Abortion and Animal Rights: Two Sides of One Coin
Maria L. Boccia
The two topics, abortion and animal rights, seem to be worlds apart, and it is surprising to many that those who are vigorous advocates of animal rights are also vigorous advocates of human abortion. But I believe there is a common source of both these positions. Both are grounded in a non-Christian, evolutionary worldview.
The rise of evolutionary theory in the mid-nineteenth century has had a wide-ranging impact on most areas of human thought, life, and culture. A naturalistic, materialistic worldview has replaced the Christian, creation-based worldview.
Within the Christian worldview, human beings hold a unique place in the creation: We are created spiritual beings, made in the image of God (Gen. 1:26), and uniquely the object of God's salvific attention (Ps. 8:3-5). We were given the mandate to be His vice-regents in the earth, to be stewards over it and to have dominion and subdue it (Gen. 1:28). This mandate has not been revoked, although it has been distorted by the Fall and is being redeemed in the Christian church, a process which will not be completed until the renewal of all things at the end. Two of the results of this world view are first, the sanctity of human life and the recognition of a fundamental distinction between animal and human life, and second, the importance of the careful and respectful treatment of all members of God's creation.
First, that human beings are uniquely made in the image of God and have a soul whose eternal destiny is in the hands of a sovereign God should give everyone pause in considering how they treat their fellow human beings. The decisions we make and the way we treat each other should be grounded in the recognition that the other person is made in God's image. Abortion is abhorrent because it destroys a person made in God's image. Many other issues in the treatment of others should also be grounded in this knowledge, including physical and sexual abuse of children, wife-battering, drunkenness and drug abuse, etc.
Second, the cultural mandate to have dominion over and subdue the earth is not a blanket permission to exploit the earth to our own profit without any consideration to our impact on the earth. We are merely stewards of God's earth; He is the owner. As such, we will have to account for our use of His resources when we stand before the Judgment Sect, knowing that those who destroy the earth will be destroyed by God (Rev. 11: 15-18). Knowing this, we should consider carefully every choice we make in the way we use the resources He has lent us. Furthermore, with the Fall, our ability to fulfill this mandate has been seriously distorted and disrupted, but not revoked. When our first parents fell, they placed themselves under the dominion of Satan, and the result has been the permeation of sin into all areas of human endeavor, including cultural. We can see some of the effects of this in the rapid growth in the rate of extinction of species due to human intervention and habitat destruction, as well as the incredible amounts of pollution we have created. Christians, however, as the redeemed of the Lord, should be in the forefront of the fight to undo these effects of the Fall, and bring the effects of our redemption to the rest of creation (Rom. 8:19-21).
Our responsibility to God for our stewardship of the creation is not the only reason for carefully considering how we treat it. The whole of creation reflects the eternal attributes of God (Romans 1:20). As such, it has intrinsic worth and dignity, which we, as the children of God, must respect and cultivate. Thus, when we use animals, and other resources which God has provided, in our efforts to relieve human suffering in disease, or whatever, we have a responsibility to treat those animals humanely and respectfully, and minimize their pain and discomfort. We must recognize, however, that because human beings are made in the image of God, and are the objects of His plan of salvation, the relief of human suffering must come before the needs of animals.
The evolutionary worldview presents a completely different view of the world. There is no supreme Creator to whom we will be held accountable for our actions in the creation. The single principle which justifies all actions is survival. All species' worth is measured by their success in adapting to and surviving in whatever environment they find themselves. It is the ultimate in self-centered, selfish systems.
There is, furthermore, no value distinction between humans and animals: human beings are just one species of primate, which has had an unusual degree of intellectual development and biological success. The evolutionary worldview gives no basis for preferring one species over another, even one's own: the bottom line is biological survival; reproductive success.
There are two possible consequences of this worldview. First, one may lower human beings to the level of animals: human beings are nothing but naked apes. Hence, abortion is just the ridding oneself of an undesired bit of primate flesh. Second, one may raise animals to the level of human beings. All species have evolved equal, and all have the same right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Hence, the extremism of the animal rights movement, and the development of the derogatory expression "speciesism" to indicate giving precedence to humans over other species.
The Christian response to both these movements must begin with an understanding that the fundamental problem is a distorted view of human nature. We must address the non-Christian worldview which has given birth to both these distortions, and uncover and proclaim the error of this view. We must rephrase and reframe the Christian worldview and present it to the unbelieving world so that it can be understood to be the Truth which it is. Until and unless a person recognizes the unique position of human beings, created in the image of God, and vice-regents appointed by God to have dominion over the earth, even in our fallen state, real progress in both these areas will be extremely limited.