- On Whose Side Is Darwin? An Essay Review of: Created from Animals: The Moral Implications of Darwinism By James Rachels (review)
- Perspectives in Biology and Medicine
- Johns Hopkins University Press
- Volume 37, Number 1, Autumn 1993
- pp. 146-149
- View Citation
- Additional Information
ON WHOSE SIDE IS DARWIN? AN ESSAY REVIEW OF: Createdfrom Animals: The Moral Implications ofDarwinism. By James Rachels. New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1991. JAMES PARKER* Ever since 1875, when Charles Darwin testified before the Royal Commission on Vivisection in support of continuing animal research, the father of evolutionary theory has been an embarrassment to antivivisectionists and advocates of animal rights. To his one-time neighbor and the founder of the British Antivivisection Society, Frances Cobbe, he presented "the deplorable spectacle ... of a man who would not allow a fly to bite a pony's neck, standing forth before all Europe as the advocate of vivisection." To the contemporary founder of Jews for Animal Rights, Roberta Kalechofsky, Darwin was merely gullible: he foolishly believed vivisectors who insisted that their use of anaesthesia would remove laboratory animals from all pain [I]. A recent book looks at this issue from a different perspective, and its author, James Rachels, boldly claims Darwin for the antivivisection and animal rights movements. Rachels is scrupulously honest with primafacie evidence. He acknowledges that Darwin did testify before the Royal Commission, and that Darwin was convinced that the legislation went too far in protecting animals. He faithfully reports Darwin's protest of "the abuse poured in so atrocious a manner on all physiologists [1, p. 215]" and his scorn for "puerile" proposals to limit research to points clearly connected to human health [1, p. 216]. There is no gainsaying the record: Darwin was convinced that research with animals is the foundation of medical advances; opposition to such research is "unintelligible " [I]. Rachels argues, nevertheless, that this record is irrelevant. Darwin's occasional pronouncements on vivisection are not as important as his lifelong elaboration of the theory of evolution. Evolutionary theory has *Oregon Regional Primate Research Center, 505 NW 185 St., Beaverton, Oregon 97006.© 1993 by The University of Chicago. All rights reserved. 0031-5982/93/3701-0851$01.00 146 James Parker ¦ On Whose Side Is Darwin? blurred the line between human and nonhuman animals. It has dethroned the human species from its position of unique value by discovering in animals some of the capacities and behaviors that previously were deemed exclusively human. The notion of evolution has made the difference between human and nonhuman animals one of degree rather than kind. Rachels' essays in intellectual history touches controversial ground in a corollary to this argument that is now familiar in contemporary animal rights literature . "Researchers," he says, "are caught in a logical trap: in order to defend the usefulness of the research, they have to emphasize the similarities between the animals and the humans; but in order to defend it ethically, they must emphasize the differences." They cannot have it both ways. Biomedical researchers will likely read Rachels on this point with a great deal of puzzlement. They will be surprised that their only choices are an "either/or." Both similarities and differences are the very condition of the possibility of their science. They work, after all, in the realm of evolution, where the different species are so many variations on a constant theme—the theme of organisms converting energy in order to live and reproducing in order to continue their kind. Biologists are as interested in differences as they are in similarities. What biologists learn about any species is useful to understanding all other species. Organisms living near hot vents on the ocean floor have developed enzymes that do not coagulate in elevated temperatures; these enzymes make it possible for researchers to conduct one of the most important techniques of molecular biology, a process called "the polymerase chain reaction." The larvae of fruit flies have evolved giant chromosomes in their salivary glands to direct the synthesis of large amounts of digestive enzymes; these chromosomes are thejoy of geneticists seeking to unlock the secrets of inheritance. Certain species of primates have immune systems that protect them against the AIDS virus that infects humans; their immune systems may give clues to AIDS researchers trying to develop vaccines for humans. It is true that one difference between human and other species is critical to researchers. It constitutes the ethical condition of their study of animals—indeed, the ethical...