Are Pigs People Too?

    Two weeks ago, Floridians passed a constitutional amendment that outlaws keeping pregnant sows from being housed in stalls that are so small that the pigs are unable to turn around. I dismiss this as a silly thing to put in a state constitution, but it's deadly serious. Throughout the world, animal rights activists are promoting the idea that animals are morally equivalent to humans. As Michael Pollan writes in a brilliant New York Times Magazine article, the animal rights movement has recently scored remarkable triumphs. For example, this year Germans passed a law "obliging the state to respect and protect the dignity" of animals, just as it does humans. In England, the farming of animals for fur was recently outlawed. And the Swiss are changing their laws to move animals from the realm of "things" to the realm of "beings." Here in the United States, a recent poll found that just over half of all Americans think primates are entitled to the same rights as human children. And a book by Princeton philosopher Peter Singer, called Animal Liberation, has driven thousands around the world to embrace vegetarianism. Now, some changes in how animals are treated on farms, in labs, and in zoos may be needed. At the same time, we have to understand what is driving the modern animal rights movement. In his book, Creation in Crisis, Alex MacDonald says that as Darwinian theories of evolution began to be accepted, animal rights advocates declared that there is no essential difference between humans and animals. Professor Singer, for instance, claims, "On the basis of evolution . . . there is no clear dividing line between humans and animals." This belief arises out of the philosophy of naturalism, the notion that nature is all there is. Humans are not considered unique and spiritual; they're just another part of material nature, no different from a bird, a snail -- or a pig. So when animal advocates try to pass laws dictating how farmers ought to treat pigs, and demanding that we assign animals the same rights we humans have, they're merely being consistent: After all, if humans are not innately superior to animals, why should we lord it over them? But ironically, as MacDonald points out, the reasoning behind naturalistic ethics diminishes the value of human life. It's no accident that many, if not most, animal rights activists have little respect for individual human life. Singer, for example, writes, "very often it is not wrong at all [to kill unborn babies and even newborn infants]." What you think depends on your philosophy. The biblical worldview says that humans are unique, created in the image of God to be stewards over the rest of creation. And our calling is to use our stewardship for good. That's why Christians have often led crusades to treat animals humanely. In the 1780s, one of my own heroes, William Wilberforce, took a public stand against cruelty to animals -- not in the name of animal rights, but in the name of stewardship. We're right to want all animals treated humanely -- but we must make sure that our children especially understand why. It's not because animals are equal to humans -- as the animal rights zealots maintain -- but because a loving God gave us dominion over creation and commands us to treat His creation with compassion. For further reading: Michael Pollan, "An Animal's Place," New York Times Magazine, 10 November 2002 (free registration required). Eric Sundquist, "Nonhuman rights," Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 25 August 2002. Bob Burgdorfer, "Animal rights groups applaud Florida hog crate ban,", 6 November 2002. Claire Doole, "Swiss ponder animal rights," BBC News, 3 September 2000. "MPs back fur farm ban," BBC News, 5 March 1999. "Germany guarantees animal rights," CNN, 21 June 2002. David R. Carlin, "Rights, Animal and Human," First Things, August/September 2000. Wesley J. Smith, "Terrorists, Too: Exposing animal-rights terrorism," National Review Online, 2 October 2002. BreakPoint commentary no. 980730, "'Veggie' Jesus: Animal Rights and Christianity." Morton A. Kaplan, "Animal rights and human morality," The World & I, April 1995. Alex MacDonald, Creation in Crisis (Evangelical Press, 1992). Peter Singer, Animal Liberation (Ecco, 2002). Kevin Belmonte, Hero for Humanity: A Biography of William Wilberforce (NavPress, 2002).


Chuck Colson


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