Posts tagged with: animals

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Wednesday, April 2, 2008

In recent years the UK has emerged as a key player in both genetic experimentation and in corresponding legal battles over the extent to which the government ought to regulate such research. The latest news coming from across the pond involves passage of a bill legalizing the creation of human-animal hybrids with certain restrictions (regarding type and length of survival).

Three members of the governing cabinet were “reportedly considering resignation if forced to back the Bill.” Controversy arose over the call from Roman Catholic bishops in the UK to allow MPs and cabinet members a “free vote” on the bill, allowing them to enjoy freedom of conscience as informed by their faith.

Since the creation of the first hybrid embryo was announced yesterday, religious leaders are calling for the creation of a national bioethics commission.

This has brought some strong reactions from critics of the Catholic and generally “pro-life” position.

My own views were lately characterized as representative of the “Roman Catholic and generally free market think tank, the Acton Institute,” and were then conflated with the reasoning of evangelical scientist Cal DeWitt (with whom I do share denominational affiliation).

According to the Reason piece, the distinction I make between the treatment of plants and animals is “based upon the idea that while God commanded Noah to save animal lineages, the Almighty said nothing about preserving plants on the Ark.” (Update: Joe Carter does a thorough and articulate job of dissecting Bailey’s article here).

In fact, in the piece in which I outline a theological framework for evaluating GM foods, I don’t mention Noah at all. And in proposing a similar framework for evaluating the treatment of animals, my only reference to Noah has to do with the inauguration and the terms of the covenant, not with the fact that the animals were preserved on the Ark.

Christian reasoning about the general treatment of animals and concerns with the role of human stewardship are not based on some obscure biblical text, as Bailey’s dismissive allusion would lead us to believe. There is an overarching biblical theme that has to do with human responsibility over the natural world, plants and animals included.

Rev. Leonard Vander Zee, for instance, uses a reference coming at the very end of the book of Jonah as a point of departure, linking it definitively to the foundational “dominion” mandate in the first chapter of Genesis. He summarizes developments in human stewardship and science this way:

State universities used to be known for their programs of “animal husbandry.” What a wonderful term. To husband the animals is to care for them, to provide for their welfare, as well as to use them for human benefit. In the past few decades, most such programs have become departments of animal science, which makes it possible to look on animals as laboratory specimens we can manipulate.

We needn’t agree with the particular conclusions that Vander Zee draws in order to agree that responsible stewardship is a biblical mandate. Clearly the idea of “animal husbandry” is closer to the biblical picture than “animal science.”

The core problem that Bailey and others have with this theological and moral insight is not that it draws too fine a distinction, but that it proposes to set any limits to research at all. That’s why religious opposition to certain kinds of research (or farming practices, for that matter) have to be construed as wholesale opposition to learning, science, and advancement.

But instead, we might also note with Aquinas that the abuse of something does not destroy it’s legitimate use. Christians do believe that scientific knowledge is a legitimate pursuit and indeed a divine calling. But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t limits to legitimate practice. And identifying and defining those limits is precisely what these disagreements are all about.

With great ability comes great responsibility. With apologies to Browning, we might say that man’s scientific reach has exceeded his moral grasp.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Wednesday, August 29, 2007

The relation of the creation account and the narrative of the flood in Genesis is a complex one. One of these linkages comes in the similarities of the mandates set forth by God in both accounts.

The sixteenth-century reformer Wolfgang Musculus identifies three mandates in the creation account (in addition to the specific prescription regarding the tree of life). The first of these is the procreation mandate: “Be fruitful and increase in number.” The second is the dominion mandate, flowing from the first: “fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.” The third mandate relates to sustenance of life: “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food.”

Musculus notes that each of these elements are reiterated in the flood account. God says to Noah, “Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the earth.” He also says, “The fear and dread of you will fall upon all the beasts of the earth and all the birds of the air, upon every creature that moves along the ground, and upon all the fish of the sea; they are given into your hands.” And finally God says, “Everything that lives and moves will be food for you. Just as I gave you the green plants, I now give you everything.”

