The Fellowship of Life
All God's Creatures
by Ted Harrison
From The Listener of 24th January 1985:
Man's responsibility for the animal world has for centuries been influenced by the Christian Church in this country. But, as Ted Harrison has been discovering, a change of attitude is emerging in theological circles.
Four or five times a year Professor Ted Evans takes a cat from his university's colony of specially bred, disease-free animals. Then, having anaesthetised the creature, he places it in a device where its head is held firmly in a clamp. Next, he inserts probes into the cat's brain, to monitor brain-cell activity as sounds are played into its ear. The brain activity is instantly displayed on a screen on the computer in the neighbouring room. After a number of hours of experimentation, the cat is given an overdose of drugs and killed.
Before the advent of computer technology Professor Evans used ten times as many animals in a year. Some of the experiments he has carried out have involved the deliberate deafening of animals. Others have involved looking into a cat's skull through a hole in its head, with the cat fully-conscious.
As a direct result of Professor Evans's pioneering work, major advances have been made in diagnostic aids for, and surgical treatment of, the deaf. By studying the ear's sound-filtering system, Professor Evans and his colleagues hope to be able to develop a new and far more effective hearing-aid. All his work on animals is carried out under the strictest legal control. The university animal-breeding centre is clean and efficient, the animals are in perfect health and suffer a minimum of pain. Professor Evans's work has been of proven benefit to the human race, and yet there are many people who condemn this work unhesitatingly.
Many animal rights protesters are guided purely by emotion. 'Walt Disney has a lot to answer for', Professor Evans argues, 'for creating animal characters with human personalities.' But there are now many in the animal rights movement who argue at a deeper level. They blame modern materialism for the current attitude towards animals, and the modern climate of ethics which views them as utilitarian objects, existing only for man's good. They blame in part the Christian Churches for their indifference to the animal kingdom.
While Professor Evans argues that, in Genesis, God gives man 'dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth', the Reverend Andrew Linzey, Anglican chaplain to the University of Essex, argues that dominion must be subordinate to the moral purposes of God. Professor Evans views man as the pinnacle of creation; Andrew Linzey agrees, but says that man's exalted position should morally consist of serving the earth. 'Animals are not expendable objects. They have an inherent value of their own, which we must respect. Instead of sacrificing animals for his own benefit, man should sacrifice himself, after the moral example of his Jesus.' Animals, says Andrew Linzey, are capable of worship, and he points to the Psalms and the Book of Revelation. If animals can be experimented upon because they do not have the full spiritual capabilities of man, then, Andrew Linzey argues, it is only a short step to experimenting on primitive or retarded humans.
Dominion, Professor Evans is the first to point out, must be exercised with responsibility. One main responsibility must be that the animal does not suffer pain. He does not accept that an animal is merely a biological mechanism, but neither does he accept that an animal has a spiritual awareness.
In the Western world, in most areas of public ethics the Christian religion has had the most influence. Consequently the traditional Church view of the utilitarian nature of the animal kingdom prevails in legislation on the use of living animals for testing drugs, cosmetics and new medical techniques. Changes in attitudes could result from shifts in thinking taking place in theological circles. Dominion theology is making way for harmony theology. Other faiths have embraced this approach many centuries ago. Hindus teach that God is reflected in the souls of all living creatures, man, mammals, birds, even insects. Certain animals are held particularly sacred and the deliberate killing of animals is avoided in order that, among other reasons, the spirit of an ancestor living in animal form is not harmed.
The early Church, says the Reverend Gordon Strachan, a minister from Edinburgh, did much to discount the insights of the pre-Christian natural faiths. It concentrated on the salvation of the individual man. It had a lot to say about the relationship between God and man and not much about the relationship between God, man and nature. Huge tracts of the Old Testament are ignored and the significance of Christ's references to nature brushed aside.
Whilst most people would feel revulsion at the thought of animals being needlessly and cruelly abused to satisfy curiosity or vanity, the overwhelming majority would accept that, given a straight choice between a human life and an animal life, the human would take precedence. Andrew Linzey, however, points out that rarely are we presented with a straight choice. 'Usually it is only a hypothetical choice and many research scientists start work with little idea of the chances of finding the human application of their work. Animals belong to God: that makes their value fundamental.' He says that society would not condone the killing of a damaged child to save another human life. Why should animals who are similarly vulnerable be treated differently?
And there Professor Evans would profoundly disagree, and could point to the authority of centuries of tradition which even today survives in the moral theology of many parts of the Church. But he accepts that his view must involve an act of faith. There may be many ways of exploring the mechanism of the brain with scientific instruments, but there is no way an animal's emotions and spiritual awareness can be tested. When it comes to animal rights, there is a theological impasse. Perhaps that is why the subject has been avoided for so long.
NB. The Listener was published by the BBC between 1929-91 and has been replaced with an on-line feature: www.thelistener.co.uk
This site is hosted and maintained by The Mary T. and Frank L. Hoffman Family Foundation
Thank you for wisiting all-creatures.org