A Bunch of Bigoted Arrogant Prats
To anyone who has ever experienced that unfathomable sense of awe when they realise just how stupendously big the universe actually is thoughts surely move on to whether we are alone. The Drake equation says probably not, but in any case, even if the universe is teeming with life forms at least intelligent enough to hold the same thoughts, the distances involved (as well as the rate of expansion) might forever preclude any physical contact. But let’s wish it were so and imagine.
Travellers from a distant star system arrive in Earth orbit and announce themselves. They call themselves Zogloids. They come in peace. A delegation of Zogloids is invited down to Earth to meet a cross-section of dignitaries and experts from all fields of endeavour and investigation. On Monday, they might meet with physicists, theoretical physicists and cosmologists. They’ll surely have much to discuss, from the relative mundanity of alternative propulsion systems for space travel to the more cerebral subjects such as gravity and quantum mechanics, the beginnings of space-time and the possibility of a multiverse. Tuesday might see the visitors meet with our best mathematicians and philosophers with whom they will undoubtedly have fruitful discussions about the nature of mathematical axioms and their various proofs, and we might even get to settle the worn-out questions about the universality (or not) of logic and qualia and whether an actual infinity is at all possible. The next day, it might be the turn of chemists and biologists and we will all be able to compare notes on subjects such as abiogenesis and the various mechanisms underlying the evolution of the diversity of species on both our worlds. On Thursday, engineers might be able to take advantage of the Zogloid’s superior knowledge of structural forms and composite building materials. On the final day, representatives from the various sects of the world’s three monotheistic religions may be invited to introduce our guests to some of our religious beliefs. Some of these representatives will no doubt inform them that we can be certain that human beings alone have been purposely made in the very image of the God that created the entirety of the universe, including the Zogloid's own planet and solar system. The influential fundamentalist Christian pastor Ken Ham, ever the bigot, has the aliens sized up before they've even landed:
"The Bible, in sharp contrast to the secular worldview, teaches that earth was specially created, that it is unique and the focus of God’s attention.............the Bible makes it clear that Adam’s sin affected the whole universe. This means that any aliens would also be affected by Adam’s sin, but because they are not Adam’s descendants, they can’t have salvation............Jesus did not become the “GodKlingon” or the “GodMartian”! Only descendants of Adam can be saved. God’s Son remains the “Godman” as our Savior. In fact, the Bible makes it clear that we see the Father through the Son (and we see the Son through His Word). To suggest that aliens could respond to the gospel is just totally wrong."
To be fair, not all Christians might agree with Ham. According to Aquinas, man's essence is "a reasonable animal", i.e., a being capable of reasoning. This theoretically leaves the Catholic door open to acceptance of aliens as human equals. But Ken Ham won't agree with Aquinas, he's stated plainly that "our views contradict the Council of Trent." Nevertheless, it won't be long before the Zogloid's realise that human beings can be a bunch of bigoted, arrogant prats.
But potentially it gets much worse. What if our scientific exchanges revealed that, gram for gram, the Zogloids would provide 10x the nutritious value of any food source naturally available on Earth? Thus, if we farmed them for food we could forever alleviate hunger in the third world, and do so very cheaply. Putting aside anything the Zogloids might have to say on the matter, surely this would be a morally wholly unacceptable means of achieving this laudable goal? For most sane people, undoubtedly yes. But to Ken Ham and those who follow him, would it really be morally unacceptable to farm and eat the Zogloids?
These people also hold to an extreme an anti-abortion stance; i.e., disallowed regardless of circumstances. Their argument is, essentially, that it is an objective fact that 'personhood' or 'ensoulment' begins at conception and so a zygote, never mind a foetus is, in every way, a complete and full individual human being, deserving of the same rights afforded to human beings already born. There is an important corollary of this argument: all of the perceptual, emotional, and cognitive abilities possessed by human beings which separate us from all other species can therefore play no role in determining personhood. All that matters is whether we are genetically human; other attributes (or lack of) can be of no importance when making moral evaluations. Therefore, to remain consistent in their views must also agree with the following argument:
1. The Zogloids are not descendants of Adam and so genetically, they are a non-human species.
2. From (1): the Zogloids are not eligible for salvation.
3. From (1) and (2): any individual Zogloid are morally inferior to any individual human being.
4. From (1), (2) and (3): the moral status of the Zogloid species is no different to any other non-human species.
5. Therefore: there exist no logical or moral grounds for human beings not to farm and eat Zogloids.
Now it might be argued that we should not farm and eat the Zogloids on the grounds that they are moral agents, i.e., they are capable of moral judgements and actions based on some account of right and wrong. However, assuming the above argument, this proposal would fail:
1. Human beings are capable of understanding right from wrong.
2. Human beings alone have a duty to follow a transcendentally-derived truly objective account of morality emanating from Jesus.
3. Human beings alone are held accountable for their moral judgements and actions by Jesus who determines whether they deserve salvation (or not).
4. From (1), (2) and (3): Human beings are moral agents.
5. From (1), (2) and (3): Non-human species are not moral agents.
6. From (2), (3) and (5): Zogloids are not moral agents.
7. Therefore: there exist no logical or moral grounds for human beings not to farm and eat Zogloids.
It might also be argued that we should not farm and eat Zogloids on the grounds that conferring personhood in human beings does not require the ability to be a moral agent. Perhaps, then Zogloids might be considered, on the basis of their advanced cognitive abilities, to be non-human persons. Assuming the above two arguments, this view would also fail:
1. Human beings possess personhood from conception as an objective fact.
2. Therefore: Personhood is conferred in the absence of cognitive abilities of any kind.
3. From (1) and (2): if Zogloid cognitive abilities are then used as the criterion to confer personhood upon them this would be merely a subjective definition of personhood.
4. If the same criterion for personhood suggested in (3) was applied to human beings, personhood could not be considered to start at conception and so no longer be based on objective fact.
5. Therefore: We can have no objective criteria with which we can confer personhood onto Zogloids.
6. Therefore: there exist no logical or moral grounds for human beings not to farm and eat Zogloids.
The pious, Bible-believing Ken Ham and his fundamentalist chums can now enjoy Zogloid steaks, smothered with their favourite picante moral source.