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February 28, 2012

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There is no adequate claim to give rights to dolphins.

Nothing in the post supports this claim. Nothing in this post, for instance, should convince anyone that the following argument is unsound:

(1) Whatever is capable of feeling pain has a right to not have pain inflicted upon it merely for our entertainment.
(2) Dolphins are capable of feeling pain.
(3) Therefore, dolphins have a right to not have pain inflicted upon them merely for our entertainment.
(4) If dolphins have a right to not have pain inflicted upon them merely for our entertainment, then dolphins have some rights.
(5) Therefore, dolphins have some rights.

At most what this post would show is that one reason for thinking dolphins have rights (that they are persons) is not a good reason for thinking they have rights. From that it does not follow that all other reasons for thinking dolphins have rights are also bad.

This view of persons and rights is called "functionalism." Essentially, it's the idea that if someone or something meets the criteria of whatever functions count, then they're persons and deserve rights...This view leads to problems explained here. Personhood becomes a degreed kind of thing. The logical consequence is that some persons deserve more rights than others since they have greater functions. Also, whatever list of functions are given as the requirement for personhood, you can find counter-examples of people we'd want to count as persons but who don't fulfill the required functions. Functionalism just can't provide adequate grounding for rights.

Aristotle distinguishes “first actualities” from “second actualities” in his De Anima. He writes,

...soul is the actuality of a body as above characterized. Now the word actuality has two senses corresponding respectively to the possession of knowledge and the actual exercise of knowledge. It is obvious that the soul is actuality in the first sense, viz. that of knowledge as possessed, for both sleeping and waking presuppose the existence of soul, and of these waking corresponds to actual knowing, sleeping to knowledge possessed but not employed, and, in the history of the individual, knowledge comes before its employment or exercise. That is why the soul is the first grade of actuality of a natural body having life potentially in it.

Here it seems like Aristotle is saying something like soul (which is the form associated with rational animality in the case of humans) is present whenever rational capacities are present. He needn’t, however, commit himself to the view that rational animality is more present as those capacities develop and mature. He could very well think that what matters for qualifying as a rational animal is the mere presence of rational capacities. On this view, then, counting as a rational animal would depend on fulfilling some minimal functional requirements (since rational capacities must be present), and so this view might count as a kind of “functionalism.” It wouldn’t, however, entail that as a thing becomes smarter, it has the nature of rational animality more than it once did.

Similarly, although I don’t know that Aristotle talked about “personhood” at all, one could simply replace his “rational animality” with “personhood” and leave everything else untouched.

Also, I wonder what Melinda’s view of personhood is. Does she think there are persons? If so, what does she think persons are? She can’t very well think that persons and humans are coextensive, since she thinks that there are divine persons that are not human. So, what is it that angels, God the Father, and infants have in common in virtue of which they count as persons, according to Melinda? Is the answer found in the neo-Aristotelian view gestured at above, according to which personhood is determined by the presence of rational capacities?

Further, nature doesn't ground rights. You can't get an ought (rights) from an is (nature).

I think there’s probably some formulation of this sentiment that is correct, but the fact that this continues to be asserted in such a careless, unqualified way after WisdomLover has clearly pointed out that one can in fact correctly deduce a moral claim from entirely non-moral premises is a bit puzzling. Perhaps he will offer readers a chance to be taught.

Most animal rights activists are evolutionists. If our origin has no meaning, and our final destiny has no meaning, you can't conjure up meaning and value in between. The worldview expunges all rights, it can't support expanding them.

The truth of evolution is hardly relevant to the question of whether or not dolphins have rights, so I’m unsure why Melinda wishes to drag it into the conversation.

Malebranche,

You seem to be equating "having rights" with "being persons". This looks dubious. And what exactly do you mean by "having rights" and how would you argue for the first premise (which also looks dubious).

And naturalistic evolution obviously has relevance to "rights" questions since it creates a system in which we can't ground rights. So no naturalistic evolutionist could get the rights argument started.

Melinda,

One problem is that the sophisticated arguments against abortion (as I understand them) ground personhood in the natural capacities for these things(e.g. self-awareness). So the functionalist objection won't work.