In this recapitulation the procreation mandate seems unchanged. The dominion mandate seems to be marked now by a relationship of antipathy, characterized “fear and dread” rather than benevolence. And thirdly, God expands the provision of human sustenance beyond plants to include eating of animals.

I’d like to focus on this third point, while noting that the change of the relationship noted in the second point is no doubt related to the inclusion of animals as fit for human consumption. Animals would have reason to fear being eaten now, for instance.

There’s been a great deal of reflection on the meaning of God’s adjustment of the creation mandate to include animals as the source of human food. Some commentators have focused on the need for the new human family to have ready sources of protein and nutrients that might not otherwise be available in the post-diluvian world. Related to this, if it’s true, as many vegetarians would have us believe that eating meat is unhealthy, it may be a way for God to ensure that the human lifespan would be limited: “My Spirit will not contend with man forever, for he is mortal; his days will be a hundred and twenty years.”

As I’ve noted in another context, the expansion of the food mandate to include animals is a reflection of the comprehensive corruption of the Fall. Sin has marred the created harmony of the relationship between humans and animals.

Here, however, I’d like to speculate on another aspect of the extension of this mandate to include animals. Given the nature of fallen humankind, focused on inordinate and idolatrous self-love (cor curvum se, as Anselm puts it), God may be testifying to the fallen-ness of the human/animal relationship and simultaneously providing incentive for fallen humanity to take an active and interested role in stewardship of the animal kingdom.

By linking human survival to dependence on animals for food, God has set in place a relationship that will tend to mirror, if even in a fallen and imperfect way, the original responsibility of human beings to exercise stewardship and dominion over the created order. Human beings now have a basic motivation from self-interest from survival to economic prosperity to “rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”

As many economic observers have noted, a key way to ensure survival of a species is to commodify that species for human consumption in one form or another. There is no lack of cows in America primarily because there is an economic motivation for farmers to keep sustainable herds to meet consumer demand.

There is of course no guarantee that unbounded greed and short-sightedness will short-circuit the economically-savvy self-interest that manifests itself in sustaining a reliable and long-term source of animal products. For a case in point, see Eric Dolin’s new book, Leviathan: The History of Whaling in America (interviews here and here, reviewed here). While the whaling industry provided foundational means for economic development in colonial New England, it was a lack of perspective that allowed these populations to be hunted near extinction (see the case of the right whale, for instance).

The key here is note that enlightened self-interest, as opposed to base and short-sighted greed, manifests itself in an impulse to protect sustainable sources of animal products. In this way economic development and the protection of species are not in fundamental opposition, as so many environmentalists have construed laws like the Endangered Species Act.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Monday, October 9, 2006

A week ago, The CBS Evening News with newly installed host Katie Couric featured the father of one of the victims of the Columbine school shootings in their so-called ‘freeSpeech’ segment. In this ninety-second spot, Brian Rohrbough said,

This country is in a moral free-fall. For over two generations, the public school system has taught in a moral vacuum, expelling God from the school and from the government, replacing him with evolution, where the strong kill the weak, without moral consequences and life has no inherent value.

We teach there are no absolutes, no right or wrong. And I assure you the murder of innocent children is always wrong, including by abortion. Abortion has diminished the value of children.

Suicide has become an acceptable action and has further emboldened these criminals. And we are seeing an epidemic increase in murder-suicide attacks on our children.

As Gina Dalfonzo at The Point writes of the reaction to the segment, “CBS received bushels of mail from people who acted as if Rohrbough had gone on the air to advocate the drowning of kittens.” Dalfonzo links to a WaPo story that summarizes some of the complaints, including this gem, which referred to Rohrbough’s remarks as “the biggest load of hogwash I have ever witnessed. How could you use an unspeakable tragedy to give a rightwing flat earth nut job a podium?”

So much for the absolute moral authority conferred on the family members of the victims of tragedies. Terry Mattingly over at GetReligion notes, “Rohrbough’s views were strongly stated, but millions of Americans would affirm all, most or much of what he said.”

