Peter Singer is arguably the most famous and influential modern philosopher, offering the most radical challenge to traditional Judeo-Christian values. It has been said of him, that as an original and influential moral pioneer, he surpasses any philosopher since Bertrand Russell. On his website he says, ‘My work is based on the assumption that clarity and consistency in our moral thinking is likely, in the long run, to lead us to hold better views on ethical issues.’

Born in Australia in 1946, Peter Singer is the son of Jews who fled from Vienna to avoid persecution from the Nazis. His grandparents and other relatives, who stayed behind, were killed. His mother was a doctor. His father, a keen animal lover, was a businessman. Studying initially in Melbourne, Singer went on to obtain a B.Phil in Philosophy at Oxford, where he also developed his concerns for the well-being of animals. Subsequently, he taught in Oxford, New York, Colorado and California. He then returned to Melbourne to become Professor in Human Bioethics. In 1999 then became Professor of Bioethics at the Centre for Human Values at Princeton University.

Peter Singer is influential, not least because he is a prolific writer on his subject of ethics and related areas of philosophy. His best known book, Animal Liberation: A New Ethic for Our Treatment of Animals (1976),[1] gave birth to the worldwide animal rights movement. Widespread contemporary interest in vegetarianism and in militant animal rights campaigning has flowed from it. He has written many other books, a major entry on ethics in Encyclopaedia Britannica and countless journal and review articles, as well as editing influential journals. Much of what follows is focused on his book How Are We To Live?[2] with various references to other writings.

His broad perspective

Singer is an atheist who very easily dismisses Judeo-Christian ethics as being out of date and irrelevant: ‘We have no need to postulate gods who hand down commandments to us because we understand ethics as a natural phenomenon.’[3] He asks, ‘What do I think of as a good life in the fullest sense of that term? This is an ultimate question.’[4] The choice is ours because, in Singer’s view, ethical principles are not laws written up in heaven. Nor are they absolute truths about the universe, known by intuition. The principles of ethics come from our own nature as social, reasoning beings. So he writes, ‘We are free to choose what we are to be, because we have no essential nature, that is, no given purpose outside ourselves. Unlike say, an apple tree that has come into existence as a result of someone else’s plan, we simply exist, and the rest is up to us’.[5]

His principle reason for rejecting the Christian God is the existence of suffering in the world. In particular, he dismisses the idea that mankind is distinct from other animals by being ‘made in the image of God’. Hence the ‘Sanctity of Human Life’ argument, which hangs on that distinctive, goes out of the window. All that remains are ‘Quality of Life’ issues. This leads him to the utilitarian principle of ‘The greatest happiness for the greatest number’, which undergirds so much modern political thought.[6] Pleasure (or, rather, ‘preference satisfaction’) becomes the greatest good; suffering and pain the only evils. Utilitarianism, therefore, invites an examination of the consequences of our actions, studying the effects of our choices on others. Our actions themselves have no intrinsic moral value – what matters is what happens. Our intentions count for nothing; the starting point is preference not idealistic motivation. Reducing ethical choices to a concern for personal preferences and useful consequences sounds like a simplification of life’s moral dilemmas. However, the ethical process involved in arriving at such a decision can be extremely complicated. He writes:

I must, if I am thinking ethically, imagine myself in the situation of all those affected by my action (with the preferences that they have). I must consider the interests of my enemies as well as my friends, and of strangers as well as family. Only if, after taking fully into account the interests and preferences of all these people, I still think the action is better than any alternative open to me, can I genuinely say that I ought to do it. At the same time I must not ignore the long-term effects of fostering family ties, of establishing and promoting reciprocal relationships, and of allowing wrongdoers to benefit from their wrong doing. [7]