Another problem is that Christian theologians (including Christian philosophers and apologists) have often explained the Imago Dei in terms of being self-aware, rational, etc. If Dolphins have these same properties and these properties are what it means to be made in the image of God, then Dolphins are made in the image of God.

Personally, I'm skeptical of the evidence that Dolphins even have said traits for (1) our tendency to over anthropomorphize (2) some scientists wanting this to be true, feeding into (1). Marc Hauser ring a bell?

Jonathan,

I didn’t give the argument for dolphin rights in order to defend it. I gave it merely in order to point out that nothing Melinda says in her post shows that there are no good reasons to think that dolphins have rights. Nothing in her post, for instance, shows that any of the premises in the argument I gave are false.

As far as equating having rights and being a person, I am doing no such thing. I was merely articulating a view, one which I do not necessarily hold, that is both (a) a kind of functionalist view, and (b) is immune to the degree objection that Melinda raised. According to this view (which again, I don’t necessarily hold), any rational animal is a person, any person has rights, and anything with rational capacities is a rational animal. I was saying that this view is not clearly vulnerable to the degree objection Melinda raised. Making that point, moreover, hardly commits me to equating having rights and being a person.

Finally, there is nothing “obvious” about the relevance of evolution to this discussion. What folks like Melinda are probably doing (and what you may be doing by qualifying evolution with that “naturalistic” label) is conjoining evolutionary theory with naturalism and inferring from this conjunction that there are no rights. But this inference is being made entirely from the naturalism conjunct! Folks like Melinda would make this inference regardless of what you conjoined naturalism with. Conjoin naturalism with the truths expressed in the phone book and Melinda will infer from that conjunction that there are no rights. But of course that does nothing to show that the phone book shows that there are no rights. It’s naturalism, not evolution or the phone book, that is doing all the work in that inference.

Now what some apologists would like to do is convince folks that naturalism is a constituent thesis of evolutionary theory, that way they can argue that evolution entails naturalism, which they think in turn entails that there are no moral truths. But the idea that evolution entails naturalism is false, and the only reason this falsehood has been maintained in the minds of some Christians is because of confusion about the concept of biological “randomness.” There is really no excuse for this ignorance, since folks like Elliott Sober and Alvin Plantinga have carefully explained that biological randomness is fully consistent with theism, and folks like Aquinas made the conceptual distinctions necessary to see through the equivocation on “randomness” that some biologists and conservative apologists seem committed to making. Fortunately, William Lane Craig has recently done his part to correct this mistake (i.e. equating biological randomness with lack of divine guidedness), a mistake that folks like Steve Meyer and Greg Koukl have popularized. You can find his remarks here:

http://www.reasonablefaith.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=9351

So Dolphins are non-human persons but human unborn are human non-persons! What a world we live in!

Hi Malebranche,
Once again I am overwhelmed with your prodigious display of knowledge.
I do not think you've done all you can here for your readers, though.

Would you please define "functionalism" and give the best case against? I'd appreciate that, thanks.
Since Melinda has come up short in presenting a case immune to it, would you kindly do that for her as well? If you can make her case stronger or better than she has herself don't you owe us that?

Since Melinda has come up short in presenting a case immune to it, would you kindly do that for her as well? If you can make her case stronger or better than she has herself don't you owe us that?

I'll do that once Koukl gives us a post or a radio show either fairly and accurately presenting some of the strongest evidenecs in supoprt of evolution or explaining how the concept of randomness employed in evolutionary biology is not the same concept as the notion of "unguidedness by God."

Just kidding!

Look, if Melinda wishes to argue that dolphins have no rights, then I think the best way to go about that is to fish in the Kantian or contractualist pond and hope you catch something. There are a lot of views in those traditions, and according to some of those views having rights depends on being the sort of thing that can access moral reasons or reasonably reject principles for the governance of our behavior. Those interested in those traditions might benefit from reading Immanuel Kant, John Rawls, or Scanlon's book "What We Owe Each Other." After reading those books, perhaps Melinda will be in the position to defend the following argument:

(a) A thing has rights only if that thing is the sort of thing that is capable of giving and resopnding to reasons.
(b) Dolphins are not the sorts of things that are capable of giving and responding to reasons.
(c) So, dolphins have no rights.

I'm sure that's not the best argument in favor of that conclusion, but that's what came to mind off the top of my head.