Count me among those in agreement. Moral education matters. Here’s what Herman Bavinck has to say about the importance of the dignity of the human person created in the image of God:

The acceptance or rejection of this point of departure is decisive for education and upbringing. Whoever maintains the divine origin, divine relationship and divine destination of man arrives naturally to another theory and practice of upbringing than he who rejects all that and knows only the dumb power of nature. If anyone says what he thinks of man’s origin and being, it is easily shown which pedagogy, at least in principle, must be his.

One specific way in which we can see which pedagogical principle is in play is by measuring a person’s view of the value of human beings relative to that of other creatures.

In this way, Bavinck writes that in light of the unique dignity of the human person,

there is no other conclusive reason thinkable why the killing of an animal is permitted and that of a man is unlawful, than that which lies in the background that man, separated essentially form the animal and related to God, is God’s offspring. He who, with the theory of evolution, obliterates the boundary between man and animal, making both the same kind, must also, as a matter of principle, think lightly concerning the killing of a man. Or, out of fear of this consequence, he must seek support with Buddhism, and respect as inviolate all life also in the animal, and as much as possible in the plant. It is noteworthy that both these trends find innumerable spokesmen in our day. On the one hand it is cynically taught by some that in our day men spend too much care upon the weak and ill, and ought rather to cooperate with the strong to improve our generation; while on the other hand, a sentimental sympathy is preached which has more pity for animals and plants than for man.

What better identifiers of the “moral vacuum” and godless secularism to which Rohrbough refers than these?

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Friday, October 6, 2006

With the latest news announced yesterday that British scientists are planning to create rabbit-human chimeras in the attempt to “find a ready source of ‘human’ embryonic stem cells without the ethical problems of tampering with human life,” it seems fitting to plug last week’s series of posts containing a biblical-theological case against chimeras.

The following from Herman Bavinck underscores my basic approach:

…man constitutes among all creatures a peculiar kind and occupies a unique place. He is indeed related to all these creatures, and this relationship is, according to the Scriptures, much more intimate than many usually present it. Man is formed according to his body from the dust of the earth; Genesis 2:7; 3:19; Eccl. 3:20; 12:7; from loam or clay; Job 33:6; he is dust and ashes; Genesis 18:27; of the earth, earthy; I Cor. 15:47. And chemistry teaches us nowadays that the human and animal body contain the same elements which occur outside of us in the visible creation. That relationship becomes still more evident in this that the first man, receiving from above the breath of life, became “a living soul.” With this word “soul” one must not think of the meaning which we at present associate with it and which we really have borrowed more from philosophy than from the Holy Scriptures. “Living soul” simply means here that man, by the inbreathing of God, became a living being; the word is therefore applied elsewhere to all living beings. Genesis 1:20, 21, 24, 30. Further, the difference between man and animals does not lie in this that the “breath of life” was breathed into the former, because in Genesis 7:22 mention is made much more strongly of a breath of the spirit of life in all animals. Thus the relationship of man and animal is so close that Scripture includes them under the common name of living souls; man belongs, in a certain sense, to the kingdom of animals.

But nevertheless, there is a difference as wide as the heavens between both. In the creation it becomes evident that man was created according to a particular decree of the counsel of God; that he, in distinction from the animal, received from above the breath of life by a particular act of God; that he form that moment bore His image; that he thought, spoke, gave names, knew, was obedient to God’s law, and could live in his fellowship. All these gifts of knowledge, language, morality, religion, did not come later to man in a fearful struggle for existence, in the centuries-long way of evolution. But they are originally his own; they belong to his nature; they lie ineradicably rooted in his essence; by them he is man. Rob him of these, and he ceases to be man. Scripture enables us to reject the false ideas in the theory of evolution and descent; but, at the same time, to recognize fully the truth in it.

Herman Bavinck, Bijbelsche en religieuze psychologie (Kampen: Kok, 1920); ET: Biblical and Religious Psychology, trans. H. Hanko (Grand Rapids: Protestant Reformed Theological School, 1974), 13-14.

Our week-long series concludes with a reflection on the implications of the great biblical theme of the consummation of creation into the new heavens and the new earth.

