excluded from the same types of rights, if any, that the human race enjoys.Even our closest genetic relatives in the animal kingdom do not exhibit the ability to comprehend, respect, or act upon the idea of rights.  The very idea is irrational when applied to animals.

It is ironic, as Father Richard John Neuhaus has noted, that the “hope for a more humane world, including the more humane treatment of animals, is premised upon what [animal liberation theorists] deny.” Ultimately, people are justified in being wary of applying an immortal nature to animals, lest the differences between man and beast, sharp as they are in the spiritual realm, cease to offset the murkiness in the biological realm.

 An apt response to the argument from Peter Singer and Matthew Scully that animals should be treated differently because of their capacity to feel pain comes once again from a theologian who predates them both.  C.S. Lewis describes what he calls unconscious sentience in the following manner:

 “Now it is almost certain that the nervous system of one of the higher animals presents it with successive sensations.  It does not follow that it has any ‘soul’, anything which recognizes itself as having had A, and now having B, and now marking how B glides away to make room for C.”

 Suffering and Redemption

 While acknowledging that some higher animals have some degree or sense of a self or soul, Lewis noted that “a great deal of what appears to be animal suffering need not be suffering in any real sense.  It may be we who have invented the ‘sufferers’ by the ‘pathetic fallacy’ of reading into the beasts a self for which there is no real evidence.” He fully believed that all pain, even animal pain, was a tragic result of the Fall, an evil that God would one day eradicate.  In the meantime, while people should try to offset the suffering of animals, that by no means suggested that animals were equals in sentience, reason, or spiritual nature.

 While philosophy and reason may be helpful in sorting through the issue, theology is not silent. The Bible gives plenty of insight into the topic of animals and their relationship to us and to God.  Genesis 1 and 2 clearly show that all of creation was created good.  The early relationship between man and beast was truly Edenic – vegetarianism all around.  Conditions changed, however, when evil entered the world.  God himself shed animal blood and instituted sacrificial requirements as a result of the Fall.

That did not mean God initiated a free-for-all with the world.  Norman Geisler has made several key points about how God has designed our relationship with animals.

First, since God has made a covenant (the Noahic covenant) with all living creatures (Genesis 9), we are obliged to preserve His creation. Second, that very same covenant is clear that God has given us animals for food.  Third, we are to treat animals kindly, since it is taught as a sign of righteousness and seen in Jesus’s teaching (Matthew 6:26)

Old Testament Law specifies how to show respect for animals. For examples, animals were to be given a day of rest (Exodus 23:12, Exodus 20:10).  Solomon noted that “A righteous man cares for the needs of his animal” (Proverbs 12:10).   Sacrifices were regulated so as to be as painless and humane as possible.  Clearly, while animals are different from and lesser than humanity, they are not insignificant, or their sacrificial death would be irrelevant.

The New Testament continues the standards set in the Old Testament.  Jesus said, ”If any of you has a sheep and it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will you not take hold of it and lift it out?  How much more valuable is a man than a sheep!  Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath” (Matthew 12:11-12). This compassion for the dignity and worth of animals did not necessarily negate their role as potential nourishment.  God told Peter in a vision that all animals could now be eaten (Acts 10), and  Paul wrote that Christians should not judge people by what they eat (Romans 14; I Corinthians 8).

Therein lies the tension.  On the one hand, animals have worth and are to be respected and cared for.  On the other hand, there is apparently a way in which to do this while also consuming them for food.  Perhaps this tension is what leads Lewis Smedes to ask in Mere Morality,

“If we are forbidden to destroy the earthly, animal life of a human person, are we not called to reconsider our easy slaughter of beasts? Can we justify turning butchery into a major industry?  Can we justify breeding cattle by the millions only to kill them out of a lust for red meat? And is mass slaughter of grain fed cows not more dubious if it decreases the amount of protein available to hungry people around the world? An imaginative hearing of the sixth commandment  may place a question mark behind our moral right to a life-style whose centerpiece is a beefsteak.”

An imaginative hearing indeed, but perhaps a challenge worth considering, not based primarily on the rights of animals, but on the responsibilities of people toward the rest of creation.

