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User:Philip J. Rayment/Why eating meat is not immoral

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This is an essay by Philip J. Rayment.
Please comment only on the talk page.

A reply to "Why You Shouldn't Eat Meat", by AD

Philip J. Rayment


User AD has expressed his views on why people should not eat meat, concentrating on what he sees as the moral reasons, although also covering a range of other reasons.

Some of his arguments (as well as some of the arguments he rebuts) are based on an evolutionary worldview, and are therefore invalid (assuming the biblical worldview is correct). This response is primarily a response to his moral arguments.

User AD, who, in the original version of his essay, later stated categorically "I'm an atheist", starts his statement on his views with this:

My main argument against eating meat is that it causes a sentient and feeling creature to suffer and die merely because of taste preference, and that is unethical and morally repugnant.

The questions I wish to raise here are:

  • Are animals sentient?
  • What makes something morally wrong?
  • Is it wrong to eat a sentient creature?

Are animals sentient?

Whether or not animals are sentient is a difficult question, probably because of an unclear definition of the word "sentient". Some dictionary definitions available on-line are:

  • capable of feeling things through physical senses[1]
  • 1 : responsive to or conscious of sense impressions 2 : aware 3 : finely sensitive in perception or feeling[2]
  • capable of perception and feeling[3]

According to these definitions, at a minimum, sentient means being able to feel. Well, animals certainly do feel. But some definitions go further, and mention perception. This implies a brain to understand. Do animals understand? Well, perhaps, to some extent at least. Traditionally, however, sentience has been considered to be something that humans have and animals don't. But there has been a shift, with many people now considering at least some animals being sentient. Yet animals do not perceive or understand in the same way—or to the same extent—that humans do.

Influence of evolutionary worldview

One of the main factors driving this view that animals are sentient is the evolutionary worldview. According to this view, humans are animals which have evolved a little more. A core belief in this view is that humans are not qualitatively different to animals; instead, we just have more of what animals have.

Therefore, evolutionists continue to stress the similarities between animals and humans, and downplay or ignore the differences.

At one time it was thought that only humans make tools. But, the evolutionists tell us, chimpanzees also make tools, one reason for believing that we are closely related to them. Of course they usually omit to add that creatures very distantly related to humans (according to their view) such as crows also make tools, and are better at it than chimps.[4]

But the difference between animal tool use and human use of tools—including machinery—is vast, and not usually highlighted.

Evolutionists have tried to teach chimpanzees to use language, and have trumpeted their meagre results. Others, despite the desire to shown the similarity between humans and chimps, have highlighted the ability of parrots to not only have a large vocabulary, but to create new phrases.

But they never highlight that no animal uses proper grammatical language and abstract thought. Readers may note that every single post in this encyclopædia was submitted by a human, not an animal, but the evolutionists won't point that out. For that matter, only humans ponder whether it's right to eat meat.

Even if all these distinctives do disappear, there are still crucial differences between animals and humans. Humans—and not animals—were made in the image of God, and have an eternal soul.

See more on this difference between humans and animals below.

What makes something morally wrong?

According to the atheistic worldview, there is no such thing as right and wrong. Not, that is, in the sense that User AD talks about.

He actually addresses this claim, and argues against it:

You don't really believe that morality is decided by majority vote. If you were transplanted to Virginia in the eighteenth century, you'd take a stand and become an abolitionist. If you were plunked into ancient Rome and had the opportunity to watch debt-criminals be forced to fight for your amusement, you'd run for praetor and try to eliminate the practice. Some things are wrong, some things are right.

And he is correct. But the real question is, why is he correct?

His argument is that there is such a thing as right and wrong because everyone believes that there is such as thing as right and wrong, even if they are unwilling to admit it. Clearly, however, this argument lacks the force of logic. All it really does is show that people do not always act rationally according to their beliefs.

Richard Dawkins admitted the lack of basis for right and wrong in a debate with Jaron Lanier:

Jaron Lanier: ‘There’s a large group of people who simply are uncomfortable with accepting evolution because it leads to what they perceive as a moral vacuum, in which their best impulses have no basis in nature.’
Richard Dawkins: ‘All I can say is, That’s just tough. We have to face up to the truth.’[5]

The biblical viewpoint is that there are such things as right and wrong, because there is a God who makes such moral standards. The fact that, deep down, people really do believe in right and wrong is really evidence that God exists. If God exists, then His views on eating meat are relevant.

