Atheist Richard Dawkins’ Cannibalism Suggestion is Hard to Digest

Part of a high protein, low reason diet

By William M Briggs Published on March 14, 2018

Don’t accept any dinner invitations from Richard Dawkins. You might be asked to swallow more than his bizarre idea that God doesn’t exist.

If you do go, don’t be surprised to find the soup course followed by Roast Spleen of Graduate Student, or Ten Toe Casserole.

Why the warning? Dawkins noted that playful scientists managed to created meat-like goo in a test tube. And so he wondered in a tweet, “What if human meat is grown? Could we overcome our taboo against cannibalism? An interesting test case for consequentialist morality versus ‘yuck reaction’ absolutism.”

There are some kinds of indigestion even the strongest antacids can’t cure.

It’s What For Dinner

Before getting to the meat of this subject, it’s well to point out this isn’t the first time Dawkins was caught licking his lips while reminiscing about the Donner Party.

Fellow atheist David McAfee reminds us that in a 2010 video, Dawkins “raised the idea of cannibalism as the logical end to those who won’t eat animals because they can’t ‘consent’ to it. If a human being consents, he says, it would follow that you could eat that person under that logic.”

McAfee thinks Dawkins is not “a secret cannibal or that he ‘craves’ human meat.” Rather “he enjoys asking questions that many people shy away from.”

Childish impertinence may be the right explanation for Dawkins’s cannibalistic quips. But it’s just as well to ban Dawkins from manning the grill at the next atheist convention.

Face The Consequences

Let’s return to the big people’s table and contrast Dawkins’s “consequentialist morality” versus “absolutism.” Consequentialism says that the consequences of a person’s actions should be the sole basis to judge whether those actions are right or wrong. There is nothing inherently right or wrong in any act, but only what flows from an act.

Absolutism, contrast, does not deny consequences, but insists acts can be good or bad in themselves.

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Many who heard Dawkins’s dinner bell and jumped to his defense embraced consequentialism. They pointed out that human meat carries more diseases than animal meat. Therefore, unless these diseases can be screened from human meat, the consequence of bad health shows cannibalism is wrong.

One person compared cannibalism to incest, saying, “The ‘yuck reaction’ associated with cannibalism & incest have a far deeper purpose than a mere taboo avoidance. We know incest is bad since there’s lots of evidence for offspring turning out w[ith] terrible conditions.”

This conclusion is as consequentialist as it gets. Incest is bad only because of its health consequences.

Farmers’ Fertilizer

Another man looked to economics. “I doubt [artificial meat production] will succeed without massive resistance,” he said. “Millions of farmers will fight this development as it risks putting lots of farms out of business. Demand for grain will drop like a stone when millions of livestock don’t have to be fed anymore.”

This has the smack of conspiracy about it. But we can grant his conclusion for the sake of our discussion. Farmers saying we should not eat engineered flesh, human-like or not, because it will put them out of a job is consequentialist.

We read every so often of the work of researchers who “discover” the taboos and “disgust reactions” we have to things like fecal matter and garbage are not found in young children. They say that such behavior must be taught and learned.

They do not therefore say these taboos are wrong. They admit they’re good because these substances contain harmful bacteria and the like. These, too, are consequentialist conclusions.

Unacknowledged Assumptions

Consequentialism fails because it picks and chooses consequences arbitrarily while relying on hidden or unacknowledged absolutes. The examples above focus on human health and economic welfare as consequences. Human health and economic welfare are thus absolute goods.

What about other consequences? Like the degradation of the soul and the cheapening of human life by equating men with cattle? These are implicitly said not to count. Yet saying a consequence doesn’t count is also an absolute judgment.

The worst part of the theory is its subjectivism. Who gets to decide which consequences are good and which bad? Nobody ever says. Some will say the guiding scale ought to be “common sense.” But who’s common sense?

It always turns out to be the common sense of the person advocating consequentialism. That makes their opinions and judgments the absolutes to which everybody else must bow. We’d better pray that they get their common sense judgments right. Otherwise, who knows who will turn up on the menu?

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