Just kidding!
See you easily you got the point?
I'm sure that's not the best argument in favor of that conclusion, but that's what came to mind off the top of my head.
Really? You can't do better than advise her on a reading assignment? With your expertise in philosophy and the efforts you advocate one make when presenting both sides of an argument I think you could do a much better job than that.

I think that you just don't care to do so because you have an agenda to misinterpret STR in the worst possible light at every opportunity.

Malebranche,

You say "I gave it merely in order to point out that nothing Melinda says in her post shows that there are no good reasons to think that dolphins have rights."

Yet the argument you gave doesn't look like good reasons. So you haven't even done what you set out to do, as far as I can see.

Melida's post was focused on the reasons the article gave. If she just removed the last sentence, it looks like you would have nothing to gripe about.

You say, "As far as equating having rights and being a person, I am doing no such thing."

Yet when you said "At most what this post would show is that one reason for thinking dolphins have rights (that they are persons)" it looks like you are indicating that "they are persons" is what you mean by "have rights" or that the two are interchangeable.

You say, "Finally, there is nothing “obvious” about the relevance of evolution to this discussion."

From what I've heard from STR, they do hold to some form of evolution (compatible with ID). Maybe I'm mistaken, but if that is the case then Melinda obviously wouldn't have meant evolution as such or simpliciter, but what IDers call "Darwinism" or as I put it, naturalistic evolution.

You say, "But this inference is being made entirely from the naturalism conjunct! Folks like Melinda would make this inference regardless of what you conjoined naturalism with."

As though there are naturalist who are not also evolutionists...

You say, "Now what some apologists would like to do is convince folks that naturalism is a constituent thesis of evolutionary theory, that way they can argue that evolution entails naturalism, which they think in turn entails that there are no moral truths."

I don't know anyone who argues that way. Which apologists do you have in mind and could you give me some quotes?

You say, "Now what some apologists would like to do is convince folks that naturalism is a constituent thesis of evolutionary theory, that way they can argue that evolution entails naturalism, which they think in turn entails that there are no moral truths."

I don't know anyone who argues that way. Which apologists do you have in mind and could you give me some quotes?

Well I should qualify my claim a bit. It's mroe accurate to say that many apologists argue that evoultionary theory entails that God did not providentially and purposefully guide nature's development. Claims like that are easy to find. Look no further than Greg Koukl:

In natural selection, specific circumstances in the environment allow a particular individual to survive and reproduce, passing its mutated genes on to the next generation. Serendipitous conditions in nature, not God, make the “choice” about what survives. Now, if nature is selecting, then God is not selecting. The two are at odds with each other. What could be more obvious?

Either God designs the details, or nature shuffles the deck and natural selection chooses the winning hand. The mechanism is either conscious and intentional (design), or unconscious and unintentional (natural selection). Creation is teleological; it has a purpose, a goal, an end. Evolution is accidental, like a straight flush dealt to a poker rookie.

Theistic evolution means design by chance. That’s like a square circle--there is no such thing. (from http://str.typepad.com/weblog/2010/04/theistic-evolution-designed-by-chance.html)


Here Koukl is clearly confusing the biological notion of randomness (which is just the idea that the proximate physical causes of the genetic mutation do not cause the mutation in order to benefit or harm the host) with the notion of having no divine guidedness or purpose. He seems to think that the theistic evolutionist is committed to the mutations being both purposeful and purposeless, but all the theistic evolutionist is committed to is the idea that God guided a process which contains randomness in the biological sense of that notion, and that, unlike the idea of a circle square, is plainly coherent! Anyone that reads William Lane Craig's article which I gave the link to above will clearly understand the difference between purposelessness as lack of divine guidance and purposelessness in the sense of biological randomness. I'll past his comment below for those interested.

Notice also that Craig seems to concede that Steve Meyer and other apologists have made this blunder.

