Sunday, July 27, 2008

Discovery Institute and Great Apes


The Dallas News published an excerpt from the Wesley J. Smith's Weekly Standard article, Granting apes rights will only devalue human life. Smith is a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute. 

I read the article was some interest. I do no know much about the effort to grant great apes human rights. The concept seems silly on the surface. I need more information before I form an opinion. Yet when the Discovery Institute spouts its pseudo-scientific screed on the subject, I know that I will end up taking the other side.

I read the excerpt. It is a classic slippery slope argument. If we grant great apes human rights, it will result in the destruction of Western civilization as we know it.

Why break the species barrier? To destroy the unique status of man and thus initiate a wholesale transformation of Western civilization.

Just in case people think the Discovery Institute has something to do with Science....

Specifically, by including animals in the "community of equals" and in effect declaring apes to be persons, the Great Ape Project would break the spine of Judeo-Christian moral philosophy, which holds that humans enjoy equal and incalculable moral worth, regardless of our respective capacities, age and state of health.

It's all about religion.


Wesley J. Smith said...

Several problems with your analysis: First, I am not at all involved in the intelligent design issue. I am a senior fellow in bioethics, which engages issues of ethics, philosophy, and values, etc.. I don't pretend to do science. I also don't do religion. I base my advocacy on the principle of universal human equality.

Second, Discovery does far more than ID, for example, promoting free trade among OR, WA, and BC in the Cascadia Project, opposing slavery and human trafficking as part of the human rights and bioethics project (in which I am involved along with others), and dealing with technology issues, just to name three.

Third, it was quite clear from the article that I was not writing of Judeo/Christianity in a religious sense. Indeed, the Declaration of Independence, to which I referred, is a statement that came out of Judeo/Christian values and Enlightenment thinking. Jefferson is stating that humans have rights based simply on being human. I support that principle. Peter Singer and the GAP hold that Jefferson is all wet.

I also wrote that some, like Richard Dawkins, support the GAP because they believe it will harm theism. But that was not my reason for opposing the GAP.

Fourth, it is hardly slippery slope when Peter Singer clearly has written, for example in Rethinking Life and Death that he wishes to dismantle the Judeo/Christian ethic--which he acknowledges has a secular meaning--for a "quality of life ethic--that would permit infanticide, non voluntary euthanasia, and the instrumental use of human beings such as advanced dementia patients, based on their purported non personhood. Allow that, and you can kiss universal human rights goodbye.

Giving apes rights, Singer wrote in The Great Ape Project would break the species barrier and permit us to begin judging moral value based on capacities rather than humanhood. Thus, the GAP is a crucial step on the road to Singer's utilitarian dystopia.

Finally, if you oppose something becuase the DI supports it, or visa versa, you allow the DI to do your thinking for you and establish your beliefs. That is hardly a way to generate deep thoughts. Or to put it another way: The DI is an adamant opponent of slavery: Does that mean you support it?

DromedaryHump said...

Oh please. The DI's raison d'etre is promulgation of Intel. Design. / Creationism, and spreading a false perception that the Theory of Evolution is on unstable ground. It promotes religion, specifically Christianity, under varying guises.

Everything else you proffer is window dressing and camoflage for DI's right wing fundamentalist philosophy and pseudo-science.

You can dress up / put lipstick on a pig...but its still porcine. The DI institute barely rises to that level. Please, save your indignation and protestations for your credulous flock.

DromedaryHump said...

Now..onto the "apes rights" question.

I think at face it sounds bizarre. Human Rights infers a rather wide span of issues: economic rights, i.e. the right to work; the right of free speech; the right to education; political rights, etc. etc. Obviously, in that context, extending "human rights" to these animals would be nonsensical

However, apes, being a higher life form and the closest relative to humans, sharing 98% of our genes, are (IMO) entitled to treatment that would not necessarily be afforded a cat, a frog or a snail. Is that a judgement statement, yes.

Humans have a moral obligation to treat lower life forms with some degree of ethics and morality. Not because of any scriptural directive, but because man has evolved ethics and morality about his environment and the life forms with whom he shares that environment.

Instinctively we reserve special treatment, a higher degree of empathy, to those life forms on the higher end of the evolutionary scale, and who have self cognition (albeit, it's debatable as to what constitutes self cognition).

Certainly I would support not killing and eating apes, nor subjecting them to experimentation that would cause them pain, nor taking them for their hides, or as trophies, or capturing them for the pet trade, et al. But "human rights" is either a misnomer / misunderstood, or misguided.
Thus, the DI's fears about weakening mans unique status sounds like a knee jerk reaction.

But, lets pretend some of the protections I do endorse were called "human rights". The protestations by the DI that it would somehow weaken man's unique status is just laughable and typical theistic nonsense. "Weaken" it so that it would what ... cease to exist? Go into reverse evoultion? Be subdued by the apes?

The reason the military was segregated until the late 40's was the fear by conservative religious nuts that Blacks would "weaken" the military. Today the reason Xtian Fundies and right wingers oppose homosexual marriage is that it would "weaken" heterosexual unions. As though the divorce rate among heterosexiuals will go up, or heteros couples will become gay, just because gays want to live in a married state with the same economic and social recogniton as straights.

