The official blog of University of Missouri Skeptics, Atheists, Secular Humanists, & Agnostics

You’re an animal!

Please keep in mind that the point of the blog is not to accuse anyone of being a bad or immoral person.  Also, please like our page on facebook!

The vast majority of our meat, dairy and eggs come from AFOs and CAFOs (factory farms).  These systems cause the confined non-human animals considerable pain, distress and suffering.

This blog will not argue that eating meat is inherently wrong nor that killing non-human animals is inherently wrong.  These as not our positions.  This blog will debunk some non-religious defenses to eating meat from the factory farming system.

In 1975, Peter Singer wrote Animal Liberation which, in part, explores how and why eating non-human animal products from the factory farming system is morally wrong.  We suggest reading this book if you eat meat, eggs or dairy products.

Here is part of Penn and Teller’s Bullshit episode on PETA, full of straw-mans, bias, fallacies and, of course, bullshit.   Our position is not the same as PETA’s, but the arguments used to dismiss PETA are often the same arguments used against our position.  Also, Penn and Teller’s bias in favor of humans is pathetically obvious.  They even think that humans can physically best chimps.  Adorable.

1)      “Vegetarians/vegans kill animals too!”  True.  Everyone inevitably will be in some way responsible for the death of other animals.  The death of non-human animals is not at issue here.  Rather it’s the suffering.

2)      “Humans are smarter than other animals.”  This is true in relation to most humans and most non-human animals.  But certainly no one would seriously argue that all humans are smarter than all other animals.  Even if that were true, it still wouldn’t be a moral justification for not treating other animals ethically.

3)      “We need meat to survive.”  Well, not exactly.  Humans are omnivores and we are more than capable of eating meat substitutes and non-meat foods that provide essential nutrients.  Even if this were true, it doesn’t justify the system, but rather the eating of meat, which is not at issue.

4)      “Not eating meat is unhealthy.”  False.  Plenty of vegetarians are healthy.  There are a plethora of options for nutrients to supplement a meat-free diet.   Also, the morality of eating meat in general is not at issue.

5)      “Humans are at the top of the food chain.”  This is the might makes right fallacy.  An animal’s position on the food chain should not affect whether it is treated ethically.

6)      “Animals are cruel to each other in nature.”  This is the naturalistic fallacy.  Just because something occurs in nature does not make it morally permissible for humans.  Mallards gang rape females, but we don’t conclude it is moral for humans to gang rape female mallards.

7)      “Eating meat is natural.”  This is the naturalistic fallacy.  Again, whether something is natural has no affect on whether or not it’s moral.  However, we’re not saying eating meat is wrong or unnatural.  The system which produces our meat is immoral (and unnatural!).

8)      “Animals cannot act morally, so we cannot be expected to extend our morality to cover them.”  This is a form of special pleading.  Babies can’t act morally, but certainly we agree that babies should be free from abuse, torture and rape.  Just because an agent cannot act morally does not mean it should not be treated morally.

9)      “Humans are special.”  Certainly, humans are special.  But every animal is special in some way.  Those birds of paradise are amazing!  This is actually the most reminiscent of a religious argument.  If you believe in evolution, you know that humans are the product of completely natural processes, just as every other animal is. There’s nothing supernatural about us.  We have no souls, we were not created in a god’s image.  We are animals.

10)   “Our ancestors ate meat.”  This is true.  They also sacrificed virgins.  This is not a basis for a moral claim.

11)   “Animals can’t suffer the way humans can.”  This is a red herring.  The issue isn’t whether other animals suffer the same way as us, but whether they can suffer at all.  Not all humans can suffer to the same degree as other humans.  Even if non-human animals suffer differently from humans and less than humans, this doesn’t mean that the suffering they do experience can be discounted.

12) “Isn’t the horror of the factory farming industry an aesthetic value rather than a moral one?  It looks disgusting, but does that make it morally bad?”  How it looks has nothing to do with whether it’s moral or not.  It’s immoral because these animals have complex central nervous systems that enable them to experience substantial amounts of pain, and they actually experience great pain.  So even if you think it is pretty (as some do with bullfighting) causing this kind of unnecessary suffering is immoral.

We are greatly interested in hearing feedback from the skeptic community and would love to engage in dialogue on this issue.  We’re sure there are other (hopefully better) defenses that we’d love to hear and address.

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14 comments on “You’re an animal!

  1. Dave Muscato
    July 16, 2011

    What would you say to the following?

    – “The suffering of animals is a small price to pay compared to my satisfaction from eating meat, because I am capable of enjoying the taste and convenience of meat to a greater degree than they are capable of suffering”?

    – “I just don’t care about the suffering of animals. Bacon tastes good.”

    – “I am an omnivore as homo sapiens have always been as far as I know. I don’t understand how that is a topic of humanism.”