Craig's Comment

I disagree with Steve Meyer’s statement because the terms “undirected” and “purposeless” are not being used univocally by the theist and the evolutionary biologist. If they were, then evolutionary theory would be enormously presumptuous, since science is just not in a position to say with any justification that there is no divinely intended direction or goal of the evolutionary process. How could anyone say on the basis of scientific evidence that the whole scheme was not set up by a provident God to arrive at homo sapiens on planet Earth? How could a scientist know that God did not supernaturally intervene to cause the crucial mutations that led to important evolutionary transitions, for example, the reptile to bird transition? Indeed, given divine middle knowledge, not even such supernatural interventions are necessary, for God could have known that were certain initial conditions in place, then, given the laws of nature, certain life forms would evolve through random mutation and natural selection, and so He put such laws and initial conditions in place. Obviously, science is in no position whatsoever to say justifiably that the evolutionary process was not under the providence of a God endowed with middle knowledge who determined to create biological complexity by such means. So if the evolutionary biologist were using words like “undirected” and “purposeless” in the sense that the theist is using those words, evolutionary theory would be philosophy, not science (which is precisely what some theists allege).

But the evolutionary biologist is not using those words in the same sense as the theist. This fact, unacknowledged by both critics of theistic evolution and apologists for naturalistic evolution, became clear to me in the course of my preparation for my debate with Francisco Ayala on the tenability of Intelligent Design in biology. According to Ayala, when the evolutionary biologist says that the mutations that lead to evolutionary development are random, the meaning of the word “random” is not “occurring by chance.” Rather it means “irrespective of their usefulness to the organism.”

Now this is hugely significant! The scientist is not, despite the impression given by popularizers on both sides of the divide, making the presumptuous philosophical claim that biological mutations occur by chance and, hence, that the evolutionary process is undirected or purposeless. Rather he means that mutations do not occur for the benefit of the host organism. If we take “random” to mean “irrespective of usefulness to the organism,” then randomness is not incompatible with direction or purpose. For example, suppose that God in His providence causes a mutation to occur in an organism, not for the benefit of the organism, but for some other reason (say, because it will produce easy prey for other organisms that He wants to flourish or even because it will eventually produce a fossil that I will someday find, which stimulates my interest in palaeontology, so that I embark upon the career God had in mind for me). In such a case, the mutation is both purposeful and random.


I suppose it would be unconscionably gauche for anyone to admit that they think humans have both rights and consciousness, etc., due to the imprimatur of Imago Dei (that is, Z caused X and Y, rather than X or Y causing one another)? Cetaceans, great apes, bacteria, etc. don't have that, and thus have only whatever rights are ensured by our (also God-given) responsibility to "good stewardship" (whatever that may be).

Exactly, Bennett.
"Rights", it seems to me, are assigned by Someone. They entail morality and imply responsibility and duties. As the OP suggests, duties are not prescribed by nature.

If dolphins have rights then what duty befalls other dolphins, or sharks, or whales, or anyone else who harms them? What does nature have to say about that?
If the duties implied by their rights oblige only humans, then where did those duties come from (if not from God)? Only from our own imposition. So these are not rights, but are favours, or privileges, granted by man. They are not discovered truths, but fashionable statements of sentiment.

Indeed. It would seem that outside of the human species, a living critter has and respects only those rights which can be defended. Which makes them not rights at all. Sure, they may favor their own in-group, but that's hardly what we're talking about. There seems to be a confusion between a right and a niche.

"Indeed."
Whew. :)

Malebranche,

Thanks for the quotes (though I've heard this line from Craig before).

But I don't think this scores your point. Koukle is talking about Natural Selection in that quote and not evolution per se. And that quote doesn't say that he thinks that naturalism entails evolution per se.

In regards to Craig's quote, it looks a bit naive. For one obvious reason, many evolutionists (with degrees in biology and familiar with the jargon of biologists) do understand the "random" in "random mutation" to be a metaphysical notion of "chance" and "unguided" in the ordinary senses of those terms and not in Craig's.

I have a standard textbook on biology. Nowhere does it even bother to define the word "random," but if this is a piece of biological jargon then this is exactly what it should be doing (after all, it has a glossary dedicated to such biological jargon and uses the word "random" many times). The text nowhere indicates that the word is being used in a non-ordinary sense.

So Craig's point that "the evolutionary biologist is not using those words in the same sense as the theist" just looks false. Maybe in some occasions the evolutionary biologist (particularly if said biologist is a theist) is using the word in that sense, but there are many occasions where we don't find this.