Nah... with these fundie nuts it's all about their obsession with the Judeo-Christian mind virus and its scripture: about Man having "dominion" over animals; about the biblical "abomination" prohibitions against homosexuality; and about interpreting the bible to justify separation of the races.

It would all be laughable, if this weren't the 21st century. Now it's just pathetic

Wesley J. Smith said...

What is pathetic is ignoring facts to engage in diatribe.

The post to which I commented claimed I was pushing religion. I was not and do not.

As for the DI's prime reason for existing being ID, that is not what my experience shows. Its budget for other matters is, I believe, far higher. True, ID is what it gets most attention about from supporters and castigators, alike, but that doesn't make it so.

And like I said, the DI is adamant against slavery. Does that mean this post must defend it since apparently, those who attend here have a knee-jerk reaction to oppose whatever the DI supports, and support what it opposes. Hardly deep thinking.

Well: carry on with the ad hominem. I am sure it helps you sleep better at night.

DromedaryHump said...

wesley said:
"And like I said, the DI is adamant against slavery. Does that mean this post must defend it since apparently, those who attend here have a knee-jerk reaction to oppose whatever the DI supports, and support what it opposes."

LOL, even in blog comment discourse, a DI / ID advocate cannot summon up honesty.

The "slavery" bugaboo is a false dichotomy. You've offered it up twice already, thus one may logically assume it's one of the Dis. Inst's play book tacts.

Mussolini made the trains run on time, but it doesn't much exonerate him for his facist regime's hiddeous excesses.

That DI's ancillary activities and subgroups are simply a disguise for it's right wing religious objectives is rather transparent, and widely known. That you are compelled by your association to play the game is thus not surprising.

Thanks, but I'll form my opinion of, and objection to, the DI based on objective fact about it's objectives / mission, actions, distortions, and misrepresentations from varied sources of repute; not from one of it's minions.

DromedaryHump said...

I'm going to add one more comment...then walk away and let the good mr. smith have his final rant.

Re this disclaimer of Mr. Smith's: "I am not at all involved in the intelligent design issue. I am a senior fellow in bioethics, which engages issues of ethics, philosophy, and values, etc.. I don't pretend to do science. I also don't do religion."

Here's the problem. When one aligns onself with an intitution / organization whose primary reason for being is promoting far right concepts founded in freligiosity, and religious pseudo-science as a substitute for, or to be placed on a par with, real science AKA evolution, then one needs to accept the fact that they will be painted with the same brush.

The following analogy may appear extreme, but is employed only to clarify my point:
If in 1941, one voluntarily joined the Third Reich's SS as, say, a financial expert, knowing the mission, acts and reputation of the SS, then that person should be prepared to be labeled a confederate of anti-Semitic murderous, genocidal thugs, his protestations not withstanding.

The morale being: if one wallows with pigs, they shouldn't be surprised to be labeled unkosher... protestations of arms length wallowing not withstanding.

Yes, 2nd use of pig reference in this comment section. No "play book" dogma, it just works so well here.

Mojoey said...

Wesley - in response to your first post - I did not assert you were involved with the Intelligent design movement. I asserted something far worse. You are affiliated with the Discovery Institute. And because of your affiliation with an organization which holds a religious world view your position on any subject other than religion is suspect.

You may claim to not practice science or religion in the pursuit of your profession, be we can see your bias. It wraps every argument you present. The Discovery Institute has the same problem. We see you for what you are. Religion veiled in the guise of science, or in your case ethics.

I did not agree with your third point. Your argument is blatantly Christian. Mankind is special. Why? because god said so. You will not put it into those words, but that is your meaning. It is plain from your argument.

Human rights are innate. Extending them to apes is questionable. I'll make up my mind on the issue after I do more research. I will not reject giving apes rights on the basis of your argument. I understand how grant apes special status because would threaten the special relationship Christians have with their god. However, that is irrelevant. Christians will still have their special status no matter what we decide to do.

Your article is a textbook example of a slippery slope. You go from granting rights to apes to the end of Western civilization in a few paragraphs. The only thing you left out was bowing to our new ape overlords. I mean, come on... do you really think western civilization will sink into decay because it is no longer ethical to eat apes burgers or that we must treat apes less like common animals and more like damaged humans?

I'll make my mind up based on reasoned arguments. I'll look for bias first. That way I can be sure to discount the fundie who thinks the earth is 6000 years old or the ethicist who thinks granting apes some level of human rights is a direct attack on his religion. Understanding bias helps me understand why people like you stake our your positions while misdirecting your true position.

Once bias is detected, and yours are clearly stated by your affiliation with the Discovery Institute, your argument loses credibility. You are a feckless whisperer of lies. Emasculating the noble in our species by using the cleverness of your lounge. We know the master you serve. You arguments will always occupy the fringes of our culture. We need you there. Otherwise we would need to work harder to show children what "bad" looks like. You make it easy.

DromedaryHump said...

nicely said. kudos.

Mojoey said...

Thanks - your comments were spot on too.

Christa Brown said...

Mojoey: For your future research, you might want to check out They're doing amazing things with language-learning research -- e.g. mama apes who learned rudimentary language from complex picture boards teach the language (i.e., the human picture-board language) to their offspring. So much more is going on with the apes in Iowa than what most people would ever imagine possible.... I don't know what it means for us as humans, but it's all fascinating stuff.

Mojoey said...

Thanks for the tip Christa, I'll check it out.