The argument for Veganism from a scientific and moral perspective rather than from beliefs

118


Discussion by: cybervegan
I’m trying to clarify my thoughts and reasons for being vegan, from a scientific and moral perspective, rather from the standpoint of “beliefs”.

I’m a committed vegan, and have been for over 20 years now. I’m also an atheist, and have been for even longer. Over the years, I’ve often had to defend my position on veganism, so I’ve got quite good at arguing my case. However, I have previously often used “belief” as an argument. I’ve often been told that veganism is akin to a religion, which I generally haven’t tried to refute, mainly due to the advantage of the “false reverence” that religions get favoured with. However, I’m re-thinking this position, after recently reading TGD. I want to discard the belief argument and replace it with some better, more scientific reasoning.

I’m specifically NOT looking for arguments against veganism – so please don’t clog up the discussion with arguments in that direction.

My reasoning so far:

1. The human body is not well equipped to deal with eating or digesting meat – our teeth are the wrong type, our gut is too long and our metabolism is too alkaline. I’m not denying that we have survived the ice-ages, and at least to an extent been shaped by our habit of eating meat, and that in particular, it is possible that our brains might not have developed to their current size and capacity without a meat-based diet, but I also hold the view that this has been relatively speaking so recent in our line of descent that in evolutionary terms, we have not yet made most of the required adaptations to be considered proper omnivores, let alone carnivores. Furthermore, we lack the natural tools for killing and eating prey – we lack the requisite speed, agility, claws and teeth for taking down any prey of sufficient size to be useful – Ozzy Osbourne’s famous Hamster eating habit doesn’t really qualify.

2. Even disregarding all the physiological evidence, we evidently DO NOT NEED meat or animal products in our diets to be healthy. Although I’m only one example (there are many more however) I’m still here today after 20+ years of veganism, and I am healthy, apart from some excess fat! (I’m working on that). I’ve recently had my “health test for old geezers”, and my blood glucose, cholesterol and blood pressure all came out fine. I’m sure there are many counter-points where vegans who have not paid the right amount of attention to their diets have suffered as a result, but that’s different from a vegan diet per se being deficient. In fact there is mounting empirical medical evidence that a plant-based diet is far more healthy than anything containing animal products.

3. Even disregarding the first two points, a vegan diet is more sustainable and less demanding on the environment than a meat-and/or-dairy based diet, with a vegan diet taking about a 10th of the resources – land, water, fuel etc. – to maintain. So from an ecological stand-point, veganism is the best option for the future – our world resources can  sustain a much larger population as vegans than omnivores. People often point out that this or that “essential vegan foodstuff” is environmentally unfriendly – for example deforestation of the rainforests to grow soya beans – but they ignore the fact that the majority of soya produced is used for animal feed.

4. Capacity for suffering – any creature with a nervous system is capable of perceiving pain, and thus suffering; it is also evident (and science is now proving) that many animals also share the capacity for conciousness and sentience, even if they don’t share the SAME levels as humans do, so where should you draw the line? If animals are not biological automata; if they feel complex emotions such as pleasure, anger, fear, sadness, anxiety; if they show complex social behaviours such as altruism, co-operation, self-sacrifice, leadership and following, friendship, pairing, loyalty and even “morals”, as we do; if they exhibit responses to pleasure and pain – aren’t they entitled to respect on that basis?

5. Because of our huge and capricious brains, and our “refined sense of morality”, we can CHOOSE not to knowlingly and intentionally exploit other species, just because their flesh tastes good or they produce secretions that we like.

So with that, over to you… would you add anything? Do any of my points not hold water (and why) ? I undoubtedly need to think most of these through more – can you suggest how?

[Edited to bring it more "on topic" for this forum -cybervegan].

118 COMMENTS

  1. Just out of interest, are you a “dietary” vegan or a militant vegan? My definition of militant vegan is someone who goes to extreme measures to avoid using animal products, like not using leather products etc. I have tried both and from my experience they are both tough, especially being a militant vegan.

  2. I don’t have time to write a lengthy comment, but let me just say I’m well aware or veganism, and even if I’m not one myself, I cook vegetarian only, and that is my main source of food. I usually eat meat or fish when I eat at family’s, friend’s, or restaurants. Which is not that often (1, 2 or 3 meals per week).

    Your point 1 doesn’t seem very sound. I would have to check, but if I’m not mistaken, meat is easier to diggest. That point will NOT convince anyone.

    Point 2 is a good one, but most people will simply deny it. You can be a healthy vegetarian. That’s a fact.

    I fully agree with points 3, 4 and 5. And those are my main motivation for limiting my meat consumption.

  3. The way you phrased the question you are already not taking a scientific approach. You are starting with a predetermined conclusion: that people should be vegans and then looking for arguments to support that position. If you want to be scientific you need to be open to the possibility that being vegan may not be right for everyone.

    I’ve been mostly a vegetarian for most of my adult life. For me its a combination of all the issues you discussed, its better for the planet, for the individual, and factory farming is insanely cruel to the animals. I still eat fish once in a while and will eat meat sometimes (e.g. I go to a friend’s house and all they serve is meat). The arguments for vegan as opposed to vegetarianism were never all that compelling to me.

  4. If you are not looking for arguments against veganism then you are not sincerely looking for the truth.

    1. The human body is WELL equipped to eat cooked meat. Our digestion handles meat just fine. We ARE naturally equipped with the tools to hunt prey – our brain which helped us develop the tools we use to hunt. Our teeth are perfectly suited to the diet of an omnivore. We like meat because it is good for us. Vegans have to carefully watch what they eat to make sure they get all the proteins required for good health.

    2. Most people eat more meat than they need, but for most people some meat makes for a healthier diet than a vegan one.

    3. Can’t argue against the fact that raising meat takes more resources than growing plants.

    4. If causing suffering to cows bothers you, fine, don’t eat them. It doesn’t bother me. I do want the suffering to be minimized.

    5. I don’t think animals have any rights. I have no moral qualms eating them. I do want to ensure their suffering is minimized when they are slaughtered. You shouldn’t abuse animals because it diminishes your own humanity.

    I would never try to talk someone out of being a vegan as long as it is not affecting their health. Out of the handful of people I know that have tried a vegan diet all but one gave it up because their health suffered. It takes a lot of planning and dedication to eat a healthy vegan diet.

    Being a vegan isn’t something that you need to defend. It harms no one. If you are being honest you have to admit there is no objective scientific reason to be vegan other than conserving resources. Humans ARE naturally equipped to eat and digest cooked meat, and in moderation it is VERY good for your health.

    The moral reasons all depend on animals being deserving of having rights. Not having had a good conversation with any animals that convinced me they are even close to being worthy of rights, I have no moral qualms eating animals. I am ready to listen to evidence that some “higher” animals deserve some limited rights.

  5. In reply to #5 by canadian_right:

    If you care about the suffering of animals that rules out all factory farmed meat, those animals are treated abysmally, and that rules out 99% of the meat in most grocery stores.

  6. Red Dog is right. Stating that you will not tolerate arguments against veganism while listing five so-called reasoned claims for veganism isn’t the typical format I am familiar with in what ostensibly is supposed to be a discussion.

    In other words, I have less qualms with your five points (even if every single point you made was determined to be the best constructed rationale) than the rules of engagement.

    Mike

    1. The human body is not well equipped to deal with eating or digesting meat – our teeth are the wrong type, our gut is too long and our metabolism is too alkaline.

    False. I have never eaten meat, and so I never can. I have zero ability to eat meat. I lack the proper enzymes and am effectively allergic to it. I can make all my complex proteins out of rice cakes and soy sauce (bit of an exaggeration). If a meat eater tried to convert to my diet, they would be very unhealthy (loose teeth, sickly pallor, depression, anemia, etc). We have dynamic metabolisms that respond to the environment. There are many ways of looking at the process of metabolism, and in many ways meat the most optimum.

    The problem is you are idealizing, which is its own problem but especially when trying to apply it to an organism. If it is not essentialism, it is damn near close. You are claiming an inherent utility, but fire enables us to eat plants that we couldn’t otherwise. I draw the same evolutionary conclusion as you, but I don’t think it is a valid argument, just a prosaic musing. Plus, the human body is not equipped for a lot of stuff… so what?

    we evidently DO NOT NEED meat or animal products in our diets to be healthy.

    True. I’m surprised that people don’t know that. Sometimes I have to explain this fact to people who can not believe I’ve never eaten meat. Lots of people have never eaten meat. It’s cultural. There are a lot of myths regarding the necessity of meat. I rather enjoy my strontium infused bones, and credit that with never having broken despite many violent incidents. It has its pros and cons, and I wouldn’t say either is inherently superior.

    1. Even disregarding the first two points, a vegan diet is more sustainable and less demanding on the environment than a meat-and/or-dairy based diet, with a vegan diet taking about a 10th of the resources – land, water, fuel etc. – to maintain.

    eh, you can’t make that argument, not with monoculture crops being the current standard for sustaining a vegan diet. The type of agriculture that allows for the contemporary vegan diet is more harmful to the environment than meat. A field of soy is far less sustainable than a pig farm. It is in itself an ecological catastrophe. Permaculture models incorporate animals.

    1. Capacity for suffering

    Dawkins raises an interesting speculation, that as pleasure and pain correlate to survival matters, and because animals lack the intellectual ability to assess what is good for them, their suffering might be much greater to insure their survival. This counters the common argument that animals suffer less as they have less brain. It’s just a speculation, but it nullifies the other argument.

    1. Because of our huge and capricious brains, and our “refined sense of morality”, we can CHOOSE not to knowlingly and intentionally exploit other species, just because their flesh tastes good or they produce secretions that we like.

    Yeah, it’s better not too. I rather enjoy being a rich American who has that option.

  7. You do not lack the enzymes to eat meat. You have (due to lack of use) had your enzymes for digesting meat “dialed down”. The proteins necessary for digesting meat are not being made inside your digestive system in any appreciable quantity. Therefore, ingestion of meat would make you sick at first. Then, the presence of the meat would cause the genes for these proteins (you still have the genes, they were just turned off) to become active and subsequent times you ate meat would become easier and easier for your system to handle.

    I was vegetarian for years and the message I think that needs to be heard by anyone who decides (and it is a good decision) to go vegan MUST do it responsibly. There are 20 amino acids. Some of them can be synthesized by our bodies from organic building blocks. Some MUST be ingested (they cannot be synthesized de novo). These are referred to as the essential amino acids and I learned that there are 8 of them. A quick google indicates that now nutritionists are saying that there are 9 or 10 of them.

    The thing is, animal protein contains all 20 amino acids. Meanwhile plant proteins do not. It is therefore imperative that a vegan eats a wide variety of plants ensuring that all of the amino acids are present in sufficient quantity.

    So, my message??? Go vegan. But do it in a responsible way so that you do not cause yourself illness.

    In reply to #9 by This Is Not A Meme:

    The human body is not well equipped to deal with eating or digesting meat – our teeth are the wrong type, our gut is too long and our metabolism is too alkaline.

    False. I have never eaten meat, and so I never can. I have zero ability to eat meat. I lack the proper enzymes and am effectively allergic to it. I can make all my complex proteins out of rice cakes and soy sauce (bit of an exaggeration). If a meat eater tried to convert to my diet, they would be very unhealthy (loose teeth, sickly pallor, depression, anemia, etc). We have dynamic metabolisms that respond to the environment. There are many ways of looking at the process of metabolism, and in many ways meat the most optimum.

    The problem is you are idealizing, which is its own problem but especially when trying to apply it to an organism. If it is not essentialism, it is damn near close. You are claiming an inherent utility, but fire enables us to eat plants that we couldn’t otherwise. I draw the same evolutionary conclusion as you, but I don’t think it is a valid argument, just a prosaic musing. Plus, the human body is not equipped for a lot of stuff… so what?

    we evidently DO NOT NEED meat or animal products in our diets to be healthy.

    True. I’m surprised that people don’t know that. Sometimes I have to explain this fact to people who can not believe I’ve never eaten meat. Lots of people have never eaten meat. It’s cultural. There are a lot of myths regarding the necessity of meat. I rather enjoy my strontium infused bones, and credit that with never having broken despite many violent incidents. It has its pros and cons, and I wouldn’t say either is inherently superior.

    Even disregarding the first two points, a vegan diet is more sustainable and less demanding on the environment than a meat-and/or-dairy based diet, with a vegan diet taking about a 10th of the resources – land, water, fuel etc. – to maintain.

    eh, you can’t make that argument, not with monoculture crops being the current standard for sustaining a vegan diet. The type of agriculture that allows for the contemporary vegan diet is more harmful to the environment than meat. A field of soy is far less sustainable than a pig farm. It is in itself an ecological catastrophe. Permaculture models incorporate animals.

    Capacity for suffering

    Dawkins raises an interesting speculation, that as pleasure and pain correlate to survival matters, and because animals lack the intellectual ability to assess what is good for them, their suffering might be much greater to insure their survival. This counters the common argument that animals suffer less as they have less brain. It’s just a speculation, but it nullifies the other argument.

    Because of our huge and capricious brains, and our “refined sense of morality”, we can CHOOSE not to knowlingly and intentionally exploit other species, just because their flesh tastes good or they produce secretions that we like.

    Yeah, it’s better not too. I rather enjoy being a rich American who has that option.

  8. I once defended a vegetarian who was called hypocritical because he was not a vegan. My argument was simple: he can choose to eat whatever (legal) food he likes. If he decides to eat beef but not chicken and potatoes and not tomatoes, that’s his choice. A free man does not need to make a case for his choices in life.

  9. In reply to #8 by Sample:

    Red Dog is right. Stating that you will not tolerate arguments against veganism while listing five so-called reasoned claims for veganism isn’t the typical format I am familiar with in what ostensibly is supposed to be a discussion.

    In other words, I have less qualms with your five points (even if every single point you made was determined to be the best constructed rationale) than the rules of engagement.

    Mike

    Same. I stopped reading at “I’m specifically NOT looking for arguments against veganism – so please don’t clog up the discussion with arguments in that direction. “

    Replace “veganism” with “god”, see how that one goes over.

    I agree however with the poster who said you can arrange your diet as you please, no need to defend it.

    Red Dog said “If you care about the suffering of animals that rules out all factory farmed meat, those animals are treated abysmally, and that rules out 99% of the meat in most grocery stores.”

    It doesn’t rule it out. You are allowed to care about it and still go on eating meat. I care about it too, but I still eat meat.

  10. I agree with some of what you say, eating meat is bad environmentally meat production is high maintenance, the reason why we lack the claws,speed etc to physically catch and kill big prey is becuse we don’t need to chase them, and haven’t for many thousands of years. We traded our hunting skills for farming skills we farm our pray instead of looking for it in the wild, eating meat in some cases is necessary as part of a balanced diet, you wouldn’t be here had your ancestors not eaten meat.

  11. In reply to #11 by crookedshoes:

    You do not lack the enzymes to eat meat. You have (due to lack of use) had your enzymes for digesting meat “dialed down”. The proteins necessary for digesting meat are not being made inside your digestive system in any appreciable quantity. Therefore, ingestion of meat would make you sick at first. Then, the presence of the meat would cause the genes for these proteins (you still have the genes, they were just turned off) to become active and subsequent times you ate meat would become easier and easier for your system to handle.

    Thank you. My understanding of this does not go very deep. I have seen people attempt to develop the ability to eat meat over the course of years, with no success. These enzymes would dial down for economic reasons. I speculate the same happens with a carnivorous enzyme profile, that enzymes used for processing plants dial down because they are not needed in the presence of a meat diet. I don’t think there is any dramatic synthesizing going on, but I’m pretty sure a lifelong vegetarian does better than a convert on the same diet.

    … do you (or anyone) know if that’s the case?

  12. You are exactly right. The economy of making enzymes that you do not use would quickly become an issue. So, you still possess the genes and could make the enzymes, you just have not ever made them….. You’d be sick for many, many meaty meals!!! HA, alliteration!!!

    In reply to #17 by This Is Not A Meme:

    In reply to #11 by crookedshoes:

    You do not lack the enzymes to eat meat. You have (due to lack of use) had your enzymes for digesting meat “dialed down”. The proteins necessary for digesting meat are not being made inside your digestive system in any appreciable quantity. Therefore, ingestion of meat would make you sick at first. Then, the presence of the meat would cause the genes for these proteins (you still have the genes, they were just turned off) to become active and subsequent times you ate meat would become easier and easier for your system to handle.

    Thank you. My understanding of this does not go very deep. I have seen people attempt to develop the ability to eat meat over the course of years, with no success. These enzymes would dial down for economic reasons. I speculate the same happens with a carnivorous enzyme profile, that enzymes used for processing plants dial down because they are not needed in the presence of a meat diet. I don’t think there is any dramatic synthesizing going on, but I’m pretty sure a lifelong vegetarian does better than a convert on the same diet.

    … do you (or anyone) know if that’s the case?

  13. In reply to #1 by kbala:

    Just out of interest, are you a “dietary” vegan or a militant vegan? My definition of militant vegan is someone who goes to extreme measures to avoid using animal products, like not using leather products etc. I have tried both and from my experience they are both tough, especially being a militant vegan.

    Using the word “militant” in that way is a pejorative. We would not discuss people who are vehemently opposed to rape and child abuse as “militant.” The more appropriate differentiation would be dietary vs. ethical vegan.

  14. In reply to #12 by paulmarkj:

    I once defended a vegetarian who was called hypocritical because he was not a vegan. My argument was simple: he can choose to eat whatever (legal) food he likes. If he decides to eat beef but not chicken and potatoes and not tomatoes, that’s his choice. A free man does not need to make a case for his choices in life.

    Your freedom ends when it encroaches upon the wellbeing of others. You do not have the freedom to rape, or commit homicide, or steal, etc. It’s not a matter of “choice” or imposing on others, it’s a matter of social justice.

  15. Militant isn’t a perogative word. I identify myself as militant atheist. So does lot of people I know.

    In reply to #20 by CoreyLeeWrenn:

    In reply to #1 by kbala:

    Just out of interest, are you a “dietary” vegan or a militant vegan? My definition of militant vegan is someone who goes to extreme measures to avoid using animal products, like not using leather products etc. I have tried both and from my experience they are both tough, especially being a militant vegan.

