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January 31, 2012 3:59 pm

God Protect Us…from the “Ethics” of Professor Peter Singer

avatar by Moshe Averick

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U.S. Naval Personnel with group of dolphins. Photo: wiki commons.

Sometimes you just don’t know whether to laugh or weep. Such is the confusion engendered by reading the “ethical” pronouncements of Peter Singer, Professor of Bioethics at Princeton University:

“For the U.S. Navy to put dolphins in harm’s way in the Persian Gulf is a form of speciest enslavement we should be ending.”(The Guardian, 1/19/2012)

This was Singer’s reaction to an announcement by the U.S. Navy that they had trained dolphins to detect mines and would use these “dolphin brigades” to help prevent Iran from blocking the flow of oil tankers through the Straits of Hormuz. Singer is outraged:

“To believe that, because they [dolphins] are members of a different species, we can ignore or discount their interest is speciesism, a form of prejudice against beings who are not “us” that is akin to racism and sexism.”

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He points out that “it is possible for the dolphins to set off the mines and die in the resulting explosions” and that they could become “targets for the Iranians to destroy if they can…even conscripts have some basic rights. The dolphins have none.” We are also informed that People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) filed suit in federal court in San Diego, petitioning the court to declare that the five killer whales at Sea World are being held as slaves in violation of their 13th amendment rights. Singer writes that “a similar case might be made against the U.S. Navy for its use of dolphins.” (I understand that Sea World filed a countersuit asking that those representatives of PETA should be declared wards of the state due to insanity.)

The Navy clearly feels that dolphin “commandos” can be very effective tools in a conflict with Iran and ostensibly the use of dolphins would lower the risk of human casualties. In fact, the detection of one mine could potentially save the lives of hundreds of sailors. The unspoken part of Singers essay is that he prefers that human beings die in a war rather than dolphins. It beggars the abilities of the human intellect to understand how, in a world where atomic bombs in the hands of Iranian Islamic fanatics endangers all mankind, Singers feels that our primary concern should be the well being of a group of dolphins. Those of us who aren’t privileged enough to inhabit the never-never land of the Princeton University campus –  a place where philosophers like Singer are protected from dangerous encounters with reality by academic tenure – understand that to protect animals at the cost of human life is so perversely and disgustingly immoral that it is beyond  discussion.

Singer has also stated that “there is no sharp distinction between the fetus and the newborn baby” (ergo, if abortion is ethical, so is killing newborns), that “I don’t have intrinsic moral taboos,” that it is not “unethical” to euthanize sufferers from dementia, and that severely retarded babies could be put to death “if it was in the best interest of the baby and the family as a whole.”

What do all these “ethical” positions have in common? What is the conceptual underpinning that drives the philosophy of Peter Singer? The answer of course is obvious: Human life has no inherent value. It is worth as much or as little as we want it to be worth. Please don’t misunderstand; there is a logic to this madness. In an atheistic/materialistic world where life emerged from a prebiotic swamp through a series of lucky flukes; where all life is nothing more than a genetic variation of the first bacterium, what could possibly be the basis for assigning inherent value to human beings? There is no clearer articulation of this self-apparent truth than the one put forth by Sigmund Freud: “The moment a man questions the meaning and value of life he is sick, since objectively neither has any existence.” Once there is no objective value to life, “ethical” philosophers like Singer are free to make up any subjective system of values that pleases them…and they do! Newborn babies and old people can be “mercifully” killed for the benefit of all, hundreds of sailors can go to a fiery death after their ship is blown up by an Iranian mine, but Peter Singer sleeps soundly at Princeton University after a pleasant evening spent watching reruns of “Flipper.”

This man has been entrusted with teaching our children moral and ethical principles at a prestigious institution of  higher learning. The confusion I mentioned at the beginning of this article has cleared up. We should all be weeping.

If you wish to be notified when Rabbi Averick’s new columns appear, send an email to moe.david@hotmail.com and simply write the word Subscribe in the subject bar.  Rabbi Moshe Averick is an orthodox rabbi and author of Nonsense of a High Order: The Confused and Illusory World of the Atheist. It is available on Amazon.com and Kindle. Rabbi Averick can be reached via his website. .

