Atheism, Pigeons and Problem of Human Divinity

Several weeks ago I attended a small presentation on atheism by a philosophy professor at University of Florida. After watching it, I was made uneasy by a memory of a certain event and the implications of it, in the light of the presentation. The event was me driving a car and running over a pigeon in the street. The bird literally walked out in front of my car’s right tire and was smashed instantly. I was disturbed by the event, but in couple minutes I almost forgot about it, until now.

Consider this: let us assume (hypothetically) that G-d does not exist. If that is true, that means that human race is not “created in the image” of G-d, since humans can’t be in the image of something that does not exist. Therefore, human species are just like any other species. If that is true, then there should be no moral difference between killing a human or any other animal. If G-d does not exist, and humankind is not divine in nature, then it must be animal. But if that is true, what makes killing a human being any different from killing a pigeon?

The Ten Commandments, in my opinion, are necessitated by inherent divinity of every human being. While humans are obviously allowed to kill other animals for whatever reason, to kill a human being – an inherently divine creature, made in the image of G-d – is a totally different proposition. Yet, removing G-d from existence immediately denies any special status to humans. If humans are not divine, then they are animals who do not deserve any special treatment at all.

I think this particular inconsistency is the Achilles heel of the Atheism, making it a very dubious philosophical position. Consistent Atheists must agree that humans are just like any other animals, and do not deserve any special rights or protections against random acts of violence. Only belief in G-d makes humankind divine, deserving a special treatment, not reserved for other species.


  1. K. M. said

    To answer your question
    “what makes killing a human being any different from killing a pigeon?”
    The fact that the concept of rights was invented by humans, not by pigeons.

    Man has rights because he has the power of choice and the capacity to think.
    As Ayn Rand wrote in Man’s Rights
    “Whether one believes that man is the product of a Creator or of nature, the issue of man’s origin does not alter the fact that he is an entity of a specific kind—a rational being—that he cannot function successfully under coercion, and that rights are a necessary condition of his particular mode of survival.”

    And anyway whether or not man is special in some way has nothing to do with whether God exists.

  2. armilnov said

    “The fact that the concept of rights was invented by humans, not by pigeons.”
    I am not talking about what rights were or were not invented.
    I am asking: why should any rights apply to human beings at all in world without G-d? If humankind is not divine, then it is just like any other species – an animal.

    “Man has rights because he has the power of choice and the capacity to think.”
    So, apes can’t think for themselves? And dogs can’t make choices? Is that what you are saying?

    The Ayn Rand quote:
    first, — to say that man is rational is itself, in fact, irrational. Was Hitler rational?
    second, — again, many animals display great skill at making rational decisions, thinking, communication etc., such as dolphins, apes, dogs. In that regard human beings are merely far more advanced.
    second, — so what? So, if human is merely an animal who can think really well, so what?

  3. Samuel Skinner said

    Fallacy of consequences. Secondly, there is nothing being made in the image of God or having a divine nature that makes killing wrong, other than God’s say so, which is an arbitrary reason.
    Fallacy of consequences does not apply because I am not claiming that G-d does or does not exist. I merely say that in order to be consistent the philosophy of Atheism requires human beings to be viewed as animals, who are no substantially different from pigeons, but just very very smart. Hence, if it is OK to kill one species, why is it not OK to kill another?

    Basically, you are using magic to wish away the problem and saying that since atheists don’t use the same magic, they are inconsistant. There is nothing inherent about having a soul or divine nature that makes killing wrong.
    I disagree. Killing humans without a huge reason for doing so – such as self-defense – is wrong, would you not agree? Maybe, it is just because that is a tradition, maybe it is because humans are divine. I do not claim to know the answer to the “why” question, I can only guess and believe that I guessed correctly. On other hand, running over a pigeon is, while regrettable, no big deal for everyone. It is just a pigeon.

    If you want to know how they justify themselves do a google search. Type in atheism. If you want an argument, go to the rational responce squad- they seek to educate all.
    Thanks for suggestion. I did. I found this link, where they support my claim, saying that humans are animals. Hence, the rest of my argument applies.

  4. Jon said

    There’s a simple answer to your “dilemma”.

