Wednesday, February 6, 2008

High Stakes Monkey Business

When a Vienna court recently declared that Matthew Hiasl Pan was not a person, the case didn't just end there. Matthew's supporters will appeal their case to a higher court. Absent a reversal there Matthew, who will soon be homeless, will not be able to receive personal gifts and could therefore wind up sold into what amounts to indentured servitude somewhere outside Austria. Some think he could even face deportation to his native Sierra Leone. The entire legal case stems from the bankruptcy proceedings through which Matthew's shelter will soon be closed.

The most stunning aspect of this story is that Matthew's case may be allowed to be appealed to the European Court of Human Rights. Though it only seems fair that Matthew should be allowed to argue for his own personhood, the case gets a little sticky when you consider one little detail about it.

Matthew, you see, is a chimpanzee.

Don't be too fast to dismiss this story as the nonsensical nuttiness that it really is. These people are serious. Their view is the natural conclusion that can be drawn from the denial of "human exceptionalism" -- an all-too-common view held by many Naturalistic philosophers. I have commented before on this subject and its chief proponent, Peter Singer. But it is important to remind ourselves about how these people think and why we should be shouting their views from the mountaintops.

I admire Singer for being one of the few philosophers who is willing to take Naturalism to its logical conclusion. Singer believes that valuing humans over animals is "speciesism." And he's right. If we are all just the random outcome of a totally naturalistic system of particles and natural forces interacting and mutating, human beings are no more important than any other living thing. A dog, is a rat, is a roach, is a chimp, is a boy. End of story.

But this view has further, more radical (if that is even possible), implications. Human cloning, pursuing chimeras (human-animal hybrids), Embryonic stem cell research -- all of these should be permitted without objection. Creating human embryos for the sole purpose of destroying them for the purpose of research should not trouble anyone because there is nothing special about human beings. We're just higher up the Evolutionary food chain than the rest.

The irony in all this is that humans cannot live their lives believing this way. Consider that the research in each of these cases is being done precisely because the therapies (in the case of ESCR) they promise, and the hybrids they seek, are being pursued to improve the lives of human beings -- precisely because those lives are so highly valued.

Though I can only pray that folks who are so deluded by these ideas will someday admit to the irrationality of them, I love it when these stories come out. They expose Naturalism for the empty, purposeless, unlivable system it really is. And they remind us, even those who don't know why, that to deny human exceptionalism is to deny the intrinsic value that empowers our lives -- our creation in the image of our Creator.

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