Consummation – Revelation 22:1–5

To the extent that we are able in this life, Christians are called to the path of holiness. This path begins with the recognition of the boundaries God has set up, in the created and preserved world and in his law, both in its divine and natural promulgations. We can be sure that there will be an eschatological reality in which “no longer will there by any curse” (Revelation 22:3 NIV).

And this assurance gives us the hope to spur us on to more wholeheartedly work for the good during our time on this earth. One way in which we can begin to live out this calling is to work against the effects of sin and evil in the world.

Attitudes which reduce animals (or humans) to having merely instrumental value reflect sin and corruption, not righteousness and restoration. Creating mice with human brains so that they can be killed in utero violates the value conferred upon animals as sharing with humans “the breath of life.”

But even more seriously, these actions violate the created dignity of human beings who bear the image of God. Both the perpetrators and victims are effected negatively.

Quite simply, human beings, as God’s image-bearers, are placed in a position of unique authority over creation, but also bear in themselves inherent dignity which places the worth of human beings as far greater than that of plants, or even animals. This doesn’t devalue the rest of creation; but it rightly orders creation with humanity at its head. This inherent and overarching value of the human person is what Jesus points to when he states, “You are worth more than many sparrows” (Matthew 10:31 NIV).

The possible “benefits” from the research in human-animal cellular and genetic mixing do not provide justification for crossing the boundaries that God has set up. Such pragmatic arguments are inadequate.

Simply because Adam and Eve could take the fruit and eat did not mean that they should. Simply because people could build a “tower that reaches to the heavens” did not mean that they should. And simply because we humans are able to create chimeras does not mean that we should. Indeed, the Bible gives us good reasons that we should not.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Thursday, September 28, 2006

The penultimate installment of the series on the biblical/theological case against chimeras focuses on the impact and significance of redemption.

Redemption – Romans 8:18–27

Flowing out of our discussion on creation and fall, it is the recognition that there still are limits on human activity with regard to animals that is most important for us in this discussion.

The apostle Paul notes that “the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God” (Romans 8:20–21 NIV).

Here we have a hint at the reversal of the curse on the human-animal-plant relationships. Paul continues in this section to address the “firstfruits of the Spirit” which believers have received after the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Our task as believers is to bear witness to the saving work of Jesus Christ. This work has begun to reverse the effects of sin and the curse, first and especially in the lives of believers, but also through the grateful work of believers, who are seeking to live up to their calling as faithful stewards.

The original purpose of plants was simply to provide sustenance for life, as is illustrated in Gen. 1:29-30. With the redemptive work of Christ in view, Christians are called to, in some way at least, attempt to realize and bring out the goodness of the created world. With this in mind, conclusions about the genetic manipulation of plants are not necessarily the same as that with respect to animals and humans.

The created purpose of animals was one that was different from plants. Animals, in sharing the status of beings with the “breath of life,” possess a level of importance that is not reducible to merely instrumental or pragmatic value.

The reduction of animals to pragmatic use as a source of food is a result of sin, illustrated in Genesis 9. But even here, at the depths of sin’s corruption of relationship, there remain limits and boundaries.

We should view the possibility of interspecies mixing and the creation of human-animal chimeras as just this sort of limit, because it undermines and violates the created order, which distinguishes between plants, animals with the breath of life, and humans created in the image of God.

That humans have the ability to make certain things has never been a valid argument for actually making them. God confirms in the case of the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11:1-9) that humans are capable of a great many, seemingly limitless, accomplishments.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Part III of our series focuses on the human fall into sin and the disastrous consequences that follow from it.

Fall – Genesis 9:1–7

The harmonious picture of the created order is quickly marred, however, by the fall of human beings. The fall has tragic comprehensive effects, both on the nature of humans themselves, and on the rest of creation.

The corruption of the relationship between humans and the rest of the created order is foreshadowed in the curses in Genesis 3:14–19. Notably the serpent, perhaps as both representative of the Satanic power and the animal world, is set in enmity against Eve and humankind. But most directly relevant for the discussion here regarding animal/human relations is the breakdown of the relationship between animals and humans that is formalized in Genesis 9.