    Humans care about other humans more than they care about pigeons. That’s why it’s not okay to kill other humans, but it’s arguably okay to kill a pigeon. You see this feature in every animal species which exhibits social behavior. It has nothing to do with the divinity (or lack thereof) of human beings. A troupe of baboons will readily kill small rodents for food, but will not kill its own young or members of its own troupe for food. According to you, this must mean that baboons are divinely favored by God, correct? Otherwise they would just kill each other randomly with reckless abandon.
    Animals do not kill their own children because doing so would prevent their genes from propagating. As a matter of fact, many animals – such as big and small cats – do kill babies of other animals of the same species, if given a chance. For instance, the first action of a male lion who takes over a pride, would be to kill all cubs fathered by other males.
    Besides, many people love their pets more than they love their own children, so this “care” for other human beings that you talk about is actually not a universal thing at all.

    I do find your contention here ironic, though. Presumably, by your blog roll at least, you are a Christian neoconservative. Neoconservatives readily advocate violence against other human beings if the price is right (so to speak). Look at their support of the war in Iraq, of torturing terrorist suspects, of support for further invasions and incursions in the Middle East and elsewhere. How do you square away this ideology with your claim that human beings are inherently divine? It seems to me, at least, that you’re talking out of both sides of your mouth. You’re willing to kill other human beings if it saves lives (which would be your argument, I’m guessing). Okay, well since when is saving lives more of a priority than obeying the will of your God? Surely your priorities are misplaced?
    Good question! Human beings have a freedom of choice – they are free to choose to do evil. Hence, while it is something I abhor to do, I will kill human beings in self defense and do support wars in self defense. I would rather be alive, than having my head cut off as an infidel. On other hand, pigeon is just an animal, whom I can kill without any special reason for doing so.

    Or perhaps you’re simply exercising your God-given right to be hypocritical.
    You know, this “throw insults at the capitalist pig” thing is sort of growing old for me. If you feel like continuing to do so, why don’t you move on to places where everyone thinks like you? BTW: I am NOT Neo-Conservative, and neither am I Christian. Just to let you know.

  5. salobrena said

    Why take it in this direction.. why not the other and say that we are all special and equal, animals and man alike. Would it be so awful to be considered equal in importance to a dog or a cat or a chicken. I mean chickens are people too.

    I see a problem with that, because I just ate a chicken 😉

  6. K. M. said

    There are two issues here – the origin of rights and the implementation of rights.
    First regarding the origin:
    Any being who has a mind that is capable of thinking conceptually, i.e, retaining and applying the results of thought to life has the right to be free from physical force by others. As far as I know and the evidence shows, apes and dogs and dolphins do not have this capacity. You admit that humans are far more advanced. I will go further and say that the capacity of thought in humans is different in kind from that exhibited by other species. It is conceptual. Further applying this capacity is man’s primary means of survival. Man (unlike other animals) has no automatic knowledge of what food is good for him or how to obain it. Man has rights because he cannot survive without the freedom to act on his ideas.
    First, why would any conceptually thinking creatures have “right to be free from physical force”?
    Second, according to you if someone is really stupid, then I can kill them? The rights of an individual human being are directly proportional to his or her “conceptual thinking” level, whatever that is? That is similar to the reasoning Nazis used to kill mentally disabled (I am just pointing that out).

    Second, regarding the implementation of rights, merely having rights is no guarantee that they will be protected. It is upto a group of individuals (i.e society) to realize that they all need rights and to put in place a government that protects everyone’s rights.
    So ultimately men have rights because they have a conceptual mind, they are able to realize that they need rights and are able to create documents like the constitution and organiztions like the government to protect their rights.
    How is that related to whether human species are animals or not?

    Finally regarding irrational people like Hitler, what Rand and I are saying is that man has the capacity to be rational. That some men will be irrational is inherent in man’s power of choice and is the precise reason why man needs a government to protect rights.
    Well, I am not talking about government, I am talking about whether human species must be considered animal in if G-d does not exist. Again, I fail to see how that relates to our discussion.

    You should really read that essay I linked to and the other related essays on the same site for a full, coherant treatment of the subject.
    Thanks! I will do it (but not now) 🙂

  7. K. M. said

    I will try to argue my point one last time.

    The argument goes from moral to political.

    My mind is my only source of knowledge and my only tool of survival. It is right (morally) for me to think, to apply my mind, to be free to do so.
    The above applies not just to me but to every man since every man is capable of thought.
    So it is right for all men to think, to be free to think.
    So all men have rights (political) to be free from force from each other.

    This argument does not apply to other animals as they are not capable of thinking in terms of concepts such as morality, freedom or politics.

    Man is indeed an animal, but a very special one, having the ability to think abstractly and apply these thoughts (conceptual thinking). It is this special ability that gives him rights.

    The question of whether mentally retarded humans have rights and to what extent is certainly not a trivial one and I cannot answer it in a comment. I will only say that it is similar to the question of the extent to which children have rights.