 The Call to Stewardship

Certainly the call to stewardship requires that a Christian seek to follow God’s design for interaction with the animals; accordingly, the Judeo-Christian worldview has  a rich theological and philosophical tradition of teachings in this area:  Old and New Testament law; Augustine and Aquinas; St. Francis; John Wesley; William Wilberforce; G.K Chesterton; C.S. Lewis; and Malclom Muggeridge, who asked, “How is it possible to look for God and sing his praises while insulting and degrading His creatures?”

However, this tradition has never understood the relationship between animals, humanity, and God to be one of equality.  In Church Dogmatics,  Karl Barth speaks of distinction between man and beasts that “consists in the fact that he [mankind] is the animal creature to whom God reveals, entrusts, and binds Himself within the rest of creation… in whose life-activity He expects a conscious and deliberate recognition of His honor, mercy, and power. Hence the higher necessity of life, and his right to that lordship and control.”

While noble in its intent, the excessive elevation of animal rights too often fosters a cheapened view of humanity as rights once considered uniquely human are granted to an increasingly broad group of beings.  “This is not,” says Boston University professor Charles Griswold, “just a debate about the meaning of words.  It’s a debate about our future, about our idea of what it means to be human.  The thesis that there is no difference between a boy and a pig debases man.”

From a biblical perspective, there is a crucial difference between caring about the animal kingdom and elevating them to the same status of those for whom Christ diedMatthew Scully explains the tension well in Dominion:

“I know that they do not have reason comparable to ours.  I know that their lives and place and purpose in the world are different from ours.  I know that theirs is an often violent world, ‘nature red in tooth and claw’ as Tennyson described it.  But I also know that whatever their place and purpose among us might be, it is a mysterious one beyond any man’s power to know.  Whatever measure of happiness their Creator intended for them, it is not something to be taken lightly by us, not to be withdrawn from them wantonly or capriciously.”

While all creation is moving toward a kingdom in which all will live at peace (Isaiah 11), that kingdom is not now, and it never will be until God himself intervenes.  To the extent that the animal rights movement reflects a yearning for reality rightly ordered, undiscouraged that the witness it bears about a hope for the future runs contrary to the way things are, it is commendable. Meanwhile, we seek to treat God’s creation as it was intended to be treated:  neither too loftily or too lowly, and always with God’s order and purpose in mind.


Primary Sources

Brown, Harold O.J. “Hiding Among the Animals.” Christian Research Institute.  Internet.  Accessed September 7, 2005.  Available

Byrbes, Stephen.  “The Myths of Vegetarianism.”  Internet. Accessed October 4, 2005.  Available

 Carlin, David.  “Rights, Animals and Human.”  First Things.  Internet.  Accessed September 7, 2005.  Available

 Deem, Richard. “Man,Created in the Image of God: How Mankind is Unique Among All Other Creatures on Earth.”  Internet.  Accessed October 3, 2005.  Available god.html.

 Fitzgerald, Paul J. “Do Animals Have Rights?” Santa Clara Magazine.  Internet.  Accessed September 7, 2005.  Available

Geisler, Norman L.  Christian Ethics: Options and Issues.  (Baker Books; Grand Rapids, 2004), 304.

 Goodrich, Richard and Stricklin, W. Ray. “Beef.” Animal Welfare Issues Compendium. September, 1997.  Online.  Accessed October10, 2005. Available

 Goodwin, Frederick K.  “Science and Self-doubt – animal rights movement.”  Internet.  Accessed September 20, 2005.  Available.

 Lewis. C.S. The Problem of Pain. ( New York: Harper Collins, 1996 ), 142.

 Marquardt, Kathleen.  Animal Scam: The Beastly Abuse of Human Rights. (Regnery Gateway: Washington, 1993), 51.

 Menashi, Steven.  “Humans, Animals, and the Human Animal.”  Policy Review. Internet.  Accessed September 7, 2005.  Available

 Milne, Richard.  “Animal Liberation: Do the Beasts Really Benefit?” Internet.  Accessed September 2, 2005.  Available

Neuhaus, Richard John.  “Wild Moralists in the Animal Kingdom.” First Things. Internet.  Accessed October 31, 2005.  Available

Morse, Anne.  “Murder Most Fowl.”  Boundless. Internet.  Accessed October 15, 2005.  Available

Oliver, Charles.  “Liberation Zoology.” Reason. June 1990. Internet.  Accessed October 16, 2005.  Available

Regan, Tom. “Christianity and Animal Rights: The Challenge and Promise.” Internet.  Accessed September 7, 2005.  Available

Scully, Matthew.  Dominion. (St. Martin’s Press: New York, 2002), 336.