    Using the word “militant” in that way is a pejorative. We would not discuss people who are vehemently opposed to rape and child abuse as “militant.” The more appropriate differentiation would be dietary vs. ethical vegan.

  16. Red Dog said “If you care about the suffering of animals that rules out all factory farmed meat, those animals are treated abysmally, and that rules out 99% of the meat in most grocery stores.”

    It doesn’t rule it out. You are allowed to care about it and still go on eating meat. I care about it too, but I still eat meat.

    I don’t know the linguistic name for it, but both of these statements in and of themselves can be correct, in my opinion, but there is a third point above the context, the sentiment for lack of a better descriptor, whereby I think Red Dog’s point is the more thorough one.

    Mike

  17. we lack the natural tools for killing and eating prey – we lack the requisite speed, agility, claws and teeth for taking down any prey of sufficient size to be useful

    I completely disagree with that statement. We have outstanding natural stamina, which enables us to outrun many large prey animals over long distances. We have brains that enable us to catch or kill animals of all sizes, by using tools, traps or working in teams. We can BREED and FARM animals, which is even more effective than hunting them. And even a small bird, fish or rodent is of sufficient size to be useful to eat.

    With regard to the issue of morality in killing and eating conscious creatures, I also struggle to agree. Almost all wild animals live at constant risk of being preyed upon and eaten. And all animals will die, almost always as a victim of being hunted by another animal, or by a slower death through injury or disease. Those are inherent and intrinsic features of life. The effect of a human killing and eating an animal is no different (from the perspective of the consciousness of that animal) than if it were killed by a lion or shark. In fact, certainly these days, the human would be more likely to kill it quickly and by surprise, with little or no suffering on the part of the animal.

    The only animals that I think should be protected from killing for food by humans are those few species that may form any deep emotional attachment to their kin, and would suffer some considerable form of emotional distress at their loss. And of course we should protect animals from needless suffering, such as sharks that have their fins cut off while they’re alive, and also protect species for environmental reasons. Otherwise, I don’t see a moral issue with killing an animal to eat it.

  18. In reply to #13 by FreeXinker:

    In reply to #8 by Sample:

    Red Dog said “If you care about the suffering of animals that rules out all factory farmed meat, those animals are treated abysmally, and that rules out 99% of the meat in most grocery stores.”

    It doesn’t rule it out. You are allowed to care about it and still go on eating meat. I care about it too, but I still eat meat.

    I agree with you. Sorry my original comment was a bit sloppy, what I meant is that if animal suffering is an issue then its not just a question of a few bad farmers, our current factory farming methods are very cruel to the animals. Its another question how each individual decides to process that information. In my case I try to never eat factory farmed meat, that is my goal, but I bend the rule once in a while for special circumstances.

    I think a common fallacy on this topic is what I would call “no point in being good if you can’t be perfect” People who think the only choices are to never eat meat with extreme cruelty or to eat as much of it as you want to. I think its perfectly rationale to have a moral goal and let it guide your behavior, even if you aren’t able to perfectly achieve that goal.

  19. In reply to #23 by kbala:

    Militant isn’t a perogative word. I identify myself as militant atheist. So does lot of people I know.

    It’s contextual. Militant Christian or Muslim is scary and thus pejorative, but militant atheist or Dadaist is not. Militant vegan is a pejorative as they are associated with PETA, ALF, and ELF, which are eco-terrorist organizations. They blow stuff up and people have died. They lost the ability to don that title in good spirit, which sucks because it could have been a beautiful contradiction.

  20. In reply to #25 by Jumped Up Chimpanzee:

    we lack the natural tools for killing and eating prey – we lack the requisite speed, agility, claws and teeth for taking down any prey of sufficient size to be useful

    I completely disagree with that statement. We have outstanding natural stamina, which enables us to outrun many large prey animals over long distances. We have brains that enable us to catch or kill animals of all sizes, by using tools, traps or working in teams. We can BREED and FARM animals, which is even more effective than hunting them. And even a small bird, fish or rodent is of sufficient size to be useful to eat.

    With regard to the issue of morality in killing and eating conscious creatures, I also struggle to agree. Almost all wild animals live at constant risk of being preyed upon and eaten. And all animals will die, almost always as a victim of being hunted by another animal, or by a slower death through injury or disease. Those are inherent and intrinsic features of life. The effect of a human killing and eating an animal is no different (from the perspective of the consciousness of that animal) than if it were killed by a lion or shark. In fact, certainly these days, the human would be more likely to kill it quickly and by surprise, with little or no suffering on the part of the animal.

    The only animals that I think should be protected from killing for food by humans are those few species that may form any deep emotional attachment to their kin, and would suffer some considerable form of emotional distress at their loss. And of course we should protect animals from needless suffering, such as sharks that have their fins cut off while they’re alive, and also protect species for environmental reasons. Otherwise, I don’t see a moral issue with killing an animal to eat it.

    You beat me to it, as a species we humans are the most successful hunters/predators to have evolved, there is no animal that we cannot kill and make use of and we have NO natural predators.

    We are part of the animal kingdom, not outside of it and as such make use of the readily available food sources, be it other animals or plants.

    vegetarians and Vegans still share common ancestors to all the plants they eat, just as we meat eaters share common ancestors to all the animals we eat. I see no difference here, it’s still life.

  21. Hmmm, I don’t think it has the same connotations outside of US. Some orthodox Jains identify themselves as militant vegans.

    In reply to #27 by This Is Not A Meme:

    In reply to #23 by kbala:

    Militant isn’t a perogative word. I identify myself as militant atheist. So does lot of people I know.

    It’s contextual. Militant Christian or Muslim is scary and thus pejorative, but militant atheist or Dadaist is not. Militant vegan is a pejorative as they are associated with PETA, ALF, and ELF, which are eco-terrorist organizations. They blow stuff up and people have died. They lost the ability to don that title in good spirit, which sucks because it could have been a beautiful contradiction.

  22. Paragraph 1is nonsense we are established omnivores !
    Your statement on teeth is also nonsense ;with a Class 1 occlusion our ability to effect efficient mastication is empirically demonstrable.
    Lacking the tools of a predatory animal ?
    We possess the hand held tools and the necessary brain power as our ancestral hunter gatherer antecedents did.
    The only disadvantage of a heavy carnivorous diet is the ingestion of large amounts of saturated fat .
    I dislike the hunting of animals for sport purposes; but the breeding of animals for food is a very definite part of our culture(I object to religious slaughter methods as they are demonstrably cruel)
    I have no dislike for vegans in the sense that they are not an ideological security risk;except when their dogma interferes with the healthy development of their children.
    A friend of my son had extremist vegan(and atheist) parents and suffered from serious unhealthy lassitude.
    A canny bugger at his school fed him a lot of mince meat which he described as soy substitute meat.
    He put on weight(he had been woefully underweight) and became a a normal happy 10 year old.
    He is now 35 and a healthy omnivore .
    Veganism is a dogma which has no scientific substantiation .
    It’s also inconvenient with respect to normal nutritional behaviour.
    A life without cuisine based meat and fish dishes?
    To my mind it would be a form of denial based masochism!

  23. Check out Dr. Leonard Coldwell’s research on cancer cures. The vegan diet is extremely helpful in that regard.

    Second, it’s worth noting that your beliefs are well-founded, and you shouldn’t need to justify them scientifically. Value systems cannot be derived from science alone, and are complimentary, even if they require the same rigorous analysis that we should apply to anything else. In this case, you demonstrate a great deal of empathy for animals. Understanding that animals are conscious on an intellectual level is comparable to having empathy for animals just as reading a book on how to lose weight is comparable to actually losing said weight. If your philosophy is founded on love and respect for living creatures, then that is all the justification you need.

  24. ” 1. The human body is not well equipped to deal with eating or digesting meat – our teeth are the wrong type, our gut is too long and our metabolism is too alkaline. “

    That is your reasoning?

    You are not looking for reasons so much as rationalizations. Do you really think science looks to support agenda bias and foregone conclusions?

    1. The human body is not well equipped to deal with eating or digesting meat -our teeth are the wrong type, our gut is too long and our metabolism is too alkaline. [...]

    Sorry to start off on such a dismissive note but, these arguments are appeals to nature, i.e., “it’s not natural for us to eat animals therefore it is bad”. What one attempts to prove with these arguments is that one
    shouldn’t eat animal because it’s unhealthy. But to prove that, all one needs is to point to is modern, perfectly mainstream dietetic science, which says that people who don’t eat animal live longer, and are less likely to get cancer, diabetes, and heart disease.

    American Dietetic Association position paper on vegetarians and vegans

    Mortality in vegetarians and nonvegetarians: detailed findings from a collaborative analysis of 5 prospective studies1–3

    BBC article on the link between cancer and meat

    BBC article on the link between cancer and meat

    BBC article on the link between cancer and meat

    I also recommend the book Becoming Vegan, which is probably the best books on vegan nutrition.

    1. Even disregarding all the physiological evidence, we evidently DO NOT NEED meat or animal products in our diets to be healthy. Although I’m only one example (there are many more however) I’m still here today after 20+ years of veganism, and I am healthy, apart from some excess fat! (I’m working on that). [...]

    I would stay away from using yourself, or any other anectdote, as an example. I realize that anecdotal evidence can be very pursuasive to some people, however, the best evidence would be the statistical data from the most thorough studies on vegans and vegetarians, like the Seventh-day Advantist, the Oxford Vegetarian Studies and the WCRF-AICR Diet and Cancer Report.

    Number 3 looks good. Number 4 looks good too. I would emphasis that humans are also a species of animal.

    There actually is no reason – that I’m aware of, anyway – to believe that the land animals humans use for food have lesser “levels” of sentience. The assertion seems odd actually; a fully awake cow seems just
    as conscious and sentient to me as a fully awake human.

    1. Because of our huge and capricious brains, and our “refined sense of morality”, we can CHOOSE not to knowlingly and intentionally exploit other species, just because their flesh tastes good or they produce secretions that we like.

    This is good. I would recommend Gary Francione’s book, “An Introduction to Animal Rights”, which argues:

    1. The imposition of suffering on any sentient being requires an adequate moral justification and pleasure, amusement, or convenience cannot suffice as adequate to justify imposing suffering on any sentient being

    2. The most “humane” animal agriculture involves considerable suffering imposed on sentient beings

    3. As a general matter, our best (and only) justification for eating animal products is pleasure, amusement, or convenience

    4. Therefore: We cannot morally justify eating animal products.

  25. Just a few comments and a question or three regarding your points:

    1. Our teeth might not be optimal if we only ate meat, but since generally we don’t, I don’t think your first point holds up. I would however be interested to know what physiological evidence you have that ‘the gut is too long and our metabolism is too alkaline’? Whilst there may be a balance between growing a long gut and having enough food to make it worth the trouble, a long gut is an advantage since absorption of nutrients across the gut wall is dependent on large area of exposure and increased contact time – unless this is something to do with the myth of red meat somehow staying in the bowels for years? As for metabolism (and by that I’m going to assume you mean ‘completeness of digestion’ or somesuch), the body provides its own optimal pH – acid in the stomach to enhance pepsin activity and pancreatic alkali in the duodenum for chymotrypsin and trypsin. If you mean metabolism as in the ultimate conversion of food into useful work at the cellular or mitochondrial level, it is incredibly finely balanced and adaptable (up to a point) to whatever you shovel into your cakehole. Otherwise my habit of eating chutney out of the jar would probably kill me with the vinegar content. As Jumped Up Chimpanzee has already mentioned, we as a species have the superb ability to outrun even fast prey animals over long distances and then hit them with rocks and pointy sticks…

    2. I agree totally that we don’t need to eat meat to be fit, hale and hearty – if Scott Jurek can manage to run crazy distances and thrive as a vegan I’m sold on that point. Being motivated enough to be vegan may well correlate with being more health-conscious and therefore healthier with regards to markers such as cholesterol, sugar control etc. but I would be very interested in the evidence you mention for plant-based diets being better. There is a point to be made about relative composition e.g. high saturated fat concentration of red meat but ultimately the body still ‘sees’ just carbohydrate, protein and fat, whatever the source.

    3. Interesting point and an interesting idea – anyone know any evidence regarding the energy input and environmental impact of growing a nutritionally ‘complete’ set of sustainable vegan crops?

    4 & 5. Re: suffering – fair enough. However, I like meat and want to continue eating it. If I buy meat, I try to buy from a good supplier where I can be sure that the animal was raised in decent conditions, ate well, lived its life happy and died painlessly and unstressed. I have ‘respect’ for the animal in that sense and I am grateful. In terms of choosing what not to ‘exploit’, I think it is partially sentimentality. I wouldn’t eat a cat or a guinea pig because I identify with them personally as my pets though they are eaten in other parts of the world (though not always as commonly as perceived). Think of the recent outrage about horse meat contaminating beef burgers in the UK and the different reaction from Continental Europe, where horses are seen as food/labour and not as a pet.

    So, overall, I think I respect your points about considering the animals and the environment (even if we differ on details and objective evidence is lacking) but I don’t believe your concerns about the physiology and ‘healthiness’ of meat-eating are sound since you cite medical evidence but do not reference it and are using unscientific assertions for a specifically scientific point. But thank you, you’ve got me thinking :)

    (Edit for spelling – DocJitters)

  26. In reply to #10 by Smill:

    Hello. I would love to think veganism could be our natural diet, having been vegan for decades, then carnivorous, then vegetarian. But it cannot be so since we have to supplement with Vit B12 which can otherwise only be gained from an animal source naturally.

    Like I said before, it doesn’t matter if veganism is our natural diet; what matters is which diet is the best.

    B-12 is produced by bacteria that happens to infect the guts of the land animals humans eat. However, the B-12 can be extracted from the bacteria and used to fortify foods. You’ll notice that B-12 is used to fortify breakfast cereals, granola bars, etc. I get my recommended daily allowance of B-12 in 1 cup of soy milk everyday. B-12 is simply a non-issue for vegans.

  27. In reply to #11 by crookedshoes:

    I was vegetarian for years and the message I think that needs to be heard by anyone who decides (and it is a good decision) to go vegan MUST do it responsibly. There are 20 amino acids. Some of them can be synthesized by our bodies from organic building blocks. Some MUST be ingested (they cannot be synthesized de novo). These are referred to as the essential amino acids and I learned that there are 8 of them. A quick google indicates that now nutritionists are saying that there are 9 or 10 of them.

    The thing is, animal protein contains all 20 amino acids. Meanwhile plant proteins do not. It is therefore imperative that a vegan eats a wide variety of plants ensuring that all of the amino acids are present in sufficient quantity.

    This is overstated.

    According to the Amercan Heart Association:

    “You don’t need to eat foods from animals to have enough protein in your diet. Plant proteins alone can provide enough of the essential and non-essential amino acids, as long as sources of dietary protein are varied and caloric intake is high enough to meet energy needs.

    “Whole grains, legumes, vegetables, seeds and nuts all contain both essential and non-essential amino acids. You don’t need to consciously combine these foods (“complementary proteins”) within a given meal.

    “Soy protein has been shown to be equal to proteins of animal origin. It can be your sole protein source if you choose.”

    heart.org

    Also, I don’t think there is any evidence that vegans have problems with protein. If you know of a study that says that vegans have some sort of protein issue of any sort, please post it.

  28. Perhaps I have overstated. As a bystander to this life style, I am not pretending to know the ins and outs of vegan dietary advice. However, if you set it up so that you eat a very small sampling of plants and ignore legumes, seeds and nuts and think you are doing yourself a healthy choice, think again.

    I did not say that you must eat animal protein, I advocated for a diverse diet of vegetables. You seem to do the same. Whether it is a “conscious blend” or not would depend on the individual who has decided to go vegan (which I think is a good idea). My mindset is focused on young people who could potentially run into a problem and my steering them to the right path.

    Plant proteins alone can provide all the amino acids, provided you do not eat one type of veggie exclusively. Man cannot subsist on carrots alone…

    Also, I did not know that soy protein contains all 20…. so thank you for teaching me something and allow me to amend my advice… Go vegan and include soy!!! Get your 20…

    In reply to #36 by vbaculum:

    In reply to #11 by crookedshoes:

    I was vegetarian for years and the message I think that needs to be heard by anyone who decides (and it is a good decision) to go vegan MUST do it responsibly. There are 20 amino acids. Some of them can be synthesized by our bodies from organic building blocks. Some MUST be ingested (they cannot be synthesized de novo). These are referred to as the essential amino acids and I learned that there are 8 of them. A quick google indicates that now nutritionists are saying that there are 9 or 10 of them.

    The thing is, animal protein contains all 20 amino acids. Meanwhile plant proteins do not. It is therefore imperative that a vegan eats a wide variety of plants ensuring that all of the amino acids are present in sufficient quantity.

    This is overstated.

    According to the Amercan Heart Association:

    “You don’t need to eat foods from animals to have enough protein in your diet. Plant proteins alone can provide enough of the essential and non-essential amino acids, as long as sources of dietary protein are varied and caloric intake is high enough to meet energy needs.

    “Whole grains, legumes, vegetables, seeds and nuts all contain both essential and non-essential amino acids. You don’t need to consciously combine these foods (“complementary proteins”) within a given meal.

    “Soy protein has been shown to be equal to proteins of animal origin. It can be your sole protein source if you choose.”

    heart.org

    Also, I don’t think there is any evidence that vegans have problems with protein. If you know of a study that says that vegans have some sort of protein issue of any sort, please post it.

  29. In reply to #21 by CoreyLeeWrenn:

    In reply to #12 by paulmarkj:

    You do not have the freedom to rape, or commit homicide, or steal, etc. It’s not a matter of “choice” or imposing on others, it’s a matter of social justice.

    Hey, take it easy there.

    Nobody is suggestion anything like that.

    Read his post again.

  30. Furthermore, we lack the natural tools for killing and eating prey – we lack the requisite speed, agility, claws and teeth for taking down any prey of sufficient size to be useful -

    What is the point of saying “natural tools”. Other animals besides us use non-natural tools to get their food. Birds drop things from a height to make them break and primates use sticks. Lions hunt in packs because they can’t catch and kill prey alone.

