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Oh man ... finally! I was beginning to fear that this day would never come. The UK has finally taken the step to recognize Octopuses (or octopi or octopodes – yes, any of the three are correct) as sentient creatures. Now for those who don’t know, sentience is the capacity to have feelings such as pain, pleasure, hunger, thirst, warmth, joy, comfort, or excitement. And don’t worry, this legal recognition also extends to lobsters, crabs, crayfish, shrimp, prawns, squid, and cuttlefish.
It seems that the British government commissioned a report by the London School of Economics to amend the Animal Welfare Sentience Bill to include these creatures. Apparently, the previous laws concerning animal welfare only included vertebrates (animals with spines). This oversight had been roundly criticized by animal researchers and activists.
So now they are going to set things right. The UK’s Animal Welfare Minister, Zac Goldsmith, said of the new legislation, "The science is now clear that decapods and cephalopods can feel pain and therefore it is only right they are covered by this vital piece of legislation." Yessiree Bob! A huge wrong is now being righted.
What the animal rights activists are specifically working toward, among other things, is the banning of crab declawing and the elimination of live lobster boilings. They also would like to later include a provision that only trained handlers should be allowed to sell live crustaceans.
Well, let’s think about this for a moment. While these animals are sentient in the sense that they can feel pain, they are not self-conscious creatures. They can feel pain, but they are not sitting around thinking, “Ouch, that hurts.” They don’t have that capacity. If they are being hurt, they just instinctively try to move away from the pain. The same goes for feeling hunger. When they get hungry, they don’t get together and plan a trip to the local restaurant, they just go search for food. And joy, or excitement? Seriously? No, they can’t process those kinds of thoughts.
So where does that kind of thinking come from – the idea that the ability to feel pain is a meaningful standard for creating animal welfare laws? At its very foundation, this is another expression of a naturalistic worldview. Naturalists look at every animal as a part of the animal kingdom – including humans. We are all part of one big happy animal family. To them, the only difference between us and an octopus is that we have evolved different kinds of appendages and a bigger brain. Thus, what is good for human beings ought to be good enough for the shrimp and lobsters, too. They ought to have the same basic legal protections under law as we do.
With that as a starting place, it is natural to think of sentience as a significant criteria for developing animal welfare laws. But Naturalism, as a set of worldview beliefs, is not true. It is not true that the natural universe is all that exists. It is not true that human beings are merely another species of animal creature. And sentience? It is just not the appropriate criteria for developing animal welfare laws.
Now don’t get me wrong. I am in no way advocating for the mistreatment of animals. I believe that it is a sad day when people needlessly kill animals or treat them cruelly. But what we have in the case of these UK laws is just more political correctness run amuck.
The reason we should not be cruel in our treatment of animals is not because they are sentient. No, it is because God has put us as stewards over the world and we should take care of his creation (in this case the animals) based on the values God has revealed to us in Scripture. It is appropriate for us to use animals for food, or work, or for companionship, and we should manage them well as a trust from God. But they are not persons created in the image of God. We really do need to get some perspective here.
Freddy Davis is the president of MarketFaith Ministries. He is the author of numerous books and has a background as an international missionary, pastor, radio host, worldview trainer, and entrepreneur. Freddy is a graduate of Florida State University with a BS in Communication, and holds MDiv and DMin degrees from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is a popular speaker, particularly on the topic of worldview and its practical implications for the Christian life. He lives in Tallahassee, FL, with his wife Deborah.
You may also contact Freddy at Leadership Speakers Bureau to schedule him for speaking or leadership engagements.
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