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  • When someone believes there is no objective value to life, but only such “value” as commanded by the Lord God, then basically anything goes and the religionists are free to make up any subjective system of values that pleases them…and they do! Look at the messes that pass for “ethical systems” in Christianity, Islam, and Judaism to see just how wrong that approach goes.

  • When someone believes there is no objective value to life, but only such “value” as commanded by the Lord God, then basically anything goes and the religionists are free to make up any subjective</b system of values that pleases them…and they do! Look at the messes that pass for "ethical systems" in Christianity, Islam, and Judaism to see just how wrong that approach goes.

  • Spencer
    • If dolphins wanted to volunteer, would they have to submit their request in writing — or would a phone call do?

      Though, when you think about it, neither of those options looks all that practical . . . . so what procedure do you have in mind?

      • Leslie Peterson

        Actually, I would prefer Heaven…

        Because you have kept the word of My perseverance, I also will keep you from the hour of testing, that hour which is about to come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell upon the earth.

        Revelation 3:10

  • Moshe’s “IDOL” is, of course, an impossibility — and the so-called “ethics” commanded by that GOD are not for this world. Follow God if you wish to live in Heaven, but follow reason if you want to live on Earth in the real world.

  • Gabe

    “[Singer’s argument] is so perversely and disgustingly immoral that it is beyond discussion.” This well summarized the viewpoint of those who, like the writer of this article, are so enamored with the status quo that any deviation from it is unthinkable. Whether one agrees with Singer’s premises or not, it can at least be said that he has a process of rational thought behind most or all of his arguments. Moshe Averick has a number of facts and judgments that he takes as given to such a degree that to question their foundation is utterly unacceptable. This is an incredibly strong defense against reason, or any viewpoint which conflicts with his.

    • Rational thought is precisely what Singer’s arguments lack. Apparently he deliberately avoids rational thought on the grounds that it would be “speciesist.”

      Rabbi Averick avoids rational thought about his “IDOL,” and Prof. Singer avoids rational thought about, among other things, the Navy.

  • Mohse’s “IDOL” (“Intelligent Designer Of Life”) is the same God that was with Moses in killing all those people, isn’t He? Or is there an alternative?

  • Who will protect us from the “ethics” of God and Moses (in general those of the Jews, Christian, Muslims, and the like)? Protection from such religious “ethics” is badly needed, but who will do the job?

    Singer’s “ethics” is merely one more variation on the religious “ethical” theme of sacrifice, so he’s on the side of God and Moses, against humanity. Who will take the side of favoring human life, instead of not-of-this-world religious fantasies and sacrificial “ethics”?

    • At one point in an earlier comment section, Rabbi Averick actually described how a rational ethical system would look: ‘‘d. You actually believe at some level, that there are “values” that transcend your own personal desires,

      Naturally, “personal desires” are not a basis for morality. The facts of human nature are the rational basis for morality. And that means that resorting to the “supernatural” is worse than just useless, it is actually destructive of morality.

      In fact, notice that resorting to a belief in the “commands of God” as a basis for your morality simply means that you are substituting your personal feelings and desires for any objective considerations. A proper morality is rationally based on the objective facts of human nature.

      But then Rabbi Averick went on to absurdly claim that having a rational morality ‘… of course would mean that you are not really an atheist, you just don’t realize it.’

      The Rabbi wants to have his cake and eat it, too. He wants to believe that not needing God as the basis for morality means that one cannot be an atheist. In other words, he wants to believe that being a rational atheist means being a theist. Rather like being circular means being square.

    • Leslie Peterson

      Secular Humanists, of course.

      It’s a bird,
      it’s a plane,
      it’s super-secular-humanism-man!

      “Please save me from those evil ethics, super-secular-humanism-man”.

  • steve is a wonder

    Steve Stoddard, you have so much to say but nowhere to say it. So you need a rabbi’s blog to air your comments to the world.

    Even the militant atheist needs his rabbi!

    Your rabbi’s arguments are much more cogent than yours. Keep reading his essays and Gd willing you will keep learning.

    • What in the world do you feel is “cogent” about Rabbi Averick’s “not-of-this-world” arguments?