    This is a pointless distinction.

    Michael

  31. I have to agree with Red Dog et al. on this and point out that building a one-sided case is not going to do your position any favours. After all, if the pro-veganism case is more watertight than the alternatives, there shouldn’t be any problems comparing the two.

    Also, your first argument is both patently wrong and irrelevant in any case. Humans are designed for an omnivorous lifestyle, and the fact that we spent most of our evolutionary history being herbivores or insectivores doesn’t mean squat as far as evolution is concerned. While we may not have the specializations of apex predators like the big cats and hunting dogs, that’s not the same as saying we’re terrible at digesting meat. This argument is basically one big appeal to nature, anyway, as “evolutionarily adaptive” is not equivalent to being “moral” or “good”. If it was discovered that human males were designed to rape females, no case could prove this justified rape.

    A better alternative is to point out, but only when told that humans are designed to eat meat, that technically humans are designed to eat a variety of foods, and are compelled more by nutritional requirements than by food categories. The proteins obtainable from meat are also obtainable from plants and fungi, and so long as the body gets its requirements, it doesn’t really care how that’s achieved.

    In reply to #9 by This Is Not A Meme:

    Even disregarding the first two points, a vegan diet is more sustainable and less demanding on the environment than a meat-and/or-dairy based diet, with a vegan diet taking about a 10th of the resources – land, water, fuel etc. – to maintain.

    eh, you can’t make that argument, not with monoculture crops being the current standard for sustaining a vegan diet. The type of agriculture that allows for the contemporary vegan diet is more harmful to the environment than meat. A field of soy is far less sustainable than a pig farm. It is in itself an ecological catastrophe. Permaculture models incorporate animals.

    Actually, animal farms are by definition less sustainable than monocultures. For every farm that raises cattle, say, there must be an accompanying set of farms for wheat and grains and so on to feed them with. In fact, most of monoculture goes to farm animals in any case.

    Meanwhile, the cow has to be fed over and over again, meaning more wheat and more crops, and remember the farmers are usually trying to get them fat enough for the market. Then most of this is wasted by the cow’s metabolism and excretion and all the other biological things it has to do to stay alive, and at the same time water has to be made available for the cow to drink from. There’s also the problem that too many animals in one place contribute to serious soil erosion, and cattle do contribute (at least in part) to the release of methane, a greenhouse gas (though, to be fair, commercial transport is far more serious a problem here).

    When the animal is killed, only a fraction of its bulk is actually sold as food anyway (the muscle, usually). This is before we get to the part where the meat is processed in factories and turned into a variety of produce (hamburgers and so on), and that requires energy. The whole thing is an incredibly wasteful means of obtaining a few proteins, at least compared with getting it directly from the crops. It’s a basic food pyramid.

    In reply to #12 by paulmarkj:

    I once defended a vegetarian who was called hypocritical because he was not a vegan. My argument was simple: he can choose to eat whatever (legal) food he likes. If he decides to eat beef but not chicken and potatoes and not tomatoes, that’s his choice. A free man does not need to make a case for his choices in life.

    Insofar as this is meant to be an actual argument, I disagree. While no one should be harassed into giving their reasons, that doesn’t mean those reasons can’t be bad ones, and the “It’s My Choice” counter comes across usually as a cop-out for those who haven’t thought about their lifestyle.

    In reply to #16 by chop-n-flop:

    Did you know the word Vegan is acually derived from the ancient Chinook language of the pacific NW? It translates to “bad hunter”

    Did you know the abbreviation “Tory” for Conservatives was originally a pejorative name? Now Conservatives in the UK accept the label with pride.

    If you’ve got an actual argument to make, I recommend you make it instead of trading in smarmy witticisms.

    In reply to #31 by GospelofJudas:

    If your philosophy is founded on love and respect for living creatures, then that is all the justification you need.

    I don’t think this is sufficient. Saying you empathize with animals doesn’t by itself prove that there’s any reason to empathize with them, or that your empathy isn’t simply self-projection. I could empathize with my laptop every time I switched it off or “killed” it, but that’s not going to convince anyone.

    We empathize (or rather, sympathize) with things not because we’re just nice people, but because the subject of our empathy/sympathy has traits we identify as evidence of consciousness and sentience. Not only can we show that mammals recoil when hurt or maimed, we can show that their neurological underpinnings are the same as our own. This sort of evidence and argumentation requires reason and science.

    In reply to #33 by vbaculum:

    I agree. Non-accidental harm or death to a sentient organism strikes me as being justifiable only if it is necessary to prevent one’s death (i.e. not eating meat would kill you) and there are no better alternatives (i.e. one doesn’t have access to a varied enough non-animal diet). The fact that meat eating in developed countries fulfils neither requirement is the main reason why I went vegetarian.

    As for sentience, it seems to me that, animals having brains like ours (albeit with many differences across species), an animal by human standards is essentially a retard in a different body. (With different genetic and neurological “disorders” per species, of course, to account for the variability). If we take the evidence from evolution and anatomy seriously — that what separates humans from other animals is a matter of degree rather than of kind — especially as this applies to sentience and sapience, then our policy should be an extension or a tweaking of the policy we already exercise for people with mental impairments of various kinds, in order for said policy to be consistent and rational.

  32. In reply to #40 by Smill:

    Hi, vbaculum. I am not sure potential B12 deficiency is a non-issue for non-vegans however. In attempting to propose one particular diet as ‘best’ the fact that there may be an inherent deficiency within it is a valid point for some people. Whilst it is possible to use supplementation to address this, it is also possible to follow a less rigorous dietary regime than veganism and enjoy fully sufficient nutrition without the need for fortified foods. Fortified foods emerged as a result of nutritional poverty? Whilst I would always promote increasing vegetables, legumes and fruit in the diet, I would be extremely hesitant to promote veganism for dietary reasons alone. Point 2, in the original post above states ‘we evidently do not need meat or animal products in our diet to be healthy’ but I suggest that, sadly, we do. One can always experiment with oneself but would you recommend veganism to children or the elderly or people who live in impoverished circumstances? Vegetarianism is more balanced. I am actually about to study a short course in nutrition so maybe I shall think differently as a result! The inhumane treatment and use of animals is a strong argument against current farming practises but it doesn’t mean veganism is a better diet in terms of nutritional health. Personally I am sickened by slaughter and the only valid reason I feel I have for eating animal products is to sustain our physical health status, which I understand requires very little animal derived sources. However, your post has me thinking about the difference between received cultural beliefs and scientific evidence. I think a strong argument would acknowledge it’s own weaknesses as well.

    Hi Smill. I didn’t mean to understate the significance of B-12. I meant to say that obtaining B-12 is a non-issue for vegans living in a modern setting.

    When societies became modernized, the need for vitamin D fortification in foods was required. This is because the new living arrangements cut people off from the outdoors, and the traditional source of vitamin D was the sun. It is good that foods are now fortified with vitamin D, as well as many other nutrients. In the same way, it’s good that foods are fortified with B-12. Like vitamin D fortification, it allows people to eat foods that don’t conflict with their interests. Highly fortified foods make up the diets of almost all people living in a modern context and I’ve never heard a health authority say we should abandon fortified foods to have a more natural diet.

    As I said, farmed animals are infested with bacteria that produces B-12. You could say they are naturally fortified. There is no virtue in this, however. To obtain B-12 from their bodies requires we also obtain their cholesterol, saturated fat and high caloric content. A vegan diet doesn’t have cholesterol and very few plant foods contain saturated fats. Plant-based foods aren’t as caloric as animal body parts and are likely to be much higher in fiber. These are the main reasons why vegans are less likely to get heart disease and diabetes.

    Vegan diets aren’t extreme. A vegan diet requires that you eliminate a handful of foods from you diet: meat, milk and eggs. The cholesterol and saturated fats in these foods are the reasons why heart disease is the number one cause of premature deaths in affluent nations, and diabetes, cancer and obesity are at the top of that list as well. The standard, carnistic diet in affluent societies is a major cause of massive amounts of premature deaths as well as suffering that leads up to those deaths. This is extreme.

    I would fully recommend vegan diets for children and the elderly just as the American Dietetic Association does.

    From their position paper on plant-based diets:

    Well-planned vegan, lacto-vegetarian, and lacto-ovo-vegetarian diets are appropriate for all stages of the life cycle, including pregnancy and lactation. Appropriately planned vegan, lacto-vege-tarian, and lacto-ovo-vegetarian diets satisfy nutrient needs of infants, children, and adolescents and promote normal growth.

    http://www.eatright.org/about/content.aspx?id=8357

    The well-known pediatrition Dr. Spock recommended veganism for children as well, and became a vegan in old age.

    My own 2 year-old has never had an animal product put in his body in his entire life. We’ve never had any problems and never expected any.

    Sometimes people will point to certain tribes that can’t do without meat. I suppose I would have to defer to their judgement. I would point out that rice and beans are a very inexpensive source of protien and would serve as a much healthier stapel than meat-derived sources for many people.

    I like that you bring up the distinction between cultural beliefs and scientific evidence, because this at the heart of the debate. I often argue the merits of plant-based diets, and these merits rest purly on mainstream, scientific evidence. I became a vegan because I am opposed to animal abuse and torture – it was a happy
    coincedence for me, when I found out later, that plant-based diets are clearly healthier diets.

  33. “Humans are designed…” NONONONONO! Please don’t.

    1. Meat-eating is seemingly fundamental to development of intelligence; predator needs to be smarter than prey in order to catch it
    2. That said, humans eat too much of it; we have transcended evolution to where we choose to over-indulge, an option not available to other omnivores (or carnivores, for that matter)
    3. Man’s digestive tract has evolved to ‘cope’ with an occasional meat meal, aided by the ability to cook it.

    No argument could convince me that eating meat is essential. Veganism must be the way forward for the welfare of our species and this Earth

  34. In reply to #45 by Smill:

    In considering the request of the original post, I suppose what I am saying is that point 5 is the only argument, in my opinion, that holds water. The massive misuse of animals, their forced reproduction and slaughter is truly horrific, and I would choose to adopt a slightly unnatural diet to prevent this. This is our compassion, and compassion is what veganism for me, at least, is about. And I also think that compassion is more important than health, and a study of other cultures will show that people will abandon their health in favour of other, more important values, such as compassion.

    I agree that the health argument made here isn’t very convincing. I think you can make a good case that the average American diet has too much meat but I agree from a purely health point of view no meat doesn’t seem to make sense.

    But I think cybervegan is ignoring a major health issue with factory farmed meat. Those animals are filled with antibiotics because the insanely cruel way they are raised, in close proximity with no exercise means they would mostly die out from disease without the antibiotics. We don’t yet understand the long term impact of feeding humans a steady diet of second hand antibiotics like this.

    And that’s not the only health issue with factory farmed meat. The way cows are slaughtered their guts are spilled open and all the feces from their bodies ends up getting mixed in with the meat. They do things to decrease the amount of feces and to kill the bacteria but it doesn’t always work. Fast Food Nation wasn’t a good movie but there was a compelling scene at the beginning where a beef executive says they have a problem “there is too much shit in our beef” not there IS shit in our beef, that’s a given, its even allowed by the FDA but there is TOO MUCH shit, more than the allowable daily shit requirements so to speak.

  35. Yesterday I read that horsemeat infused beef was being pulled in England and Ireland.

    Personally, I could never, in good conscious, eat horse flesh. Even if my life depended on it. It would not be worth the guilt I’d have the rest of my life over an animal I have love and compassion for.

  36. In reply to #47 by bluebird:

    Yesterday I read that horsemeat infused beef was being pulled in England and Ireland.

    Personally, I could never, in good conscious, eat horse flesh. Even if my life depended on it. It would not be worth the guilt I’d have the rest of my life over an animal I have love and compassion for.

    Cultural cringe! To quote an unknown contributor- “Anthropomorphization is a fool’s lens”

  37. In reply to #50 by Smill:

    Nodhimmi, children tend to anthropomorphise and yet I wouldn’t call them foolish. I sometimes think we get confused, thinking that following scientific reasoning we must abandon our humanism?

    It’s not even a sound charge. “Anthropomorphize” assumes humanity is a single standard from which to judge, and also assumes that humans have an exclusive monopoly over certain traits. Anyone even briefly acquainted with the variety of human behaviours should be cautious about acting as though there’s one exemplary human that could represent them all behaviourally. Also, if chimpanzees and so on exhibit traits that are neurologically and behaviourally the same as those of humans, only speciesism can justify insisting on the difference nonetheless, especially when neuroscience increasingly indicates that there’s more overlap than we originally thought.

    In reply to #49 by Nodhimmi:

    In reply to #47 by bluebird:

    Yesterday I read that horsemeat infused beef was being pulled in England and Ireland.

    Personally, I could never, in good conscious, eat horse flesh. Even if my life depended on it. It would not be worth the guilt I’d have the rest of my life over an animal I have love and compassion for.

    Cultural cringe! To quote an unknown contributor- “Anthropomorphization is a fool’s lens”

    Technically, a cultural cringe is when people from one culture feel insecure because they suspect their own culture is inferior to somebody else’s. Australians, for instance, suspect that their own culture isn’t as sophisticated as European or American ones, so they overcompensate with assertive pro-cultural attitudes.

  38. This is a great discussion, good job in raising it in a such a civil way, and I’m glad the contributions haven’t devolved into name calling as they often do. This is an emotionally charged subject and everyone has an opinion, but my feelings are that we are in our in our infancy when it comes to evaluating the moral status of animals. I agree with CoreyLeeWren who says that this the elephant in the room and it needs much more critical attention. There is a universe of suffering that is inflicted on animals for trivial purposes, and the human/animal relationship is something that I’d like to see discussed more openly and skeptically in the atheist community. For one thing, the religious slaughter of animals is something that we should all oppose and it’s an issue that goes to the heart of multiculturalism. Religious liberty doesn’t include the right to discriminate (as Laurence Krauss says), and it shouldn’t include the right to contravene animal welfare laws!

    There are also many issues about the ethics of meat eating and even veganism that I’d like to see raised more frequently. Should we oppose pate de foie gras as a matter of basic principle? Should we as a species be reducing our consumption of animal products, and if the answer is yes, why aren’t we doing more to encourage and normalise limited meat eating or even vegetarianism? Should we condemn all blood sports, including hunting with dogs that David Cameron is so eager to bring back – (by the way, fox hunting has nothing to do with ‘pest control’, hunts often build artificial earths to encourage foxes back into an area. It’s a blood sport for toffs that’s no different from dog fighting, except that rich people are involved so that makes it ‘traditional’). Sorry I’m rambling, but my hopes are that this will be discussed more openly and constructively in atheist and social justice circles. By the way, I’m not a vegan because I find it too demanding, but I have been a vegetarian for about 6 years and I’m still compelled by the basic moral case that I came across in Peter Singer’s animal liberation.

  39. In reply to #44 by Smill:

    Hello again, vbaculum. I have read your recent points with interest. Since I would like to adopt a vegan diet again I hope I can be convinced! You are clearly well-informed. I would just point out one further fact, however. UNICEF recommends (or at least used to a few years back) that human infants are breastfed until the age of at least 2 years if not for longer, and exclusively fed their mothers milk for the first 6 months. Do you consider this to be the consumption of an animal based source?

    This made me smile. Yes, it is the consumption of an animal-based food. But it’s healthy, ethical, not environmentally unsustainable, and so on. It’s perfectly unobjectionable. And if you need to resort to baby formula (we did) then there is soy based formula that’s easily obtainable, at least in my locale.

    “Becoming Vegan” is the book to read to get educated on vegan nutrition. It goes over everything, is written for the scientifically minded, and I couldn’t detect any bias; just an expert convection that vegan diets were safe and healthy. Here is a good vegan staring website (http://vegankit.com/). If you have will-power issues, I would recommend eating vegan for one day of the week (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Meatless_Monday). Then, once you are comfortable with that, 2 days of the week, and so on. Find a health food store that has good, vegan alternatives like meat analogues and such. This is just the basic advice I give to everyone. If you need any specific advice, just email me at vbaculum@gmail.com.

  40. I agree that as a society we generally eat way too much meat and it is grossly unhealthy. That is not to say that the extreme opposite of this is any better for you. You may be fine without meat but only because of fortification of foods, you are denying your evolution. That being said I applaud you for actually having the compassion to make such a choice. I personally try and keep my intake of meat to a minimum. What I do buy comes from local organic farms. I have seen pictures of the farm and talked to the farmer who has an impressive passion for the animals he raises. These animals do not suffer except for a quick death at the end, which is far nicer than the average death by predator. Anyways the main point I wanted to make was that if everyone who felt compassion for creatures outside of humanity just went vegan than our damaged farming system would have no motivation or reason to change. Only by supporting farmers who care about farming ethically and humanely can we bring about change and influence our food system away from the abhorrent practices which are now commonplace. If your only goal is to eliminate your contribution to animals suffering than veganism is probably a good choice for you. I for one would rather try and influence the system to improve the overall quality of life for the animals that are being farmed, right now and hopefully for future generations. If we can build the industry up so that it is more accessible and affordable for average people, then anything is possible. Organic produce used to be outrageously expensive (sometimes still) but I have seen organic yams and mangos cheaper than the conventionally grown, this was unheard of even two years ago. If price differences become negligible who wouldn’t buy organic? I like to think we could do the same thing with ethically raised and slaughtered meat. Let’s face it, most people will keep on eating meat either way, but if ethical (and usually tastier) options are readily available than maybe a lot less animal suffering could result.

  41. How few neurons is OK? One thousandth of ours? One hundred-thousandth? Lobsters have 10^-5 of the consciousness generating stuff that we have. Just like the fruit flies that we happily Raid into oblivion. Surely this is ok?

    Where’s the science in this discussion?

  42. In reply to #55 by phil rimmer:

    How few neurons is OK? One thousandth of ours? One hundred-thousandth? Lobsters have 10^-5 of the consciousness generating stuff that we have. Just like the fruit flies that we happily Raid into oblivion. Surely this is ok?