And His revelation to us (the Bible) is that He created us to be vegetarian, and we will return to being vegetarian, but after the flood He also gave us permission to eat meat.[6] If God has given us permission, then there is nothing morally wrong in eating meat.

Is it wrong to eat a sentient creature?

We all (with trivial exceptions) believe that it's wrong to eat humans. But why is it wrong? Part of User AD's argument is that it is just as wrong to eat animals as it is to eat humans. But why not instead argue that as we eat animals, it's okay to eat humans?

The biblical view is that man is made in the image of God. We have no right to kill humans (including ourselves), with the exceptions of self-defence (which includes war), and punishment for crimes (by appropriate authorities). This same restriction is not given for animals, which are not made in the image of God.

So the distinction is not between sentience and non-sentience, but between being descended from Adam (the first human) and being descended from living things other than Adam. Sentience, at least if that is defined in a way that allows it to include animals, is not the criterion.

Other issues


In the original version of his essay, User AD addressed a claim that some might make that God gave humans dominion over animals. His argument was that this doesn't mean that we have to eat animals. He was correct in this. However, that we don't have to eat animals doesn't mean that we can't. And as pointed out above, we have permission to.

Included in his argument was that dominion doesn't mean being cruel. Again, he is correct, and this is borne out by the historical fact that the RSPCA was founded on Christian principles[7] (a point that he's since added to his essay).

But again, avoiding cruelty does not mean that it is wrong to eat animals.

Does humans being different give us the right?

Above I make the argument that humans and animals are distinctly different, contrary to the picture usually painted by evolutionists. It might seem that User AD has already addressed this argument, in the section titled "People are special because human beings are the only rational animals, and our capacity for reason and reflection gives us the right to decide."

However, what he addresses is the claim that we have the right to eat animals because we are different. I am not making that argument. Rather, I'm countering the evolutionary argument that animals and humans are on the same continuum by pointing out some of the large differences, and also pointing out that humans and animals were created differently. I'm also separately pointing out that we have the right to eat meat because God gave it.

The "it's natural" argument

User AD addresses the argument that some would make that it's natural to eat meat, justified on the examples of the animal kingdom and evolutionary history. As a Christian, I would agree with him that something being natural doesn't make it right. However, it's not so clear that an atheist can make that argument, and in fact many people do make that argument in other contexts. For example, the legitimacy of homosexuality is often supported by the fact that it occurs in the animal kingdom. Similarly, many people have used the claims of evolution to support a ruthless "survival of the fittest" mentality. If we are not judging our actions based on the standards of our Creator, then why not point to our claimed evolutionary history or nature as justification for our actions?

He could respond that just because some people make that argument doesn't make it right. But he has also argued that there is evidence that the Golden Rule works because most cultures have endorsed the principle:

"... it is better for oneself to live in a culture where hurting other people is not tolerated, overall it works out to be in one's own interest to treat other people the way you would like to be treated. That's why almost every culture has its own formulation of this principle of reciprocity..."[8]

Many have endorsed the evolutionary principle of survival of the fittest, that the strong must out-compete the weak. Does that mean that that principle is also true?

It's not true, but for reasons that User AD can't agree with, being an atheist.


Quite a few of User AD's arguments are sensible, such as his arguments that something being natural does not make it right. And perhaps the arguments about the nutritional value of meat vs. plants are correct. I'm not sufficiently familiar with those argument to address them.

But the arguments from morality fail because they are based on evolutionary thinking.


  1. Macmillan dictionary
  2. Merriam-Webster dictionary
  3. Collins dictionary
  4. Crows out-tool chimps, Creation 25(4):7–9, September 2003
  5. Evolution: no morality (Dawkins), Creation 20(3):44, June 1998.
  6. Genesis 9:3
  7. Christians urged to remember animal welfare pioneer William Wilberforce, Ekklesia, 1 October 2007.
  8. This comment was made in a separate, although related, discussion here.
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