    You are saying that human being is the only animal capable of “thinking abstractly” , and therefore it must be treated differently from other, “non-abstractly” thinking animals. I already understood that.

    Question: why does ability to “think abstractly” automatically grant man special rights? Why killing a “very smart” human animal is forbidden, while killing a “dumb” regular animal is not?

    Let me also restate my previous question, if you change your mind to answer it too: what if a human being is unable to think abstractly, or has less capacity to think abstractly? Give me a reason why this human being should not be treated like an animal with comparable “abstract thinking” level.

  8. Samuel Skinner said

    Humans are animals. We fall under the nominclature slot. Didn’t you know that?

    As for why we don’t kill our own kind… well, their is an entire field devoted to working that out- ethics.

    But look at other social species- they treat members of their own species differantly.

    Why? Because they need the group to survive. Their is no high and mighty reason- people act good because it is expedient or because our minds have been programmed by countless millenia of social living.

    It is mundane and less than uplifting. Reality has a bad habit of doing that.

    So, according to you, the only reason people treat other people as different from mere animals is “because they need the group to survive”? Wow! What about if you magically were guaranteed to not “need the group to survive” – would you still treat people differently from animals? If yes, then why?

    So, let me understand: the only reason you are nice to other people is because you need them?

  9. pantheophany said

    If G-d does not exist, and humankind is not divine in nature, then it must be animal. But if that is true, what makes killing a human being any different from killing a pigeon?

    Thank you for noting the divinity of humankind. I certainly agree with that, as all of the universe is part of the divine. This doesn’t require a God that is separate from us; it is best seen in the God that we are part of. As we rely on our minds and our self-awareness, God grows as we better understand God. Life is precious, but consciousness is priceless and irreplaceable, and humans are conscious beyond all animals. None of this requires a God beyond the God we can see plainly in the natural universe. We do not protect matter near so much as we protect minds. Do you consider the killing of a dog the same as the killing of an ant or a bacteria? If they are all “just animals” shouldn’t they be identical? But they are not, because we judge their worth based on things beyond whether they are humans or “just animals.” That is not the distinction that exists. We are animals, but we are the most conscious of animals.

    To continue the thought, if humans at death face eternal Heaven, why should we worry a moment about what little things might happen to them here for the few moments they live? Shouldn’t Christianity logically teach that human death, at least among Christians, is the best thing possible? How does the inherent divinity of humans in the Christian context (i.e. with Heaven) lead naturally to the prohibition against sending them quickly to Paradise? Why torture them here a moment longer than needed?

    You misunderstood me. I am not arguing for or against the “divinity” of mankind. I merely point out that denying possibility for such divinity removes the only barrier against murder. In other words, my point is that Atheism does not have a logically consistent reason why people should not kill other people. An Atheist might be a decent person who chooses to be law-abiding and respectful and morally sound person, but that is his own personal choice that lacks any foundation in his personal beliefs. No G-d equals no Ten Commandments.

    To answer your second question: any moron can invent a religion promoting death, for, as we all know, life sometimes can be difficult. Look for example at the cult of violent Jihad. The terrorists of Hamas and Hezbollah have done many “martyrdom” operations to prove my point.

    Christianity and Judaism are fundamentally different from other religions in that they (in their true form) are religions of this world, not the other world. The Christian G-d chose to come down to the stinky, mucky world of human beings to save them. The Jewish G-d demands that all human beings live their lives to their fullest. It is a religious duty of every follower of Judaism to have family and children — to such extent that it is even a necessary requirement for any Rabbi to be married.

    The monastic tradition of Christianity is an aberration, a corruption of an originally very “Jewish” new religion with pagan tradition of ascetism. In that view, Protestantism and its denial of celibacy is the return of Christianity to its original intent of healthy full life and sexuality.

    Any idiot can be happy by withdrawing from the world, becoming an monk living in a cave. The Christianity and Judaism are the philosophy of higher, more noble order, that demand bravery and love of life even in the direst of circumstances.

  10. Melanie Stefine said

    I think the author of this site makes a good point. I have also thought this same thing when I was a child. An Athesit would see Humans a just a highly evolved Animal. Then Killing a Human would not be a sin. Killing others to survive or get your way would be part of evolution. I am sure Kings and Queens took this very aproach in ruling their kingdoms. As a King you were supreme, higher up, even had Divine rights. Phesants had none and their existance was for the Kings benefit only. The people were only animals within his kingdom to serve his needs. Lowly humans fought the wars and died to preserve the territories of the elite.

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