Abortion and infanticide

Suffering is, of course, more than just the experience of pain. It has to do with self-conscious awareness of suffering, involving the memory of past freedom from suffering, understanding the causes of suffering, and anticipating the future implications and possible options. An unborn child cannot suffer in this way – and, of course, cannot be said to have personal preferences, whether or not they could ever be expressed. If other people have preferences that the unborn child should not survive, and assuming the procedure can be done painlessly, there remains no moral barrier to terminating the pregnancy. So in his view:

Those who regard the interests of women as overriding the merely potential interests of the foetus are taking their stand on a morally impregnable position.[8]

Furthermore, the situation is essentially unchanged for the newborn child, who does not understand what life is about and therefore can have no preference in the matter. If no one else has a preference that the child should live, infanticide within the first month of life can be morally justified. Here Singer introduces his ethic of replaceability. A child may not be wanted for various reasons, such as timing, gender or congenital disease. The decision-making process can be profoundly influenced if the death of an unwanted child subsequently allows the parents the freedom to have a wanted child who would replace it. Such ethics have not endeared him to the disabled community in general. They fear that his views support discrimination against them. Neither have they gone down well in Germany with its painful memories of the eugenics movement for genetic purity.

Euthanasia – voluntary & non-voluntary

Singer’s overthrow of the ‘Sanctity of Human Life Ethic’, replacing it with a ‘Quality of Life Ethic’, comes most sharply into focus when considering voluntary euthanasia. This is most fully discussed in his book, Rethinking Life and Death, where he offers some new rules:[9]

Firstly, we should not see all human lives as of equal worth but recognise that some are more valuable than others. Such judgements should be made on the basis of the individual’s capacity to think, relate and experience. Patients in a persistent vegetative state have none of these faculties. Without consciousness, life has no value. In cases of brain damage making it impossible for the patient to express a preference, this principle obviously opens the door to non-voluntary euthanasia.

Secondly, the taking of human life is not a moral issue in itself; the consequences of the action determine the ethical rightness of it. The preferences of the individual – if they can be expressed – are of central importance.

Thirdly, suicide is not intrinsically wrong. An individual’s desire to die should be respected. Hence, it is ethical for a doctor to assist a suicide in fulfilling the patient’s considered preference.

Animal liberation and vegetarianism

Singer distinguishes human beings in the biological sense from persons, who are rational and self conscious beings. He has no basis for seeing human beings in a different category from other animals. In general, humans have more intelligence and greater self-awareness, but some humans lack these faculties. In the newborn they are undeveloped; in the severely brain damaged they are lost; and in the dementing they are fading day by day. They are humans, but not persons. Some adult animals, however, are remarkably intelligent. They are persons, though not human.

More important for Singer is the division between sentient creatures, which can experience pleasure and suffering, and non-sentient creatures which cannot. Most – but not all – humans come in the first category, as do many animals. Hence the protection afforded to persons should be extended to such non-humans. The division between these categories is not always obvious.[10] Some animals even seem to demonstrate a moral awareness by altruistic behaviour. He cites dolphins helping injured dolphins to breathe, wolves taking food back to the pack, chimpanzees calling others when they find ripe fruit, and gazelles putting their own lives at risk by warning of predators.[11]

The focus of Singer’s concern about animals is the human tendency to think in terms of species. While sexism and racism assert the superiority of one sex or race over another, speciesism asserts that humans are superior to other animals. Such discrimination, in Singer’s view, is indefensible.[12] His philosophy not only rules out all cruelty to self-conscious, sentient beings, which includes adult mammals, but also rules out their killing. Fur coats and leather shoes cannot then be justified, and neither, in general, can eating meat.[13] If animal experimentation can ever be justified, then it must be equally justifiable to perform such experiments on severely mentally-retarded human adults, or normal infants who are not aware of what is being done to them. [14]

Sexuality

‘The moral case for acceptance of sexual relationships between consenting adults that do not harm others is ... clear-cut,’ he writes.[15] As long as the consequences of sexual acts fulfil the preferences of those involved and do not harm others, sexual ethics are of little or no importance. In his view, the important ethical issues in the world today are the fact that racial hatred stops people living together, that people are starving in an affluent world, that animals are bred in factory farms, and that we are damaging the ecological system of our planet. He writes:

