The Revd Professor Andrew Linzey PhD, DD, is a member of the Faculty of
Theology, University of Oxford, and Director of the Oxford Centre for Animal
Ethics (www.oxfordanimalethics.com). He is also Honorary Professor at the
University of Winchester. Here is the text of his sermon at St Mary’s University
Church, Oxford, on Sunday 17 February, 2008 by Andrew Linzey.
There has been considerable public controversy over the use of animals in
experimentation at Oxford. The controversy has involved both town and gown.
Individuals have taken public stands for and against. There have been heated
exchanges, protests, and much acrimonious discourse.
I am referring to the controversy that raged in the last years of the
nineteenth century. For example: John Ruskin, the Slade Professor of Fine Art,
resigned his post ‘following the vote endowing vivisection in the University’ in
1885.(1) Previously, Lewis Carroll circulated his own anti-vivisection tract
entitled ‘Some Popular Fallacies about Vivisection’ in 1875.(2) Frances Power
Cobbe, a long time associate of Manchester College (as it then was), launched
the Society for the Protection of Animals Liable to Vivisection in the same
year.(3) And E. B. Nicholson, Bodley’s Librarian no less, wrote the pioneering
work The Rights of an Animal in 1879.(4)
Reference to this history only serves to emphasise that controversy about
animals, and especially animal experimentation, is not new. Indeed, Oxford has
been the home of such controversy. One hundred years later, in the 1970s, Peter
Singer penned his Animal Liberation (5) whilst teaching philosophy at University
College; Stephen R.L. Clark started his The Moral Status of Animals (6) while a
Fellow of All Souls, and it was three enterprising philosophy graduates from New
College, Balliol and St Hilda’s who helped re-start it all by producing the
landmark book Animals, Men and Morals (7) in 1971 – a work that Singer himself
properly described as ‘the Bible’ of the movement. Even my own first little book
on Animal Rights: A Christian Assessment was published in 1976 (London: SCM
Press). Controversy about animals? In truth, we have been growing it in Oxford
And it is important to recognise that the controversy concerns some hardcore,
largely unresolved, questions. Can scientific research exist without causing
suffering to animals? Why should animals always bear the cost? And how rightly
should we understand ourselves, and evaluate our needs, in relation to the rest
of creation? But one most centrally: is the deliberate infliction of suffering
on animals itself ever morally licit? Special considerations For some of my
contemporaries, it is a comparatively small thing to justify the infliction of
suffering. ‘Animals’, they say, ‘are only animals’. But that dismissive line
obscures the fact that animals suffer only to a greater or lesser extent than we
do. There is now ample evidence in peer reviewed scientific journals that all
mammals (at least) suffer not just pain, but also shock, fear, terror,
anticipation, foreboding, stress, anxiety, and trauma.(8)
If it is true that animals can suffer in these ways which were once
considered uniquely human, then it is peculiarly difficult – philosophically –
to justify the deliberate infliction of suffering on animals. In addition, there
are considerations here that are specifically relevant to animals, as well as
some weaker humans, but they seldom receive the attention they should:
Consider: animals cannot give or withhold their consent. Informed voluntary
consent is now regarded as essential in order to justify experimentation on
human subjects, but when it comes to animals that relevant factor is always
Consider also: animals cannot represent or vocalise their own interests.
Individuals who cannot adequately represent themselves have to depend upon
others to do so. Unlike even children or the elderly who suffer from dementia,
but who can be represented in a court of law, animals seldom have a spokesperson
who has ‘legal standing’ (the expression used in the USA) who can represent
their interests, so it is precisely because they cannot articulate their needs
or represent their interests, that these needs are almost always ignored and yet
they should invoke a heightened sense of obligation.
Consider further: animals are morally innocent or blameless. Because they are
not moral agents with free will, they cannot – strictly speaking – be regarded
as morally responsible. As C.S. Lewis rightly observed: ‘So far as we know
beasts are incapable of sin or virtue; therefore they can neither deserve pain
nor be improved by it’ (The Problem of Pain, London: Geoffrey Bles, 1940, p.
Consider lastly: animals are vulnerable and defenceless. They are almost
wholly within our power and subject to our will. Except in rare circumstances,
animals pose us no threat, constitute no risk to our life, and possess no means
of offence or defence. Moral solicitude should properly relate to, and be
commensurate with, the relative vulnerability of the subject concerned, or what
might be termed ‘ontologies of vulnerability’.
