Would you save your pet dog’s life over the life of a human stranger? Your answer may reveal how you feel about the inherent value of humans.
A recent editorial in Aeon bemoans the emerging business of insect farming – in which facilities raise up insects to produce insect protein, chicken and fish feed, bait and more. The article looks at a growing startup called InnovaFeed which “hopes to produce 60,000 metric tonnes of insect protein from the fly larvae each year.” But the author, Jeff Sebo, has a problem – “do we want to encourage a food system that farms animals by the trillion?”
Sebo raises a moral question about the killing of insects. He posits two viewpoints to approach this question by:
- All animals, no matter how small, matter morally.
- Only sentient creatures – those who can consciously experience pleasure and pain – matter morally.
The Moral Law
Sebo explains that even if we hold to the second view, we should “err on the side of caution” because “insects might be sentient” (article emphasis). Sebo asserts that since insects may potentially be sentient, we have a moral responsibility to not kill them.
But in a world where even plants might have some aspect of sentience, this becomes a bit more challenging of an argument to make. Instead, we need to take a philosophical step further in Sebo’s argument. Sebo argues that it is wrong to kill sentient creatures because they can “consciously experience pleasure and pain.” This is a very noble line to draw in the sand. But we must ask why the ability for something to experience pleasure and pain makes it morally wrong to kill them?
Sebo makes his argument on the basis that everyone should agree that it is morally wrong to unnecessarily inflict pain on sentient beings. But what if someone doesn’t agree? We may agree that Sebo would likely hold the more compassionate viewpoint, but what can Sebo appeal to as an objective arbiter that would concur that this action is morally wrong? From the secular viewpoint, there are only two options: majority opinion and the government.
Morality Based Around the Majority Opinion and Government
Someone who believes morality comes solely from majority opinion subscribes to mob rule. They believe morality is determined by what the predominant view in society is.
This causes a problem for morals – they become subjective. If what’s moral can change, what incentive do we have to submit to it? Why should I care how my actions might be perceived if they may be acceptable or inacceptable in ten years?
The viewpoint that morality is based on the government also falls into this trap. Leaders can be evil, and legislative and judicial branches are made up of the same fallible species. Just because they have the most power to assert what they believe is moral does not suddenly make it so.
Certainly, we wouldn’t call the German citizens in World War II who stood up against the local majority and their government during the Holocaust immoral. But if you hold to these viewpoints on morality, that’s exactly what you must do. If the majority or the government says that slavery is moral, then those with this viewpoint would have to concur. However, we know that slavery is immoral regardless of what society says about it. Morality must be based on something else.
This is the problem that the secular person runs into when talking about morality. They can either affirm an objective moral law exists but have no ability to explain why it is objective, or they can deny an objective moral law exists and have no authority to assert that their subjective moral law is best. Sebo’s article attempts the former.
The Christian Perspective
However, if there is such a thing as an objective moral obligation, then this necessitates an authority figure to determine what is good or bad, as right and wrong imply a higher law, and every law requires a lawgiver. If it’s an objective law, then this means it transcends humanity and would be just as apparent had humans never been created. This is what Christianity posits (Romans 2:15, Psalm 19). Indeed, objective moral duties flow from God’s very nature.
As C.S. Lewis put it, “My argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I got this idea of just and unjust? A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line.”
If morality is based on an objective moral law that transcends humanity, we must recognize God has to exist. Therefore, we must also agree with what God says regarding humans in Genesis 1:26, where God tells us that He created mankind in His image, and He also set us above every other creature. Mankind, being uniquely created in the image of God, is infinitely more valuable than any other creature. But the implications of Sebo’s article imply that humans are no better than even the insects, reducing us down to their status.
God allows mankind to use animals for food (Genesis 9:3) and clothing (Genesis 3:21). For a large portion of history, God commissioned mankind to sacrifice animals to foreshadow the perfect sacrifice of Jesus Christ (Leviticus 5:10, John 1:29).
Though we have dominion over the animals, this doesn’t mean that we have been given authority to treat animals poorly (Proverbs 12:10). We should cultivate and care for the world as stewards for God.
Jesus did not have a problem with using animals for food, eating fish (Luke 24:41-43) and observing Passover (Matthew 26:17-21), which called for eating a roasted lamb (Exodus 12:1-14). God also showed compassion and care for animals while still affirming that humans were much more valuable (Jonah 4:11, Matthew 12:11-12, Luke 12:24).
While we shouldn’t treat animals with cruelty or neglect, we also shouldn’t veer the other way entirely and claim that humans aren’t seen as special and infinitely more valuable in God’s eyes. God desires for us to use His creation wisely and compassionately, but we aren’t called to raise these things up higher than God has made them.
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