In yesterday’s post, I cited an animal rights activist who said, referring to apes, “they are just like us.”
I thought that was about as extreme as you could get. But then I watched Richard Dawkins in the video below. He takes the argument one step further. “Human beings are not just like great apes” he says. “They are great apes.”
C.S. Lewis made a good argument in one of his essays (I forget which) for the fact that a theistic worldview is necessary in order to make a consistent and logical case against animal cruelty. Within an atheistic worldview, it is hard to say how the cruel action of a human is ultimately wrong any more than the cruel action of a guerrilla or tiger is objectively evil. (I develop this further in my review of The God Delusion and in my review of The Moral Landscape.) Thus, while an atheist can advocate kindness to animals, he does not have consistent grounds for doing so.
This point comes out clearly in the video above, when Dawkins admits that he can only justify being nice to animals by an appeal to emotion. Dawkins explains that when he is wearing his scientist hat, there is no reason why cruelty cannot be justified, and to do that he has to put on his human hat and appeal to what he feels.
This is significant since it illustrates a point made again and again by Francis Schaeffer, namely that all non-theistic worldviews have to introduce some kind of dualism in order to account for meaning and significance. Richard Dawkins is no exception.
It is probable that if the video was taken today Dawkins might adopt a different position, since his views about ethics have modulated after reading Sam Harris’ book The Moral Landscape, which I explain about in my review of Harris’ book.
Getting back to the video. In addition to arguing that human beings ARE apes, Dawkins suggests that a key issue of our age is speciesism. In the past, he points out, people had to realize that racism was wrong, leading to equality between the races; people also had to learn that sexism was wrong, leading to equality between the sexes. Now, the great issue we are facing is to realize that speciesism is wrong. Once our society has overcome the speciesist impulse, there will be equality between humans and their animal relatives.