As I mentioned in a recent post, religious beliefs — Christianity in particular — present a barrier to veganism. In other words, someone who is Christian — Jains notwithstanding — is less likely to go vegan than a person that adheres to another religious belief, or no religion at all, in part because the Bible provides justification for people to do whatever they like to plants and animals.
Another way in which religious dogma interferes with one’s ability to see the moral impetus for veganism is through the creationist account of the universe. Creationism typically holds that humans are entirely separate from animals, placed in an entirely different category. As a result of this essentialism, people afford ethical consideration to humans and deny it to animals.
Contrary to what many people believe — that evolution dictates that we should eat meat since it supposedly led us to evolve large brains and because our ancestors did it — it actually provides an extremely potent case for considering the interests of animals, and going vegan as a result. (Needless to say, evolution is true and creationism is not.)
Though we often forget, humans are animals, too. True, we have an ability to communicate using language not seen in other animals, and we’re quite a bit smarter than every last chimpanzee or dolphin. But we also have a sense of morality not seen in the animal kingdom. Instead of giving us license to do whatever we wish to nonhuman animals, this should prompt us to consider whether we’re harming them and to minimize that harm as much as we can.
To recognize that humans are animals is to open the door to comparison. Creationism proffers a flavor of Speciesism that dictates that animals have no interests whatsoever, whereas evolution places us on a scale.
I call it The Suffering Spectrum; it’s a currently-hypothetical guide to considering the interests of animals, and it looks something like this: plants on the far left, then insects, reptiles, fish, birds, small mammals, large mammals, primates, and finally humans. The Suffering Spectrum is an evolutionary guide to measuring a species’ ability to experience suffering. As you move to the right, the moral consideration afforded to a member of that species should increase.
It’s based on simple neurobiology. Plants don’t have brains, so they can’t feel pain. Insects have brains, but their conscious experience is likely very limited. As we move from left to right, the brains become more complex, more capable of enduring experiences much like we are. On the far right end of the spectrum, nonhuman primates and human primates likely experience pain nearly identically, though humans may have the edge due to our seemingly unique capacity for psychological torment.
All of this is to say that accepting the reality of evolution allows us to see that humans and animals are not in entirely separate categories. If we care about the quality of life of the former, we should also be concerned about the interests of the latter.
Even if our concern for nonhumans is considerably less than that of fellow humans, it does not follow that we can justify harming and killing animals. Only with essentialist, categorical, zero-sum speciesist beliefs — those enabled by the false story of creation in the Bible — can one believe otherwise.
As a scientifically-valid counter to creationism, and a theory that acknowledges how much we have in common with nonhuman animals, acceptance of evolution is a facilitator to transitioning to a vegan lifestyle. And in fact, understanding that evolution is true ought to underscore the ethical imperative of making such a change.