Ask an Atheist with Sam Mulvey

Your Food Crazy

I’ll be moving some comments about the meat thing to this post, and I ask that discussion of this topic remain in here. Also, this is Sam responding… not Ask an Atheist.

Regarding the e-mail at the beginning of the show none of the responses you provided actually justify killing animals for food.

Exactly correct.  We provided no justifications, nor did we have any intentions to.  I’ve heard nearly every logical fallacy thrown at things I said about meat on the 30k episode, but none of them really applies since I was not even pretending to make a logical argument.

My point is that when you’re an atheist, it is necessary to find your own answers, rather than fall back on pat dogmatic responses that one can find in a religious context, and we say so right in the episode.   This is actually a point in the favor of people who are vegan or vegetarian for ethical reasons– and I’m certain the people who are angrily writing to us would see this, assuming they take the time to think this through.

If you’re asking me to provide my arguments for why I continue to eat meat, I have a simple answer for you: No.

That crosses a line which, in the context of this topic, seems far too evangelical for my liking.   I will instead encourage people to come to their own conclusions.  I’m sure you’ll continue to view me as an unethical person. As an atheist, I’m sort of used to that sort of thing, so I think I’ll manage.

As a skeptic I gave this question a lot of thought myself, and eventually decided I had to go vegan. Given that, I’m living proof that you don’t need to eat meat to live… so it’s not something we “have to accept,” as was claimed in the episode.

As a skeptic, I’m certain you understand that a single datapoint hardly constitutes proof, as well as that something true of a single population is not necessarily true of other populations.   What you have here is essentially anecdotal.

However, do not take this as an invitation to provide me with some other study.  I know they exist, I’ve seen a few of them, and have been impressed by few.

Meat tastes good. Sex feels good. Rape isn’t justified by sex feeling good, so eating meat isn’t justified by it feeling good to eat it.

As an ethical person, I’m certain you understand the enormous fallacies involved with this statement, and the amount of ignorance you’re appearing to portray when you cast something like rape in this light.

As Peter Singer pointed out to Richard Dawkins it is special pleading to claim humans have any right to kill animals.

I’m actually pretty ok with other animals killing for food, too. In fact, we couldn’t really stop it without doing some pretty severe ecological damage.

A way I like to look at it is this. If aliens came to earth today and started eating humans. What would be your defense? What would you say to the aliens to make them stop eating you? And what argument could you make where they couldn’t just respond “well, you do the same thing to cows and chickens so why can’t we do it to you?” “We are smarter, bigger, and we can. Isn’t that the same justification you use?”

An alien race capable of interstellar travel and bent on consuming Marc Singer and company for food would more than likely remain unconvinced by any ethical comments I might make. Also, this sounds a little too much like “What if God told you he didn’t like it?” and I’m suspicious of anyone going to Alien Ultimate Authority in order to make an otherwise rational claim.

For example, as I stated above, the fact that putting animals in a special category “to be eaten” is special pleading. That is, unless you can state a difference between humans and animals that justifies putting them in this category. Some have suggested “we are smarter” for example. But wouldn’t that also necessarily justify eating retarded people, anyone in a coma, or even babies? Clearly “we are smarter” isn’t enough to create the categories meat-eaters want to exist. So as I say, it is possible to argue against this type of claim from a rational perspective.

On my “less good” days, I think we should be allowed to eat people.

About the Author: Sam Mulvey

Sam Mulvey is a producer and the technical brain behind Ask an Atheist. He is a collector of vinegar varieties, vintage computers, antique radios, and propaganda.