      You could try stepping outside the box of supernaturalism in order to get a better view of reality. In the broad sweep of human knowledge, theism is not one of the cogent (i.e., clear and relevant) components.

    • “… you have so much to say …”

      I have a few things to say on this blog, but not really “so much.”

      “… but nowhere to say it.”

      You really need to step outside the small box of the “rabbi’s blog,” and learn that there are many, many more blogs (not to mention other ways to express ideas) out there in the real world.

    • “So you need a rabbi’s blog to air your comments to the world.”

      Don’t kid yourself that you are airing your comments to the world here. There probably aren’t that many readers of this blog. For wider readership, try JWR or Powerline (or maybe even PuffHo if you’re so inclined).

  • Dmitri

    Peter Singer does not hold animal lives to be equivalent to human lives – that is a straw man argument. All he is saying, rightly, is that animals have comparable moral claims to human beings – that you cannot treat them as mere things, but as sentient beings that deserve moral concern for their wellbeing. This does not mean that there is a one to one trade off between a dolphin and a human being – on Singer’s consequentialism if the death of one dolphin saves 100 people, that is the morally right thing to do. The problem, the concern, is that the dolphins are not being given any moral consideration at all, or at least not a sufficient moral consideration.

    Before you invoke your imaginary totalitarian Dear Leader to protect you, it would be wise to get some clarity on what it is that you want protection from.

    • “Singer’s consequentialism” looks like an extremely foolish approach to life.

      Would it be “moral” if the dolphin death saved only 50 people? 10? 1?

      What if it took 10 dolphins to save 100 people? Or 50? Or only 1?

      At what ratio would you claim that the people should die instead of the dolphins?

      • ʄɟʗɥʁɧɺɩʆʏʢʝʕɢʓɗɹɯʩʐ

        At what wavelength does a red light stops becoming red?

        The fact that the exact location of some boundaries is in some measure arbitrary doesn’t imply that there are no boundaries at all.

        You can look up the sorites paradox.

        “Singer’s consequentialism” is more difficult to defeat than you think. He’s been under constant attack for the past 40 years and has always defended himself. It’s very unlikely the untrained philosophers will find an obvious hole in his arguments, but feel free to try. He acknowledges some of the weaknesses of his own positions, so you might start from there if you want.

        • Spending 40 years trying to defend Singer’s irrational “consequentialism” does not somehow magically make it rational. Heck, religionists have been trying to defend their position for thousands of years, and God still doesn’t exist.

          Time is not the key factor. It is lack of correspondence to reality that is the primary failing of Singer and religion.

  • lemonfemale

    Where Singer is coming from is that he believes dolphins to be sentient. What if we found intelligent life on Mars and because they were not human, used them as slaves. That’s where he is coming from. For him, intelligence is the be-all and end-all. A retarded child, a baby in utero, a comatose adult are not themselves intelligent so they are worthless to Singer. If he were satisfied we were only using mentally retarded dolphins, he would probably no longer object. And I join author Dean Koontz in despising Peter Singer and all his works and ways.

  • John McNab

    To me it seems self evident that only the lowest most slimy excuse for a human being would think of using dolphins like this.

  • In reality, there is no God. So, in that limited sense, it is an “atheistic world.”

    In reality, entities are composed of matter. So, in that limited sense, it is a “materialistic world.”

    How could anybody reasonably have a problem with that?

  • “We should all be weeping.”

    That would be remarkably unproductive. What you should do is refuse to send your kids to Princeton. Don’t send ’em and weep — just don’t send them. How difficult could it be?

    Or, you could consider sending your kid to Princeton to show the guy up. Then you could smile instead of weep.

    Weeping just doesn’t seem the way to go.

  • So, what is the answer: Who will protect us from the “ethics” of God?

  • Emma

    “The unspoken part of Singers essay is that he prefers that human beings die in a war rather than dolphins.”

    Actually, Peter Singer believes that animal and human lives are equally precious, and doesn’t want either of them to die in a war. He holds their suffering to be of equal severity, so to keep both out of war would maximize happiness (which is the goal of utilitarianism). If you actually knew anything about the guy, you’d know that.

