Challenge Response: Animals Also Feel Pain and Suffer

Here's my response to this week's challenge:


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This week’s challenge comes from a veganism website: “The most common manifestation of speciest discrimination is moral anthropocentrism, which is the devaluation of the interest of those who don’t belong to the human species. The lives and experiences of non-human animals are usually considered less important than those of human beings simply because they are not like humans. Yet, non-human animals have emotional lives and feel pain, pleasure, fear, and joy. Devaluing their lives simply because they don’t share some characteristics most humans have is discrimination. Every characteristic that is used to discriminate against non-human animals, such as lack of rationality, language ability, and social connections, also applies to some humans. Yet, we don’t use those things to measure the worth of humans. Adult humans who can reason, infants, the cognitively disabled, and orphans are all considered equally valuable. The reason we try not to harm other humans is because they can feel and suffer.”

They’re saying we shouldn’t discriminate against non-human animals, specifically sentient animals. It’s true, we do discriminate. That’s because our culture has been largely influenced by a Judeo-Christian worldview. That worldview says that there is a god, and God has created all life including plants, animals, and humans as well. In particular, though, He has made human beings in the image of God. That means, therefore, that humans are more valuable than animals, and therefore, we can use animals for our benefit. 

However, that same worldview also says that we are to be good stewards of the environment and animals as well. So, although we’re allowed to use animals, we are not allowed to abuse them. Now, I recognize this veganism website probably does not adhere to the Judeo-Christian worldview. They probably don’t believe in God or Christianity in any way. But, this raises an interesting point. If they don’t believe in God, what is their grounding for animal rights? After all, a right is a just claim to something. If there is no God, who or what is to give animals the right to not be eaten? There is none. 

Now, atheism and evolution, of which probably the people at that website are advocates of, teaches at least three things that are inconsistent with their claim that there’s unjust discrimination occurring against sentient animals. 

The first is this: Atheism and evolution teach there is no creator. There is no person who indwells human beings or animals with rights. As a result, there’s no reason why we should think animals are valuable. Evolution says that basically the same blind and random chance processes that led to the emergence of say, cows and goats, also led to emergence of mosquitos, cockroaches, and ants. In reality, there’s nothing that says, according to the atheistic, naturalistic, evolutionary worldview that sentient animals are valuable because they are sentient. 

The second thing that the atheistic and evolutionary worldview teaches that is inconsistent with the claim against sentient animal discrimination is that natural selection operates. Natural selection teaches that the strong survive and the weak are eventually eliminated. Of course, this is a problem for the claim against unjust discrimination.

The third thing consistent with atheism and evolution but not consistent with this veganism claim is that there is no moral ground for objecting to a particular form of discrimination. The reason is because if there is no god, there is no moral lawgiver, to claim that it is wrong to eat sentient animals. According to evolutionists, the only morality you could possibly derive from evolution would be survival and reproduction. Whatever gets your genes into the next generation is the only type of morality that’s available. 

To summarize those three points, according to the atheistic and naturalistic, evolutionary worldview, you don’t have any grounding for claiming that sentient animals should not be eaten. The only reason sentient animals should not be eaten is because there are vegans going around saying we shouldn’t eat sentient animals. 

It’s also interesting to note that although they claim we are engaging in a type of discrimination by eating in sentient animals, they are also engaging in a form of discrimination by saying that non-sentient animals do not have to be protected in the same way. In other words, what makes sentient animals the key type of animal to protect? Why is sentience the key characteristic that’s relevant here? They just arbitrarily and willy-nilly decided that sentience is the key thing. While they oppose some forms of discrimination, like eating sentient animals, they are engaging in another form of discrimination by failing to defend non-sentient animals. 

Here’s the bottom line: Veganism in the context of atheism and evolution can’t object to eating sentient animals because there’s no grounding for it on their view. They can’t complain on moral grounds, because morality on the atheistic and evolutionary worldview is arbitrary at best and an illusion at worst. 

The Christian worldview, on the other hand, puts animals and humans in the right perspective. It says that humans are more valuable than animals, and we can use animals for our benefit. However, that same worldview also says that it’s not permissible to abuse animals or their environment. The Christian worldview has the best grounds for protecting animals that should not be abused.

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Alan Shlemon