God Versus Scientists' Use of Animals?


Uniformed Services University of The Health Sciences
Department of Physiology
 Bethesda, MD 20814

From: Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith 44 (December 1992): 246-248.

In today's climate it should not surprise scientists who use animals as experimental subjects or in teaching that those of the animal rights movement may react to this.1 Such an encounter occurred while the author was involved with teaching human ophthalmologic residents the technique of phacoemulsification.2 A representative from a large animal rights group recently came to our university to "review" our teaching procedures. While there she planned to interrupt the class in progress, posing questions and making statements which implied that even if one accepted the divine inspiration, trustworthiness and authority of the Bible in matters of faith and conduct, the use of animals in research and teaching was indefensible. I intercepted her before she reached the classroom, and we had a rather lengthy discussion in my office instead.

I had not previously encountered and so did not expect this type of query and pontification from such an individual. Although the proclamations issued by this individual may at first glance seem sound, closer examination reveals that they are patently erroneous or involve scripture quoted out of context. I have formulated some answers to these questions, which I hope will be useful to others who address similar situations.

Man and Other Species Are Not Equal

In the scriptural sense, all species simply are not equal, as some animal rights activists maintain.3 The biblical writings do not agree with the view that "A rat is a pig is a boy is a dog," a statement attributed to Ingrid Newkirk of the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (P.E.T.A.).4,5 In fact, scripture says:

So God created man in his own image - male and female he created them. And God blessed them, and God said to them, Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over...every living thing that moves upon the earth. (Genesis 1:27-28) (RSV)

The Lord also commanded that animals be sacrificed.

...and you shall kill the bull before the Lord at the door of the tent of the meeting...(Exodus 29:11)

Then came the day of unleavened bread, on which the passover lamb had to be sacrificed. (Luke 22:7)

Also, it should be noted that God did not promote a vegetarian diet and permitted the eating of meat.

And the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, "Say to the people of Israel, these are the living things which you may eat among all the beasts that are on the earth." (Leviticus 11:1-2)

...and bring the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat...(Luke 15:23)

These statements do not support the theory of equality of all species. If one were to carry this argument to its logical end, one would have to conclude that it is as wrong to harm members of the lowest classical animal phylum, Protozoa, as it is to injure a human being. Therefore, for example, it would be immoral to treat a human baby for malaria for fear of harming the malaria organisms (which are animal species of the phylum Protozoa).

"Thou Shalt Not Kill" is Not Applicable to Animals.

The King James version's "Thou shalt not kill" literally translated means "thou shalt not murder" (Exodus 20:13; Matthew 5:21). The word used in the Old Testament is the Hebrew ratsach; that word in the New Testament is the Greek phoneuo. Both refer to an individual personally committing an act of violence against another person. These terms are never used in the Bible to refer to the killing of animals. Ratsach and phoneuo are not used in scripture when referring to either slaughtering an animal for food or sacrifice, or for causing death in war. For animals, the Hebrew zabach, tabach, or shachat (Exodus 29:11; Deuteronomy 12:15; I Samuel 25:11) and the Greek thuo (Luke 15:23) are used. Words used to describe depriving an enemy of life in war are the Hebrew muth (2 Samuel 21:15-17) and the Greek apokteino (Acts 27:42). Thus, it is simply not true that the biblical commandment that "thou shalt not kill" does not limit itself to our species, a statement sometimes made by those in the animal rights movement.6

Peaceful Co-existence for All Species Is Not for This Age.

The following passage from the book of Isaiah is offered by some as evidence of God's will to have peaceful co-existence among all species.

The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid, and the calf and the lion and the fatling together... (Isaiah 11:6)

Examination reveals, however, that the discourse is speaking of another world order at some time in the future, not now. This same chapter also asserts that

...the lion shall eat straw like the ox.

In terms of God's law now, anyone who believes that there is currently peaceful interaction in the wild among all animal species with no killing, or that this type of interaction could be readily promoted, simply demonstrates that they have no understanding of how animals exist in those surroundings. Carnivores kill other animals for the sake of survival. It is pure nonsense to believe that peaceful co-existence among all species can exist while some animals must die so that others may survive.

