Happy the Elephant Is Denied Personhood

Happy the Elephant Is Denied Personhood
A zoo elephant and human children. There is a difference!

Atheists claim that humans are just animals, so animals should have the same rights as humans. On June 14, 2022, the New York Court of Appeals denied a claim by a Florida-based animal rights group called “The Nonhuman Rights Project.” The group had claimed that an elephant named “Happy” in the Bronx Zoo was in illegal custody and should be released because the elephant was equal to humans. After four years of litigation, Happy the elephant is denied personhood by the New York Court of Appeals.

There have been stories by animal protection groups of elephants displaying emotions that they interpret as typical human responses to the death of a family member. Other people have ascribed similar arguments for humanizing a pet dog or cat. We call this anthropomorphism, and we have dealt with it before.

If you deny that humans are created in the image of God, then any animal can be considered equal to humans. However, because we are in God’s image, humans have spiritual characteristics that animals don’t have. For example, we can express creativity in art and music, feel guilt and sympathy, have a complete self-concept, appreciate beauty, and worship God. Some people may ascribe human characteristics to a loved animal, suggesting that it can do one of these things, but they would not argue that the animal can do all of them.

Chief Judge Janet DiFiore wrote, “While no one disputes that elephants are intelligent beings deserving of proper care and compassion, Happy, as a nonhuman animal, does not have a legally cognizable right to be at liberty under New York law.” She said that the legislature would have to decide to grant nonhuman animals the same legal rights as humans.

The court’s decision was five to two, with the two jurists strongly dissenting. So, at least for now, Happy the elephant is denied personhood unless the legislature decides to change the law. Interestingly, the New York legislature denies personhood for a human baby up to the moment of birth.

— John N. Clayton © 2022

Reference: AOL News

Animal Tool Use and What It Means

Animal Tool Use and What It Means
Elephant using a tree trunk as a pillow for sleeping

An interesting fact about animals is their ability to use tools. Years ago, people thought that only humans used tools, but recent studies have shown animal tool use. However, the word “tool” means different things to different people. 

Webster defines a tool as “an instrument used to accomplish a given task.” By that definition, we can find examples of animal tool use. We have reported on some of them before. For example, HERE and HERE.

Science News reported that polar bears sometimes kill walrus by bashing them with chunks of stone or ice. People have observed birds cracking nuts by dropping them from high altitudes onto rocks. Elephants use tree trunks for a variety of purposes, and crows use sticks to pry off the lids of bottles. Chimpanzees use conchoidally fractured chert or flint to cut open a fruit. Those of us who have bird feeders have seen squirrels use a tree branch to access a feeder. Recently, researchers in Israel taught fish how to drive a “car.”

There is a difference between a tool and a machine. According to the dictionary, a machine is “an assembly of interconnected components arranged to transmit or modify force in order to perform useful work.” A broader question here is whether intelligence is needed to fashion a machine? If that is the case, intelligent animals should be making machines, and mentally challenged humans would not be able to do so. 

This discussion of animal tool use gets into difficulties because the anatomical parts of all animals are simple machines. Limbs are levers, and teeth are wedges. The design of all animals includes the equipment to secure food and shelter. Building into animals the ability to use objects in their environment to survive is another example of God’s design in the natural world. 

Studies indicate incredible wisdom and planning in the creation of animal life. However, what sets humans apart from all other animals is not tools, machines, or intelligence. Instead, our spiritual nature is what makes humans different.

The ability of humans to create art, express ourselves in music, conceive of self, worship, and be taught to think set humans apart. To have an agape type of love that is not sexual and does not promote survival makes us human. The mentally challenged among us possess these abilities because all of us are created in the image of God. Animal tool use is far removed from possessing God’s image.

— John N. Clayton © 2022

Reference: Science News, July 29, 2021.