 Scully, Matthew. “If A Lion Could Talk: Animals Minds and the Evolution of Consciousness.”  First Things.  Accessed October 31, 2005.  Available

 Singer, Peter.  “All Animals are Equal.”  Internet.  Accessed September 20, 2005.  Available http://

 Singer, Peter.  Animal Liberation. (Random House: New York, 1990), 19.

 Smedes, Lewis B. Mere Morality: What God Expects from Ordinary People. (William B. Eerdman’s Publishing Company: Grand Rapids, 1983), 102.

Smith, Wesley J.  “Chimp Deal: Money Headed to the Wrong Kingdom.”  National Review Online. Internet.  Accessed October 16, 2005. Available

Weikart, Richard.  “Does Darwinism Devalue Human Life?” Center for Science and Culture.  Internet.  Accessed September 20, 2005.  Available

Wikipedia. “Animal Rights.” Internet. Accessed February 27, 2005.  Available http://en.

Wilson, Scott.  “Animals and Ethics.”  Internet.  Accessed October 2, 2005. Available

Anthony Weber


Anthony graduated from Cedarville University in 1995 with a degree in English Education, and from Trinity College of the Bible and Theological Seminary in Newburgh, Indiana in 2004 with a Master's Degree in Theology and Philosophy. Anthony is a husband and father of three, an author ("Learning to Jump Again"), high school and college teacher, pastor, blogger (,, and co-founder of etcetera, a "street-level philosophy group" in Traverse City, Michigan.
  • Walt

    It is wonderful to see so clearly that Christians do take seriously the responsibility of stewardship. An objection I have that I’d like to discuss is that you are relying upon theologians and philosophers to determine what various animals are and are not capable of. Claiming that a chimpanzee cannot rationalize choices, for example, is a scientific question that must be tested before any positive claim can be made. There is a good deal of really fascinating primate behavior research that goes much deeper into how animals experience life than simply noting DNA similarities. Science has revealed just how complex many animals really are, but many of us for whatever reason draw lines that we’re somehow pretty sure differentiate humans. But on what basis are these lines drawn It seems more appropriate to rely on evidence when talking about the faculties of animals than to rely on philosophers, and I’d be interested to know what you think on that. 

    Thanks for this article and for your comments.

    • Anthonyweber

           Walt, thanks for reading and weighing in on this subject. It sounds like you have done a lot of research on this issue.  In response to your questions, I think science provides an excellent way to study the world, but there are some things that are beyond its reach.  
           Take the idea of whether or not chimpanzees can rationalize choices.  Scientists can study what a chimp does (they can map brain waves, for example) and what a chimp is (they can decipher DNA strands), but quantifying rationality is a pretty vague concept.  As I understand it, identifying chemicals and recording brain waves reveal a lot of the “how” but not necessarily the “why.”  Complexity is amazing, but I can create something really complex (say, a string of 60 letters randomly typed on my keyboard) that does not automatically equate with intelligence.
          This is where I think philosophers and theologians come in.  Finding truth may sometimes look like a relay race: Science powers out of the block and gives us the “how” or the “what”; philosophy and religion take up the baton and head for the finish line. (I can tell I have been watching my son run track too much this spring. And if my analogy is correct, sometimes philosophy drops the baton on the handoff, and the team goes from second to sixth, and then I have to drive home with a son who won’t talk to me for half an hour.  Sigh.)   It sounds like you see “drawing lines’ is an arbitrary and unjustified exercise. I’m curious – do you draw a line between between humans and the rest of the animal kingdom? If so, what informs your decision?

      • Walt

        Anthony – no more track analogies, I’m getting exhausted just thinking about it ;-). That actually sounds fun, but anywho!

