Monday, March 29, 2004

On Chimps and Equality...

Joe @ EO has a post titled, Human Dignity and the 3% Difference, in which he describes the way in which secularists are starting to consider the rights of animals over that of certain humans (e.g., a human infant). Joe first quotes Peter Singer:
Once we ask why it should be that all humans—including infants, mental defectives, psychopaths, Hitler, Stalin, and the rest—have some kind of dignity or worth that no elephant, pig, or chimpanzee can ever achieve, we see that this question is as difficult to answer as our original request for some relevant fact that justifies the inequality of humans and other animals. In fact, these two questions are really one: talk of intrinsic dignity or moral worth only takes the problem back one step, because any satisfactory defence of the claim that all and only humans have intrinsic dignity would need to refer to some relevant capacities or characteristics that all and only humans possess. Philosophers frequently introduce ideas of dignity, respect, and worth at the point at which other reasons appear to be lacking, but this is hardly good enough. Fine phrases are the last resource of those who have run out of arguments.
And then Joe states,
After all, the genetic differences between humans and gorillas are miniscule. We have 97% of the same chromosomes as gorillas and 98% of the same genetic material as chimpanzees (in fact, chimps are -- genetically speaking -- more like us than they are like gorillas). It would hardly be fair to exclude primates from equality with humans on the basis of a 3% difference. And as Singer points out, “some humans who quite clearly are below the level of awareness, self-consciousness, intelligence, and sentience, of many non-humans.” Without a significant basis in either genetics or characteristics, what grounds do secularists have for not including these animals under the “equal protection” clause of the Constitution?
Joe has illustrated the problem well, for if our sentient nature were simply the result of blind chance, then other creatures with similar genetic structure (e.g., the chimpanzee) just might possibly be on their way to entering the realm of sentience as well. What to do? Herein lies another instance in which the implications of methodological naturalism infiltrate into the world of metaphysics. To resist it we must first point out Singer's logical inconsistency. He speaks of an inequality between humans and other animals as if it were a given... as if it ought to be another way. Just where did this ought come from? Secondly, we must clarify the inherent differences between humans and the animal world: Spirit worship - whether one believes in the supernatural or not. Artisitc expression for the sake of expression. Contemplation. Concern for the afterlife. Just to get started... Update: If you haven't already noticed, I've been quoting a lot from J. Budziszewski's book, What We Can't Not Know. I highly recommend this book. Joe explains in his post that, as Christians, we understand the implications of believing that humans are created in the image of God... the imago Dei... but he rightly wonders what argument a secularist would have against the views of a Peter Singer. Budziszewski acknowledges the dire straits we now find ourselves in with regards to the imago Dei,
Denial of the imago Dei is something new, and much more dangerous than a simple return to paganism. As Frances Schaeffer once remarked, the worst that could be said of the pagans was that they had not yet heard that man is made in the image of God. Although they naturally recognized the dignity of man and the justice that is due to him, their understanding of this intuition was deficient. By contrast, our thinkers have heard that man is made in the image of God, but deny it. (emphasis in original)
Yet all hope is not lost, as Budziszewski states later with regards to a feminist who, on the one hand, advocates treating the unborn child as an aggressor, while on the other, acknowledges that a mother's role is to nurture her child,
...Would one get anywhere by pointing out to her that she wants to have her cake and eat it too? The chances are small; professional advocates of moral wrong are deeply vested in not seeing things like that. But could one get anywhere by going over her head and pointing it out to young minds she may wish to seduce? That is much more promising.

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