Agreed, Jonathan.
When Dr. Miller was busted for saying in his textbooks that "evolution" is unguided and random (these two words pair in such a way that they are virtually synonyms) he admitted that this was a metaphysical claim, put in by his co-writer, and that it would be removed. But the language appeared in edition after edition.
Dr Craig is right, there is just no way that the science can make such claims. But the scientists do - all the time.

I think in arguments like these, it's fair to ask how God guides things. For example, I'd say he guides my life in many ways: the example of Jesus Christ's life, the inspired writings of the Bible, the stirrings of my innate conscience, the ability to think and reason with which he gifted me, and the calling of the Holy Spirit are just a few means of which I am more or less aware.

On the other hand, he may also have other means of guiding me--arranging circumstances such that I'm presented with certain choices, leading me to meet certain people who will influence me (or vice versa), making it so I miss that bus that would have led me to a job interview I wasn't supposed to make. I probably don't see quite a lot of what God does to guide me, and I'm just one dude.

So how might God be guiding the lives of every creature on Earth? If, as Gould posits, it's the organisms who determine which genes go forward (as opposed to Dawkin's view that genes determine which organisms thrive), then if God is leading the life of every living thing, he's very much in control of evolution, without a need for any sort of miracle which we would find obvious (or helpful in doing biology).

Daron,

To say that science cannot speak on these things is just a naive view of science. By the same token, you'd have to say that science can't speak on causes. But then the entire evolutionary theory (including all other areas of science) collapse.

I've explained this in the other thread too.

Bennett,

No one is doubting that God could control evolution. The doubt is whether this could be "random" and whether trying to redefine random in the way Craig and others are wanting to do is legitimate or just an ad hoc attempt to have your cake and eat it too.

I didn't get your point on the other thread, either, Jonathan. I look forward to your making it understandable.

I think Mal’s argument is immediately defective (sorry Mal). It is not the case that animals have, or even need, rights per se, but rather that humans have a duty not to make animals suffer for their entertainment, among other things. Animals do not understand the concept of rights, can never claim them for themselves, must work unknowingly through human proxies (a dubious prospect), and are incapable of ordering themselves to comply with any corresponding duties that flow from these magically delicious “rights” anointments. Lucky Charms indeed. If the notion of rights pursuant to “pain inflicted… merely for our entertainment” applies, there are a lot of ants, flies, spiders etc whose rights are being violated by kids throughout the world every day… What would the red Queen say? or maybe this is just a higher mammals Rights Club?

Humans, dolphins, killer whales (or I guess the more politically correct designation - Orcas), chimps, orangutans, [fill in too your hearts content] are all in The Rights Club, but the rest need not apply. So, for those others who have no “rights” does this imply that it is permissible for them to suffer for our entertainment? No, it doesn’t. Why? Because we have a duty to stewardship among other things.

How about we deal with sex tourism (as only one very glaring atrocity among many that should garner a meaningful discussion on rights) and operationalize the rights of these young victims who are already people (this is certain) and who apparently already have rights (at least as defined by law) before we wander off into a fairytale land to give to dolphins that which many people still do not seem to have in any practical sense. Theoretical rights are a small comfort when we find ourselves in the hands of evil people whether we be people or animals. People need rights; animals need humans to recognize their duties to animals.

JustChatting,

Good point. Many academics really don't give a damn for people *or* animals' rights--they reserve most of their love for abstractions and ideas.

A contractualist view of rights does not give what I (as an atheist and utilitarian) assume is the intended consequence from a christian viewpoint. Contractualist rights are only available for creatures with the capacity for symbolic thinking which is absent in embryos, fetuses and severely mentally disabled.

The only way to justify rights to all humans (defined as a being with a human genome or whatever one wants) and strictly limit them to humans would be to arbitrarily assign them to humans, regardless of the functional equivalence of some other beings with some humans.

The trouble with this way of doing it is of course to justify why a being that is functionally equivalent in every conceivable sense to a nonsentient embryo should not receive the same rights. The utilitarian way is self-consistent and grounded (this is the weakest link, where we resort to intuitionism when choosing the utility function to maximize) in observable properties of creatures, but it is of course totally incompatible with christian antropocentrism.

Antiantropocentrism tends to be at the core of science (similar to and inspired by the cosmological principle), which need not necessarily have moral implications. We who do not believe in god however have no reason not to transfer this assumption into the moral realm since it makes the axiomatization of ethics easy.

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