    Tell me at what moment a child turns into an adult, and I’ll tell you at what point a moral-less animal gains “moral status”.

    There is no hard and fast dividing line we can exploit. The best we can hope for is an arbitrary cut-off point that balances the two opposing pressures of ethical concern and practical action.

  43. I personally would not risk feeding my children soy formula, just based on this one study. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9217716N I would also like to say to whoever made the point about meat causing cancer and other problems that the tendency of vegans and vegetarians to replace meats with highly processed soy products does not seem likely to lead one to better health. I think that consuming too much of any one thing is generally not good for you regardless of whether it’s steak or tofu, but it is probably more work to be really healthy on a vegan diet. If you care about animals good for you. It’s important to you so you make it work. Why do you need to further justify yourself?

    • In reply to #58 by TheAllKnowingAgnostic:

      Of course you should not feed your child soy formula, that is what breast milk is for!! Unless you meant older children a soy beverage? In that case choose organic almond milk, it is awesome :)

  44. It’s strange that you’re frequently asked to defend veganism. Most people I talk to admit that eating meat is problematic. They don’t care that much, but I at least I don’t have to go into discussion about what’s the more moral thing to do, that would be silly. The only way you don’t have the moral high ground is if the suffering that comes from being a human and not being allowed to eat meat even though you really want to, is greater than the suffering that comes from being an animal living in a modern factory farm, or a wild animal being shot in the lungs, drowning in its own blood. In any honest discussion you will not be the one on the defense.

    Don’t clutter your argument with logical fallacies as in paragraph 1. Paragraph 3 about the environment is an argument for eating less meat, not no meat, necessarily. An ecofriendly once-in-a while meat eater may live more sustainable than you do. (It’s true, though; producing meat is by far the most environmentally destructive thing humans do.)

  45. In reply to #57 by Zeuglodon:

    In reply to #55 by phil rimmer:

    How few neurons is OK? One thousandth of ours? One hundred-thousandth? Lobsters have 10^-5 of the consciousness generating stuff that we have. Just like the fruit flies that we happily Raid into oblivion. Surely this is ok?

    Tell me at what moment a child turns into an adult, and I’ll tell you at what point a moral-less animal gains “moral status”.

    There is no hard and fast dividing line we can exploit. The best we can hope for is an arbitrary cut-off point that balances the two opposing pressures of ethical concern and practical action.

    Stuff moral. I’m arguing insensate automaton for my yummy lobster thermostat with six orders of magnitude less in possible conscious suffering. Five orders less than a Republican even.

    The vegan and vegetarian mode is incoherent in rejecting “meat” on the basis of it being meat. Suffering and eco concerns are coherent but the full implications of this are fudged and quasi religious prohibitions substituted.

  46. *In reply to #25 by Jumped up Chimpanzee

    With regard to the issue of morality in killing and eating conscious creatures, I also struggle to agree. Almost all wild animals live at constant risk of being preyed upon and eaten. And all animals will die, almost always as a victim of being hunted by another animal, or by a slower death through injury or disease. Those are inherent and intrinsic features of life. The effect of a human killing and eating an animal is no different (from the perspective of the consciousness of that animal) than if it were killed by a lion or shark.
    .

    Appeal to nature fallacy. You don’t want to take moral cues from lions or sharks.

  47. In reply to #58 by TheAllKnowingAgnostic:

    I personally would not risk feeding my children soy formula, just based on this one study. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9217716N I would also like to say to whoever made the point about meat causing cancer and other problems that the tendency of vegans and vegetarians to replace meats with highly processed soy products does not seem likely to lead one to better health. I think that consuming too much of any one thing is generally not good for you regardless of whether it’s steak or tofu, but it is probably more work to be really healthy on a vegan diet. If you care about animals good for you. It’s important to you so you make it work. Why do you need to further justify yourself?

    That study shows that infants on soy formulas get high amounts of isoflavones. The NIH concedes that there have been no health problems documented for infants on soy formulas. It’s merely speculated by some authorities that there could be problems, given the biochemistry of isoflavones in infants. This subject is also debated among dietitians.

    The whole subject is merely speculative. Asian cultures have been making soy a stable for thousands of years and soy is widely consumed in the West as well. If there were issues with its biochemistry in children, there would at least be some documented cases by now.

  48. In reply to #60 by phil rimmer:

    In reply to #57 by Zeuglodon:

    Stuff moral. I’m arguing insensate automaton for my yummy lobster thermostat with six orders of magnitude less in possible conscious suffering. Five orders less than a Republican even.

    Firstly, I think your grammar skills went downhill with that sentence, because I had to read it twice to work out your meaning. Secondly, on what grounds do you claim that a lobster is an “insensate automaton”? Insofar as it has both a nervous system containing pain receptors similar to ours and behaves like a creature would if it was feeling pain, it seems the onus is on anyone trying to prove that this is a trick or deception of some kind, as they are making non-parsimonious claims about consciousness.

    Also, lobsters are a pretty poor choice. They’re luxury foods, not necessities.

    The vegan and vegetarian mode is incoherent in rejecting “meat” on the basis of it being meat. Suffering and eco concerns are coherent but the full implications of this are fudged and quasi religious prohibitions substituted.

    I’m not sure what you mean here, so I’ll make a guess based on context. As far as I’m aware, ethically minded vegans/vegetarians don’t reject meat because it’s meat, but because they don’t think the short-term pleasure rush of eating the stuff outweighs the irreversible and unnecessary killing and harming of another organism. This is especially the case when meat eaters have a motive to keep things convenient rather than confront the ethical issues involved. If this is quasi-religious (technically, it’s philosophical and potentially informed by science and reason), then so is our abstaining from cannibalism, homicide, and “enhanced interrogation techniques” on the grounds that it involves killing and/or harming another organism (that happens to be the same species).

  49. In reply to #61 by Nigel S:

    *In reply to #25 by Jumped up Chimpanzee

    With regard to the issue of morality in killing and eating conscious creatures, I also struggle to agree. Almost all wild animals live at constant risk of being preyed upon and eaten. And all animals will die, almost always as a victim of being hunted by another animal, or by a slower death through injury or disease. Those are inherent and intrinsic features of life. The effect of a human killing and eating an animal is no different (from the perspective of the consciousness of that animal) than if it were killed by a lion or shark.
    .

    Appeal to nature fallacy. You don’t want to take moral cues from lions or sharks.

    I’ve skimmed through all the above comments (there’s quite a lot of them now) and apologise if I’ve missed a good argument, but I still can’t see what is immoral about a human eating meat.

  50. In reply to #64 by Jumped Up Chimpanzee:

    In reply to #61 by Nigel S:

    *In reply to #25 by Jumped up Chimpanzee

    With regard to the issue of morality in killing and eating conscious creatures, I also struggle to agree. Almost all wild animals live at constant risk of being preyed upon and eaten. And all animals will die, almost always as a victim of being hunted by another animal, or by a slower death through injury or disease. Those are inherent and intrinsic features of life. The effect of a human killing and eating an animal is no different (from the perspective of the consciousness of that animal) than if it were killed by a lion or shark.
    .

    Appeal to nature fallacy. You don’t want to take moral cues from lions or sharks.

    I’ve skimmed through all the above comments (there’s quite a lot of them now) and apologise if I’ve missed a good argument, but I still can’t see what is immoral about a human eating meat.

    With reference to your argument about an animal either being killed by a wild predator or by a human, the problem is one of False Dichotomy. A third possible stance is that humans take better care of animals under their guardianship, for instance by moving away from cruel farming methods, via better treatment of animals before killing them, to better treatment of animals while still, say, milking them and taking their eggs but not actually killing them. This isn’t the only possible alternative, but it’s certainly not as simplistic as your original framing.

    The other problem, as Nigel S points out, is that you seem to be assuming that, because nature does it, therefore it takes the blame off us when we do it. The problem is that someone else’s wrong does not justify one’s own. It does matter in many cases how an animal will die, because in some cultures the life it experiences before that moment can be worse than if people had left it alone in the wild, so this argument doesn’t have internal consistency even on its own grounds. The other is that you seem to assume an animal must be killed by humans, but this isn’t necessarily the case. People will die anyway, but that isn’t an excuse for us to go around murdering them with anaesthetic on the grounds that the death will be less painful than, say, the hideous car accident that might have resulted.

    Pretty much the two main arguments for why meat-eating is considered immoral are roughly the same ones for protecting humans from the same harms: that it involves killing a sentient, possibly even sapient, organism, and that it often involves inconveniencing and harming such an organism, in both cases against its interests and possibly against its will, for the dubious pleasure of a third party exploiting its inability or lowered ability to protest at, prevent, or foresee its treatment. If it must be done at all, then only when it becomes a necessary evil justified in life-or-death situations with no better options realistically available.

  51. “The daily exposure of infants to isoflavones in soy infant-formulas is 6-11 fold higher on a bodyweight basis than the dose that has hormonal effects in adults consuming soy foods. Circulating concentrations of isoflavones in the seven infants fed soy-based formula were 13000-22000 times higher than plasma oestradiol concentrations in early life, and may be sufficient to exert biological effects, whereas the contribution of isoflavones from breast-milk and cow-milk is negligible.” I am not claiming it is definitely dangerous, just that I would be very hesitant to give it to my child. I would be wary of anything that has an effect on hormones or the endocrine system. Besides, isolated proteins are processed garbage I wouldn’t eat myself.
    “In 1996, the American Academy of Pediatrics issued a statement on aluminum toxicity in infants and children and discussed the relatively high content of aluminum in soy-based formulas.27 Although the aluminum content of human milk is 4 to 65 ng/mL, that of soy protein-based formula is 600 to 1300 ng/mL.8,28-31 The source of the aluminum is the mineral salts used in formula production. Aluminum, which makes up 8% of the earth’s crust as the third most common element, has no known biological function in humans.28 The toxicity of aluminum is traced to increased deposition in bone and in the central nervous system, particularly in the presence of reduced renal function in preterm infants and children with renal failure. Additional potential sources of aluminum include total parenteral nutrition solutions, renal dialysis fluids, and aluminum-containing antacids. Because aluminum competes with calcium for absorption, increased amounts of dietary aluminum from isolated soy protein-based formula may contribute to the reduced skeletal mineralization (osteopenia) observed in preterm infants and infants with intrauterine growth retardation.32 Term infants with normal renal function do not seem to be at substantial risk for aluminum toxicity from soy protein-based formulas.8″

    “Preterm infants who weighed from 1500 to 1800 g and were fed methionine-supplemented soy protein-based formulas demonstrated significantly less weight gain, less length gain, and lower serum albumin levels than that achieved with cow milk-based formulas.41 With lower birth weights, ie, <1500 g, data conflict; one study demonstrated equivalent growth and plasma protein levels,42 whereas another demonstrated significant reductions in both.43

    All three studies of preterm infants agreed, however, that serum phosphorus levels were lower in the preterm infants fed soy protein-based formula and, when measured, the alkaline phosphatase levels were higher.41,42 As anticipated from these observations, the osteopenia of prematurity is reportedly increased in low birth weight infants receiving soy protein-based formulas.44,45 Even with supplemental calcium and vitamin D, radiographic evidence of increased osteopenia was present in 32% of 125 preterm infants fed soy protein-based formula.45

    When combined with concerns about aluminum toxicity, the failure to achieve equivalent growth rates or albumin levels consistently and the reduced bone mineralization lead to the conclusion that soy protein-based formulas should not be fed to low birth weight preterm infants. The newer cow milk protein-based formulas designed for preterm infants are clearly superior.Preterm infants who weighed from 1500 to 1800 g and were fed methionine-supplemented soy protein-based formulas demonstrated significantly less weight gain, less length gain, and lower serum albumin levels than that achieved with cow milk-based formulas.41 With lower birth weights, ie, <1500 g, data conflict; one study demonstrated equivalent growth and plasma protein levels,42 whereas another demonstrated significant reductions in both.43

    All three studies of preterm infants agreed, however, that serum phosphorus levels were lower in the preterm infants fed soy protein-based formula and, when measured, the alkaline phosphatase levels were higher.41,42 As anticipated from these observations, the osteopenia of prematurity is reportedly increased in low birth weight infants receiving soy protein-based formulas.44,45 Even with supplemental calcium and vitamin D, radiographic evidence of increased osteopenia was present in 32% of 125 preterm infants fed soy protein-based formula.45

    When combined with concerns about aluminum toxicity, the failure to achieve equivalent growth rates or albumin levels consistently and the reduced bone mineralization lead to the conclusion that soy protein-based formulas should not be fed to low birth weight preterm infants. The newer cow milk protein-based formulas designed for preterm infants are clearly superior.”

    You can feed your kids whatever you want but this would be a last resort for me personally. (Source :
    reply to #62 by vbaculum:*

    In reply to #58 by TheAllKnowingAgnostic:

    I personally would not risk feeding my children soy formula, just based on this one study. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9217716N I would also like to say to whoever made the point about meat causing cancer and other problems that the tendency of vegans and vegetarians to replace meats with highly processed soy products does not seem likely to lead one to better health. I think that consuming too much of any one thing is generally not good for you regardless of whether it’s steak or tofu, but it is probably more work to be really healthy on a vegan diet. If you care about animals good for you. It’s important to you so you make it work. Why do you need to further justify yourself?

    That study shows that infants on soy formulas get high amounts of isoflavones. The NIH concedes that there have been no health problems documented for infants on soy formulas. It’s merely speculated by some authorities that there could be problems, given the biochemistry of isoflavones in infants. This subject is also debated among dietitians.

    The whole subject is merely speculative. Asian cultures have been making soy a stable for thousands of years and soy is widely consumed in the West as well. If there were issues with its biochemistry in children, there would at least be some documented cases by now.

  52. It isn’t really germane to the discussion, but a little bit of literary trivia is that the creature in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is in fact a vegan. In chapter seventeen when imploring Victor to provide a companion for him, he says: “If you consent, neither you nor any other human being shall ever see us again: I will go to the vast wilds of South America. My food is not that of man; I do not destroy the lamb and the kid to glut my appetite; acorns and berries afford me sufficient nourishment. My companion will be of the same nature as myself, and will be content with the same fare. We shall make our bed of dried leaves; the sun will shine on us as on man, and will ripen our food.”

    It’s weird that one of the great archetypes in horror mythology has the same basic dietary requirements as Neil in The Young Guys.

    Dracula needs blood to survive; zombies want to eat our brains; werewolves devour the whole body. But ol’ Frankenstein would’ve been more than happy with a nice lentil casserole as long as he got to share it with a chick with a Marge Simpson beehive accentuated by rockin’ white highlights.

    [Edited by moderator to remove image. Please restrict images to diagrams conveying scientific or other serious information that cannot be as well conveyed through discussion. We really do not want the site to look like Facebook! Thanks.]

  53. As a fan of Peter Witkin, I would like to thank PETA for spreading macabre images of horror and torture, and for sponsoring the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre, a tour de force in vegetarian propaganda.

    The vegan movement uses immoral tactics. This is demonstrated in the perception of some of these posts here. The OP itself is an unabashed attempt to manufacture scientific and moral validation after accepting the premise. Have you no shame?

    I’m surprised no one has mentioned Peter Singer, so I will. Peter Singer.

  54. In reply to #65 by Zeuglodon:

    The other problem, as Nigel S points out, is that you seem to be assuming that, because nature does it, therefore it takes the blame off us when we do it. The problem is that someone else’s wrong does not justify one’s own. It does matter in many cases how an animal will die, because in some cultures the life it experiences before that moment can be worse than if people had left it alone in the wild, so this argument doesn’t have internal consistency even on its own grounds. The other is that you seem to assume an animal must be killed by humans, but this isn’t necessarily the case. People will die anyway, but that isn’t an excuse for us to go around murdering them with anaesthetic on the grounds that the death will be less painful than, say, the hideous car accident that might have resulted.

    Pretty much the two main arguments for why meat-eating is considered immoral are roughly the same ones for protecting humans from the same harms: that it involves killing a sentient, possibly even sapient, organism, and that it often involves inconveniencing and harming such an organism, in both cases against its interests and possibly against its will, for the dubious pleasure of a third party exploiting its inability or lowered ability to protest at, prevent, or foresee its treatment. If it must be done at all, then only when it becomes a necessary evil justified in life-or-death situations with no better options realistically available.

    Thanks for your reply.

    If a lion or shark kills another creature for food (even a highly conscious creature, such as a human) the lion or shark is NOT doing anything morally wrong. It is acting on pure instinct and has no sense concern for it’s prey. I’m not using someone else’s “wrong” to justify one’s own, because there is no “wrong” when a lion or shark kills another creature. So the point I’m making in that respect is that killing another creature is not always inherently wrong; another factor has to apply to make it a morally wrong act.

    The factor at play which brings a killing into moral consideration is if the killer has a sense of concern for the wellbeing of other creatures. For the sake of argument, I’ll assume that only humans have this ability. So it then becomes a question of whether or not the potential victim of the killing – or any other creature – is going to suffer excessively or needlessly. (I say “any other creature” because next of kin or its society may suffer trauma even if the direct victim doesn’t.) That’s one reason why it is morally wrong to kill highly conscious creatures in all but the most exceptional circumstances.

    I also agree with many of the other reasons against killing any kind of creatures, including environmental and needless suffering.

    But to kill a chicken that has been well-raised on a free range, or to shoot a wild rabbit, animals that just live from moment to moment, I don’t see any needless suffering resulting from that.

    I suppose if a significant number of humans became traumatised simply at the thought of an animal being killed, we might be creating a new and distinct moral reason not to kill that animal, even if the animal itself and its kin did not suffer.

  55. In reply to #63 by Zeuglodon:

    In reply to #60 by phil rimmer:

    In reply to #57 by Zeuglodon:

    Stuff moral. I’m arguing insensate automaton for my yummy lobster thermostat with six orders of magnitude less in possible conscious suffering. Five orders less than a Republican even.

    Firstly, I think your grammar skills went downhill with that sentence, because I had to read it twice to work out your meaning. Secondly, on what grounds do you claim that a lobster is an “insensate automaton”? Insofar as it has both a nervous system containing pain receptors similar to ours and behaves like a creature would if it was feeling pain, it seems the onus is on anyone trying to prove that this is a trick or deception of some kind, as they are making non-parsimonious claims about consciousness.