    – “It’s my feeling that our bodies are biologically tuned to eat meat, why not eat it?”

    – “I feel like not eating meat, is denying my body the nutrients it wants.”

    – “Animals don’t have ethics. If we were to take it to the extreme, we should stop animals from killing other animals, no?”

    Just curious for your thoughts. These are real statements from friends of mine. I’ve responded to them already, but I’m interested in how you would address them.

    • jlayk
      July 16, 2011


      The only one that would be difficult to argue is the one where the person says “I don’t care about the suffering of animals,” since suffering is the root of moral thought. If a person genuinely does not care, it would be pointless to make him care.

      I will not offer thoughts on the others, as they appear to be naturalistic fallacies or missing the point.


      I’d like to establish that Penn and Teller are magicians and performers. They intend to entertain, which they do fantastically. They do not intend to articulate actual arguments. If you’d like an example about how absurd this is, if you were to grab a Family Guy episode, analyze it, and conclude that it was full of ad hominems, fallacies, bias, etc., you’d be doing the same thing.

      • maggiesaurusmay
        July 18, 2011

        I didn’t see them performing much magic the BS episodes, and I can’t remember them stating they had no intent to articulate actual arguments. In fact, I don’t know how you came to that conclusion from watching their shows. They obviously very strongly believe in the topics of their shows, they are both fellows at a libertarian think tank and often present libertarian viewpoints on an issue, they feature several “experts” on the topic, they put forth multiple viewpoints on the given topics, they start with a premise, spend the entire show “proving” it and then draw a conclusion. I’d say that sounds like they are articulating actual arguments, though doing so poorly as I pointed out. I’m wondering, do you have some kind of special information which I am not privy to that explains that Penn and Teller don’t actually intend to make arguments during the episodes?

        I actually find it quite absurd that you would compare my critique of BS to a critique of Family Guy. Other than the fact that the shows are intended to entertain, what else is similar about the shows, making my critique absurd?

    • Tony Lakey
      July 16, 2011

      The argument from bacon is one I hear almost every time the topic gets brought up.

  2. maggiesaurusmay
    July 17, 2011

    “The suffering of animals is a small price to pay compared to my satisfaction from eating meat, because I am capable of enjoying the taste and convenience of meat to a greater degree than they are capable of suffering”
    We don’t base morality on hedonism or egoism. We think that it’s dangerous to base morality on what individuals enjoy. A system based on hedonism and egoism says that Mr. Murderer can murder Ms. Jones as long as his pleasure exceeds her pain in doing so. Nobody wants that. To avoid this conclusion, caveats need to be added, then things get messy.

    The claim in itself is bold. In order to make such a claim, the person making it would need to provide some kind of proof. How does this individual know the degree to which non-human animals suffer? Any evidence we do have actually suggests that the animals suffer to a much greater degree than the pleasure gained from a meal. They have complex central nervous systems, they exhibit pain avoidance behavior and signs of suffering in ways similar to humans: crying, screaming, shivering (not from cold), cowering, etc. The parts of the human brain that experience pain and emotional distress are shared by most other mammals (pigs, cows) and birds (chickens).

    – “I just don’t care about the suffering of animals. Bacon tastes good.”
    This is not a moral claim. I have no doubt many people hold to this ideal, but we’re trying to show what is moral. Of course, I could make comparisons that this person would probably disagree with and then challenge him/her to explain the difference. IE: I just don’t care about the suffering of slaves, cotton feels good. I just don’t care about the suffering of children, these Nikes look cool. I just don’t care about the suffering of women. Rape feels good. In order to show how these claims are immoral, but the original is moral, the person will need to explain why the suffering of humans matters, but the suffering of non-human animals doesn’t matter.

    – “I am an omnivore as homo sapiens have always been as far as I know. I don’t understand how that is a topic of humanism.”
    Morality and ethics certainly are topics of humanism. When food causes suffering, what we eat becomes an issue of morality. Good without God, and all that jazz.

    – “It’s my feeling that our bodies are biologically tuned to eat meat, why not eat it?” You can eat it. Eating meat that comes from factory farms is at issue, not the eating of meat by itself.

    – “I feel like not eating meat, is denying my body the nutrients it wants.” It’s not. This is a provable fact. It is possible that there is some kind of medical condition in which one must eat meat, but again, eating meat alone isn’t at issue.

  3. How To Play Jazz
    July 17, 2011

    Most of us are programed to eat meat and not care about what the animals have to endure. It’s not bad to eat meat. If it were not for meat, civilization would not have lasted as long. Warriors have had to eat meat during war times. Athletes no doubt need the protein in meat. Some people like meat and some don’t.

