What duties, if any, do we have toward animals? A new statement on responsible animal care addresses this question in a balanced and biblically informed way. It is being called an “evangelical statement” and appears to be the first such formal document of its kind. You can read and, if you wish, sign the statement here. (Note that clicking on the “sign the statement” button does not commit you to signing it but merely takes you to the page where you can read the statement and have the option to sign it.)
I signed and strongly endorse the statement because I think it achieves a proper moral-theological balance when it comes to animal welfare. There are two extreme positions regarding this issue. There is the No Moral Status view, which says that animals deserve no moral consideration, and humans have no duties regarding them, except as impacts other humans. Modern philosophers such as Descartes and Kant took such a view, still popular today, which encourages us to see animals as natural resources like any other aspect of nature. On the other hand, there is the Strong Animal Rights position, which affirms that animals and humans have the same inherent value and deserve equal moral consideration. Contemporary moral philosophers such as Peter Singer and Tom Regan take such a view, which is championed by activist animal rights groups like PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals). Advocates of this approach maintain that all use of animal products for food, clothing, experimentation, or entertainment is immoral.
Somewhere between these extremes is a moderate position which affirms that animals have significant moral status, but not the same status as human beings. Accordingly, we have a duty to treat animals humanely. We ought not to treat them cruelly. And by “cruel treatment” I mean the causing of severe and unnecessary suffering. On this view, it is morally appropriate to use animals for food, clothing, experimentation, and entertainment, but only if the animals are not treated cruelly in such contexts. The Every Living Thing statement on responsible animal care effectively achieves such a balance.