        I am by no means an expert in animal psychology or behavior, but I can highlight some of the science that does delve into rational decision making (see an article entitled “Rational Decision Making in Primates:
        The Bounded and the Ecological” for example).My point is simply that science does do a pretty good job at dealing with how animals make decisions, which is important I think because many philosophers of old (and of contemporary too?) claimed that humans alone have reason, which is simply false. There are varying degrees to be sure, and these degrees are totally worth trying to understand, but it doesn’t seem that there is black/white between animal and human rationality. The same gray scale applies to other “human attributes” as well. You reference Thomas Hobbes who said that in contrast to humans, animals have only their own interests at heart, but there are a number of interesting examples in science that contradict this philosophical claim. You say that primates do not respect the rights of others, but primate behaviorists have demonstrated what we would call ethical behavior…this is an interesting newspaper article that looks at how scientists and philosophers, some of whom you cited in your post, are looking at animal morality (

        I’m not sure if this answers your question, but I don’t draw a thicker line between humans and the rest of the animal kingdom than I do between, say, a blue whale and the rest of the animal kingdom. There are several ways that biologists define a species, and I typically subscribe to the definition based on reproductive barriers. The issue here is that when supposedly distinct species start mixing genes, they have the tendency to become less and less distinct. If we say that rational thought and superior intelligence are what make humans unique, then we need to thoroughly test the rational capacities of non-humans. If the existence of a soul is what makes humans unique, then that says nothing about any physical or mental characteristics of soul-less animals.

        I’m curious what part of the relay race you think philosophy and theology have completed in differentiating humans from the rest of the animal kingdom. Thanks for the conversation.

        • Anthonyweber

          Thanks for the links, Walt. Very intriguing information.  I’m curious: do you work in the field?  That was quite the scholarly paper :)
               A couple things caught my eye concerning primates/rationaliy.     First, the authors provide a number of definitions for rationality.  I don’t think their conclusion was that primates fulfill all the definitions they offered, but clearly did fulfill some.  It felt like, after their experiments, they chose a definition that would match what they found.  The definitions they left out seem to me to be the most profound ones. (If I misunderstood their conclusions, please correct me).  So much hinges on if “rationality” is property that is experienced differently in different species.  If its the same, that is crucial in establishing equality.  But if it’s not the same, it may not be that important at all.  It’s tough to conclude based simply on what the article acknowledges happen when animals implement behavior choices  with the best adaptive advantage in a particular environment.    Second,  if I read the article correctly, their conclusions about decision making/risk taking/response-reward behavior in primate is that they mimic  what we do to some degree.  That’s no surprise to me; my very intelligent and highly annoying Labrador does the same thing to a large degree, much to my chagrin.  Depending what’s on the other side of the fence on any given day may reorder his priorities in the moment.  What is a surprise to me is the apparent conclusion that similar actions in similar circumstances suggest  a similar ontological status. That conclusion did not necessarily follow the premises, in my opinion.   I would say degrees of thought and intelligence, are important distinctions, but not by themselves. Humans vary in this capacity tremendously, and that does not change their status as humans. One can be human with very little thought and intelligence – I should know; I live with a Michigan fan :)  You’re right that soulishness says nothing about the physical or mental characteristics of the animals as animals, but I believe  the question is crucial in differentiating why we are not merely more rational meat popsicles than our animal friends.    Whew…post is getting long…   The relay race:  Science is a tremendous tool for studying what is; it studies how things work; it uncovers layer upon layer of the natural world. But it hits a wall when it comes to questions of why something is, or what something ought to be.  For that matter, if there is a part of our existence that in non-material (as I believe there is), science simply cannot study that.  That is the point where a method of study takes the handoff, be it philosophy or religion. So, we can map the chemical paths in the brain; doctors can tell me how my brain works when I feel “love.”  That is not sufficient to tell me who or what I ought to love, and how I can love better.  Monkeys make rational decisions; that does not suggest they know how they ought to choose, or that they can learn how to make better choices, or that they are capable of making a moral choice vs. immoral one.  We, however, can do that, and I think the distinction is important.    Okay, off to my other son’s track meet. He does the triple jump, and I have not yet figured out how to work that into an analogy. I’m working on it :)   I’m interested in hearing your response!

          • Walt

            I don’t work in the field but I am far more of a biologist than a philosopher.

            I’m not sure that they were choosing particular definitions as much as addressing rationality as it relates to economic and ecological choices. They sort of played around with some of the more mathematical models of economic rationality but found that ecological rationality more adequately describes how living things regularly make choices in natural contexts (ie. not mathematically). I don’t quite understand what you mean regarding how rationality may not be very important if it is not experienced the same in different species. I would say that it is definitely experienced or performed differently in different species, but that the key point is that animals other than humans do use rationality. Therefore, I don’t think it’s a great way to differentiate humans from animals. My overall point was that scientists do experiments that get into the nitty gritty of rationality in animals, and that it leads to much better conclusions about animal rationality than philosophers are able to reach.

