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Cooking chicken or human – what’s the difference?

January 29, 2015

Last year I heard a dreadful story from Queensland of a man Marcus Peter Volke who is believed to have killed, dismembered and “cooked” his girlfriend Mayang Prasetyo in their Teneriffe unit. It is a really awful story and I don’t want to trivialise it in the slightest. But this incident brings out a serious problem in atheist moral systems.

The other day I ate a chicken sandwich. The chicken was killed, dismembered and cooked and placed on a bread roll that I had for lunch. Yet there was no outcry, no police enquiry, and no news reports. Millions of people eat chicken every day and it is completely morally acceptable.

Now my question: in the atheist universe, why is cooking a human different to cooking a chicken?

There appears no fundamental difference. A chicken is matter and energy and a human is matter and energy. Both are the same, neither has any intrinsic value. Hence it seems inconsistent and unjustified within an atheist system for there to be an outcry at the murder and cooking of human DNA.

I put a similar dilemma to an atheist recently where I asked him what the difference was between between cooking chicken and child abuse. He responded by saying that we feel more empathy towards children, but this answer is unfortunately inadequate. It fails to overcome the fundamental value problem. If a child is simply matter and energy, as are rocks, stars, chickens, computers and trees, there appears to be no rational basis for valuing human ‘matter and energy’ over chicken ‘matter and energy’. There appears no fundamental difference between cooking a human and cooking a chicken.

Atheism struggles to overcome the value problem precisely for the reasons Richard Dawkins outlines in some of his famous quotes. Firstly, that the atheist universe is amoral when he claims that:

The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference

Secondly, he shows the indifference of DNA where he says that DNA doesn’t really value anything:

“DNA neither cares nor knows. DNA just is. And we dance to its music.”

Exactly! In the atheist universe things just are and that’s it! There is no essential difference between cooking a chicken or a human. There is nowhere written that cooking a human is wrong or that humans have value. Both are DNA, both are matter and energy, both just ‘are’ with no intrinsic value.

This is an offensive thing to say and I’m sure that some atheists reading this will vigorously disagree. But I’m keen to hear the rational reasons for disagreement. I can’t see a rational way of justifying human value in an atheist moral system.

Yet the Christian understanding of human value is very different. The Bible claims that humans are different and special – they are made in the image of God. Moreover human dignity and value is reinforced through the incarnation, God coming to dwell as a human amongst us. This reinforces the ultimate in dignity and value of people. Within the Christian framework there is a fundamental difference between a human and a chicken. Human dignity can be rationally justified.

I recognise that perhaps our care for humans may be something of empathy or solidarity, bur I wonder if it explains it all? I wonder if deep down we know that humans are special? Or is this simple wish fulfilment and I need to just ‘get over’ cooking humans for lunch?

So my questions, how can an atheist can assert and rationally defend human dignity and value? What is the difference between cooking a chicken and a human?

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From → Comment, News

11 Comments
  1. What is the difference between your morality and atheist morality? Very simple: You claim that morality means “god wants it”. But of course, you cannot prove that. You could be totally wrong. God could not exist. Or want something totally different. Als long as you are not God yourself, you cannot be sure. Perhaps the whole Christian morality is just a lie of Satan for goals you aren’t even capable of understanding?

    Well, let’s be simple here: Morality is a human concept. You claim it is more, but as long as you cannot prove it, that claim is as worthless as me claiming that this pile of dirt I have here is absolutely beaufiful and you should pay me a million bucks for it.

    So, now we stand here both with our pants dropped, having a moral system but without any absolute basis to use. We cannot point at some natural law and claim, that this is the basis: Me not, because I don’t believe there is, you not, because while you may believe it, but cannot prove it.

    But now the big difference. An atheist can accept that. He can starting searching for a basis for morality. What should it do? Should it, for example, make society stable? Should it maximize human happiness? Choice. Ours. Why do you presume that this worse better than taking one random moral system (based on rules from 2.000 years ago, mangled through the brutality of millenia to become what it is now) and putting a stamp “God wants it” onto it? At least, the atheist version can be checked, improved, discussed, etc. Yours cannot. It has to claim to be absolute dogma while masquerading the simple fact that it changes all the time.