Once it is generally understood that ethics has no necessary connection with the sexually-obsessed morality of conservative Christianity, a humane and positive ethic could be the basis for a renewal of our social, political and ecological life.[16]

In a review article entitled Heavy Petting,[17] Singer asks what is wrong with human sexual activity with animals. The argument that bestiality is unnatural because it cannot lead to procreation is not good enough, he says, because many widely practised sexual activities, which are seen to be natural, cannot lead to procreation either. Isn’t bestiality cruel and harmful? Not necessarily. Can animals meaningfully give consent to sex? Well, sometimes they initiate it, as for instance a dog rubbing its genitals against a human leg. If the animal shows a preference and there are no harmful consequences, there appear to be no grounds in Singer’s ethical framework to object.

World poverty

Singer castigates Christians for their attitude to world poverty.[18] He sees a major discrepancy between their passion for the sanctity of life argument as it relates to the embryo, the unwanted infant and the terminally ill, and their failure to take seriously – in his view – Christ’s teaching about possessions and the needs of the poor. He sees Christians being concerned for those who express no desire to live while ignoring the lives of countless people who long to hang on to life. Christ’s teaching to the rich young ruler is certainly stark, and the wealth of western Christians is disturbingly great.

Critique of Singer on Christianity

Singer finds it easy not to take Christianity seriously, He writes:

Once we admit that Darwin was right when he argued that human ethics evolved from the social instincts that we inherited from our non-human ancestors, we can put aside the hypothesis of a divine origin for ethics.[19]

He has not written a substantial critique of Christianity, but his general antipathy is clear. He does not understand the dynamics of the gospel of grace, and so has a ‘salvation by works’ understanding of Christian theology, where ethical behaviour is driven by self-interest in rewards [20] and fear of punishments.[21] He is left with ‘a man of straw’ to knock down – or rather, marginalise.

As we have seen, central to his concerns is speciesism and the Judeo-Christian view that mankind is made uniquely in the image of God. He emphasises the Bible’s view that humanity has been given dominion over the animals. This he always describes in terms of dominating rule, never as responsible, caring stewardship. Christians, however, do not believe that animals are their possession, to do with as they think fit. Singer emphasises Genesis 1:28 which speaks of ‘rule’ but ignores Genesis 2 which introduces the ideas of a ‘duty of care’ and also companionship. In fact, there are many references in the Bible to the well-being of animals, which Singer chooses to ignore. These passages qualify and describe how ‘dominion’ over the animals is to be expressed.[22]

In the New Testament, Jesus pointed to God’s provision for the birds, but in saying that people are more valuable than they are, he is clearly not saying that they are without value before God.[23] Singer clearly does not like the way that Jesus cast out demons and sent them into a herd of pigs,[24] but he ignores the significance of Christ challenging the legalism of the Pharisees by asking, ‘If one of you has a son or an ox that falls into a well on the Sabbath day, will you not immediately pull him out?’[25] Graham Cole comments that juxtaposing a child at risk and an ox at risk indicates the expanse of Christ’s circle of compassion.[26] Cole also notes that in his letters, Paul describes God’s ultimate purposes for the whole of creation[27] which Singer fails to consider. In other words, Singer’s treatment of Scripture is misleading and unbalanced, if not unethical. He selects proof texts to support his argument, without trying to see them in their wider context.