    I generally do not agree with Peter Singer on his views on “animal liberation”, but dolphins are definitely intelligent creatures, so it does bother me that they are being put in harm’s way for a war they didn’t even start. To me, it’s one thing to keep an animal in captivity for conservation, research, or even entertainment purposes as long as it’s treated well. But destroying intelligent creatures unnecessarily is a concern.

    Regarding his views on euthanizing severely retarded infants, you forgot to add that he has said that once a family decides to let that infant live, they must do everything they can to treat it well. That is, once they’ve made a decision, they must stick with it.

    Out of curiosity, Moshe, would you condone euthanizing an anencephalic baby? (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anencephaly)

    And even though I disagree with him, I do admire him for picking a position and following it to its logical conclusion instead of pussyfooting around the issue (*coughSamHarriscough*).

    • “…so to keep both out of war would maximize happiness (which is the goal of utilitarianism).”

      If that is the goal, then “utilitarianism” is very out of touch with reality. Suppose, for instance, we had kept out of WWII and the Nazis now ruled the world. There would probably be no non-Nordic/Germanic people still alive — but how exactly would that mean “maximized happiness”?

      Or suppose we refused to fight any war from now on — how would it “maximize happiness” to end up with a world devoid of Christians and Jews?

      • Emma

        If that is the goal, then “utilitarianism” is very out of touch with reality. Suppose, for instance, we had kept out of WWII and the Nazis now ruled the world. There would probably be no non-Nordic/Germanic people still alive — but how exactly would that mean “maximized happiness”?

        Or suppose we refused to fight any war from now on — how would it “maximize happiness” to end up with a world devoid of Christians and Jews?

        You don’t seem to understand what I just said. Utilitarianism is simply the ethical view that the best action is one that maximizes happiness for all. Utilitarianism does not equal pacifism. Pacifism is against all war, period. An utilitarian in WWII would probably say that because it is good to maximize happiness among all living things, we should intervene on behalf of Nazi Germany’s victims.

        However, politically I don’t agree with America’s involvement in the Middle East. (And frankly I’m a little baffled by the insinuation that Christians are some kind of persecuted group in the Western world, seeing that they are the majority religion and hold enormous political influence in America, a world superpower.)

        • “… it is good to maximize happiness among all living things,…”

          In the WWII example, my inclination would be, since you couldn’t make the Nazis who wanted to exterminate the Jews and the Jews happy at the same time, that the solution would be to remove the Nazis from the category of “living things.” IOW, fight the war and kill the Nazis.

          But would a utilitarian argue that since there were 80 million Germans and less than 20 million Jews in the world, that “happiness” would have been “maximized” by killing all the Jews (i.e., the minority)?

          My view would be that nothing can make a savage killer happy, so even if 80 billion savages wanted to kill 20 innocent victims, the actual happiness in the world could only be “maximized” by getting rid of the savages.

          In other word, if the majority wants to violate the rights of a minority, then the “will of the majority” be damned!

          • Emma

            You seem to be under the impression that I support utilitarianism, which I don’t. Seriously, what are you trying to argue? I’m just trying to argue that Singer isn’t the misanthropic psychopath you and Moshe are making him out to be.

          • You may be right that he’s only a misanthropic professor instead of a “misanthropic psychopath.”

            In any case, “utilitarianism” doesn’t deserve anybody’s support; it’s worse than useless. And the same can be said of “theism.”

  • Bennett

    “I understand that Sea World filed a countersuit asking that those representatives of PETA should be declared wards of the state due to insanity.”

    God bless Sea World.

    And let me just be the first to say that I, for one, welcome the arrival of our new dolphin overlords.

    Sure, it starts as comrades in arms, but you can’t trust ’em. First signs of an alien highway being built in our neighborhood, and it’s “So long and thanks for the fish.”

  • Sigmund Freud: “The moment a man questions the meaning and value of life he is sick, since objectively neither has any existence.”

    Freud sounds very religious. His view is very much like having the feeling that the “meaning and value of life” can only come subjectively from belief in God, God’s Will, and God’s “ethics” etc. — instead of objectively from reality.

  • Kevin Bjornson

    My first impression was that the good rabbi has become a Hasid of Ayn Rand,
    with his talk of the objective value of human life. But then no, he has to spoil the impression by his absurd claim that an alleged deity (or theity) existing outside of existence somehow gives meaning to human existence.

