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Should animals be given “human rights?”

AFP Photo/Juan Mabromata sandra-orangutan


Published: 18 January 2015 (GMT+10)

An Argentine court made history when it granted an orangutan, ‘Sandra’, some legal rights that have traditionally been reserved for humans. The BBC reports:

Lawyers for Argentina’s Association of Professional Lawyers for Animal Rights (Afada) said Sandra was “a person” in the philosophical, not biological, sense.

She was, they argued, in a situation of illegal deprivation of freedom as a “non-human person”.1 

The BBC did not include a comment from Sandra expressing her thoughts about her newfound rights.

Animals are not people

The primary argument against giving non-humans these sorts of rights is simple: they are not humans. They do not have cognition skills comparable to humans, and they could not exercise human rights even if we gave them to them. This is because humans are uniquely created in the image of God.

Apes cannot participate in a Republic or set up a monarchy; they cannot create art; they cannot contemplate their own existence and inevitable demise. They can’t even come close to real language. They are delightful, clever animals, but only animals. There is a yawning chasm separating them and all other animals from humans. To give animals human rights will cause confusion—because what precisely does it mean? If the court’s decision is upheld, Sandra will not gain the right to vote and non-discrimination in employment—she will simply be moved to a slightly more comfortable form of ‘incarceration’ at an animal sanctuary.

When humans do not have human rights

It is ironic that some are in favor of giving animals human rights that are not shared by all humans. For instance, babies in the womb have no right to life—they may be slaughtered at their mothers’ request up to birth. Some countries have legalized euthanasia for disabled infants, and leading evolutionary atheist Richard Dawkins claims that there is a duty to abort babies with Down Syndrome. Most infamously, soi-disant ethicist Peter Singer is a co-founder of the Great Ape project, but also supports abortion, infanticide, and euthanasia.

When humans are viewed as only another animal, some people inevitably use this as an excuse to mistreat others. For instance, Ota Benga was displayed in a zoo as an example of a “missing link”, and thousands of Aboriginal Australians were slaughtered because they were viewed as not fully human.

Biblical creation is the answer

G.K. Chesterton said:

Darwinism can be used to back up two mad moralities, but it cannot be used to back up a single sane one. The kinship and competition of all living creatures can be used as a reason for being insanely cruel or insanely sentimental; but not for a healthy love of animals … That you and a tiger are one may be a reason for being tender to a tiger. Or it may be a reason for being as cruel as the tiger. It is one way to train the tiger to imitate you, it is a shorter way to imitate the tiger. But in neither case does evolution tell you how to treat a tiger reasonably, that is, to admire his stripes while avoiding his claws.

If you want to treat a tiger reasonably, you must go back to the garden of Eden. For the obstinate reminder continues to recur: only the supernaturalist has taken a sane view of Nature.2

Biblical creationists recognize that animals are created by God, which encourages conservation and responsible stewardship of creation, but also keeps us from inappropriately elevating them beyond what is appropriate.

When we deny the special status of mankind as created in the image of God, it invariably leads to elevating animals to the status of man, or worse, demoting certain kinds of people to the level of animals.

References and notes

  1. Court in Argentina grants basic rights to organutan, BBC News, 21 December 2014, bbc.com. Return to text.
  2. Chesterton, G.K., Orthodoxy, John Lane, London, pp. 204–205, 1927. Return to text.

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Readers’ comments

Phillip C.
A good article. I have been exposed to numerous media regarding the issue of giving animals rights. I find that these advocates are overzealous and have sown the seeds of confusions numerous times. I admit that the repeated claim that humans are just another kind of animal has caused me to doubt how special we are in the eyes of God relative to other creatures. That destructive claim has made it all too easy for me to imagine destroying another human being. Obviously, we need to reassert how special we are compared to our fellow creations.
Doug S.
Let us elect apes to congress on the theory that random votes at least has a chance of being better than ones that are totally pernicious.
Phil K.
@R.B. I think the point of grouping animal rights activists with pro-abortion groups is to highlight the motivation at work in these movements. Many believe that man is a cancer on this planet and animals are innocent. Protecting the animals is only half of their motivation--culling the humans (abortion, euthanasia, genocide) is the other half.
R. B.
I will stand by my position this article has left a bad taste in my mouth about your website. The idea of animals having human rights does not say they are equivalent to humans in nature. It is just a strong method of protection. Giving rise in value to an animal does not lower value to a human. That is your belief. We do not live in a perfect world so laws are required to defend the defenseless. I have read the other comments and am not one bit surprised. Why is it such a burden to you that an animal is protected? Being endangered does not allow punishments that account for strong deterrent actions by those wishing animals harm. Giving an animal rights allows the justice system to more effectively punish and hopefully deter wrong doers. I think on this point you failed to teach the bible.
Lita Cosner
R., Nowhere in my article did I advocate any type of cruelty to animals. I didn't say that they shouldn't be protected from gratuitous suffering, etc. But giving them 'rights' that they could never exercise or understand actually sets a dangerous legal precedent.

The Bible teaches that humans are to treat animals humanely (for instance, one is not to muzzle an ox treading grain, and one is allowed to 'work' to help a trapped or injured animal on the Sabbath). And humans as God's stewards will be held accountable for how we treat animals. But they are not people, their value is not equal to that of people, and giving animals 'human rights' confuses the issue.
Gary N.
It is amazing that we can deny the rights of creationists to defend creation in some circles and schools but give rights to apes that cannot defend anything intellectual.
James T.
I just find this whole thing stupid.Why in the world would they want to give apes equal rights as humans?Will female apes now be able to abort their unborn child if they dont want it?Will they arrest an ape,if they kill or rape another ape?Its not like they have the conscientiousness to press charges.So whats the point of this?
R. B.
I was with you on every topic until now. Please stop grouping animal advocates with pro-choice. The world needs to be good to animals. If they must receive rights to be protected, so be it. Being an animal advocate in no way creates friction with God or mankind. There is no valid reason why this article needed to be published.
Lita Cosner
No one at CMI would condone any sort of animal cruelty. But there is a difference between advocating being kind to animals (while recognizing that they are animals) and trying to elevate animals to a humanlike level, which in practice lowers humans (or at least certain groups of humans).
Even worse, the legal system( the descendant of the old Pharisees) gave the same rights and standing to legal fictions, that living men and women have. In effect a dead thing has the same rights as a living man. Pure evil is what this is.
Thomas J.
Great article! The idea that man is just another animal is by now so deeply ingrained in almost everyone's mind that such concepts as equal rights for lower "beings" gain lots of traction even among professing Christians. The quote from Chesterton is so apt and welcome. I have long admired his penetratingly witty apology for the faith. Without fully agreeing with his theology I welcome him as an able cobelligerent at many
Diane A.
A sobering article, indeed! I believe this (Argentinian court ruling) will extrapolate to the 'at worse' of your conclusions - ultimately settling for another 'Nazi camp' scenario! How terrifying and yet it is all thought to be so progressive!
Gevara B.
I wonder if Richard Dawkins would vote for an ape to be his representative in the British Parliament or maybe for a fish being his ancestor regardless of the smell!!!
M. W.
Animals can't be given human rights they do not understand nor can they follow human rights laws, animals are God's creation and as God's children we are given the responsibility to manage and care for them without cruelty.

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