            I didn’t see any cases of mimicry in the experiments, but maybe I missed something. I see your point that dog’s make rational decisions based on what they want to gain from a situation and that primates do this as well, but I don’t understand what you’re saying about ontological status. When I think ontology, I think philosophy – will you explain what you mean here? I agree that humans vary tremendously in mental capacity but that this does not affect humanness. My driving point is actually that humans are not ‘set apart’ by intelligence or rational ability as many many philosophers and scientists have claimed in the past.

            I think your statement that humans are differentiated from animals by souls is interesting and probably is the heart of the issue in my opinion. I completely agree that science can’t test anything about this immaterial soul, but science does test questions about how we and animals make rational and even ethical choices. If, for example, primates are capable of making ethical choices, then I think this would provide evidence that those observed ethical choices do not require a soul. These experiments would say nothing about whether a soul exists, but they would demonstrate that animals are not so different from us in the ways that we so often assume. Talk to you later.

          • Kim

            I’ve read your entire discussion and feel compelled to chime in.  I have my own question:  why is rational thought and superior intelligence the criteria by which you are determined to measure the intrinsic value of animals? In other words, whether they have “rights” as specified by a human moral code depends on how closely we can identify them with humans?  Aren’t you missing the point that animals can have value specifically because they have different intelligences than humans? Just because we are ignorant to the possibilities we label them as lesser?  The use of the terms “elevate” and “lower life forms” are clearly a sign of arrogance by one particular species.

          • Anthony Weber

            Kim, thanks for joining the discussion. I’m curious: by what standard do you determine the intrinsic value of animals? I believe there is more to it than simply rationality and intelligence (as I think my article made clear), but it would be helpful to know what your starting point is. I happen to agree with you that they do have value, but they are clearly different from us.
            It sounds like you are saying that because I don’t know their potential, I have to consider them equals. I think you are asking me to reach a conclusion based on what we don’t know about animals, not what we do. I elevate humanity because we clearly are superior in a number of ways. Animals are not debating this issue; they are not hoping, dreaming, and wondering what the meaning of life is. If I were to go to the extreme, I would ask if I can at least classify worms or shrimp as lesser? Mice? Cats? Pigs? I assume that at some point you also draw a line, though perhaps I am wrong.
            This is going to bring up another subject, but I have thought of a similar analogy. Let’s assume you are correct – that we cannot label things as lesser just because they have different intelligences or we are ignorant of their possibilities. Does that mean we should all be pro-life? Would this line of reasoning force us to conclude that those who are Pro Choice are arrogant because they have elevated themselves over what they consider to be lower life forms?

          • Anthonyweber

            Kim, I agree that animals have a particular kind of intrinsic value; I believe we would disagree as to what degree they share the same intrinsic value as humans.  Can you clarify something: if you don’t think rational thought and and superior intelligence can be used in evaluating intrinsic worth, what criteria do you use?  You said “different intelligence”, but I’m not sure what that means, and why it levels the playing field. I assume you see a difference between, say, earthworms and us – or are you saying that there  are literally no “lower life forms”?

          • Kim

            I am saying that the mere concept of creating a hierarchy of “value” is in of itself arrogant.  Yes, I see a difference between myself and an earthworm, but that does not mean I endow myself, as human, with greater “value”  (I’m not sure if we need to define the word value, but certainly, for our purposes, I assume we are in the same  ballpark.)  Tier two of the answer relates to our assumption that we are endowed with enough knowledge or the objective ability to measure the value of another creature, when truly, if we step back again from the intrinsic arrogance of humans, we don’t.  We don’t know what we don’t yet know.  I suppose I could make a far fetched example, such as, perhaps one day we’ll find that an earthworm holds the key to cure pain and suffering in the world, some magic chemical.  You’d roll your eyes.  What I’m much more interested in is who we are, what is humanity, when we consider the Holocaust horrific (which we should!) yet, have you been to a commercial chicken farm recently?  What does that say about who WE are?

