The rhetorical trick known as the slippery slope argument – by which one person argues against another’s idea by theorizing that it leads inexorably to the end of the world – is the darling of creationists and conservative jurists alike. Like its rhetorical brother, the empty appeal to tradition, it’s a way of saying something when there’s nothing left to say: if you don’t have anything concrete left to say about the evils of gay marriage, you can always argue that it inexorably leads to marrying toasters.
Along those lines, we’ve most recently we’ve heard from none other than the Discovery Institute (friend of John McCain!) that evolution, working together with the animal rights movement, calls into question the brightline definition of “humanity,” causing us to devalue humanity, inexorably causing genocide, abortion, and euthanasia. Wrong. On multiple levels.
First, the argument assumes that when the definition of “human” becomes open to debate, that the legal protections afforded humans must equalize down to the level of animals, protecting less and less life. But, if evolution & animal rights work together to blur the line between species, they do not necessarily cause a race to the bottom. In fact, it can lead to a race to the top, and a recognition of the profound value of life in increasingly more and more organisms. We can always respond to the similarities between man and animal by raising animal rights up, perhaps not on par with our own, but at least partially, in recognition of our partial similarities.
The Discovery Institutes’ argument assumes that granting rights to animals – or, partially equalizing up – is simply not an option. That assumption betrays a shocking lack of respect and perspective. If we’re the only thing that matters – if the Discovery Institute won’t even entertain the idea that there’s any value beyond human life – we’re not only ignoring the Biblical injunction that mankind protect wildlife (let’s play on their court!), but we might as well also repeal anti-animal cruelty legislation. While there are huge problems with some animal rights regimes, to answer those problems by ignoring animals is simply evil.
Second, like all slippery slope arguments, the Discovery Institutes’ argument relies upon an assumption of a failure of will. The argument proceeds along these lines: if man and animal are legally and scientifically blurred, there is literally nothing stopping us from concluding that man is worthless. The slippery slope posits that no-one will stop, think, and reason out a principled way to avoid that philosophical conclusion. It poses a line-drawing question – where do we draw the line on what rights animals get? – and then refuses to answer the question. Like so much of creationist spin, indeed like intelligent design itself, the slippery slope argument poses a problem and then simply gives up on finding a solution.
We are in charge of our own legal, philosophical, and moral destinies. If a legal or philosophical position potentially leads us down a slippery slope of reasoning towards a dismal outcome, we have vested in ourselves the reason and the capacity to draw the line, and solve the problem. While “ideas have consequences,” no idea has bad consequences unless we let it, and at that point, our personal failures become complicit in, and superseding causes to, the evil inherent in the idea. Ideas don’t kill people; jerks who don’t think straight kill people.