The point is that these considerations, when impartially judged (or at least
as impartially as humans can manage) mean that the infliction of suffering upon
animals is harder, not easier, to justify. Non-consenting, inarticulate,
innocent, and vulnerable beings deserve special moral solicitude.(9)
Now some people believe that theology can be drawn upon to justify the
infliction of suffering. Theology has been central, at least historically, in
providing some of the key justifications for the use of animals. But how
convincing are they?
‘We have dominion over animals’, it is often said. I never cease to be amazed
at the number of atheists who believe that humans have dominion. For centuries,
it needs to be admitted, Christians have interpreted Genesis 1 as meaning little
more than ‘might is right’ – a view that has influenced the largely secular view
of animals today. But modern scholarship has made clear how wrong we were. The
priestly theology of Genesis is not that of man-the-despot, but rather of
humanity as the species commissioned to care, under God, for the creation. And
in case this appears like liberal revisionism of an ancient text, there is
internal evidence in the text itself. In Genesis 1: 26-9 humans are made in
God’s image and given dominion, and in the subsequent verse (29-30) given a
vegetarian diet. Herb-eating dominion is hardly a license for tyranny.
‘We humans are made in the image of God’, it is often said. But the God in
whose image we are made is a God of love, mercy, justice. It is difficult to see
how being made in that image can justify the infliction of pain whatever the
motives. Indeed modern scholarship reveals that ‘image’ and ‘dominion’ go
together: humans are to represent God’s own benevolent care for other creatures.
If one truly believes that God is benevolent and that humans are made in God's
image, then our obligations are clear: we also must be benevolent not just to
other humans but to the whole of God's creation. Humans are uniquely responsible
to God for how they exercise their authority. The picture that emerges is of a
God that creates humans with God-given capacities to care for creation as God’s
own representatives on earth. We are to be not so much the ‘master species’ as
the ‘servant species’.(10)
‘Only humans have souls, however’. In fact, Catholic theology has never
denied that animals have souls, only that they possess rational and therefore
immortal souls. Quite how that position squares with the biblical vision of the
redemption of all creation is for others to judge.15 But, even if true, the
absence of a soul – as C.S. Lewis once indicated – makes the infliction of pain
harder to justify:
’For it means that animals cannot deserve pain, nor profit morally by the
discipline of pain, nor be recompensed by happiness in another life for
suffering in this. Thus all the factors which render pain more tolerable or make
it less totally evil in the case of human beings will be lacking in the beasts.
‘Soullessness’, in so far as it is relevant to the question at all, is an
argument against vivisection.’(12)
‘But humans are rational’, we are told, ‘our lives therefore have a richness
and a depth unavailable to other creatures’. There are reasons for being wary of
the ‘my life is richer than yours’ kind of argument, if only because scientists
are increasingly finding ways in which the lives of animals display
characteristics and abilities that make us marvel. But even if true, does
rationality make our suffering always more significant? While it is possible for
example, that anticipation of death may make humans more liable to suffering, it
is also the case that intellectual incomprehension may make the experience of
suffering worse. Consider, for example, the predicament of captive animals who
have no means of rationalising their deprivation, boredom, and frustration. They
have no intellectual means of escaping their circumstances, for example (as far
as we can tell) by use of their imagination. They cannot, like Terry Waite in
captivity, intellectually appreciate the forces that led to their capture and
begin, as he did, to write ‘in my imagination’.(13) It is unclear that rational
incomprehension always (to say the least) makes suffering less acute.
Human unique superiority?
‘Nevertheless, humans are unique and superior’ it is claimed. ‘We have reason,
free will, and we are morally accountable in a way in which animals can never
be.’ But it follows that is precisely because we have those exalted capacities
that we should acknowledge duties to them that they cannot acknowledge towards
us. Properly understood, moral superiority can never be the basis for behaving
in a morally inferior way. And here we reach the decisive consideration from a
theological perspective: our power or lordship over animals needs to be related
to that exercise of lordship seen in the life of Jesus Christ.
Jesus provides us with what I have called a ‘paradigm of inclusive moral
generosity’ that privileges the weak, the vulnerable, the poor, the marginalised,
and the outcast. But if costly generosity really is the God-given paradigm then
it ought also be the paradigm for the exercise of human dominion over the animal
world. The doctrine of the incarnation involves the sacrifice of the ‘higher’
for the ‘lower’, not the reverse. And if that is the true model of divine
generosity, it is difficult to see how humans can otherwise interpret their
exercise of power over other sentient creatures. As I have written elsewhere:
’When we speak of human superiority, we speak of such a thing properly only
and in so far as we speak not only of Christlike lordship but also of Christlike
service. There can be no lordship without service and no service without
lordship. Our special value in creation consists in being of special value to
others’ (Animal Theology, see Note 10, page 33).