    Also, lobsters are a pretty poor choice. They’re luxury foods, not necessities.

    The vegan and vegetarian mode is incoherent in rejecting “meat” on the basis of it being meat. Suffering and eco concerns are coherent but the full implications of this are fudged and quasi religious prohibitions substituted.

    I’m not sure what you mean here, so I’ll make a guess based on context. As far as I’m aware, ethically minded vegans/vegetarians don’t reject meat because it’s meat, but because they don’t think the short-term pleasure rush of eating the stuff outweighs the irreversible and unnecessary killing and harming of another organism. This is especially the case when meat eaters have a motive to keep things convenient rather than confront the ethical issues involved. If this is quasi-religious (technically, it’s philosophical and potentially informed by science and reason), then so is our abstaining from cannibalism, homicide, and “enhanced interrogation techniques” on the grounds that it involves killing and/or harming another organism (that happens to be the same species).

    Your “organism” plain and simple is an argument from meat not suffering or eco concerns. Meat does not suffer, neurons do, when enough are gathered together in the right form with inputs from sensors.

    Should I ever get down to 1% of my current neuronal quotient I am quite happy to end up in Tesco Value Burgers.

    Lobsters were the perfect choice for my point. They are a lot of meat for the neurons (same as a fruit fly). Maybe they are ethical meat and should be farmed in great quantities? Besides I make a mean lobster thermidor.

    How few neurons? What neuropsychologist will back your woo-ish claim that one millionth of our neurons may net conscious pain? Anaesthetised with a few of my neurons knocked out they can cut me up to their hearts content.

    How few neurons to make it effectively an automaton?

  56. In reply to #73 by Smill:

    Hi, phil rimmer. Neurons do not suffer any more than meat does. Suffering is something altogether different than pain, and i am glad you used that word. You cannot override the humanitarian instincts about this issue with an argument about neurons. I still think point 5 above has a good point. I think choosing to be vegan has more to do with ethical and moral evolution.

    Yet instincts in this matter are cultural artifacts (memetic not genetic) and therefore mutable by culture. Religious instincts likewise. It is the evangelising without authority that gets to me everytime.

    Religion its a free instinctual choice, but one has no rational authority to impose views through active evangelising to seek legal changes.

    Meat is a useless argument. Suffering and eco arguments are evidenced, rational and sustainable. Emotional appeals are unappealing.

  57. In reply to #71 by Jumped Up Chimpanzee:

    But to kill a chicken that has been well-raised on a free range, or to shoot a wild rabbit, animals that just live from moment to moment, I don’t see any needless suffering resulting from that.

    That only works if you’re absolutely certain you’re going to get a direct hit in its little rabbit brain, otherwise getting shot is extremely painful; needlessly, because no-one needs to eat a rabbit. Also, it’s not just about suffering, but well-being. Do we know rabbits don’t experience pleasure? I know dogs certainly do, and pigs as well. You want to exchange one experience for another. Maybe being a human eating a rabbit really is a richer experience than being a rabbit hopping around, but I don’t see how you can be sure of that. Another option is that humans train themselves to value consciousness, any consciousness, more than any particular taste or chewing-texture. That’s a win-win.

    Anyway, that ship has sailed. With only well-raised free range animals only very rich people could eat meat only once in a while. We’re seven billion people now, so intense factory farming is the only way to provide meat to everyone who wants it, and that means large-scale suffering. In practicality most meat eating is immoral, it has to be.

  58. Haven’t read every single comment, but the evolutionary evidence in support of Human Beings being omnivorous is overwhelming, from our dentition and digestive systems to our intelligence which is needed more for hunting than for grazing. (Admittedly some v.large herbivores like elephants or Mountain Gorillas are very smart).

    There is also the evolutionary history of hominids which shows that every single hominid species that went herbivorous went extinct.

  59. A simple test to check if it’s a religion or not : You are invited to visit some new friends. They didn’t know you are vegan so they serve a pizza with bacon. What do you do :

    • a) You eat it anyway. The pig is already dead and 10 grammes of lard every second year are not going to clog your ass up nor change the global food industry.
    • b) You starve yourself with a mournful eye, wishing they had prepared a special meal just for you out of respect. You even ask for it.

    Answer “a” is just you trying to be healthy and animal friendly. Answer “b” is a religion.

    .

    Don’t feel too guilty about meat. Growing vegetables means destroying an ecosystem so you can grow only your stuff. It kills a lot of animals. Do whatever you want so be healthy, but don’t look for moral justifications there. And I can’t resist to paraphrasing Niel de Grasse Tyson here : “When I die, I want to be buried, so that flora and fauna feed on me just like I fed on them in my lifetime.” That’s a moral behaviour if any.

  60. In reply to #75 by Nigel S:

    You raise some interesting points and at this time I can’t say I’ve resolved the issue in my mind, although it remains a curious fact that I’ve no intention to stop eating meat.

  61. In reply to #69 by Katy Cordeth:

    [Edited by moderator to remove image. Please restrict images to diagrams conveying scientific or other serious information that cannot be as well conveyed through discussion. We really do not want the site to look like Facebook! Thanks.]

    Oh, sorry. My bad. Alan4Discussion and others post cartoons all the time. I thought it was okay.

    BTW, Neil the hippy was in The Young Ones, not The Young Guys.

  62. P.S. Are cartoons and other silly stuff not allowed anymore? I totally get that you guys don’t want this site to look like Facebook; I’m just not sure what the rules are now on what we can and can’t link to.

    All the best, Katy C

  63. In reply to #77 by Ornicar:

    A simple test to check if it’s a religion or not : You are invited to visit some new cannibal friends. They didn’t know you’re not a cannibal so they serve long pig. What do you do :

    a) You eat it anyway. The person is already dead and 10 grammes of lard every second year are not going to clog your ass up nor change the population of humanity.

    b) You starve yourself with a mournful eye, wishing they had prepared a special non-cannibal meal just for you out of respect. You even ask for it.

    Answer “a” is just you trying to be healthy and people friendly. Answer “b” is a religion.

  64. In reply to #82 by Katy Cordeth:

    In reply to #77 by Ornicar:

    A simple test to check if it’s a religion or not : You are invited to visit some new cannibal friends. They didn’t know you’re not a cannibal so they serve long pig. What do you do :

    a) You eat it anyway. The person is already dead and 10 grammes of lard every second year are not going to clog your ass up nor change the population of humanity.

    b) You starve yourself with a mournful eye, wishing they had prepared a special non-cannibal meal just for you out of respect. You even ask for it.

    Answer “a” is just you trying to be healthy and people friendly. Answer “b” is a religion.

    That’s wonderful! I thought the exact same thing when I read Ornicar’s post.

  65. Have you ever heard of eco-agriculture? It is possible to grow food sustainably ad in a way that increases biodiversity instead of destroying it. Science has until recently focused on agricultural methods that seek to override natural systems instead of embracing them which has not been a good thing for natural ecosystems. We are just beginning to see the potential for this type of science, and I resent the people who spout how the current way is the only way. We are destroying our planet at an alarming rate, this is hugely because of modern agriculture. Defeatist individuals are ubiquitous and possibly solidify our fates through inaction and indifference. In response to your point, America could feed itself five times over on the cereal crops they grow to feed livestock, so any argument that veganism is just as unethical as the omnivorous alternative is pretty baseless. I say that as a lover of meat, albeit one who tries to consume within reason and from ethical/sustainable sources. I am always blown away by the nonchalance with which people accept the pointless destruction of our planet, often in the name of habits with parallel effects on their own health. I will also say that eating meat from unknown sources is much less enjoyable to me. I can see how this feeling could be much more strongly felt by a vegan. Not doing something because it will be an unpleasant experience is quite logical and has no parallels to religion that I can see. Humans are unique (or at least rare) in that we can be empathetic and understanding of people and situations outside of our own experience. We only have to make the effort.

    In reply to #77 by Ornicar:*

    A simple test to check if it’s a religion or not : You are invited to visit some new friends. They didn’t know you are vegan so they serve a pizza with bacon. What do you do :

    a) You eat it anyway. The pig is already dead and 10 grammes of lard every second year are not going to clog your ass up nor change the global food industry.
    b) You starve yourself with a mournful eye, wishing they had prepared a special meal just for you out of respect. You even ask for it.

    Answer “a” is just you trying to be healthy and animal friendly. Answer “b” is a religion.

    .

    Don’t feel too guilty about meat. Growing vegetables means destroying an ecosystem so you can grow only your stuff. It kills a lot of animals. Do whatever you want so be healthy, but don’t look for moral justifications there. And I can’t resist to paraphrasing Niel de Grasse Tyson here : “When I die, I want to be buried, so that flora and fauna feed on me just like I fed on them in my lifetime.” That’s a moral behaviour if any.

  66. Hi, I made an account so I could respond to this. Unfortunately, you probably aren’t in a position to ‘scientifically’ justify your lifestyle, a result of your pre-existing biases.

    1. This seems to be a misunderstanding about evolutionary biology. We can make cases for which dietary traits were beneficial for our ancestors survival (undoubtedly omnivorous for at least the last hundred thousand years), but this provides no weighting or argument for how we ‘should’ live today. If you want to know the most healthy diet, this requires finding modern studies and trials.

    2. Environmental impact i.e. methane production and deforestation as a result of the meat industry is real. Plants have the added benefit of carbon capture.

    3. ‘Halal’ and other ritualistic slaughter methods indeed involve suffering (I read into it, something like a minute or two of pain response for an adult cow once it’s throat has been cut). Bolt-gun method of slaughter, with adequate slaughterhouse standards involve little to no anxiety or suffering and near instantaneous brain death.

    4. Morality is a whole other ball-park – partly kin selection extended unto other species. It might even be the ancestral benefit of ‘respect your animal, keep it healthy, because when a particularly long winter comes, it will feed you and your family’.

  67. Yes, we really don’t want the site littered with jokes and cartoons and pictures of famous people with quotes written across them. We are keen to keep this a site for intelligent, rational, focused discussion, and not to let it slip into becoming a chat room or an alternative to Facebook.

    Where a diagram genuinely adds helpful information to a comment, eg. when it illustrates a scientific principle, then that’s fine.

    Also, please remember we don’t sit on the site 24 hours a day. Just because you see that another user has posted something doesn’t mean to say it will survive the modding process when we get to it later …

    Hope that helps to clarify.
    The mods

    In reply to #80 by Katy Cordeth:

    P.S. Are cartoons and other silly stuff not allowed anymore? I totally get that you guys don’t want this site to look like Facebook; I’m just not sure what the rules are now on what we can and can’t link to.

    All the best, Katy C

  68. In reply to #87 by Moderator:

    Yes, we really don’t want the site littered with jokes and cartoons and pictures of famous people with quotes written across them. We are keen to keep this a site for intelligent, rational, focused discussion

    I agree that rational focused discussion should be the goal but IMO the comments here often fall far short of it. And there seems to be a double standard, lame jokes about theists seem to be tolerated most of the time no matter what the topic. I can’t count the number of comments about the Easter Bunny, tooth fairy, and unicorns I’ve had to skip over.

    But I thought it would be a good idea to test my hypothesis. I picked a new article that I had read no comments for, The one Mother and Daughter leave LDS. So far four comments. Of the four I would classify three of them (1 – 3)as totally pointless mocking of religion that have little or nothing to do with the article. Its just the usual name calling that religious people are delusional sheeple who should be prohibited from breeding.

  69. From the small amound of vegetarians that ever excisted,some of tham were the greatest humas considering their influacne to humanity.Plato, Einstein,Tesla, Da Vinci,aslo Gandi,Beethoven.Is it just a coincidence? Or there is something to looke for there?

  70. In reply to #87 by Moderator:

    Thank you for the response, mods, and for what you guys do in general. I’ve heard you mention on a few occasions that you don’t sit on the site 24/7 and I wish you’d stop it. In my mind’s eye the RDFRS operations, in both Britain and the US, resemble something out of Torchwood or 24 : all glowing computer screens, people shouting into cell phones, exchanges like this one:

    Damn it, Faircloth, put that thing out. You know you’re not allowed to smoke in here.”

    “Damn it yourself; I’m on the phone with Dawkins. He says he’s found the tomb and he’s going in.”

    “That crazy sonofabitch. The Zoroastrians booby-trapped their burial places. I pray to God he knows that.”

    “That won’t work, Elizabeth. You know that.”

    “Yes, I was speaking figuratively.”

    Stage direction: they kiss.

    Sorry, I don’t know what happened at the end there in my little vignette. I’m sure the real-life dramatis personæ at the Foundation don’t act like that.

    Thanks again for responding, and keep on modding. :-)

  71. I agree Red Dog that something isn’t clicking here.

    I remember a long time back when you made exactly this point and I disagreed with you. I didn’t see it in the evidence. I saw theist participation and a lot of back and forth discussions on subjects that, while they involved what one might describe as snippy responses by atheists, were not primarily comprised of those responses. The discussions went on for hundreds and hundreds of comments with many experts from many disciplines involved and theists and fledgeling atheists were able to learn more and more about reason and science in areas of biblical history, biology, cosmology, physics, consciousness, philosophy and every subject that involved the convergence of those ideas. I was grateful for the careful efforts and patience from people well-versed in those subjects and the careful questions from the rest of us.

    While I think it’s fair to hold the tooth fairy up as an example, (there really IS no evidence for gods that couldn’t be applied to the tooth fairy), the opportunity to engage with theists interested in engaging, and the opportunity to examine our own particular ways of fooling ourselves can get buried beneath the waves when the choir takes over the church, repeated references to the tooth fairy without addressing the details doesn’t help any of us, theists or non-theists.

    This used to be a place where you had to fight to keep up. There are brilliant commentors, new and old.

    I hate the catholic church but I don’t hate catholics. I hate christianity and I don’t hate christians. I hate Islam and I don’t hate muslims. It would be easy if it were that simple. It isn’t. It would also be easy if they were all stupid and we were all smart. Not the case.

    I hate that there are seven billion of on this planet and that most of us don’t even consider the impact our one species has on all of the others because we don’t stop to consider for a second that there might be moral and environmental considerations that we can’t ignore. We need to apply reason and evidence to all of it. Knowing that Yahweh is irrational can make us all feel smug because we have the right answer and it can detract from other assumptions we comfortably live with every day.

    I stll read great questions and great responses here but the discussions that are screaming to get off the ground disappear just when they’re getting started. It’s a waste.

    I wish two things and I wonder if these very basic things are technically complicated. I’m not a moderater for rd.net so they might be and I wouldn’t have the first idea why they are.

    1) I think it’s been mentioned many times before how valuable a link to the latest comment is. This points all of us to a discussion that has taken off. This is what discussions are made of.

    2) Give theists a break. Give them at least a couple of comments where they aren’t accused of “preaching”. For many of them, they are encountering arguments to the contrary for the very first time. And they are bound to repeat familiar arguments assuming that other people haven’t ever considered them. That’s (as far as I can so far tell) why they are theists. Once they have encountered ten or twelve (or six or eight,… MORE than two or three) reasonable arguments to the contrary and failed to respond to them, it’s reasonable to call it preaching. Give them a chance to get involved in the discussion.

    Before you get me wrong, I agree with Katy. I’m sure it’s not easy to moderate and write code that covers what this site is trying to do. It’s a heck of a task, especially if you don’t have the benefit of teams working around the clock. I’ve always been impressed with the job the mods face and I’m sure out here, it’s easy to overestimate the power they have. Good lord. They’re moderating a site that is about reason and science and that promotes atheism.

    I think it would be useful if one or more of the moderators got together and wrote an OP that explained the extent to which their resources limit their ability to tackle the goals they were handed. Most of us out here don’t have a clue and are very curious. I’m sure it would be very informative. People with experience in the field could respond and the rest of us could fight to keep up. We would all have an opportunity to learn something.

    There are and always have been great contributors here. Make theists welcome and keep the burning discussions alive.

    I agree that rational focused discussion should be the goal but IMO the comments here often fall far short of it. And there seems to be a double standard, lame jokes about theists seem to be tolerated most of the time no matter what the topic. I can’t count the number of comments about the Easter Bunny, tooth fairy, and unicorns I’ve had to skip over.

  72. In reply to #20 by CoreyLeeWrenn:

    We would not discuss people who are vehemently opposed to rape and child abuse as “militant.” The more appropriate differentiation would be dietary vs. ethical vegan.

    The decision to adhere to either type of veganism could be an ethical decision couldn’t it? Dietary vs absolute would seem more appropriate to me.

  73. I have no problem with eating meat if I could be sure that the animal was treated well and was killed quickly and as painlessly as possible,but seeing as I know this is not the case with meat in the supermarket and i dont have it in me to kill an animal myself I dont eat it.

  74. I would like to thank you for your reply in turn. It’s good to discuss such issues with someone else. I haven’t had the opportunity for months.

    In reply to #71 by Jumped Up Chimpanzee:

    In reply to #65 by Zeuglodon:

    If a lion or shark kills another creature for food (even a highly conscious creature, such as a human) the lion or shark is NOT doing anything morally wrong. It is acting on pure instinct and has no sense concern for it’s prey. I’m not using someone else’s “wrong” to justify one’s own, because there is no “wrong” when a lion or shark kills another creature. So the point I’m making in that respect is that killing another creature is not always inherently wrong; another factor has to apply to make it a morally wrong act.

    The factor at play which brings a killing into moral consideration is if the killer has a sense of concern for the wellbeing of other creatures. For the sake of argument, I’ll assume that only humans have this ability. So it then becomes a question of whether or not the potential victim of the killing – or any other creature – is going to suffer excessively or needlessly. (I say “any other creature” because next of kin or its society may suffer trauma even if the direct victim doesn’t.) That’s one reason why it is morally wrong to kill highly conscious creatures in all but the most exceptional circumstances.

    I can appreciate in part your assessment here, if by moral behaviour you mean that self-conscious behaviour performed by any species capable of interacting socially with others. The fact is that humans are exclusively in a position to regulate their own behaviour not only amongst themselves, but with other species too. It would be useless, for instance, to educate cows on Platonic ethical philosophy.