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19 Comments on "Your Food Crazy"

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Josh
Guest
Hi, my name is Josh from Portland Oregon and I just need to correct some fallacies found in a discussion on episode 3 of season 3. The panel was answering an email from Andrew in Australia about what right as an atheist does he have to take another life for food? I should first clarify that I am a vegetarian but please know that I hate militant vegetarians and detest PETA. I really don’t care if others eat meat at all; it’s just a personal moral position for me. So before you right me off, understand that I’m not deeply… Read more »
Brad
Guest
Regarding the e-mail at the beginning of the show none of the responses you provided actually justify killing animals for food. As a skeptic I gave this question a lot of thought myself, and eventually decided I had to go vegan. Given that, I’m living proof that you don’t need to eat meat to live… so it’s not something we “have to accept,” as was claimed in the episode. Meat tastes good. Sex feels good. Rape isn’t justified by sex feeling good, so eating meat isn’t justified by it feeling good to eat it. As Peter Singer pointed out to… Read more »
Tim
Guest
What’s all this fuss about the morality of killing animals for food? We are just like any other meat eating animal on this planet. We kill to survive. If you’re hungry and you see something that doesn’t look like a human, then KILL IT!… It’s the hunting for sport bullcrap I’m against. Let me put it another way… Let’s say I see two things in the distance. A deer is on the left, and a patch of beans is on the right. I would skip over the deer and collect the easier kill… the beans. But, if some mutant crazy… Read more »
Greg
Guest
Humans are omnivores. We have teeth and intestines that have adaptions for both veges and meat. We have receptors in our gut for extracting nutrients from meat and iron from red blood. So there is no such thing as a true human vegetarian, only a political or concientious vegetarian. I.e. a human who decides not to eat meat. It is not special pleading to set humans apart from other species. As humans are the only species a human can mate with. So from our perspective humans are a special species. It’s a fallacy to cast morals on the food chain.… Read more »
John
Guest

Greg pretty much nailed it with his explanation.

I love meat and nothing makes me want to gorge on more meat like a vegan. I may be the only one that has that reaction, but it makes me want to go look at Epic Meal Time for ideas.

Brad
Guest
Sam: “I was not even pretending to make a logical argument.” I don’t know what voice belongs to who but it at least sounded like someone was attempting to make an argument. I’m sure you can at least understand how I could think that you were. You (plural) seemed to be listing reasons, which seems to be what the e-mail asked you for. Is it so difficult to understand how that could be percieved as an argument? “I’m certain you understand the enormous fallacies involved with this statement, and the amount of ignorance you’re appearing to portray when you cast… Read more »
Brad
Guest

Josh:
It does seem weird that people who claim to be skeptical resist applying that skepticism to this topic.

It’s not like they otherwise avoid ethical issues. We’ll talk about the harm done by homeopathy, religious wars, faith healing, or anything else listed on whatistheharm.net. So why does talking about this ethical issue cross an evangelical line? I gotta be honest, I dunno what Sam even means by that.