Now some will say that this discourse willfully neglects what they see as the
central issue: isn’t such suffering nevertheless justifiable if it serves
laudable ends? Important, serious ends, like the accumulation of scientific
knowledge that may help cure disease or alleviate suffering?
Painful experiments on humans?
But a yes to that question is only readily available to those who hold to a
simple kind of utilitarian philosophy, and believe (as I do not) that the ends
always justify the means. If I did believe that, I would not want to stop at
animals, however. If benefits can justify the infliction of suffering on
animals, they should also logically justify the use of weaker human subjects.
After all, the results would be more applicable, more certain. That this is the
case is recognised even by those who fully support animal experimentation. The
philosopher, Raymond Frey writes that ‘… we cannot, with the appeal to benefit,
justify (painful) animal experiments without justifying (painful) human
experiments’.(14) That we do not (usually) justify painful experiments on humans
without their permission shows precisely what our ethics includes and where it
stops, and yet this ‘boundary line’ is arbitrary.
‘But we have to experiment on animals because we can’t experiment on humans’,
it is claimed. In fact, animal experimentation has not prevented experimentation
on humans: alongside the use of animals, vulnerable human subjects such as:
children, prisoners of war, Jews, people of colour, the mentally challenged,
even ordinary soldiers have been used in experimentation without their knowledge
or informed consent or both.(15) And some of us are still disturbed that
experiments on human embryos are permissible up to 14 days – to which we shall
shortly have to add the phenomenon of animal-human hybrids.(16) To those who
once claimed that we must choose between ‘your dog or your baby’, we need to
remind ourselves of the counter-claim made by early anti-vivisectionists: it is
not a choice between ‘your dog or your baby’ but rather ‘your dog and your baby.
It is not a question of animals or human beings, but one of animals and human
The foregoing has sketched some of the grounds for regarding the infliction
of suffering on non-consenting, inarticulate, innocent, and vulnerable creatures
as intrinsically wrong. I am always rather bemused when people talk about
‘emotional arguments’ for animals, when in truth the purely rational case is one
of the strongest in ethics. It seems to me that one can only justify painful
experimentation if one can find clear rational grounds for saying that human
interests are always and absolutely primary. Accepting that it may be sometimes
right to choose in the interests of humans is one thing; believing that we are
justified in creating an institution that routinely uses and abuses animals is
another. But I also accept that others judge the matter differently, and that
honourable people may honourably disagree.
Violence: morally self-contradictory
Despite my viewpoint, I have been reluctant to comment on the latest round of
controversy at Oxford. The reason is that I have not wanted to appear to give
succour or support to those who pursue violent tactics or intimidation. Some
have been surprised that I wouldn’t join the protests, but they shouldn’t be. If
I cannot accept the utilitarian argument of researchers that the end justifies
the means, by the same standard, I cannot accept the utilitarian argument of
violent protestors that their intended ends justify their means.
It is especially lamentable that people who are committed to a philosophy of
respect for all sentient beings (as I am myself) should think that violence,
coercion, and personal abuse is justifiable against human sentient beings.
Violence is not just counterproductive or bad tactics; it is morally
self-contradictory. One cannot get to animal rights by trampling on human ones.
As someone who has experienced abuse and defamation for my work for animals, and
lost job opportunities as a result of my views on animal testing, I think I have
earned the right to say that personal attacks are as unconscionable as they are
(almost always) ineffective.
Neither do I support illegality: however dotty or unjust laws may be, we are
obligated to obey them, at least in a democratic society, where we have the
ability to change the laws. In a democracy, criminal tactics are an attempt to
shortcut the system. As I wrote way back in 1994:
’To pursue moral means requires that we reject strategies of blatant
manipulation and intimidation. Not to do so risks not a decrease but an increase
in the total amount of moral evil in the world today … People will not be easily
cajoled, intimidated, threatened or bludgeoned beyond their moral senses into a
new world: they need to be rationally persuaded’.(18)
I conclude with a very modest proposal: rational dialogue. What we need is
dialogue without personal or political agendas. If such dialogue cannot take
place within universities, where else can it be had? Certainly, not in the media
who frequently succumb to sensationalist and frankly inaccurate reporting. A
great university – as Oxford undoubtedly is – could lead the way in fostering
and facilitating such dialogue. In doing so, it would accept the integrity of
differing viewpoints, and give power to the conviction that reasoning can be one
way of apprehending the fullness of moral truth.
