Animal Rights: A Beef With Beef

By Harry R. Osborne

An interesting debate is raging in modem society over animal rights. It has promise of being a virtual “theater of the absurd.” On the one side, the animal-rights activists are claiming the use of animals to benefit humans is “morally wrong.” Among those on the other side are a group of scientists doing medical research using animals. Many of these scientists accept the theory of evolution and are trying to justify the use of animals to benefit humans as “morally right.”

Now, here is the problem  the animal-rights advocates accept the implications of the general theory of evolution which say that humans and animals are equally the mere chance results of the evolutionary process. Thus, these activists say it is just as immoral to kill or harm an animal as it is to kill or harm a human because there is no discernable difference in them as living creatures. Many of the scientists in medical research accept the same theory regarding the origin of all life and have scoffed at Bible believers who view man as uniquely created with supremacy over the animals by God. How can these evolutionists show the moral right of one product of chance to kill another product of chance? Indeed, this debate will test the very basis of how a secular society can establish what is morally right and wrong while denying the existence of a divine Creator with a revealed will in Scripture.

A few years ago, the focus was on the cruelty of trapping animals to satisfy the extravagant desires of the fur consuming public. Now, the vocal animal-rights cause is denying that man may legitimately use animals for any kind of clothing (including leather shoes), for food, in medical research or in medical treatment that saves human lives. Many animal-rights activists in recent years have clearly stated the basis for their objections to the use of animals in satisfying human need. They have also made clear the extent of their aims.

Gary Francione is a law professor who files suits in animal-rights cases. He views medical research resulting in animal suffering as unjustifiable even if the research brings a cure for cancer in humans. He concludes, “I don’t believe it is morally permissible to exploit weaker beings even if we derive benefits” [quoted in Christianity Today (June 18, 1990), p. 19].

The most well-known name in the animal-rights movement is probably Ingrid Newkirk, director for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). Newkirk founded PETA together with Alex Pacheco in 1980. In 1985, the organization had only 8,000 members. Over the next five years, membership exploded to a level of about 300,000. Newkirk unashamedly declares that there is no moral difference in taking the life of an animal or a human, exclaiming that all have the same feelings. She said, “When it comes to feelings, a rat is a pig is a dog is a boy” [Forbes (March 20, 1989), p. 44]. Newkirk and a staff of 65 self-proclaimed “vegans” run PETA. They are radical vegetarians who abhor the use of all animal products including leather, meat, wool, milk, or medicine derived through animal research. Newkirk’s edibility test is, “If it screams and runs away when you go after it, don’t.”

Among that staff is Mary Beth Sweetland, an insulin-dependent diabetic, who takes insulin containing animal products twice a day. She defends this seemingly hypo-critical practice by saying, “I need my life to fight for the rights of animals.” How about that for logic?

In August 1988, Harper’s magazine printed the record of a forum on animal-rights (43-52). When the hypothetical possibility was raised of implanting a pig’s heart to save a human baby’s life, one activist abruptly rejected such as wrong. The activist said the baby’s parents should be made to care about the pig and child equally. Another person in the discussion said, “I don’t want to change [the parents’] reaction. I want human beings to care about babies!” Ingrid Newkirk (head of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) responded, “Like racism or sexism, that remark is pure speciesism!” In recent years, the implanting of baboon hearts to save humans has taken this discussion out of the theoretical realm and into open discussion.

The term “speciesism” was coined by Peter Singer in his book, Animal Liberation, which is the foundational treatise of the animal-rights movement. It argues that there is no logical basis upon which to contend human beings are more important than “other animals.” Singer said, “It can no longer be maintained by anyone but a religious fanatic that man is the special darling of the universe or that other animals were created to provide us with food, or that we have divine authority over them, and divine permission to kill them.” Such ridicule for biblical principles is typical of the leaders in the animal-rights cause.

Michael Fox (director of the Center for the Respect of Life and Environment at the Humane Society of the United States) expressed it this way:

There are no clear distinctions between us and animals. Animals communicate, animals have emotions, animals can think. Some thinkers believe that the human soul is different because we are immortal, and that just becomes completely absurd [quoted in Christianity Today (June 18, 1990), p. 19].

The Humane Society with which Mr. Fox is associated previously centered on the worthy goal of preventing needless cruelty to animals, a goal well in keeping with the principle of humans as good stewards of the animal world. Now, however, it has been caught up in the extremes of animal-rights activism recently going so far as to denounce bacon and eggs as “the breakfast of cruelty” [Forbes (March 20, 1989), p. 43].

Ironically, the animal-rights activists tell us that humans are not to assume a special place with respect to animals, yet their solutions demand that we do so. It is clear that animals eat other animals without being accused of “speciesism” or “cruelty.” However, they say we must step in with the unique responsibility of treating animals better than they treat each other. Why?

Instead of raising the status of animals to the level of humans, why would it not be just as logical to lower the status of humans to the level of animals? If there is no distinction between humans and “other animals,” why react with any more concern when one “human animal” kills another “human animal” than to “other animals” killing each other? In The New Republic (March 12, 1990), Robert Wright noted this saying, “. . . the logic used by the animal rights activists turns out to play into the hands of the Adolf Hitlers of the world no less than the Albert Schweitzers” (26).

How have we gotten into such a confused mess? Our secular society has largely rejected the authority of God as revealed within the Scriptures. Many people are left with an emotional reaction that values human life and purpose over animal life and purpose, without the basis for the logical foundation of that reaction. When the biologist who believes that all species are merely the chance products of evolution tries to justify the use of “other animals” by humans, what rational basis can he give? He says that animal research must be allowed to benefit man, but that merely begs the question. If both humans and animals are chance products of evolution, the value of one can be no greater than the other. The consequences of the evolutionists’ argument has come back to haunt them.

The Bible has the only rational basis for such values  they are the result of divine order in creation. They were dictated from the owner and creator of all life, God, to his creatures. Thus, God had the right to impose his law. God clearly dictated his order:

And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the heavens, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth (Gen. 1:26).

For thou hast made him a little lower than the angels, and hast crowned him with glory and honour. Thou madest him to have dominion over the works of thy hands; thou hast put all things under his feet: all sheep and oxen, yea, and the beasts of the field; the fowl of the air, and the fish of the sea, and whatsoever passeth through the paths of the seas (Ps. 8:5-8).

This movement is based upon the rejection of God’s order revealed within his word. Given the radical bent of the current administration in Washington, the effects of this movement are sure to grow stronger. It threatens values clearly taught by God. Attempts to answer it through the presuppositions of secular humanism will prove futile. An answer is clear, however, in Bible-rooted truth!

Guardian of Truth XXXVIII: 4, p. 12-13
February 17, 1994