    Human happiness results from the proper fulfillment of human nature,
    which is based on reason and animality. This happiness provides sufficient purpose to human life, and provides the metric for valuation.

    Though not quite there yet, Rabbi Averick is on the path to humanism.
    In that improvement, he is to be encouraged.

    • “… a Hasid of Ayn Rand,…”

      That’s a contradiction in terms, isn’t it?

  • Who will protect us from the “ethics” of God?

  • “Singer has also stated … that severely retarded babies could be put to death …”

    Moses went even farther and declared, “Kill all the boys!”

    The more you look into it, Singer looks like a mild case of immoral perversity (and nutjobism) compared to Moses.

    • lemonfemale

      You too? As I say sometimes, “Of Jesus, Moses and Muhammad, which one directly ordered the killing of infants? Moses.” (People I ask usually guess Muhammad.) Atheists can be the most profoundly life-affirming. Religious people can be the most callous. It depends on where you go from there I guess.

  • Certainly, Singer is a nut. But he is not even as bad as Moses, who loved to order mass murder because he felt that people were not respectful enough of his God.

    How is advocating death to humans for practicing “speciesism” supposed to be any more perversely immoral than advocating death to humans for heresy, worshiping idols, or working on the sabbath?

  • dutchboy27

    Great article. Clearly this prof. has been sniffing some kind of harmfull substance.

  • Jorge

    Excellent article, Moshe! In addition, if I recall correctly, Singer is an advocate for population control and population *reduction*.

    I have an idea: Let’s put Singer on a ship sailing in mine-infested waters. Let’s tell him that we have dolphins that are capable of detecting the mines thereby saving him from a fiery death. Finally, we will tell him that we are removing that protection so that the dolphins are safe while he can just keep his fingers crossed. Let’s then watch that hypocritical blowhard demand that the dolphins be called into duty.

    • “…an advocate for population control and population *reduction*.”

      God, Moses, and Mohammed are some infamous advocates and practitioners of the “*reduction*” of various populations of unbelievers. Singer is just following their lead and advocating a wider practice of their principles.

  • Seeking protection provided by God could be a cure worse than the disease. After all, it is at least as bad to kill off people to “protect the faith” as it is to “protect ‘endangered species.'” And God is horribly inclined to order such murders according to the Old Testament.

    • Jorge

      Are you OUT OF YOUR FREAGIN’ MIND? Do you even know what you’re talking about? Rhetorical questions – both of them. 🙂

      • Ever read the Bible? Remember the part where God commands that people who work on the Sabbath should be killed for it?

  • “… to protect animals at the cost of human life is so perversely and disgustingly immoral that it is beyond discussion.”

    While that certainly can sometimes be “perversely and disgustingly immoral,” (e.g., the infamous spotted owl, Furbish’s lousewort, the delta smelt, the mosquitos that DDT would kill, etc.) I think it is wrong to place it “beyond discussion.”

    For instance, if some idiot was going to shoot my dog to prove how little respect for life he had, then I would not hesitate to shoot him dead if that was the only way I could save my dog.

    • Steve,

      To kill a human to protect a dog is perversely immoral.
      That does not mean he should not be punished.

      • It is always perversely immoral to kill people because you believe they are witches or infidels. But it is not necessarily bad to kill a person if that person is objectively presenting a clear and present danger (which is manifestly not the case with people accused of being witches or infidels).

      • Not only is it not necessary “perversely immoral,” it might not be immoral at all to kill a human to protect a dog.

        Naturally, the situation is not likely to come up too often. But if a psychopath was going down your street shooting dogs, it would make sense to shoot him to put a stop to the rampage — and without worrying about whether or not he would survive getting shot.

  • “In an atheistic/materialistic world where life emerged from a prebiotic swamp through a series of lucky flukes; where all life is nothing more than a genetic variation of the first bacterium, what could possibly be the basis for assigning inherent value to human beings?”

    The error in that question is the belief that the concept of “inherent value” — rather than objective value — has any rational application to human life. Indeed, the notion of “inherent value” is probably nothing more than an attempt to sneak some subjective value (e.g., “God’s Will”) in under a different name.

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