          • Kim

            BTW- this is great fun, thanks for the conversation

          • Anthonyweber

            Wow, I’m really late responding to this thread.  Sorry!  I share your dismay that people are so easily callous to the condition of animals.  Yes, we ought to treat them with the dignity and respect they deserve (in my lingo, we should steward them well because God has given them dignity and worth).  
               I think I like “narcissistic” as a description for what humans tend to be.  Funny thing, I read that in Genesis :)  So, no push back from me on that one.  
               However, we clearly don’t agree on the whole heirarchy of created things.  But, I’m off to a meeting, so I will have to pick this up another time.
               You are an excellent conversational partner, btw :)  Thanks for the challenges!

          • Kim

            Wow, I believe that is the greatest compliment I’ve ever received. A goal achieved, as I feel the same about you.  Thanks for making my day!

            I’ll look forward to a continued discussion of the hierarchy then..

          • Anthonyweber

            Kim, I think we need to make a distinction between attitudes and realities.  Let’s assume for the sake of argument that humans are intrinsically arrogant.  Why does it follow that animals are our equals in worth?  Perhaps we are arrogant AND animals are lesser beings. These are not contradictory things. 
              Somehow, facts have to take precedence over a perception of attitude.  And the facts (as I understand them) clearly show humans as the pinnacle of the sentient life.   Not only does Christianity’s view of God’s creative process say this, but so does evolution’s claim about the process of the fittest surviving.  We, of all beings, have flourished, either through special creation or the “law of tooth and claw.”  
               In reference to your specific comparison, I don’t believe God’s idea of human stewardship of the earth included what takes place in chicken farms as you described them. That’s a bad gig.   However, I’m trying to envision a picture of caged chicken hanging on the wall in the Holocaust museum next to a picture of bodies stacked like cordwood in Dachau.  One is not even remotely close to the other. 
                Question:  you said in the other thread that you believe humans are intrinsically good. Yet you said here that humans are intrinsically arrogant.  How do you make those two statements mesh?

          • Kim

            First, I don’t believe I stated that I think humans are intrinsically good.  In fact, I’m quite sure I did not.  I said they are intrinsically good and/or evil.  Meaning, humans have the capacity for both, certainly in different degrees in different people.  I do also stick with my comment that humans are intrinsically arrogant, although I’ll happily rephrase, perhaps a better term, narcissistic.  This includes both the need to make a claim of being at the “pinnacle” of creation as well as happily accepting the dictatorial role of deciding where all other beings fall on that hierarchy.    

            Our understanding of evolution varies here, and worth a mention (without a long dissertation) of simply the concept of  branches of evolution, not one long path to a pinnacle.  Again, that is human narcissistic thinking.  If you note, I am not saying that animals are our equal in worth. I’m saying that concept is irrelevant. (relevant only to our narcissistic need)  Treating them respectfully and with dignity SHOULD be our expectation regardless of how we categorize them. 

            My comparison to the holocaust is this: the pain and suffering inflicted on other living beings.  I suspect you can’t imagine the comparison for several reasons, one top of the list is the exact reason it continues to happen day after day. INDIFFERENCE. Indifference and the (I’ll say it again) arrogant attitude that animals are lesser beings and simply here for our use.  Or perhaps so far as to think they can’t experience pain or suffering. If you believe that, I am speechless (and I don’t think you do)  But not many take a moment to consider the treatment across the country of our “domesticated” animals. 

            Now, the typical response is, “well, we gotta eat.”  For the sake of simplicity, I won’t even argue the “we need meat” issue right now, I”ll save that for another day.  But let’s say it is true for this debate.  That is no excuse to inflict the horrible pain and suffering that we do on these animals. (Most picture these utopian farms with happy cows and chickens clucking at sunrise.  The reality is gruesome.  Chickens packed so many in a cage they can’t turn around, standing in the own feces, pumped with antibiotics because disease is a given.  Need I go on?)  It says something very horrible about who we are, about  humanity, that we can somehow ignore it, explain it away by saying well, we are better or have more value, therefore, we have the right to inflict that pain and suffering. 

            That’s what I can’t accept.  What I can’t figure out, is how can you? (meaning humans in general) This comes back to my original objection of having to find them equal to humans in some way, (rational thought,  superior intelligence) for them to have enough value in our eyes to treat them with the same level of dignity (equal rights)

            Now, if you want to have a discussion about animals as food, that is an entirely different 

          • Kim

            I just one to add one point.  To be clear.  In no way is my intention to diminish the horror of the holocaust.  My point is simply to make the comparison of how we feel/react to that level of pain and suffering in humans vs. our indifference to the same treatment in animals.