Critique of Singer’s utilitarianism

There are several well-documented difficulties with utilitarian philosophy.[28]

1. Consequences

The intellectual challenge of chess is to think through the consequences of a move and predict the knock-on effects. A move you think is brilliant may prove a short cut to being caught in checkmate. The game must be played slowly. The difficulty is that we cannot cope with too many possible alternatives, which is why most of us play chess badly! Only God can see the future; the rest of us have to settle for shrewd guesses. One amusing story about Singer is that he fed a vegetarian diet to his cat – with the result that the cat became very skilled at catching mice! According to Craig and Moreland, the consequences by which the action is to be judged have, ‘an uncertainty that paralyses moral decision-making.’ Furthermore, it ‘brings to centre stage a tentativeness about duty that is not conducive to the development of conviction and character’.[29]

Consider the consequences of sexual activity. Commonly regarded as harmless pleasure, it is far from easy to predict the implications of a given sexual encounter, either emotionally, physically or socially. The consequences of an unwanted pregnancy should be obvious enough, but are frequently overlooked. Many, presumably to their great surprise, have found themselves quickly addicted to a new sexual partner or a new sexual behaviour that becomes very destructive to them and their families. Sexually transmitted diseases – often leading to infertility or cervical cancer – occur commonly and may be incurable, but they rarely seem to be anticipated. The single greatest cause of pain and suffering in the world today is due to the devastation brought by the sexual transmission of HIV, which does not even feature in Singer’s list of ‘the crucial moral questions of our day’.[30] How could he overlook it? We do not know how the virus crossed from monkeys to humans – it could even have occurred through bestiality; whatever happened, the consequences could not have been imagined. Less surprising is his failure to even begrudgingly acknowledge that the only practice that could resolve the HIV epidemic (and do so largely within a generation) is the biblical ideal of one sexual partner for life. How can he think that sexual ethics are irrelevant?

2. Happiness

Each attempt to explain the principle of utilitarianism presents its own difficulties. The best known description is that it seeks ‘the greatest happiness for the greatest number’. Two issues immediately arise that may well be in conflict.

Imagine that I have £1,000,000 to give away. If I was concerned for the greatest happiness, I might decide to give it all to one person and make him very happy indeed. However, if I was concerned for the greatest number, I might give £1 to each of a million people. Many would not even consider thanking me! Yet one might think that giving away money would be among the simpler moral decisions.

But there is a second, more fundamental problem. What exactly is happiness? And if I knew, how might I obtain it and then hold on to it? Those who experience the most intense happiness find they cannot maintain it. It inevitably fades. Similarly, those who experience the deepest tragedies seem, in the passage of time, to recover and once more find things to smile about. It is an extraordinary feature of life that some of the poorest people are among the most contented, while some of the wealthiest are among the most wretched. This is true of individuals, but it is also true of societies: ‘Ghana, Mexico, Sweden, the United Kingdom and the United States all share similar life satisfaction scores despite per capita income varying ten-fold between the richest and the poorest country’.[31] If happiness is so poorly correlated to wealth, the same study, among others, shows that it is strongly correlated to the traditional family unit. The divorce rate in Britain has quadrupled since 1970, and currently 40,000 children a year are prescribed anti-depressants. Therefore, one might suppose that the morality of actions that undermine the family unit, cannot be advocated on utilitarian grounds – again underlining the central importance of sexual ethics for human well-being.

3. Reductionism

Preference consequentialism seems a flat earth way of doing ethics. The whole process is reduced to a two-dimensional view of life: our actions are evaluated only in terms of preferences and consequences (whether or not they are actually predictable or measurable). There is no recognition of ultimate goodness, no acknowledgement of the importance of motive and intent, no significance attached to the agonies of conscience or the depths of moral revulsion, no sense of overall meaning and purpose, no exploration of the nature of self-denying love rather than ‘preference satisfaction’, no realisation of the need for forgiveness, no understanding of the fallibility of human moral character and no basis for considering justice. Nor does Singer allow the subtle influences of our relationships in moral decision making, even though his own rationality proved an insufficient guide in dealing with his mother’s death from Alzheimer’s disease.[32] His tough talk about euthanasia evaporated in the face of the personal reality. Morality is evaluated only on our preferences and the consequences of our actions, butmost of us realize that there is rather more going on here as we make our choices.

