Genesis 1 verse 26
26 Then God said, "Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground."
As an animal researcher, considering the welfare of animals is an almost daily occurrence, I have to make day to day decisions about what is and what isn't ethical (something often very ambiguous).
Even after 8 years of animal research, I still find it unpleasant to conduct it. However I continue because of the broader benefit to humanity (which I have discussed previously).
Yet there is a fine line between human benefit and animal welfare. This emphasised by a recent lawsuit on the behalf of a chimpanzee called Tommy by the Nonhuman Rights Project.
Tommy, 26, is being held in a solitary cage-like environment with little but a small TV. Yet, unlike what you might expect, the lawsuit is less about welfare, and more about individual liberty. The suit is for a common law legal right; the same that is afforded to humans.
I certainly agree that the situation for Tommy is unjustifiable; there is certainly no benefit to the captivity of Tommy to any person or to himself. However, I believe the issue in not of deprivation of liberty, but of being poor 'caretakers'.
Genesis 1 verse 26 indicates that we were created to rule over the Earth. Furthermore, we hold a special place in nature, we alone are created in the image of God. Giving nonhumans human rights not only robs humans of their specialness, but ironically removes our obligation to care for the Earth.
I interpret our specialness is not an excuse to plunder or abuse God's creation, but to protect it, because all God created is considered 'good':
Genesis 1 verse 31 "God saw all that he had made, and it was very good."
The tragedy of Tommy, and of other countless abused animals is not about their rights, but our poor keeping of the Earth resulting in the suffering of God's good creation.
Not only does giving non-humans make no sense, (do we expect Tommy to obey human laws and contribute to society, and even vote?), but it devalues our role as caretakers. Not only do we have right to care for all animal and plants, but for the climate and every aspect of nature.
Far from removing the burden of suffering for human animals, human rights for nonhumans removes our obligation as caretakers.
Nathanael Yates from Perth, Western Australia, is an award winning young scientist completing a PhD in the neurobiology of schizophrenia
Nathanael Yates' previous articles may be viewed at www.pressserviceinternational.org/nathanael-yates.html