    The problem I see is that you take this allowance too far and define a killing as amoral on the grounds that the killer can’t help itself and can’t or doesn’t understand what it’s doing. This seems to me not only dismissive of the very real pain and death inflicted on its victim – as though this issue of pain had nothing to do with how we humans sympathize with victims – but runs into several thorny issues surrounding “pure instinct” and a “sense of concern”, not least of which are that the same arguments could be invoked to exculpate a human, and that we don’t judge a right or wrong action on the basis of the capabilities of its perpetrator. Even an insane murderer is still responsible for the people he kills.

    The first issue is that it’s controversial whether animals run on pure instinct or not. Meagre forms of learning can occur even among simple organisms like worms and insects, and most of the human faculty seems to run on a collection of instincts, each tailored to specific tasks (such as language skills). This issue isn’t so contentious as the second, however: that biological determinism (or so you seem to be implying) grants one an amnesty. Culture is no get-out clause because even if humans were sponges for cultural information, that doesn’t free us from the grip of determinism enough to make our actions any different from if they were biologically determined. This suggests to me you’re exercising a double standard, possibly as a result of a commitment to the notion that “we” can “choose” to act morally or not. Yet most human beings go through their lives in a state of semi-obliviousness, as much the results of instinct as any animals.

    The other issue is that you seem to put too much stress on an ability to feel concern for others. If a psychopath kills someone he or she doesn’t care about – and to be honest, most crimes of violence and murder are committed by people who don’t care about the victim – nothing about the fact that he is a human being makes him much different from a lion that kills a deer when natural selection had no point in giving it a sense of concern. Whether it’s natural in this way or not doesn’t strike me as a salient factor, ethically speaking, because the harm is carried out just the same.

    It seems much more honest to me for us to say that a predator to kill another animal is wrong, since it results in the unagreed-for pain and death of a sentient organism doomed by circumstances, but that it’s the inevitable result of a brain designed to kill for a living (for the same reason a born retarded person has limited hope of understanding many things), a necessary evil (because the predator will starve otherwise) and more dangerous to attempt a redress (in that it’s both costly and potentially could cause more misery than it solves). This seems to me at least more consistent than labelling the infliction of pain and death unacceptable only on the grounds that supposedly instinct-free humans feel concern for either party.

    I also agree with many of the other reasons against killing any kind of creatures, including environmental and needless suffering.

    But to kill a chicken that has been well-raised on a free range, or to shoot a wild rabbit, animals that just live from moment to moment, I don’t see any needless suffering resulting from that.

    It is only needless when its death was not required to sustain another creature with a nervous system. Since meat-eating is no longer a necessity for humans – only the nutrients it contains and which are obtainable elsewhere for minimum risk – such a killing is needless, and therefore can’t be justified. It also suggests to me that you underestimate the experiences of such creatures in the absence of a thorough understanding of their neurological makeup, and while I profess no expertise in this area either, I am sceptical of the notion that a non-human mind is automatically a miserable or lacking experience, especially when this coexists with the contradictory notion that ignorance is bliss.

    I suppose if a significant number of humans became traumatised simply at the thought of an animal being killed, we might be creating a new and distinct moral reason not to kill that animal, even if the animal itself and its kin did not suffer.

    I think you’re making a contradiction here. You seem to be suggesting that humans can come up with good reasons for acting ethically only after feeling sympathy or distress for a victim, as though an arachnophobe can invent good reasons why to scream with fright at the sight of a harmless house spider. But this isn’t how we judge whether or not the ill-treatment of others is unnecessary, and at the very least it falls prey to internal inconsistency. For instance, if I feel nothing when I step on an ant, but my friend grimaces and then makes up excuses for why ant-treading is immoral, then the contradictory ethical attitudes have left us with no workable ethical model. In the context of our talk, it’s precisely the fact that such organisms have the same or similar equipment for pain detection, discomfort, and other forms of sentient experience in the nervous system that there’s a basis for such discussion. Our empathy towards others, like our fears, are there to fit with the properties of real world facts, but can sometimes be limited or miscalibrated, and other times can be designed so. It’s at this point that reason and science are required to get around our own cognitive limitations so that such ethical positions can at least be measured.

    It seems to me that the implications of evolution suggest the barrier between humans and other animals is not clean enough that we can treat them as personal conveniences when, but for a twist of fate, the same cognitive level in a human body would make us feel more kindly disposed.

  75. In reply to #72 by phil rimmer:

    Your “organism” plain and simple is an argument from meat not suffering or eco concerns. Meat does not suffer, neurons do, when enough are gathered together in the right form with inputs from sensors.

    I’m afraid either I’ve been very abysmal in conveying my views, or you’ve done a stellar job of misunderstanding them. I apologize profusely if it’s the former.

    When you accuse me of suggesting, implicitly or otherwise, that I think “meat” suffers as opposed to nervous systems, I’m afraid your accusation is not only baseless, but unintentionally ironic. As far as my position is concerned, all the sentient experiences of consciousness – my pains, pleasures, discomforts, ruminations, confusions, views etc. – are simply the working of tens of billions of neurons acting non-stop to keep complex webs of information activated across the nervous system. No homunculus, no spirit, no floaty thing living independently of it, and no “meat” acting as the miracle matter that does all the work.

    This is the most parsimonious conclusion to be drawn from modern neuroscience, though in deference to the scientific method, it is provisional until counter-evidence appears. The irony is that I almost exclusively find people who are more dualist than I am, and who are more likely to invoke the organism as though a few pounds of muscular tissue designed to contract when stimulated had feelings like those created in the highly specialized areas such as the amygdala.

    I’m also aware that nociceptors and other systems are recruited in order to produce pains, suffering, discomforts, and so on, though I have to admit I’m not entirely sure what neural arrangements are required to achieve it. If I remember rightly, I think that lobsters have nociceptors too.

    Should I ever get down to 1% of my current neuronal quotient I am quite happy to end up in Tesco Value Burgers.

    How can you be sure of this statement? According to the statement made at Cambridge, consciousness and sentience are the product of the whole activity of the brain. Even if you were reduced to a mere hundred million neurons, on what basis do you think your daily experience would be so miserable or lacking that you would welcome a painless death and a return to oblivion for it? This doesn’t strike me as being any better than saying you’d rather die than be retarded, especially in the absence of any testimony from a representative of the group you are denigrating, much less from actual experience of such a state.

    Lobsters were the perfect choice for my point. They are a lot of meat for the neurons (same as a fruit fly). Maybe they are ethical meat and should be farmed in great quantities?

    In which case, you seem to have missed the point of the discussion. This is not only in light of the fact that I don’t base my ethics on how much flesh an animal has, but in the fact that you didn’t address the point I raised. Lobsters do not contain nutrients that cannot be procured anywhere else, and the consumption of lobsters is done almost entirely by people who are rich enough to afford exotic foods. Moreover, their method of dispatching is likely to cause extreme pain to the animal given the presence of nociceptors and possibly of amygdala-like structures or their analogues. About the only way that it was a good example was that its nervous system specifications are ambiguous enough that people can wonder if it’s close to the “acceptability” threshhold, and this is precisely the point you didn’t make in this paragraph.

    Besides I make a mean lobster thermidor.

    I’m trying to be civil, and I apologize if I miss the mark. I’m fully aware that meat eaters aren’t cold-hearted or nasty people, and I do not consider it a good sign to hold any prejudice against a group of people when I was one of their number not too long ago, and can appreciate their position and characters on a one-to-one basis.

    Nevertheless, I would ask that you actually consider the positions of the participants before posting jokey comments like this. It seems too many pro-meat eaters can’t resist making a dinner joke under the mistaken impression that it’s original and endearing.

    Given the circumstances, I regret to say I don’t appreciate it. It suggests you’re more interesting in winning than in having a mature discussion on this topic, and I would be grateful if you desisted from it in future replies.

    How few neurons? What neuropsychologist will back your woo-ish claim that one millionth of our neurons may net conscious pain? Anaesthetised with a few of my neurons knocked out they can cut me up to their hearts content.

    Woo-ish suggests that I’m invoking spirituality. My claim, as anyone trained in the relevant neurosciences is free to correct, is that the presence of nociceptors and the analogue of a pain system in an animal – even if it is not identical in size or design to a human equivalent – should make us more cautious about dismissing any possible pain it experiences. Unless you can suggest that pain and other sentient emotions exist independently of brain matter – which seems more woo-ish than a claim that it is brain matter, based on current science – then the only reason not to err on the side of caution is if it results in serious compromises for others. Denying someone a lobster dinner does not strike me as a serious compromise.

    How few neurons to make it effectively an automaton?

    Well, this is questionable at best. For one thing, in a deterministic sense, every living thing is an automaton and humans are nothing special. For another thing, if by automaton you mean senseless, then I’d be interested in knowing how you confirm or deny the existence of pain independently of neural make-up, when the best science suggests an almost-absolute correlation at least. Even if this is not your claim, and you wish to know what it is like to experience a lobster’s level of pain as opposed to a mammal’s level, then while I admit I’m not sure how to go about comparing the two – not knowing enough about the workings of the pain centres of the nervous system to make a decent comparison – I also maintain that this is not sufficient to dismiss it either, especially with presumptuous comments about what one would do in such a situation, and that it’s less ethically dubious to give the benefit of the doubt to the victim than to assume there’s little harm done, on the grounds that discovering the former is wrong would be less risky than discovering the latter is.

    If there are non-rational bases in any of my comments, please point them out. It does me no favours to maintain a position that isn’t rational.

  76. In reply to #73 by Smill:

    Hi, phil rimmer. Neurons do not suffer any more than meat does. Suffering is something altogether different than pain, and i am glad you used that word. You cannot override the humanitarian instincts about this issue with an argument about neurons. I still think point 5 above has a good point. I think choosing to be vegan has more to do with ethical and moral evolution.

    That said, I don’t agree with this assessment either. If enough neurons are arranged in a precise way, the result can feel suffering just like any other emotion that neurons create. And the debate must rest in no small part on the actual properties of the object we’re interested in. That’s why we debate about the rights of humans and animals, but not about the rights of tables, chairs, and Martian soil. If an analysis of their structures and our own reveal facts about their abilities to experience things, then ethics cannot rely solely on compassion – for emotions evolved to deal with real world issues just like fear evolved to keep us from harm – but must be based on reason and evidence.

  77. In reply to #76 by Roy72:

    Haven’t read every single comment, but the evolutionary evidence in support of Human Beings being omnivorous is overwhelming, from our dentition and digestive systems to our intelligence which is needed more for hunting than for grazing. (Admittedly some v.large herbivores like elephants or Mountain Gorillas are very smart).

    There is also the evolutionary history of hominids which shows that every single hominid species that went herbivorous went extinct.

    I’m afraid this is, if it is a point at all, a point based on the nature fallacy. If it was discovered that humans survived by mass rape, massacre, and scaring rivals by torture, while other hominidae died because they were too nice for the environment in which they found themselves, we would not be forced to deem such vicious behaviour acceptable, nor should this be considered a justification for perpetrating or tolerating those activities today. If anything, it seems it would be more ethical to improve society until our survival no longer relied on such dubious behaviour.

  78. In reply to #77 by Ornicar:

    A simple test to check if it’s a religion or not : You are invited to visit some new friends. They didn’t know you are vegan so they serve a pizza with bacon. What do you do :

    a) You eat it anyway. The pig is already dead and 10 grammes of lard every second year are not going to clog your ass up nor change the global food industry.
    b) You starve yourself with a mournful eye, wishing they had prepared a special meal just for you out of respect. You even ask for it.

    Answer “a” is just you trying to be healthy and animal friendly. Answer “b” is a religion.

    Much as I seem to be saying this a lot today, I don’t agree with this. It’s a dismissive and simplistic assessment. A person who refuses to eat flesh at any given moment is acting irrationally in the short-term, but there’s more to a commitment to behaviours than just dismissing them as religious delusion. A person who accepts to eat flesh the one time, having broken the rule in a rational way, is thereby free to exploit a loophole in their commitment. This brings them a considerable personal advantage, but it also weakens their position and suggests that they have an opportunistic attitude to ethics.

    A person who is harder to persuade is not necessarily being irrational, any more than a person practising civil disobedience is being obtuse. By cutting off loopholes or avenues for a relapse, an individual exercising such self-control is not only signalling to others that they take their commitments seriously – i.e. that this isn’t just a fad or a face-saving technicality – but signalling to themselves as human beings that they take it seriously, and will find it easier to avoid becoming hypocrites. In this way, they indicate to others that the issue is not one to be taken lightly. In that sense, they can often persuade more people than if they exploited ambiguities.

    For instance, in civil disobedience, it’s not a matter of giving in when it’s opportune and only disobeying when you think there’ll be fewer repercussions. The whole point is that you convince any third parties that your cause is a serious and sympathetic one, not just by showing your commitment to it but (in this case) by exposing the opponent. Such strategies have been deployed by the likes of Gandhi and Mandela with considerable success for the causes they espoused.

    Of course, this is a contentious strategy depending on several factors to work and can be self-defeating – stubbornness is what we call it when it goes wrong – but there are rational reasons why an organism might exercise a commitment to principle, and I think it isn’t being fair to simply dismiss it as “religion” without giving it a bit more thought.

    There’s also the fact that this is rational only in the sense that defecting is rational in a one-off Prisoner’s Dilemma. In an iterated version, the oversight can be corrected and embarrassment spared by the vegan politely thanking them but also notifying them of their dietary habits for future reference.

    Don’t feel too guilty about meat. Growing vegetables means destroying an ecosystem so you can grow only your stuff. It kills a lot of animals. Do whatever you want so be healthy, but don’t look for moral justifications there. And I can’t resist to paraphrasing Niel de Grasse Tyson here : “When I die, I want to be buried, so that flora and fauna feed on me just like I fed on them in my lifetime.” That’s a moral behaviour if any.

    The implication I’m getting from this comment is that neither option is free of risks. This is fair enough, but that’s still a long way from establishing that they’re both equally valid. Also, considering some of the factors invoked on the subject of animal nervous systems, equivocating the word “kill” to suggest plants and animals are similar in this respect is even more questionable. With minor exceptions, plants have no nervous systems and it’s not clear that they have any analogous systems, adjusting for size and their growth times, that correspond even remotely to the complexity of one nociceptor, never mind one pain area in an arthropod’s brain.

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  80. In reply to #98 by Zeuglodon:

    In reply to #72 by phil rimmer:

    Thanks for your full reply. I will come back to all of this, but am too tired at the moment for detail. (The nociceptor discussion is one I think that should progress us well here.)

    Thermidor was included only to explain my obscure joke of lobster thermostat but without the condescension of assuming you did not get it. (My sense of humor is a mystery to most.) Lobsters have the tiniest of brains equivalent of much smaller insects (like the fruit fly) and at some point in brain size (because this is where nociceptor fibres terminate and are registered) it becomes no more sophisticated than a modern thermostat containing a micro controller. No matter how you view this these are circuits both.

    Can we by accident inflict pain on a thermostat if we design it right…i.e wrong? To suggest that circuits made this way rather than circuits made that way have some special capacity, by the nature of the circuit stuff to experience pain is woo-ish to me. It surely can only be about form and function and the stack up of inferences, the stomach turning implications of that sudden dreadful pain that overlays the impulsive automatic retraction.

    Lobsters don’t have nociceptors for, for instance, extreme pH like fruitfly do and probably have none at all.

    I hope you don’t kill flies.

    Your use of “killing an organism” as innately bad without discussing levels of sentience or of experience is no different from asserting that meat alone is the decider in these matters. Simple organisms are not that simple.

    smill’s discussion of simple repugnance makes sense. We would not even save five people’s lives if we had to kill one to achieve it. What we feel and what may be more rationally moral, or at least not actively immoral are not so aligned. Cultures change what we feel in a single generation.

  81. In reply to #103 by Smill:

    I suppose I find it difficult to consider a living creature described as ‘a result’ that feels. Are we really not more then, than the sum of our parts? Is this latter a belief because of christianisation or some other religions long-term influence. I mean, we cannot therefore, if we are driven by reason and evidence as the twin engines of our understanding, to consider ourselves more than our physicality? So that everything about us has to have a survival reason for existence. I recall watching about dolphins play, the scientist I suppose would say it served a function in their survival. Is it not possible that sometimes our nature has no purpose in our survival! Do I make any sense?

    Well, I’ll address your questions as well as I can, but in deference to the Moderator’s warning, I’ll keep it as close to the topic of veganism and vegetarianism as possible.

    The notion of us being more than the sum of our parts has been a philosophical conundrum for millennia. In consciousness philosophy, it’s referred to as dualism, the notion that our experiences of colour, feeling, sound, emotions, thoughts, reflections, confusions and the like are actual things that could exist without brains, kind of like ghosts or spirits. It’s a powerful intuition, and may well be behind people’s belief in the afterlife, spirits of nature, souls, and consciousness in general.

    This might seem academic, but in fact it’s crucial to our understanding of living things, and nowhere is this more obvious than on the subject of animal ethics. Depending on whether animals can feel or even think like humans, the outcome determines whether or not harming one is simply property damage, cruel but not as cruel as harming humans, cruel no matter what, or anything in between these positions.

    The opposing view – monism – states that our experiences are not things that can exist independently of matter, but are in fact simply one big process of brain activity. Lots of people reject this view because it’s not easy to reconcile some electrified cells with the very real experience of seeing the world or of feeling hurt or angry. To tell the truth, I still find it a tough one to wrap my head round. Yet, it’s the view most consistent with the discoveries of neuroscience to date, and since no one has yet proven or demonstrated that consciousness can exist independently of brain matter, it also doesn’t make any claims that go beyond the evidence.

    This has profound implications for understanding animal consciousness, because if real experiences come down to the way brains are built, then in principle one could study an animal’s brain and learn whether or not it was capable of thinking certain thoughts, feeling certain emotions, and experiencing things like humans do. This could potentially resolve centuries of debate over the sentience and sapience of different animal species, and therefore require us to modify our behaviour towards such species.

