KEVIN HARRIS: Bill, what do you think about the title of this article, “Richard Dawkins Wants to Eat Human ‘Meat’ to ‘Overcome Our Taboo Against Cannibalism.’” It got my attention, and I think I've just gotten yours! This was written by Wesley Smith in Washington DC. He is a special consultant to the Center for Bioethics and Culture and a bioethics attorney who blogs at HumanExeptionalism.com. It begins,
Richard Dawkins, the (in)famous atheism proselytizer, has mused about eating human meat.
No, he doesn’t want to join the Donner Party. Researchers may soon be able to manufacture meat from cell lines in the lab, and Dawkins has suggested in a tweet that we could “overcome our taboo” by eating human flesh so manufactured.
. . . What if human meat is grown? Could we overcome our taboo against cannibalism? An interesting test case for consequentialist morality versus “yuck reaction” absolutism.
All right. So growing meat in a lab. I know we just had lunch, Bill, but we're gonna have to stomach our way through this. He continues,
Yes, we must break “taboos” or we are not free!
Cannibalism is profoundly immoral in Western culture — absent absolute necessity, such as when members of the Donner Party consumed their already deceased co-travelers to stay alive — because it denies human exceptionalism and the unique dignity and meaning of human life.
This view extends even to those who have died, which is why we treat the deceased in a respectful manner and why desecrating the dead is considered to be immoral and is against the law — even in war.
DR. CRAIG: That's a very interesting paragraph. Smith is a bioethicist, and he points out why cannibalism is considered to be immoral. Even though the person is dead, that person – the corpse of that person – is to be treated as possessing dignity and therefore to be treated with respect. If someone were to take human bodies that were deceased and throw them off the roofs of tall buildings to watch them splatter on the ground, they wouldn't be killing anybody – it wouldn't be murder, they're already dead – and yet I think we would all say this is to treat the body of that person with profound disrespect and would be a practice that should be shunned, that that would be something that would be immoral. So this would give grounds for why one ought not to eat one’s fellows even if those persons are already dead. There would be no question that cannibalism that was as practiced by, say, the Fijians in the South Pacific where they would kill people of other tribes and consume them, that would be clearly wrong because it would be murder. But the claim here is that even eating dead persons is to treat the human body and that individual disrespectfully, not taking account of their inherent dignity in the same way that throwing bodies off of buildings just to watch them splatter would be. I think that is a persuasive argument.
KEVIN HARRIS: This was examined in a movie in the early 70s with Charlton Heston called Soylent Green. It was about a dystopian future. There was terrible overpopulation. Charlton Heston's character discovers that soylent green used to feed the masses was actually the deceased, and it was seen as highly immoral even though they were people who were deceased. There were some people who were not yet diseased and needed to be used for the supply and so there was abuses of it. But even in cases of survival you can be convicted (as I understand) if you kill your fellow of travelers in order to survive, you eat them to survive. You've murdered.
DR. CRAIG: Yes. That's a totally different question.
KEVIN HARRIS: But if they die – if they're gone – and you have to eat them in order to survive, as the Donner Party did, that's not considered immoral.
DR. CRAIG: And that's because of a kind of hierarchicalism in your system of moral values which is quite consistent. Sometimes there will be an overriding moral good or concern that would justify taking an action that wouldn't be justified in the absence of that.
KEVIN HARRIS: Yes. The article continues,
Dawkins, of course, rejects the concept, considering it “speciesist,” e.g., discrimination against animals. He thinks we are just a collection of carbon molecules and certainly of no intrinsic value simply and merely because we are human. (For example, he has yearned for the creation of a human/chimp hybrid creature as a means to prove we are not special.)