    Jazz Songs

    • Dave Muscato
      July 18, 2011

      “Athletes no doubt need the protein in meat.” – I used to run 30 miles/week on a vegetarian diet. You need a lot of protein to be athletic, but there are plenty of non-animal protein sources. It’s really B12 and iron that are harder to get without eating meat, not protein. Harder, but not difficult if you have access to any modern grocery store, by the way. Four-time Mr. Universe winner Bill Pearl was a vegetarian. NFL Hall of Famer Joe Namath, Martina Navratilova (tennis player with 18 Grand Slam titles), and NBA Hall of Famer Robert Parish are all vegetarians. Perhaps my favorite example is Dave Scott, arguably the fittest man in the world, who holds the record for the most Iron Man Triathlon World Championship wins ever (2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike ride, and then a 26.2-mile marathon run, back-to-back-to-back while on the clock) – he won 6 Ironmans on a vegetarian diet.

      “Most of us are programed to eat meat and not care about what the animals have to endure.” – Most of us are programmed to rape and not care about what the woman has to endure, too. In ancient Israel, the only “punishment” for a rapist (so long as his victim was a woman and not engaged or married) was that they were forced to marry each other. But we have bigger brains than that, and the ability to reason and overcome our urges. This is, at best, a naturalistic fallacy.

      “If it were not for meat, civilization would not have lasted as long.” – Arguable in the past but actually it’s the opposite now. Eating meat is less efficient than eating a vegetarian diet. The environmental cost alone in raising meat for human consumption, according to Peter Singer, should be enough to persuade anyone interested in protecting the environment to go vegetarian.

      “Some people like meat and some don’t.” – Some people like torturing animals, too. If we’re arguing morality, that doesn’t justify the behavior.

    • maggiesaurusmay
      July 18, 2011

      How to Play Jazz: I can’t tell if you actually read any of the blog post. Most of the “arguments” you make were addressed in the original post and are actually fallacies. See #3, 4, 7 and 10 in the blog. Also you say that it’s not bad to eat meat. The blog addresses that too: “This blog will not argue that eating meat is inherently wrong nor that killing non-human animals is inherently wrong. These as not our positions. “

  4. Jerry Winn
    July 19, 2011

    I’ll bite. I genuinely don’t think the suffering of animals is important. For that matter, I don’t think the suffering of infants is important beyond the vicarious suffering it causes other adult humans. Likewise, I think the only way that animal suffering is even remotely problematic is the vicarious suffering it causes those who are sensitive to animal suffering (and to expound on that, if we weren’t around, nobody would be around to care about their suffering). However, I know many people who are prone to practice this sort of anthropomorphism of animals (i.e., attributing human characteristics like cognition and complex emotion to them) which as far as I can deduce is not based on truly rational humanistic philosophies.

    I’ve studied developmental psychology quite a bit, and to my knowledge the highest intelligence any animals achieve (with perhaps some statistical exceptions) is less than that of a kindergartner. Frankly, my own suffering at that age was pretty inconsequential, so it’s hard to empathize with lifeforms who will never develop beyond that. The line we draw even for an animal that deserves rights is pretty arbitrary (e.g., many people who don’t want to eat chickens have no problem swatting a fly or squishing a spider), and many of the ones people defend can’t even pass basic tests of sentience. In my mind, intelligence is clearly the metric by which rights should be conferred (and my statement about infants extends to the mentally retarded), and no animal meets that requirement for me.

    I think there are certain situations where connections to lesser intelligences (be they people or animal) are reasonably important enough that rights of protection should be extended to them, but that those rights are essentially rights to protection of property and not inalienable. Essentially, the connection of one person to the animal entity (to include the distinction of personhood, which if anyone is familiar with abortion arguments, they are probably already aware of) is only important so long as a person is willing to accept the animal entity as property and be accountable to its well-being (in this way human orphans demonstrate further exceptionalism in that they will eventually develop their own personhood). While I’m sure it would be nice for those persons who are attached to animals if they could care for all the world’s animals, I think they should just acknowledge that not everyone anthropomorphizes animals or can rationalize their rights, nor should they be expected to. I might even go so far as to say that ideally, a person should not care about animal rights.

    At the very least, I think any particular attention to animal rights beyond the considerations for human well-being is a waste in light of the egregious human rights issues that still prevail. So I guess what I’m saying is that even -if- their suffering matters, it’s so far away from a priority to me that I can’t even in good conscience acknowledge it as a problem when doing so is only meaningful if it impacts the distribution of effort and resources, which I don’t think it should.

    • Seth Kurtenbach
      July 19, 2011

      Hey Jeremy,
      You said, “However, I know many people who are prone to practice this sort of anthropomorphism of animals (i.e., attributing human characteristics like cognition and complex emotion to them) which as far as I can deduce is not based on truly rational humanistic philosophies.”