    From here, or from similar positions, a vegan or vegetarian may come to the conclusion that harming or killing such creatures is inconsistent with their own commitments not to harm or kill humans when both have the ability to suffer or lose out as a result. While there are controversies over how far this extends – not helped by the fact that human neuroscience alone is very incomplete – there are less ambiguous cases like mammals and other vertebrates who do have some common basis in how their brains work. Given that many species from these groups are currently the animals used by the meat industry, and a vegan or vegetarian at the very least boycotts the produce by not eating it.

    Now, to get back to your point on dualism, or the “more” that exceeds the sum of its parts, I’d have to say that there’s no evidence of this “more” at the moment, and even if it was discovered we’d still need to analyse it to explain how exactly it achieves the job it’s alleged to do. Whether it’s the result of a long history of Christian tradition or not, I don’t know, though I suspect the actual idea of dualism has been around for longer than that religion has been around for, since it’s such an intuitive idea. If we’re committed to reason and evidence, then the most defensible idea is monism, and we are physical beings with no extra ingredients to make us work.

    Naturally, this means we are one of the products of evolution by natural selection. That doesn’t mean that everything we do is therefore adaptive or solely for survival purposes, but it does mean that any complicated organ designed to perform a specific job or set of jobs over multiple generations is most likely the result of natural selection, since adaptationism has been the best answer to why we have organs apparently built to engineering specifications. This is all made possible by the collection of genes on our DNA chromosomes, which have mutated to produce the varied specifications for body designs, enabling natural selection to narrow it down to only those designs that best suit the environment.

    That doesn’t mean, of course, that our day-to-day thoughts are obsessions over the things that concern genes. The outcome of natural selection was that we found ourselves in a world where relationships, ethics, social theories, personal dramas, power struggles, all the good and the bad of human life became real. Humans have strong drives to survive, as would be expected of a product of natural selection, and also strong drives to accomplish all sorts of other goals. The fact that such a world has a history does not render it non-existent, but it does mean anyone wanting to understand it can only get so far without learning how it arose.

    Dolphin play, for instance, may for all we know be a practice for when it’s old enough to hunt. That’s the ultimate reason for it. But the proximate reason – the one for day-to-day moments of that individual’s life – may simply be that the dolphin enjoys playing with friends. It’s not one or the other.

    As for purpose, that’s a tricky concept to apply to humans. While you could get away with talking about genes “building” bodies for the twin purposes of helping them to survive and reproduce, this has to be understood as something else entirely from the purposes a human mind can understand. In any case, it doesn’t strike me as obvious why purpose has to come from outside, or why we would want this to be the case. Purpose can emerge and has emerged from evolution just as design and thought have.

    This also means we are in the same boat as other animals, in many respects. After all, but for want of a nail, that snail on your lawn could have been you, that stork in the lake could have been you, and instead of the feelings you enjoy as a human, you might have felt as a cow felt when it chews the cud or watches over its calf. And unlike, say, grass or mushrooms, there’s a very real chance that you as an animal would have experienced things. The theory also gives a basis for supposing that consciousness, instead of being a discrete thing you either have or don’t have, could simply be something on a continuum, and even that some creatures have conscious experiences you could only dream of.

    Of course, it should be said that this doesn’t mean we can’t choose to act on our discoveries, but both the “we” who makes the choice and the “choice” itself don’t pop out of a vacuum with no warning. They’re both part of the physical universe. I think this should make us elevate the power of the physical world rather than make us denigrate our own experiences as illusions, because the fact that I’m a product of my biology and my environment doesn’t make my daily life, including my ongoing attempts to modify my ethics, vanish in a puff of logic.

    There. I hope that’s gone some way towards clearing things up a little?

  82. In reply to #105 by phil rimmer:

    Thanks for your full reply. I will come back to all of this, but am too tired at the moment for detail. (The nociceptor discussion is one I think that should progress us well here.)

    Take your time. There’s no deadline for this discussion.

    Lobsters have the tiniest of brains equivalent of much smaller insects (like the fruit fly) and at some point in brain size (because this is where nociceptor fibres terminate and are registered) it becomes no more sophisticated than a modern thermostat containing a micro controller. No matter how you view this these are circuits both.

    Why do I get the impression this was intended to surprise me? Since I take monism and evolution by natural selection seriously, I would inevitably conclude that brains are essentially natural computers. In principle, there’s no reason a human-made artificial computer couldn’t emulate the characteristics of its natural equivalent.

    Can we by accident inflict pain on a thermostat if we design it right…i.e wrong? To suggest that circuits made this way rather than circuits made that way have some special capacity, by the nature of the circuit stuff to experience pain is woo-ish to me. It surely can only be about form and function and the stack up of inferences, the stomach turning implications of that sudden dreadful pain that overlays the impulsive automatic retraction.

    I still don’t understand why you persist with the woo accusation. Sentience to me is no more a special faculty than the physical circuitry that makes it possible, essentially because they’re more or less the same thing. If a computing system is designed to detect certain stimuli and process it using computing principles akin to those found in natural neural nets, whatever their specific form and function come out as on a schematic, then given how pain works in human nervous systems, that suggests by inference that there’s an experience of some sort in a system designed to simulate it. If that means that I accept the possibility of silicon processors being able to feel pain if designed accordingly, then unless someone can prove that consciousness and sentience exist independently of brain or computing activity in general, I don’t see that the supposed reductio ad absurdum actually contains a contradiction, except in the sense that most people would dismiss it as nonsense and not elaborate on why beyond personal incredulity.

    Yes, this raises keen problems, not the least of which is how pain areas’ microcircuitry actually work and how well one can make the comparison of different designs, and I concede that what I loosely call pain may come on a continuum from intense agony to mild discomfort. I don’t even know what the exact parallels are between the technical details of a thermostat and those of a lobster’s brain, and I suspect that simply detecting the presence of pH levels is not the same as feeling pain when one does so. For that, I would guess a brain or computer would need a module designed to process the incoming signal and treat it as something to feel pain for, and it would be the presence or absence of such things that make a key ethical distinction between the two devices.

    However, unless you think I’m invoking dualism, I fail to see how I went from neuroscience and nociceptors to being lumped in with spiritualists and New Age thinkers.

    Lobsters don’t have nociceptors for, for instance, extreme pH like fruitfly do and probably have none at all.

    The fact that they lack them for one stimulus does not mean they lack them entirely. As the article itself points out, the usefulness of a nociceptor system means we can expect to find it across the animal kingdom. I don’t recall reading the part that confirmed lobsters were devoid of them. Also, I’m now starting to think that a detection system is insufficient. For pain, special processing areas in the brain would be required to give the simulation its emotional colouring, much like the amygdala does in humans.

    I hope you don’t kill flies.

    I don’t, though I used to do so.

    Your use of “killing an organism” as innately bad without discussing levels of sentience or of experience is no different from asserting that meat alone is the decider in these matters. Simple organisms are not that simple.

    But I’ve been making references to sentience and experience throughout our discussion and my discussion with others. I’ve stressed enough times that there are properties of animals that differentiate them from, say, trees or fly agaric, and if my reference to neuroscience hasn’t indicated as much, then my latest post should at least clarify my position. You don’t seem to be paying attention to any of my clarifications on that point. The buck most certainly does not stop with “killing organisms is innately bad”, but it does stress that our attitude towards animals is often inconsistent with our attitude towards humans, which is the hallmark of a flawed ethical system.

    Moreover, since sentience is likely to exist on a continuum, it is in principle possible to increase or decrease an organism’s sentience if one were a skilled enough neurosurgeon, by grafting on chunks of neural wiring designed so that each part more and more resembled a human brain. So long as the continuous brain activity was maintained throughout, the organism would probably experience this as a child might while growing from embryo to adult form, but at a much faster rate. This suggests that it is possible in theory to improve an organism’s experience akin to the scenario in Flowers for Algernon, and it is only the lack of such technology and the imposition of everyday conflicts with such organisms that means many will live and die without ever having the chance to experience such a thing. I suppose this is tragic in a sense, but it has interesting implications for the treatment of animals if science ever progresses to such a stage. For now, it may also be considered part of the argument for considering the extinguishing of an organism’s brain functions as an unavoidable and necessary evil – the same as someone having the bad luck of being born a permanent retard, and, being in the way of some ethical path, having to be taken as collateral damage in the process – rather than try to justify it as an amoral or even acceptable action.

    I apologize if I seem to be rambling a little, but if you still consider this attempt to maintain consistency between our ethical behaviour and the facts of the world “woo”, I would be most interested in receiving a critique to pull me back from the brink.

    smill’s discussion of simple repugnance makes sense. We would not even save five people’s lives if we had to kill one to achieve it. What we feel and what may be more rationally moral, or at least not actively immoral are not so aligned. Cultures change what we feel in a single generation.

    I’m not really impressed by this argument, firstly because I’m not arguing that our feelings are aligned with what is rationally ethical anyway, and secondly because I don’t see how you can claim that and claim that “simple repugnance” makes sense.

    A feeling by itself does not explain anything, much less make automatic sense. I used to be an arachnophobe, to such a point that I wouldn’t even go into a room if there was a spider in there. If I followed the principle of believing that my feelings made more sense than my rational thinking, then I’d have ended up making excuses to support my phobia and cause needless problems. Instead, I thought about it rationally. Why do humans fear things? To keep themselves out of trouble. Would it have paid my ancestors to fear spiders in the African environment? If there were enough venomous species around, then yes it would. Does it pay me now to fear their harmless relatives in the UK? No. Of course, my phobia didn’t just disappear overnight, but the result is that now I have removed the problem and remained consistent while doing so.

    The sad fact is that what may be rational may, in the end, trump our intuitions because we recognize that intuitions can be wrong rather than right. This is another implication of natural selection: that mental faculties like some of our ethical intuitions arose not because they were true or proximately rational, but because genes found them useful. It’s perfectly possible that it is rational and ethical to take one life in order to save five others, but in practice it would be such an extremely traumatizing decision to make that no one would blame the poor guy who broke down saying he couldn’t do it. This may be a repugnant or even taboo conclusion, but if we have an alternative justification for thinking otherwise, then let’s bring it out into the open instead of acting like our feelings have the final say in every decision.

    Also, I notice from earlier that you strongly imply culture is a factor in ethics. While I broadly agree with this, I’d also point out that culture is also a factor in the progress and changes of science, so this doesn’t by itself prove much. In fact, moral intuitions are broadly similar across cultures, as Pinker notes in The Blank Slate and The Better Angels of Our Nature, suggesting more common ground and general principles. I would argue that cultural ideas are just as susceptible to faulty thinking as biological intuitions, and just because cultural attitudes change does not mean that ethical truths are unstable, nonexistent, or culturally relativisitic in the extreme sense of the term, any more than the progress of science proves that real world truths are forever beyond us. In any case, whether an idea comes from culture or biology says nothing about its merits.

  83. In reply to #108 by Smill:

    Do you not think it may be possible that science still makes value judgements just that now the same process is disguised in scientific language? I can see you are being very, very careful to avoid this.

    Well, the actual pursuit of science by scientists is at least buoyed up by what those scientists value in their pursuit, and those values aren’t necessarily ones about finding out the truth (or at least aren’t exclusively so). Certainly it’s possible for anyone to manipulate findings or scientific discoveries to serve his or her own agenda, and history is replete with examples, not least of which is eugenics.

    As for science and reason in general (I want to be careful and include the two because a search for truth isn’t exclusive to science), I don’t think there are any values beyond truth ones built into them. Just things you can and can’t do, like contradict yourself or go beyond the data. This is less because of the values inherent in them and more because it simply doesn’t work even if you value contradictions or lack of parsimony. I suppose you could call it the tyranny of reality.

    Also, I am not sure it is possible to explain something emotive such as a persons ethical choices and relationship to the natural world purely in scientific language alone, since there are different and subtle layers of feeling that scientific language cannot access. I don’t think I mean to argue in favour of dualism, as you explained to me, but I am thinking of something different, and not something floating around in the ether or based on primitive survival instincts. I mean that scientific understanding at times becomes irrelevant and should be abandoned in favour of a different way of appreciating reality. And hasn’t mankind always felt the need to do this. Perhaps we cannot trust ourselves to do this because of the world-wide fiasco of religion, but I think if you only go down one path in your approach you will have lost the aesthetics.

    Well, I would be very interested to hear what exactly this alternative avenue is, because as much as I appreciate your reluctance to give science too much credit (it’s a dangerous business making too much of science at the best of times), I suspect it has nothing to do with finding out the truth. I don’t know about different layers of feeling, since I’m not sure what examples you have in mind, but what you described to me – especially around the aesthetics part – has got me thinking.

    I think the best way I can sum it up is to say that science and reason are about finding a non-biased, solely truthful viewpoint that encompasses everything, but that humans aren’t just truth-seekers. Co-existing with our abilities to obtain information and model reality are pragmatic drives and frameworks that give us interests and things to do with that information. The result is that it’s impossible to step outside of our own minds genuinely because the very act of doing so happens within our minds.

    I’ll see if I can make it clearer. In debates on determinism, people point out that we are not dictated by biological history or by our environment, but by a third factor that means “we” can make “choices”. By definition, as Coyne once pointed out in his blog, this entails some form of dualism. And then the buck stops there for them. They don’t seem able or willing to explain what this third factor is or how it does the job assigned to it, and while they presume it’s self-evident, it’s difficult to distinguish this from them being stubborn.

    The irony, though, is that the “we” who makes the choices and the “choices” themselves are both products of genes and the environment. Our self-control, which is sometimes framed as us overriding our “animal instincts”, is as much a device built-in by those genes as the instincts they suppress. In short, any attempt to supersede our own physical shortcomings is doomed to fail because the very device being used is a physical one too.

    To be sure, viewpoints exist. My viewpoint is very much my own, and a scientist trying to recreate it is already doomed by the fact that my brain’s development so far hasn’t been recorded in any mind-reader machine. And that strong correlation between brain activity and people’s reported experiences suggests that brains and nervous systems in general are the objects of interest when studying consciousness. But as far as aesthetics are concerned, if there’s an extra ingredient, I don’t think anyone has shown yet that it exists. I hope this explains to some degree my reservations on this point.

    As for the topic at hand – since we should keep things on-topic as much as possible – I suppose an argument from personal repugnance would work more as a primer for future investigation rather than as a standalone reason. My arachnophobia could be a primer for investigating spiders, and this investigation could prove that my fears are well founded or are not, or something in between. If we find animal cruelty ugly, that might be a sign we should consider what we’re doing with them, but that doesn’t by itself suggest we should stop it, for the same reason that someone’s incredulity over evolution by natural selection isn’t considered proof that the theory’s wrong. I’m not saying abandon all feeling, nor am I saying we should turn ourselves into heartless calculators. We have to work with our own psychology anyway. I just think that shouldn’t be an excuse to make baseless but intuitive decisions.

    I suppose what I’m trying to say is that I broadly agree with you – that it comes down to the emotions experienced both by the animals and by humans – but that I maintain those feelings can be broken down to the neurological parts that make the thing work, a bit like a car engine can be broken down to show how a car works. It may seem like an uncrossable gulf exists between my experiences and my brain activity, but then there is a big gap in our knowledge of brain matter anyway, and no one’s found the elusive missing ingredient that explains emotions without reference to brain activity.

    Hence my discussion with phil rimmer about nociceptors.

    I hope this helps clarify things.

  84. In reply to #84 by TheAllKnowingAgnostic:

    We are destroying our planet at an alarming rate, this is hugely because of modern agriculture.

    I must disagree with that. You seem to overestimate human power. We don’t have the power to technically “destroy our planet”. We can’t even destroy “Life” ; it seems to be a pretty robust phenomenon.

    What we can do, and I think that is what you are afraid of, is that we are perfectly able to destroy our own species. It’s not a matter of ending life on earth. We are so insignificant. It’s a matter of who do you bet on for the quinternary ? Ants or scorpions ?

    That might seem a bit sad from a selfish point of view, but that would be great news to all surviving animals. They could go on dying happily, being only killed by accidents, natural predators and bacteria (instead of by stupid men who could do otherwise), and eventually get eaten like everybody. A post-nuclear vegan Eden.

  85. I am reminded of Bart Knols who said “If you think you are too small to make a difference, try and go to sleep with a mosquito in the room.” Lets just argue semantics all day instead of doing something productive. Reminds me of the debate about global warming. Who damn well cares if our disregard for the environment is causing global warming. We have one planet and we know we are f**king it up so lets try and do better. If scientists are right about global warming then we will be doing what we can, if not there will still be a myriad of benefits to our planet and to future generations. There are billions of us and we are quite capable of doing massive damage (ever hear of chernobyl, or look into how much damage we have already done to our oceans?)

    In reply to #110 by Ornicar:*

    In reply to #84 by TheAllKnowingAgnostic:

    We are destroying our planet at an alarming rate, this is hugely because of modern agriculture.

    I must disagree with that. You seem to overestimate human power. We don’t have the power to technically “destroy our planet”. We can’t even destroy “Life” ; it seems to be a pretty robust phenomenon.

    What we can do, and I think that is what you are afraid of, is that we are perfectly able to destroy our own species. It’s not a matter of ending life on earth. We are so insignificant. It’s a matter of who do you bet on for the quinternary ? Ants or scorpions ?

    That might seem a bit sad from a selfish point of view, but that would be great news to all surviving animals. They could go on dying happily, being only killed by accidents, natural predators and bacteria (instead of by stupid men who could do otherwise), and eventually get eaten like everybody. A post-nuclear vegan Eden.

  86. I apologize to the mods. Sorry about that.

    Back on topic. I’m really enjoying this thread and think it’s a very important one. The exchange between Phil Rimmer and Zeuglodon in particular, and Zeuglodon’s other responses as well.

  87. In reply to #115 by TheAllKnowingAgnostic:

    Oh and Chernobyl? Lots of good real estate there bud why don’t you show me how well you can thrive there? What do I give a shit if its good enough for some tumorous rodents?

    My point exactly. You worry only for humans.

  88. In reply to #107 by Zeuglodon:

    I replied a few days ago, deleted it by mistake then ran out of time, so apologies for the late response.