The animal issue is not going to go away. Over the last 40 years, we have
slowly but surely experienced a paradigm shift: a move away from the old idea
that animals are just things, machines, tools, commodities, resources here for
us to the idea that animals have intrinsic value, dignity, and rights. It is
simply no longer clear to many people that human interests are the only
important interests in the world, and that all other interests – including those
of animals – should always be subordinate to ours. Oxford may be wary of this
new paradigm, even uneasy with its own anti-vivisection history, but my hope is
that it may yet find an appropriate and positive response to the growing ethical
sensitivity to animals – a sensitivity which it has, in part, helped to inspire
And where might such dialogue lead? For the Christian such dialogue is to
practise the virtue of hope. In the words of our University motto: Dominus
Illuminatio Mea. Perhaps it is not inappropriate to recall the context of that
line from Psalm 27, which sometimes speaks to me at least: ‘an host of men were
laid against me, yet shall I not be afraid’ (v. 3) because ‘the Lord is my
light’. May the Lord enlighten us all. Amen.
1. John Ruskin, letter in Pall Mall Gazette, Vol. XXXiii, p. 1vi. See John
Bowker, ‘Religions and the Rights of Animals’ (introduction) in Tom Regan (ed)
Animal Sacrifices: Religious Perspectives on the Use of Animals in Science
(Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1986), p. 3.
2. Lewis Carroll (Charles L. Dodgson), ‘Some Popular Fallacies about
Vivisection’, printed for private circulation, Oxford, June 1875.
3. See Lori Williamson, Power and Protest: Frances Power Cobbe and Victorian
Society (London: Rivers Oram Press, 2005), pp. 125f.
4. E.B. Nicholson, The Rights of an Animal: A New Essay in Ethics (London: C.
Kegan Paul, 1879).
5. Peter Singer, Animal Liberation: A New Ethics for Our Treatment of Animals
(London: Jonathan Cape, 1976).
6. Stephen R.L. Clark, The Moral Status of Animals (Oxford: The Clarendon
7. Stanley and Roslind Godlovitch and John Harris (eds) Animals, Men and
Morals: An Inquiry into the Maltreatment of Non-Humans (London: Victor Gollancz,
8. For an excellent summary of the empirical evidence, see David DeGrazia,
Taking Animals Seriously: Mental Life and Moral Status (Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press, 1996), especially chapter 7.
9. I develop the case at length in Why Animal Suffering Matters, forthcoming.
10. See Andrew Linzey, Animal Theology (London: SCM Press and Chicago:
University of Illinois Press, 1994), see pp. 56f.
11. For a variety of views, see ‘Souls and Redemption’ in Andrew Linzey and
Dorothy Yamamoto (eds), Animals on the Agenda: Questions about Animals for
Theology and Ethics (London: SCM Press, and Chicago: University of Illinois
Press, 1998), pp. 118-119, and 171-200.
12. C.S. Lewis, ‘Vivisection’, first published as a booklet by the New
England Anti-Vivisection Society , reprinted in Andrew Linzey and Tom
Regan (eds), Animals and Christianity: A Book of Readings (London: SCM Press,
and New York: Crossroad, 1989; reprinted by Wipf and Stock, 2008), pp. 160-4.
13. Terry Waite, Taken on Trust (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1993), p.
14. R. G. Frey, Rights, Killing and Suffering: Moral Vegetarianism and
Applied Ethics (Oxford: Blackwell, 1983), p. 115.
15. The key text here is Susan E. Lederer, Subjected to Science: Human
Experimentation in America before the Second World War (Baltimore: The Johns
Hopkins University Press, 1995). One of her documented claims is that ‘Human
vivisection must be understood in the larger context of animal protection’, pp.
xiv and xv. See Andrew Linzey, Animal Gospel (London: Hodder and Stoughton, and
Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 1999), pp. 92-8.
16. See Paul A.B. Clarke and Andrew Linzey, Research on Embryos: Politics,
Theology and Law (London: LCAP, 1988).
17. Your Baby and Your Dog (New York: Vivisection Investigation League, nd),
cited in Lederer, Subjected to Science, p. 101; original emphases.
18. Andrew Linzey, Animal Gospel, chapter 10, pp. 90-1. The chapter is an
expanded version of an article that first appeared in the Times Higher
Educational Supplement, 23 December, 1994.
© Copyright, Andrew Linzey 2008.
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