    Trying to find absolute morality is like finding an absolutely delicious meal. It doesn’t exist. And we don’t need it. Sure, our meal might not be perfect. But that doesn’t mean it cannot still be good. And it’s preferable to eating 2.000 old dung because that what some guy said “God wants”. Or perhaps it isn’t. Who knows? You don’t.

    And if we look at reality, then we see the simply fact that being religious does not prevent you from being a monster. Obviously, if there is absolute morality, no religion yet has found it or a way to be sure.

    Absolute morality doesn’t even make sense. Either God says to do something because it is good – or it is good because God says to do it. In the first case, “good” exists outside of God and the second case is simply obeying orders, like a machine, without justification, just because.

    No, sorry, morality is just something humans define and while we won’t find the perfect solution, we always can strive to do better. As long as nobody claim that dung is absolutely tasty, it works. Oh, and btw: Human sacrifice is a very religious concept. Remember that daddy who would have killed his son because some God claimed it was good? Is that really what you want morality to be? Thoughless obedience?

    • So, just to be clear, you’re saying that the only ethical difference between eating a human and eating a chicken is one of personal choice? And we’re free to define cannibalism as morally equal to eating anything else?

      • Technically, no. Without any specific ethical reference system, the question for a difference doesn’t make any sense. You need an ethical system first, then you can see if actions X and Y are different (according to this system). Without such a system, your question is completely meaningless. And as I already mentioned, your chances of finding an absolute system that would be true without a reason, are quite slim.

  2. I’m both atheist and vegan. My guess would be I’d use the same argument against eating chicken that I’d use against eating animals, neither of which came from religion.

    • Oops, I meant ‘humans,’ not ‘animals.’ I don’t really have to type ‘eating humans’ that often. Simple mistake.

    • Thanks for the comment. Just wondering what the actual argument against eating meat is?

  3. I don’t have an argument against eating meat. Personally I think it’s gross, and I also try to live a life that causes the least amount of harm as possible, but my views are mine and not subject to universal acceptance.

  4. I’d say a bit of a straw man here, Rob. Humans and chickens are composed of DNA but I no more think that humans (or chickens, for that matter) are “just” DNA than I think that a Shakespeare play is “just” a bunch of words.

    I was going to deal with your more general point about morality, but I can’t improve on Twisted Inspiration’s post.

    • Frances. I appreciate your comments – always appreciate them. But I must confess I am a little confused (and this is what the post was commenting on). On what basis can you distinguish between DNA of a rock and of a human? Is there any objective difference between a human and a chicken? That’s my question and confusion. I am happy to admit if I’m wrong and it is a straw man, but I’m struggling to see how it is actually a straw man.

      I hope that makes sense and I look forward to seeing what you think.

      • Rob,
        I’m no scientist, but I think I’m right in saying that a rock doesn’t have any DNA. I believe (although I stand to be corrected) that only living organisms possess DNA.

        But is there any objective difference between human DNA and chicken DNA? Well, yes. Again, whilst I fully concede my lack of scientific “smarts” I think that scientists can easily tell human and chicken DNA apart.

        OK. I do know that that’s not what you’re really getting at. I think you want to know: why do I attribute an importance to humans which I don’t to chickens? Is there any objective basis for regarding a human life as more important than a chicken life?

        I think there is. But it depends in part on what you mean by “objective”. I can’t remember if I’ve sent you this link before:
        http://instruct.westvalley.edu/lafave/subjective_objective.html
        It’s been my go-to article on the subject (no pun intended) ever since someone sent me a link to it about a year ago.

        Theists (and some atheists, to be fair) are apt to assume that if there’s not a God pronouncing on subjects like morality or importance, then there can’t be any objectivity. But I just don’t see it. Why do you believe that? Is it objectively true? If so, how would you prove that it’s objectively true? Do you need God to make the truth of your statement “Value judgements like morality and importance require God in order to be objectively true” an objective truth? Or could that statement be objectively true, independent of God’s existence?

        How could God’s opinion “make” chickens more important than humans? If chickens were in every way the same and humans were in every way the same, God could just decide that he considers chickens more important? And then they’d *be* more important, because God’s opinion somehow makes it objectively true?

        I hope that answers your question to some extent. The chemical make-up of humans, rocks and chickens is obviously only a part of the picture. There are huge differences which have nothing to do with God or souls and it’s those differences which inform my views on their relative importance.

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  1. Justifying Morality Without God: The Difference between Humans and Chickens | The Godless Theist

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