4. The Yuk Factor[33]

In his letter to the Romans, Paul teaches that certain truths about right behaviour are instinctive. We don’t need to be taught them, but if we suppress such intuitive awareness, it will affect our rational grasp of ethical judgements.[34] In Paul’s phrase, we will become ‘futile in our thinking.’

Several aspects of Singer’s teaching cause deep intuitive revulsion – not just in Christians, but in people who make many different assumptions about the nature of truth and ethics. Singer claims the taboos are falling one by one [35] (late abortion, infanticide in the first month of life, non-voluntary euthanasia and bestiality are four such categories, which he clearly advocates). However, there are some taboos he seems reluctant to discuss. Given his grounds for justifying sexual activities between consenting adults, how can he raise adequate objections to promiscuity or, indeed, prostitution?[36] And what about incest, if there are no harmful consequences and both parties desire it? As there is no internationally agreed age at which children become adults, he is also left without strong grounds for condemning paedophilia. Why is he so quiet about that explosive subject? Is it not another major, modern, ethical issue? What has he got to say about it? Chuck Colson has written:

Every rationale that Singer employs to justify (sexual) activities with animals can be applied to relations with children. Actually, the case is stronger since the “physical similarities” Singer identifies are greater in the case of children.[37]

5. Is it liveable?

Gordon Preece maintains that preference utilitarianism is actually unliveable: Singer’s demanding universal utilitarianism is much more opposed to individual pleasure and almost infinitely guilt-inducing compared to Christianity.[38] The problems of the entire world are set before us. And it is not just the greatest happiness for the greatest number of humans which must direct our moral choices, but of all sentient mammals. The task is overwhelming.

Of course, the demands of world poverty distress us all. Historically, however, it has never been like this. In apostolic times, for instance, a church community might learn from a traveller about a distant fellowship experiencing hard times, and collect some money to help them. In general, they remained entirely ignorant of the human condition worldwide. For the most part, people lived in small, self-contained communities within which they learned to carry one another’s burdens.[39] In such communities, the New Testament asserts our primary responsibility for our immediate family,[40] but then to care for widows and orphans,[41] to show hospitality to strangers[42] and, as opportunity arises, to do good to everyone.[43] But in all this, the family is central. As the fundamental building block of society, it is without rival. Certainly states should provide welfare, but who would prefer institutionalized care? Any philosophy or political policy which damages or undermines the integrity of the family unit, as Singer does in dismissing the importance of sexual ethics, undermines the central structure of care in the community throughout the world. (I think immediately of my patients: a man struck blind in his 30s from Multiple Sclerosis, cared for by his wife and 10 yr old daughter; a single mother helped by her grand-parents to care for her teenage daughter with Cystic Fibrosis; the mutual care a 90 yr old couple give to each other, supported by their children; an awkward old man living alone in a caravan, scooped up and taken home by his caring nephew.) Singer’s quest for a renewal of our social and political life, disconnected from traditional sexual ethics, is a pipe-dream.[44]

Today, however, the tragedies of the world find their way onto the screens in our living rooms. We are not absolved responsibility for how we respond,[45] but the New Testament is realistic saying that we should ‘not grow weary of doing good ... as we have opportunity.’[46] We are not to lay up treasures on earth but in heaven,[47] and hard choices face each of us. For all that Christians say in criticizing our consumerist society, we still drive expensive cars, make our homes very comfortable and fly around the world for pleasure with seemingly little concern. So we should take note of Singer’s serious challenge for Christians to behave Christianly.[48]