    First issue is that I worry your arguments will put rationalists off becoming vegetarian for rational reasons alone. Though I am not yet a vegetarian I am steadily moving in that direction persuaded by concerns for reducing suffering and environmental impact (though science and population control could fix this latter.). In higher animals I am also taken with loftier psychological concerns of abuse of animals that may have a comparatively rich emotional experience. I have no concerns about “what is natural” which is an unsustainable idea in a universe with beings in it that can ask such a question. The relationship we have with dogs cats and other pets is mostly pretty bilateral and mutually rewarding. Besides dogs have trained us well. I am not, therefore, overly concerned with being the oppressor here so long as there is a quid pro quo.

    I find it incoherent with our understanding of all systems, with our understanding of neuropsychology and for that matter AI, that a property, that is the product of so many different mechanisms and areas of the brain, remains undiminished by a reduction of neural allocation by a millionfold.

    It is clear that pain is an evolved phenomenon, starting with simple chemical reflexivity on the simplest animals moving away from unwelcome surpluses of ions for instance. Animals better able to avoid harm differentially survived and layer upon layer of reflexive responses were evolved and added, finally creating in us and certainly higher mammals a capacity for anticipatory suffering. This is the grimmest aspect of all. The dread prospect of pain, lived with, flooding our brains with cortisol can drive us to wishing for our own deaths, whilst my unexpected and near fatal car crash hurt not one iota though I am sure my nociceptors were maxing out.

    Ancient animals, with little neural circuitry, able to survive without the plethora of aversive tools we higher mammals needed, I am fully confident, suffer very little, probably one millionth as much in the case of the lobster. If they do suffer even a thousandth of what I would suffer, told of the hot bath to come, I must presume something spooky is going on.

    Suffering isn’t a quantised phenomenon but clearly capable of being experienced by degrees. There has to be a threshold for suffering, somewhere that is negligible.

    Second issue….I adored the Daniel Keyes story. It triggered more useful thinking than most of my usual Sci Fi fodder. Changing brains could go either way though.

  89. In reply to #119 by phil rimmer:

    Just to clarify my first point. I think the process of becoming a vegetarian by degrees is the best way of alleviating animal suffering fastest. There is a continuum of concern about animal welfare. A campaign to move to high welfare meat and animal products might change the habits of more consumers and might reduce net suffering by a bigger percentage than one for stopping consumption altogether. Starting people off down the lower sentience path of consumption is a way of building thoughtful habits about what they eat. Saying that there is no virtue (no suffering alleviation) to the path is wrong in my view and inhibiting to progress.

  90. On killing flies.

    I live by a river and am plagued by flies. I have health concerns for the kids. I used to “Raid” them into oblivion, but that just gave me other health concerns. We have spiders too, lots, which as we are all scared of them we used to kill reluctantly.

    That changed. We have trained ourselves to love spiders. The bigger ones have names. (It helps when there are two of us so we can out-brave the other). The windows, often left open through summer, and the lamp shades are allowed to build up webs and we no longer have a fly problem.

    Though I don’t kill flies personally I have taken out a contract on them.

  91. In reply to #119 by phil rimmer:

    In reply to #107 by Zeuglodon:

    I replied a few days ago, deleted it by mistake then ran out of time, so apologies for the late response.

    That’s OK. I did wonder about the empty comment at the time.

    First issue is that I worry your arguments will put rationalists off becoming vegetarian for rational reasons alone. Though I am not yet a vegetarian I am steadily moving in that direction persuaded by concerns for reducing suffering and environmental impact (though science and population control could fix this latter.). In higher animals I am also taken with loftier psychological concerns of abuse of animals that may have a comparatively rich emotional experience. I have no concerns about “what is natural” which is an unsustainable idea in a universe with beings in it that can ask such a question. The relationship we have with dogs cats and other pets is mostly pretty bilateral and mutually rewarding. Besides dogs have trained us well. I am not, therefore, overly concerned with being the oppressor here so long as there is a quid pro quo.

    Then I have no argument against that. Of course I don’t want people to turn vegetarian overnight, and of course I don’t want to exclude the compassion of people who have noticed and are involved in such issues. I probably wouldn’t be a vegetarian myself if I hadn’t had an interest in animals in the first place.

    My only pointer is that I don’t think compassion alone is enough, and we’re more in danger of relying too much on emotional appeal than on relying on rational argument. Empathy’s too easy to dismiss as soft-heartedness, and could lead us to making bad decisions. Charismatic fauna like the panda and the dolphin are a case in point, because people are so moved by these animals’ plights that they divert money away from conservation efforts for animals even more crucial to the ecosystem. I remember Chris Packham got into trouble once for suggesting that money spent on an endangered species like the panda was being wasted. If he was right, then sooner or later you need more than just big-heartedness.

    I find it incoherent with our understanding of all systems, with our understanding of neuropsychology and for that matter AI, that a property, that is the product of so many different mechanisms and areas of the brain, remains undiminished by a reduction of neural allocation by a millionfold.

    I’m not arguing that it is undiminished. I’m arguing that, in degree, even such a reduction might not land an organism within the acceptable zone, and that it’s possible even an organism with a small brain suffers enough to warrant being treated better. I regret to say I have no idea how to determine it, but I suppose there’s no problem with setting an arbitrary limit for legalistic reasons, just as we acknowledge that some under-18s are competent enough to vote while still keeping the voting age where it is.

    It is clear that pain is an evolved phenomenon, starting with simple chemical reflexivity on the simplest animals moving away from unwelcome surpluses of ions for instance. Animals better able to avoid harm differentially survived and layer upon layer of reflexive responses were evolved and added, finally creating in us and certainly higher mammals a capacity for anticipatory suffering. This is the grimmest aspect of all. The dread prospect of pain, lived with, flooding our brains with cortisol can drive us to wishing for our own deaths, whilst my unexpected and near fatal car crash hurt not one iota though I am sure my nociceptors were maxing out.

    I appreciate that position, but the fact that we can anticipate pain doesn’t necessarily mean other organisms can’t, or that we don’t also anticipate no harm where an ignorant animal might suffer from panic.

    Ancient animals, with little neural circuitry, able to survive without the plethora of aversive tools we higher mammals needed, I am fully confident, suffer very little, probably one millionth as much in the case of the lobster. If they do suffer even a thousandth of what I would suffer, told of the hot bath to come, I must presume something spooky is going on.

    I regret to say I’m not sure what a lobster feels, only that it’s likely to want to do things with itself other than get boiled alive. For all I know, a lobster finds scuttling around after females on the beach – or being chased by said males – to be the height of its living experience.

    Suffering isn’t a quantised phenomenon but clearly capable of being experienced by degrees. There has to be a threshold for suffering, somewhere that is negligible.

    Do you mean that suffering hasn’t yet been quantified, or that it in principle can’t? I’m not sure I’d agree with the second one, as anything capable of coming in degrees is something which can be quantified.

    Moreover, the negligible threshhold may exist, but that also depends on how tolerable the animal in question would find it. A human can put up with an itch, for instance, but that doesn’t mean an ant with the same quantity of feeling would be able to ignore it, because a smaller brain may experience so much feeling in relative terms as acute pain. I have no way of confirming this, though, and I suppose your position is the more justifiable one here at present, based on absolute size.

    Second issue….I adored the Daniel Keyes story. It triggered more useful thinking than most of my usual Sci Fi fodder. Changing brains could go either way though.

    I finished it only recently, and I have to agree; it was a really good book. :-)

  92. In reply to #120 by phil rimmer:

    In reply to #119 by phil rimmer:

    Just to clarify my first point. I think the process of becoming a vegetarian by degrees is the best way of alleviating animal suffering fastest. There is a continuum of concern about animal welfare. A campaign to move to high welfare meat and animal products might change the habits of more consumers and might reduce net suffering by a bigger percentage than one for stopping consumption altogether. Starting people off down the lower sentience path of consumption is a way of building thoughtful habits about what they eat. Saying that there is no virtue (no suffering alleviation) to the path is wrong in my view and inhibiting to progress.

    I agree entirely with your assessment. Change would be implemented by degrees. Given the recent increase in animal welfare over the last few decades, I’d say the necessary changes are already under way.

  93. In reply to #123 by Zeuglodon:

    Given the recent increase in animal welfare over the last few decades, I’d say the necessary changes are already under way.

    Increase in animal welfare ? Are Phil Rimmer’s flies that much happier now that they are only killed by spiders as the gods intended ? Don’t mistake “not being killed by humans” with “not dying”. That would be so anthropocentric.

  94. Having studied A level biology I am able to correct you on point 1. Human beings are omnivores based upon dentition and length of gut. Omnivores, like carnivores, possess both incisor and canine teeth for eating meat. The length of the human gut is actually relatively short as meat is more easily digested. Herbivores require a much longer gut to allow sufficient time to digest relatively indigestible plant matter, which explains why herbivores have such distended abdomens.

    While we do not need to eat meat, it makes the task of choosing a healthy diet a great deal more difficult.

    It is true to say that other animals have the capacity to feel pain, but it is in the natural order of things for both carnivores and omnivores to eat meat. Ii is inevitable therefore that prey animals will suffer pain as the result of predation. Does a lion moralise over eating an antelope?

    Your last comment summarises in masterly fashion the arrogance of the human race in setting ourselves above all other creatures. We are mammals.

  95. In reply to #124 by Ornicar:

    In reply to #123 by Zeuglodon:

    Given the recent increase in animal welfare over the last few decades, I’d say the necessary changes are already under way.

    Increase in animal welfare ? Are Phil Rimmer’s flies that much happier now that they are only killed by spiders as the gods intended ? Don’t mistake “not being killed by humans” with “not dying”. That would be so anthropocentric.

    Yes, and I’m sure the Auschwitz officers could argue that, if they didn’t slaughter Jews, someone else would do it anyway. At the very least, the flies would live longer. It’s not a false dichotomy.

    Spiders literally have no capacity to consider their actions, and as much as it would be nice to safely redesign the world’s ecosystems so that everything was better off, it isn’t going to happen any time soon. Until then, the real world is going to be full of constant death and suffering, and I don’t see why we should consider that a good reason to needlessly pile on more if it suits us. Two wrongs don’t make a right, and all that.

  96. That is a very good (Godwin) point, Zeuglodon. If your child died of tuberculosis in the 40′s after a painful agony, would you be so happy she wasn’t killed by soldiers and why ? I am just asking the question. That is the core of your anthropocentric conundrum. I think you are not concerned by animal welfare and you are certainly not going to eradicate death. As far as I can see, your concern is human welfare only, and guilt. Rabbits don’t care if they are killed by foxes or by humans, and animals that don’t expect to die are going to be very disappointed sooner or later. I know my body will eventually end up eaten by ugly worms, turned into shit and will fertilize chrysanthemums. Why should I care ? Dying is like pooping. The King poops, the Pope poops, everybody poops.

  97. In reply to #127 by Ornicar:

    That is a very good (Godwin) point, Zeuglodon. If your child died of tuberculosis in the 40′s after a painful agony, would you be so happy she wasn’t killed by soldiers and why ? I am just asking the question. That is the core of your anthropocentric conundrum.

    My point, if you weren’t too keen on slinging mud at me to understand it, is that our attempts to deal with animal welfare have to be weighed against the fact that the world is set up such that suffering and killing occur on a colossal scale naturally, far greater than we can reasonably forestall. That doesn’t by itself mean we can’t reduce that suffering, but neither does it mean we have to agonize over every bit of death and suffering that occurs, because the odds are hugely stacked against us fixing them. My point about the Auschwitz officers is that, in principle, you can’t justify inflicting cruelty on others on the basis that the cruelty is unavoidable. You simply don’t get involved, or even better, work to undermine it safely. This doesn’t by itself solve the specific problem, but it is a means of generally avoiding getting too complacent about problems that can be fixed. For instance, one argument given by meat-eaters is that the animals would die in the wild anyway, so what’s wrong with humans killing them? The problem is that the former does not justify the latter, for it would be better still if humans didn’t kill them at all, if possible. Certainly not for the edification of their own taste buds.

    I think you are not concerned by animal welfare and you are certainly not going to eradicate death. As far as I can see, your concern is human welfare only, and guilt.

    Actually, my concern is for the sentient wellbeing of organisms, humans and animals inclusive. Humans, however, are the only species at present who can exercise some self-modification based on ethical principles, and it’s just as important to discuss how we do that. My interests are certainly not to alleviate human guilt, but to end unnecessary cruelty and killing of organisms, and that starts with regulating human behaviour. Much as I’d like to see whole ecosystems remodelled for every living creature’s benefit, at present such an idea is simply a pipe dream. I certainly don’t think eradication of death is a likely prospect, though I’d settle for the reduction of violence and killing.

    Rabbits don’t care if they are killed by foxes or by humans, and animals that don’t expect to die are going to be very disappointed sooner or later. I know my body will eventually end up eaten by ugly worms, turned into shit and will fertilize chrysanthemums. Why should I care ? Dying is like pooping. The King poops, the Pope poops, everybody poops.

    At this point, I wonder if you’re actively engaged in the debate or are just trying to patronize others from a soapbox, because I fail to see what this has to do with the case. Everybody dies eventually. It’s the bit before then we’re discussing, and there’s a difference between being killed prematurely and being granted some extra time to live out your life naturally.

  98. As a fly, do I prefer to suffocate in a cloud of Flytox or stay three days paralysed in a spider web waiting to be eaten ? As a fly, I don’t care.

    Nature means dying. That’s what life is. Matter undergoing Darwinian evolution. That implies death. Animal welfare is not improving and will not improve if all humans turn vegan. Even if all humans die. Life quality was not even better in the Cretaceous, before any human came up to mess around. The argument of animal welfare doesn’t stand up.

    As an atheist, I feel good knowing that I will be eaten. I will be killed, by a serial killer, a tiger, an accident or a virus. As long as I can’t avoid it, it doesn’t really matter how. Eradicating death is, by the way, a really horrifying idea. I prefer to live in harmony with nature, as part of it, eating and being eaten. I don’t think humans are that superior and, for ethologists, predation is not aggression.

    No doubt we are destroying many species. We are a major selection factor. Not as bad as oxygen once was, but still, we do some damage. But we are not destroying life any more than oxygen did. We are simply destroying species that we once considered eternal. We want to show whales and gorillas to our children. We want life to stay as we once knew it. That is very conservative and selfish, somehow. Elephants don’t miss mammoths. We miss mammoths.

    And we are very likely to destroy sooner or later our own species. That could be worrying but I’m sure some people think that it will logically improve animal welfare. Paradoxically, most ecologists are not that interested in that vegan Eden.

    Protecting lovely species and avoiding our own extinction are very good reasons to stop fooling around, but they have nothing to do with noble values like being nice or reduce suffering. They are self-centred. I have a problem with petty morals. I think honest arguments are more convincing.

  99. Cybervegan’s reasoning is polemic and Aristotelean at core, thus easily refuted.

    • “The human body is not well equipped to deal with eating or digesting meat…. I’m not denying that we have survived the ice-ages….”

    Archaeological evidence shows that our ancestors ate a lot of meat during the Ice Ages. Cybervegan implies this practice was less-than-optimal, when, by default, it must have been the optimal behavior viz. fitness for the environment. Metabolisms that efficiently processed meat would have been selected. Had veganism offered better success, it would have prevailed. Yet we are not directly descended from P. boisei;

    Also note that leporidae are “not well-equipped to deal with eating or digesting” plant material, but have nonetheless managed to be quite prolific with the help of a little coprophagy;

    • “we lack the natural tools — speed, agility, claws and teeth — for killing and eating prey”

    This is the RDF site — read The Extended Phenotype then get back to us;

    • “we DO NOT NEED meat or animal products in our diets to be healthy.”

    I’m a rancher, and can burn 6,000 calories/day. There are days when I crave grease. Field slaves in the American South burned upwards of 18,000 calories, and were given rifles to augment their diet with game. Irish laborers met their nutritional requirements only by consuming 15 lbs. of potatoes daily, which is why so many died following the potato blight. Other commenters have noted the difficulty in acquiring the essential nutrients via a purely vegetable diet;

    • “there is mounting empirical medical evidence that a plant-based diet is far more healthy than anything containing animal products”

    Please provide citations;

    • “a vegan diet is more sustainable and less demanding on the environment than a meat-and/or-dairy based diet”

    Free-range chickens are eminently sustainable, and reduce tick populations, among other things. When they no longer lay, they can be quickly dispatched for meat;

    I’ve run cattle on my ranch, and they help reduce the risk of fire by grazing down grass that would otherwise grow long and dry out. Goats, who browse, can be milked and eaten, are even more sustainable;

    Leather, culled from free-range beeves and lasting decades, is far more environment-friendly than pleather made in some toxic Chinese factory;

    • “[Animals] exhibit responses to pleasure and pain – aren’t they entitled to respect on that basis?”

    Free-range animals raised for meat enjoy very pleasant lives. When slaughtered humanely, they experience no greater anxiety or fear than when undergoing a veterinary exam. And, as Temple Grandin points out, these animals would not even exist to enjoy their (albeit brief) lives, were it not for our consumption of meat;

    • “Because of our huge and capricious brains, and our “refined sense of morality”, we can CHOOSE not to knowlingly and intentionally exploit other species, just because their flesh tastes good or they produce secretions that we like.”

    Cybervegan’s brain, at least, is more capricious than capacious. I find no moral decrepitude in eating the flesh of an animal that lived a splendid life, then — unlike in the wild — died a quick and relatively painless death. Nor can eating eggs or drinking milk be described as “exploitation”, when chickens lay as a matter of course, and dairy cows desperately want to be milked.

  100. In reply to #44 by Smill:
    No all mammals are meant to feed their young their own milk and that includes humans! But once the weaning process if over (hopefully at least until one year of age!) then those human children should be weaned onto plant based foods, not weaned onto cow’s milk the majority of humans do. So so wrong!!

  101. With regard to the final argument in #1 positing humans do not have the natural tools required for killing, it could perhaps be that our uniquely human cognitive abilities such as creativity (gifting the ability to construct tools) and complex social co-operation (Which allows co-ordinated aquisition of prey) are in fact our natural tools we use for killing.

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