Thoughts of a Catholic convert

My Photo
Location: United States

Monday, December 13, 2010

C. S. Lewis on animal experimentation

One of the charities I give money to is the National Anti-Vivisection Society, so I was interested that C.S. Lewis had written an essay for the British Anti-Vivisection Society (The radical Lewis at The Thinking Reed). I looked up Lewis' essay and have posted part of it below, but first here's a bit from Lee's post ...

Lewis posits a dilemma for the defender of animal experimentation: either they hold that humans are metaphysically superior to (non-human) animals (he identifies this with the Christian view), or they believe that there is no inherent metaphysical difference between humans and other animals (he calls this the naturalistic or Darwinian view).

If one takes the first view, Lewis argues, it by no means follows that humans are entitled to treat animals any way they wish. “We may find it difficult to formulate a human right of tormenting beasts in terms which would not equally imply an angelic right of tormenting men” (“Vivisection,” God in the Dock, reprinted in The Collected Works of C. S. Lewis, p. 452). Or, we might add, an extraterrestrial right of tormenting men .... But Lewis is quick to point out that if there is no great metaphysical gulf separating human from non-human animals, what reason is there to draw the line at the species barrier? If all that justifies our preference for our own species is sentiment, than wouldn’t sentiment also justify a preference for our own nation, class, or race?

Here's part of the C.S. Lewis' essay .....


[...] The Christian defender, especially in the Latin countries, is very apt to say that we are entitled to do anything we please to animals because they ‘have no souls'. But what does this mean? If it means that animals have no consciousness, then how is this known? They certainly behave as if they had, or at least the higher animals do. I myself am inclined to think that far fewer animals than is supposed have what we should recognize as consciousness. But that is only an opinion. Unless we know on other grounds that vivisection is right we must not take the moral risk of tormenting them on a mere opinion. On the other hand, the statement that they 'have no souls' may mean that they have no moral responsibilities and are not immortal. But the absence of 'soul' in that sense makes the infliction of pain upon them not easier but 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.

The only rational line for the Christian vivisectionist to take is to say that the superiority of man over beast is a real objective fact, guaranteed by Revelation, and that the propriety of sacrificing beast to man is a logical consequence. We are “worth more than many sparrows”, and in saying this we are not merely expressing a natural preference for our own species simply because it is our own but conforming to a hierarchical order created by God and really present in the universe whether any one acknowledges it or not. The position may not be satisfactory. We may fail to see how a benevolent Deity could wish us to draw such conclusions from the hierarchical order He has created. We may find it difficult to formulate a human right of tormenting beasts in terms which would not equally imply an angelic right of tormenting men. And we may feel that though objective superiority is rightly claimed for men, yet that very superiority ought partly to consist in not behaving like a vivisector: that we ought to prove ourselves better than the beasts precisely by the fact of acknowledging duties to them which they do not acknowledge to us. But on all these questions different opinions can be honestly held. If on grounds of our real, divinely ordained, superiority a Christian pathologist thinks it right to vivisect, and does so with scrupulous care to avoid the least dram or scruple of unnecessary pain, in a trembling awe at the responsibility which he assumes, and with a vivid sense of the high mode in which human life must be lived if it is to justify the sacrifices made for it, then (whether we agree with him or not) we can respect his point of view.

But of course the vast majority of vivisectors have no such theological background. They are most of them naturalistic and Darwinian. Now here, surely, we come up against a very alarming fact. The very same people who will most contemptuously brush aside any consideration of animal suffering if it stands in the way of 'research' will also, on another context, most vehemently deny that there is any radical difference between man and the other animals. On the naturalistic view the beasts are at bottom just the same sort of thing as ourselves. Man is simply the cleverest of the anthropoids. All the grounds on which a Christian might defend vivisection are thus cut from under our feet. We sacrifice other species to our own not because our own has any objective metaphysical privilege over others, but simply because it is ours. It may be very natural to have this loyalty to our own species, but let us hear no more from the naturalists about the 'sentimentality' of anti-vivisectionists. If loyalty to our own species, preference for man simply because we are men, is not a sentiment, then what is? It may be a good sentiment or a bad one. But a sentiment it certainly is. Try to base it on logic and see what happens!

But the most sinister thing about modern vivisection is this. If a mere sentiment justifies cruelty, why stop at a sentiment for the whole human race? There is also a sentiment for the white man against the black, for a Herrenvolk against the non-Aryans, for 'civilized' or 'progressive' peoples against 'savages' or 'backward' peoples. Finally, for our own country, party or class against others. Once the old Christian idea of a total difference in kind between man and beast has been abandoned, then no argument for experiments on animals can be found which is not also an argument for experiments on inferior men. If we cut up beasts simply because they cannot prevent us and because we are backing our own side in the struggle for existence, it is only logical to cut up imbeciles, criminals, enemies or capitalists for the same reasons. Indeed, experiments on men have already begun. We all hear that Nazi scientists have done them. We all suspect that our own scientists may begin to do so, in secret, at any moment.

The alarming thing is that the vivisectors have won the first round. In the nineteenth and eighteenth centuries a man was not stamped as a 'crank' for protesting against vivisection. Lewis Carroll protested, if I remember his famous letter correctly, on the very same ground which I have just used. Dr Johnson - a man whose mind had as much iron in it as any man’s - protested in a note on Cymbeline which is worth quoting in full. In Act I, scene v, the Queen explains to the Doctor that she wants poisons to experiment on “such creatures as We count not worth the hanging, - but none human”.
The Doctor replies: "Your Highness, Shall from this practice but make hard your heart".
Johnson comments: “The thought would probably have been more amplified, had our author lived to be shocked with such experiments as have been published in later times, by a race of men that have practiced tortures without pity, and related them without shame, and are yet suffered to erect their heads among human beings.”

The words are his, not mine, and in truth we hardly dare in these days to use such calmly stern language. The reason why we do not dare is that the other side has in fact won. And though cruelty even to beasts is an important matter, their victory is symptomatic of matters more important still. The victory of vivisection marks a great advance in the triumph of ruthless, non-moral utilitarianism over the old world of ethical law; a triumph in which we, as well as animals, are already the victims, and of which Dachau and Hiroshima mark the more recent achievements ....


Worth a read .... C.S. Lewis's theology of animals by Andrew Linzey


Blogger Sherrlyn Visual Media Photography said...

Wonderful. I cannot stomach the things that Humans do to animals. C.S. Lewis never ceases to surprise me with his outstanding understanding of the world. Can't wait to meet him in heaven.
Sherrlyn Borkgren Photography & Visual Media

11:20 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home