David Barash’s Theological Reason for Creating Human-Chimp Hybrids

Author Amy K. Hall Published on 03/15/2018

You may have heard of David Barash’s article in Nautilus calling for the creation of human-chimp hybrids. Though the article appears in a science magazine, the core reason he cites for creating “humanzees” is a theological one:

Looking favorably on the prospect of a humanzee or chimphuman will likely be not only controversial, but to many people, downright immoral. But I propose that generating humanzees or chimphumans would be not only ethical, but profoundly so, even if there were no prospects of enhancing human welfare. How could even the most determinedly homo-centric, animal-denigrating religious fundamentalist maintain that God created us in his image and that we and we alone harbor a spark of the divine, distinct from all other life forms, once confronted with living beings that are indisputably intermediate between human and non-human?...

When claims are made about the “right to life,” invariably the referent is human life, a rigid distinction only possible because of the presumption that human life is somehow uniquely distinct from other forms of life, even though everything we know of biology demonstrates that this is simply untrue. What better, clearer, and more unambiguous way to demonstrate this than by creating viable organisms that are neither human nor animal but certifiably intermediate?

In other words, he wants scientists to create a cross between a chimpanzee and a human being in order to make a theological point: We are not created in God’s image. We are not uniquely valuable. We are evolved creatures, on the same biological continuum as all other animals.

Barash thinks proving this will somehow lead to better treatment of animals, but as I’ve written before, there are often two conclusions to which a consistent line of moral reasoning can lead, and our culture’s recent track record suggests Barash should not count on our society choosing the better conclusion in this case. Here’s what I mean: If Barash were to succeed in convincing everyone that human beings are the same as animals, why think we would treat animals as humans rather than that we would treat human beings as animals?

Indeed, there are indications in this very article that Barash’s own worldview leads to the latter. Not only does he mock the idea of attributing special value to unborn human beings (there’s certainly no sign of a desire to improve the treatment of those animals), but he also expresses a willingness to use even his own proposed animal hybrids to achieve his ends:

[F]aced with individuals who are clearly intermediate between human and ape, it will become painfully obvious that a rigid distinction between the two is no longer tenable. But what about those presumably unfortunate individuals thereby produced? Neither fish nor fowl, wouldn’t they find themselves intolerably unspecified and inchoate, doomed to a living hell of biological and social indeterminacy? This is possible, but it is at least arguable that the ultimate benefit of teaching human beings their true nature would be worth the sacrifice paid by a few unfortunates.

No, denying our Creator God and our intrinsic value as human beings made in His image does not lead to better treatment of either humans or animals. It leads to an instrumental view of value, where both human beings and animals are only as valuable as their ability to provide what we want from them.

But kudos to Barash for recognizing that the differences between our worldviews can be traced all the way back to the most basic of worldview questions: Is there a God? He knows that the answer to that question—whether it is “yes” or “no”—has implications that reach far into our culture, and so he thinks his answer is worth fighting for.