      Here’s the basis for attributing the ability to suffer and feel pain in a morally significant way to non-human animals.
      1. The non-human animals that are used to mass-produce meat in the CAFO system are avians and mammals.
      2. Humans share relatively recent common ancestors with avians and mammals. In particular, the parts of the human brain that experience pain and some emotional suffering developed in those early common ancestors; we share many relevant parts of the brain with avians and mammals.
      3. When in situations that would be painful to a human or cause a human to suffer, non-human animals exhibit similar pain/suffering-avoidance behavior.
      4. The ability to experience pain and suffering has an evolutionary benefit: it encourages the animal to avoid harmful or otherwise damaging situations.

      So, they have the same relevant parts of the brain, they exhibit behavior that one would expect if they were in fact feeling pain and suffering, and the ability to feel pain and suffering has an evolutionary benefit. The best explanation of these data is that the non-human animals do in fact experience pain and suffering. The conclusion is based entirely on rational inference and evolutionary biology.

      However, not to commit the genetic fallacy, but you should examine the foundations of your intuitions that non-human animals suffering is either non-existent or insignificant. This tradition in our culture to deny non-human animals such moral significance traces back to Descartes, who denied that non-human animals had souls, and maintained that they were merely mindless automata. This, combined with the Christian view that humans had god-given proper dominion over the non-human animals, encouraged a cultural speciesism which regarded non-human animal suffering with apathy. Even though you are no longer a Christian, I think you still have some views about non-human animals that are a relic of your cultural past. You should carefully examine those views with a skeptical disposition, and see if your intuitions that non-human animals can’t suffer, or that their suffering doesn’t matter morally, wins out.

      A completely secular moral view cannot appeal to god for justification. Some members of the humanist movement take it as a given that all and only humans matter morally. A skeptic should question this claim. What is it, exactly, about humans, that matter morally? If one thinks that causing a human unnecessary pain and suffering is wrong, then it is hard to see why intelligence matters. It is not due to our greater intelligence that a broken nose hurts. It is reasonable to identify unnecessary pain and suffering as at least one type of moral badness. But, due to the reasons I laid out above, we have good reasons to believe that the non-human animals raised for meat/dairy production are capable of experiencing pain and some levels of suffering. Without begging the question that humans are all that matter morally, it is rational to extend our moral consideration to those non-human animals that can suffer. In fact, attributing moral significance to avians and non-human mammals is not only based on rational naturalistic philosophy, it is demanded by it once one tears down the religiously motivated doctrine that humans are divinely placed on an exceptional pedestal.

  5. maggiesaurusmay
    July 19, 2011

    I worry that you have either misread or wholly misunderstood the point that was being made. You continually talk about “rights.” We never talk about animals having rights (nor humans for that matter). We don’t believe in rights. Where do rights come from?

    Where did we attribute complex emotions and human characteristics to animals?

    Why is intelligence the only thing that matters? There are some people who cannot feel pain, but otherwise are fully functioning. If we have an adult human who can’t feel pain, and an infant child who can feel pain, according to your maxim it would be completely okay/moral to slap the infant child in a secluded room where no one will ever know, but it wouldn’t be moral to slap the human adult. Do you see any problems with this moral code?

    You seem to think that you did not suffer much as a kindergartner, therefore animals cannot suffer. Were you beaten as a kindergartner? Starved? Locked in a cage in which you could barely move? Force-fed with a tube down your throat until you died? Taken away from your mother? I’m guessing not. However, if those things had happened to you, I bet you would have suffered a great deal. Maybe you weren’t terribly intelligent, but you still had a complex nervous system which is more than capable of feeling pain, and great amounts of it at that.

    Also, spiders and flies don’t have complex central nervous systems, and there’s some debate as to whether they feel pain at all. Even so, flies and spiders live their lives in their natural environment and when we squish them, they die rather quickly. If you can’t see the difference between that and the system which tortures over 6 billion mammals and birds a year…well, then again, you’ve missed the point of the post.

  6. Pingback: Pigs can’t fly, but they can probably feel pain « The Official MU SASHA Blog, Updated Daily

  7. Jerry Winn
    July 19, 2011

    My post was not necessarily intended to directly address the points made in the post, but to add an ancillary perspective. I did, however, infer that if one were to draw conclusions from these arguments, it would be that animals should be protected. I think that’s how most people would interpret it even if you say not to. It becomes a question of “So what?”

    Other things addressed in the more recent topic.

  8. Anonymous
    August 24, 2011

    Another way to argue against the usual “It’s the food chain” fallacy is to remind that person that food chains create food webs. There is no top and bottom of the web, which means there are no tiers of life. We may kill micro organisms everyday, but micro organisms are also killing humans every day.

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This entry was posted on July 16, 2011 by in Author: Maggie May, Author: Seth Kurtenbach.

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