Yet utilitarianism gives us no respite. If we were to take Singer at face value, our lives would be minimalist. We could hardly waste money buying books of any sort; education would be basic and presumably prevent the sort of expensive researches which might lead to significant benefits for the world’s poor. We could forget about the arts and entertainment – luxuries no one should afford. In order to remain sane with such pressing demands, Singer apparently gives away 20% of his income. This is impressive, and certainly puts many Christians to shame. [49] But given the needs of the world, the figure is quite arbitrary. If you have a large income, far more than enough to supply your basic needs, why not make it 50%? However, on consequentialist thinking, any such self-inflicted poverty/misery is endured to bring the greatest amount of happiness to the greatest number. Is it defeating the primary objective of happiness to advocate miserly restraint? So we return to some very basic questions. Perhaps we should not give away more than we are happy to give, so that we don’t add to the pot of suffering. We are told, ‘God loves a cheerful giver’.[50]

At the end of the day, we can understand the idea of acting morally towards the people we meet. It is quite possible, if more difficult, to act morally to those we do not know. Acting morally to everyone in the world is quite beyond us, but acting morally and equally to every sentient mammal robs morality of any real meaning. The best we can do is respond as and when we have the opportunity. Christians have grounds for believing that God is ultimately responsible for his world, but has put us in caring and supportive family units so that we might be agents of his mercy and compassion.

The point of view of the universe

Jesus took as the central plank of his ethical teaching, the Old Testament commandment, ‘You should love your neighbour as yourself.’[51] Not surprisingly, he was then asked the crucial question, ‘Who is my neighbour?’ In answering it, Jesus told one of the world’s greatest stories: ‘A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho ...’[52] The despised foreigner from Samaria is cast as the rescuer, going out of his way to help the injured man at significant personal inconvenience, risk and cost – he is the true neighbour. Singer sees the commandment, with Christ’s explanation as to who our neighbour is, as a universal ethic. It is also expressed as Christ’s ‘golden rule’ that you should, ‘Do to others what you would have them do to you.’[53] Singer claims it lifts us from our subjective, personal point of view to a wider, objective perspective, encouraging equal consideration of interests, ultimately even what he calls ‘the point of view of the universe’.[54] In supporting this idea, he appeals to ‘all the major ethical traditions’, naming Rabbinic Judaism, Hinduism and the teaching of Confucius, whom he claims ‘appear to have reached the same position independently of each other.’[55] He does not mention the Koran, which has no similar statement, nor any other religion.

What he fails to notice is that Christ alone puts the golden rule in the positive form. The other three all say in effect that you should not do to others what you would not want them to do to you.[56] The Rabbinic version says, “Do not do to your neighbour what is hateful to you; this is the whole law, all the rest is commentary”, which seems a far cry from the tone and intention of the Old Testament commandment. Confucius justified his saying with self-interest: “What you do not wish upon yourself, extend not to others. Then there will be no resentment against you, either in the family or in the state.” This, it seems, is the wisdom of the world. It is a recipe for detachment. It concerns what you shouldn’t do, not what you should do. It presumably, in Christ’s story of the Good Samaritan, enabled the priest and the Levite to pass by on the other side. What Christ taught was quite unique. We cannot pass by. We are under obligation to treat others as we would wish to be treated.

In the modern world of instant communications about the most awful disasters, Christ’s golden rule may seem overwhelming. However, acknowledging our failings before a merciful God, finding his forgiveness, realising that he understands our limitations, opening our selves up to his good purposes, realizing, as Jesus taught, that ‘each day has enough trouble of its own’,[57] and also that this is God’s world and not ours, the Christian is not overwhelmed – either by guilt or the size of the task. We are called to do good according to the opportunity we have, knowing that ‘to him whom much is given, much is required.’[58] So Christ’s way is quite possible, but Singer’s is crushing.