In Fact, There is a Moral Imperative to Use Animals

The immorality that may exist in this situation is in not using animals for the purposes of alleviating or preventing human pain, suffering and death. To deny that animal research has been successful is simply to ignore the truth or else to accept the facts and deliberately lie about them. The reality is that virtually every advance in medical science in the 20th century has been achieved either directly or indirectly through the use of animals in laboratory experiments.7 Of course, there is much more to be done - AIDS, cancer, Alzheimer's disease, aging, and countless other diseases or disorders. The irony of it all is that animal research greatly benefits pets and other animals by combating rabies, distemper, parvo virus, infectious hepatitis, anthrax, tetanus, and feline leukemia - just to name a few.

I am also compelled to comment upon what seems to be an inconsistency in the view of those who consider themselves a part of the animal rights group. On the one hand there are statements by these activists about how immoral it is to use animals in research and teaching. On the other hand, I know of no activists who refuse treatments that are based on the fruits of that research and teaching, whether it be vaccinations for such diseases as smallpox, poliomyelitis, or measles; life-saving techniques such as blood transfusions, burn therapy, open-heart or brain surgery; or medications like antibiotics, steroids, insulin, or anti-hypertensive drugs.

Most of us have animals that are members of our families. I know that I do. I and the others of our household feel the warmness, gentleness and the protectiveness toward these canine and feline companions. They are a part of us. But there is also a moral obligation to alleviate human injury, disease and grief. I have four sons who are subject to being called to serve by going to war. I hate the thought of one of them lying wounded somewhere on a battlefield and perhaps dying because some health professional (maybe a surgeon) did not know how to properly handle the trauma - something that this health professional could have learned on subjects (like pound animals) that were going to be put to death anyway. It should be emphasized that this training is accomplished without pain to the animals employed. The subjects are fully anesthetized before any procedure is begun, and afterwards put to sleep without ever regaining consciousness.

Under no circumstances should those of us who utilize animals in our research or teaching permit any unnecessary pain or suffering to our subjects.8 But there should also never be a need to apologize for conducting this labor of love and compassion. Indeed, we need to welcome those who are genuinely interested in our profession and the way it is conducted. But to shrink from carrying out this work, which is vital, is to avoid responsibility. It is our duty to boldly press on.



1 The opinions or assertions contained herein are the private views of the author and should not be construed as official or necessarily reflecting the views of the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences or the Department of Defense.

2 Phacoemulsification is a sophisticated form of extracapsular cataract extraction. It permits the removal of a cataract through a 3.0 mm incision. Thus, it eliminates many of the complications of healing related to large-incision cataract surgery. It also significantly shortens the recuperative period. This procedure entails fragmenting the cataract, which allows it to be aspirated.

3 Singer, Peter, Animal Liberation: A New Ethics for Our Treatment of Animals, Avon, New York, 1975.

4 McCabe, Katie, "Who Will Live and Who Will Die," The Washingtonian 21:112-156, 1986.

5 Horton, Larry, "The Enduring Animal Issue," J National Cancer Inst 81:736-743, 1989.

6 The various meanings of these Hebrew and Greek words may be obtained by employing Young's Analytical Concordance to The Bible (22nd ed., Robert Young. Wm. B. Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, Mich.). I used as backup for the Hebrew The Holy Scriptures According to the Masoretic Text (The Jewish Publication Society of America, Philadelphia, 1955); and for the Greek The Interlinear Greek-English New Testament by Nestle/Marshall. (Eberhard Nestle's 21st edition of Novum Testamentum Graece with the translation by Alfred Marshall, 2nd edition. Zondervan, Grand Rapids, Mich., 1959.)

7 American Medical Association White Paper, "Use of Animals in Biomedical Research: The Challenge and Response," 1989.

8 Subjects should always be maintained and cared for in accordance with the provisions of the Public Health Service Policy On Humane Care And Use Of Laboratory Animals, 1986.