Leaping from Frogs to Morality

by Greg Koukl

Learn how to be consistent in your moral reasoning.

I talk about morality, because moral issues are among the most important things we could ever consider. With my commitment to clear thinking about Christianity comes a parallel commitment to clear thinking about morality. Since I have this focus, my mental motors are always running, so to speak. I notice when things just don’t make good sense, even when I’m half asleep.

That happened to me yesterday morning as I was waking up. My clock radio came on in the middle of a show about animals hosted by Warren Eckstein. He seems to be a nice enough guy, answering questions about the care and training of pets of all kinds.

Eckstein may be a wonderful veterinarian, but when he ventures into moral areas he’s an amateur. During the twilight between sleeping and waking, I listened while he launched into a commentary that was so absurd it actually got me chuckling, waking me up even more.

Apparently, there had been some comments made by another talk show host on Eckstein’s station about students’ objections to dissecting frogs. Such an objection, the host had said, showed that those students didn’t show courage. The students weren’t motivated by moral sensitivity as they claimed, he said. Indeed, it’s actually an example of moral confusion that so much importance would be given to the morality of dissecting frogs.

Mr. Eckstein wasn’t happy with that. He was also a bit upset with the tendency to cast anyone who loves animals (which he does) and believes in animal rights (which he does) as an extremist. To Eckstein, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) is rather extreme (I think the term he used was “eccentric”), though he agrees with some of their concepts.

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The extremist, according to Eckstein, demands that if you believe in animal rights, you shouldn’t be wearing a belt, eating Big Macs, or using animal products of any kind. All those things come from animals whose rights have been violated to get those products, so there does seem to be an inconsistency with those who claim animal rights, but still use animal products.

To Eckstein, though, such an appeal for consistency was extreme. He was quite upset by the demand that if he felt dissecting a frogs was immoral, he was under obligation to apply that view consistently to other areas as well. There’s a middle ground, he claimed. You don’t have to be an extremist to love animals.

Eckstein clearly thought dissecting a frog was immoral, though. In his words, it was “wrong.” It was also unnecessary. Students could use a CD-ROM program that does the same thing, essentially. It just seemed wrong to him for a frog to suffer such indignity.

One caller asked, “If the frog is already dead, how is it a violation of a frog’s rights to slice him up in class?” Mr. Eckstein replied, “If you hire a hit man to kill somebody else, you’re just as guilty of the crime as he is.”

Eckstein equated the life of the frog with the life a human being, and the crime of killing a frog with the crime of killing a human being (which strikes me as muddled to begin with). But he also thought that if you simply dissected the frog, that was tantamount to hiring the “hit man” who collected the frog and “offed” it in the first place.

I have some reflections on Mr. Eckstein’s point of view that have to do with the nature of moral reasoning. Obviously, I think it’s a mistake to equate hiring a hit man for a human being-and the moral responsibility you bear for participation in the murder of a human being-with the dissection of a frog. Humans have transcendent value. Frogs do not.

But I’m not going to address that issue here. I have a different concern: Mr. Eckstein’s claim that he has no obligation to be consistent in his moral reasoning…

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