beth
Guest
Homeopathy, religious wars, and faith healing all have at least one thing in common – the reason they illicit the response they do is because of the harm they do to people. People need to eat, eating meat is physically natural for humans, and some people don’t care about animals. I’m happy there are people who do care about animals, I personally care about animals a lot, but that doesn’t mean everyone must care about animals and if they don’t (or don’t care about them enough, or in whatever way I’ve decided they should be cared about), I’m going to… Read more »
Brad
Guest
Beth: You’ve missed the point I was making when bringing up other ethical issues. I wasn’t bringing them up because they illicit a response, I was bringing them up because they illustrate that ethical issues are not beyond the grasp of this podcast or skepticism in general. As I pointed out above there are ways in which skepticism can be applied when discussing an ethical issue. Just because it’s a personal choice doesn’t mean it’s beyond the reach of skeptical thought. I gave several examples above regarding exactly how this can be done. Yes, ultimately we are all the arbiters… Read more »
beth
Guest
Can you come up with an example that’s actually comparable to the eating meat issue though? Because again – all of your examples seem to have to do with issues involving people, yet you’re trying to apply it to an issue involving animals. An animal is not equal to a person. Maybe you disagree with that, but if you do, that’s because of an emotional response on your part – not because the statement is untrue. How about we take it one step further – if you were REALLY skeptical, you would only eat plants you grow yourself since the… Read more »
beth
Member
I should amend that last comment to say – though a human is an animal, animals and humans are not the same and I don’t think it makes sense to try to treat them that way. Even when it comes to trying to eat humanely, the issue is complicated. I think in a perfect world, everyone should try to do that, but I personally don’t have a car and I live in an area where I can’t get to any farms that are on a bus line – I don’t think I should be considered less ethical because I lack… Read more »
Brad
Guest
“Can you come up with an example that’s actually comparable to the eating meat issue though? Because again – all of your examples seem to have to do with issues involving people, yet you’re trying to apply it to an issue involving animals.” I’m not sure why it matters. Nothing comes to mind. If the situation happens to be fairly unique would that somehow matter? And why does it matter if the analogies I use don’t map in every single way to the situation? To me this seems like nitpicking. The rest seems really weird to me because it seems… Read more »
beth
Member
I think you’re making a lot of excellent points and I am thinking about what you’re saying. I’m also not purposefully trying to misrepresent your position or change the conversation, but I am having to kind of dip in and out of this conversation while working on the show and other projects, so I might seem somewhat distracted. I found this interview with Peter Singer very insightful – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GYYNY2oKVWU However, I don’t agree with you that being vegan is easy. I think it can be easy, depending on your situation and constitution, but I think you diminish the potential difficulties… Read more »
Brad
Guest
I do think it’s very easy. Sure, there are going to be people for whom it’s quite difficult. I’m not talking about third world countries and such though. But I’ve personally found it to be cheaper. I’ve spoken to a lot of people who claim it would be difficult, but none of them have every tried it. I suppose for me this is a “lack of evidence” thing. I’ve got no reason to think it’s more difficult, and some admittedly weak evidence that it’s easier. I’m not tied to a specific conclusion, but I am suspicious of it somehow being… Read more »
Pentimental
Guest

I like meat. I eat meat. I don’t have a problem with hunting because I eat meat. I think vegans and vegetarians are quite noble. A vegetarian is only as vegetarian as their opportunities, however. If meat were somehow the only food supply, is there really a vegetarian that would not eat it to survive?

Josh
Guest
Sam if you weren’t even trying to make a logical argument then why even answer Andrews email? So going on about how we evolved to eat meat wasn’t logical argument? Is that your stance? You said that “We provided no justifications, nor did we have any intentions to.” What?! You said many justifications, we evolved to eat meat, it’s yummy and vegetarians eat dead things too. All of these are the very definition of a justification. If you don’t have anything logical then don’t say anything and when people call you out on it don’t pull this stupid cop-out that… Read more »
beth
Member
Off the top of my head: Sam won’t talk about politics. I won’t talk about circumcision or breast feeding. Jeremy and Mike won’t talk about certain topics as well, including food choice. Everyone has topics they don’t want to talk about, and no amount of shame-baiting is going to change that reality. Josh – you left a comment, we made an entire post to address the topic in the way we felt most comfortable, you ignored that, emailed us and called us all kind of names and made ridiculous accusations about us, and now you’re back with this. The saddest… Read more »
Josh
Guest
Beth, okay I’m so sorry I thought this was a skeptics show and pro-science show and I was wrong to assume that all questions, all inquiry was open to discuss. Refusing to discuss things is what Christians do, they hide from the arguments and refuse to make an argument (because there isn’t one). Sam couldn’t provide one nor has anyone else, and now with this cop-out “we don’t want to talk about it” crap is why I hate this show, it’s a poor representation of skepticism. And what I said from the beginning is that I was NOT attacking the… Read more »
Brad
Guest

While I do not entirely agree with the hostility, Josh makes another good point regarding the placement of these comments. “Your Food Crazy?” I’m not sure how to take that, but on the surface it does appear kind of insulting.

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