It is at this point, with the institution of the Noahic covenant, that God pronounces some of the details of the broken relationship between humans and animals, those others who share with humans the “breath of life.” God says in verses 2 and 3 that “the fear and dread of you will fall” upon all animals and “everything that lives and moves will be food for you. Just as I gave you the green plants, I now give you everything.”

Human sin has now blurred some of the created distinction between plants and animals. Animals, sharing the “breath of life” with humans, were created with their own purposes and value, presumably off-limits as food for human consumption. The fall into sin has corrupted all forms of relationship, including that between humans and animals. This has finally manifested itself following the flood with the erasure of the distinction between plants and animals for the purposes of food.

Verse 4 points out a single prohibition, “But you must not eat meat that has its lifeblood still in it.” So even though the line between animals and plants has been marred, it is not completely eradicated. There are still limits to the uses humans can make of animals. Other legislation, such as the prohibition against bestiality, also points to this fractured but still existent limitation.

Part II of our week-long series on the ethics of chimeras begins with an examination of the creation account in the book of Genesis.

Creation – Genesis 1:26–30

The creation account in Genesis provides us with essential insights into the nature of the created world, from rocks and trees to birds and bees. It also tells us important things about ourselves and the role of human beings in relationship to the rest of creation.

The distinctions between various parts of the created world—plants, animals, and humans—are critical to discerning the best use and attitudes toward them.

We find in verses 29 and 30 of Genesis 1 God’s creational purpose for plantlife. Plants are originally given and intended to provide for the life of the rest of creation, especially those creatures with the “breath of life.” In this way, the original purpose for plants was to be food for humans and animals and in this way to sustain life.

So the first distinction among living creatures is that between plants and those with the “breath of life,” animals and humans. The second major distinction is made among those creatures with the “breath of life,” between animals and humans, the latter created in the “image of God.”

Genesis 1:26–28 forms a complex and interrelated picture of the original state of humanity. Created in the image of God, human beings are placed in dominion over “all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” Thus, verse 26 speaks to the placement of human beings as God’s earthly representatives.

Within the original Ancient Near Eastern (ANE) context of this passage, the language of “image-bearing” would have been immediately understandable. When a vassal or representative of the king spoke or acted with royal authority, he was said to “bear the image” of the king, a physical representation of the king and his authority. Verse 27 narrates the creation of human beings alluded to in the previous verse, and the placement as God’s image-bearers, representatives of the divine King.

There are, of course, no rights or privileges without responsibility, so on the heels of the creation of human beings and their placement in dominion, we find the corresponding responsibilities and blessings laid out in the following verse. Verse 28 is most often understood in terms of “stewardship,” and here again we run up against the political and social structure of the ANE. A steward was one who was in charge of a household or kingdom during the ruler’s absence. Humans, in exercising their exalted place of stewardship, are to be productive and creative rulers of the earth. This is the norm of human existence and the standard to which we are called.

An early exercise of this stewardly dominion over the animal world can be found in Genesis 2:19–20, in which the animals are brought to Adam to be named, “and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name.”

And so we have a tripartite division between plants, animals, and humans displayed in these verses. Plants form the base of the picture, created to give life to those creatures with the “breath of life.” Animals, as possessors of this “breath of life,” live off the plants, but remain distinct from human beings, who alone are created in the “image of God.”

This week will feature a five part series, with one installment per day, putting forth my presentation of a biblical-theological case against the creation of certain kinds of chimeras, or human-animal hybrids. Part I follows below.

Advances in the sciences sometimes appear to occur overnight. Such appearances can often be deceiving, however. Rare is the technological or scientific advance that does not follow years upon years of research, trial and error, failure and experimentation.

The latest news coming from the field of biology and genetics hasn’t happened “overnight,” but things are advancing quickly. Some of the more interesting, and indeed troubling, developments have to do with what are known as “chimeras.”

The Chimera, of course, is a fire-breathing creature from Greek mythology, with the head of a lion, the body of a goat, and the tail of a serpent. In the scientific community, however, chimeras are organisms most often created by the intermixing of species.

We are faced now with the possibility of new technological advances giving humans the ability to do radically new things. A scientific pragmatism is at work, which reduces elements of the material world to their practical uses, and ignores the basic structures of creation. (more…)