Conclusion

In dismissing Christianity, Singer recognises that he has been unable to find a higher ethic than Christ’s, but is less than persuaded that he has found a compelling alternative as a basis for such ethical thinking. He writes:

Ethical truths are not written into the fabric of the universe ... If there were no beings with desires or preferences of any kind, nothing would be of value and ethics would lack all content.[59]

However, there are not only the subjective values of each individual. He writes:

The possibility of being led, by reasoning,[60] to the point of view of the universe [i.e. Christ’s golden rule] provides as much ‘objectivity’ as there can be ... it is as close to an objective basis for ethics as there is to find.[61]

Again he concedes:

It would be nice to be able to reach a stronger conclusion than this about the basis for ethics.[62]

Unfortunately, he does not explore the objective, rational evidence that an ultimate moral being exists, who has uniquely revealed his own character as the basis for our ethics. The existence of God, for instance, can be argued on the basis of the very existence of moral values. As philosopher William Lane Craig expresses it:[63]

  • If God does not exist, objective moral values do not exist.
  • However, evil exists
  • Therefore objective moral values exist – namely, some things are evil
  • Therefore God exists

By creating humans in his image, God not only gives us an inherent foundation for our moral values, he also equips us with the intelligence we need to make moral and rational choices. Had Singer acknowledged the uniqueness of Christ’s golden rule, seeing it as ‘the point of view of the universe’ just might have been a clue to the unique authority of Christ the Teacher! Without such an understanding, Singer is left floundering when he writes about the meaning and significance of human life:

The possibility of taking the point of view of the universe overcomes the problem of finding meaning in our lives.[64]

He concludes:

Most important of all, you will know that you have not lived and died for nothing, because you will have become part of the great tradition of those who have responded to the amount of pain and suffering in the universe by trying to make the world a better place.[65]

As the violins fade, we might well ask, ‘Is that enough to live by?’


References

[1] He has recently updated the subject in In Defence of Animals: The Second Wave (Blackwells, 2005)

[2] Peter Singer, How Are We To Live? (Oxford University Press, 1993)

[3] Peter Singer, Ethics, (Oxford Readers (OUP), 1994) p.5

[4] Peter Singer, How are we to live? (Opus (OUP), 1993) p.9

[5] Singer, How are we to live? p.5

[6] Singer stands in the tradition of the utilitarianism of Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832) and John Stuart Mill (1806-73). For more information, see New Dictionary of Christian Ethics and Pastoral Theology under ‘Bentham’ and ‘Mill’, or www.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jeremy_Bentham and www. wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Stuart_Mill (accessed on 25 January 2006)

[7] Singer, How are we to live? p. 206

[8] Singer, How are we to live? p. 18

[9] Peter Singer, Rethinking Life and Death. (Melbourne 1994) pp. 190–198

[10] Singer says that people write to him with their questions – ‘whether I think prawns can feel pain,’ for example (Singer, How are we to live? p. 191

[11] Singer, How are we to live? p. 102

[12] Peter Singer, Animal Liberation 2nd ed. (Jonathan Cape, 1990) p. 243

[13] He allows that the Inuit, for example, may be able to justify eating animals, as they have no other option. (Practical Ethics (CUP 1993) p. 59ff)

[14] Singer, Practical Ethics, p. 59ff

[15] Singer, How are we to live? p. 18–19

[16] Singer, How are we to live? p.18–19.

[17] Peter Singer, ‘Heavy Petting’, nerve.com, 2001 – http://www.utilitarian.net/singer/by/2001----.htm(accessed on 25 January 2006)

[18] Peter Singer, Christians, Riches and Camels, (Free Inquiry, Summer 2002)

[19] Singer, Ethics, p.6

[20] Singer, How are we to live? pp. 212–213

[21] Singer, How are we to live? p. 20f

[22] For instance, there are laws for the well-being of animals (e.g. Deut. 25:4). The wisdom literature teaches that, ‘A righteous man cares for the needs of his animal’ (Prov. 12:10). Singer also fails to notice God’s compassion expressed in the story of Jonah: ‘Nineveh has more than 120,000 people living in spiritual darkness, not to mention all the animals. Shouldn't I feel sorry for such a great city?’ (Jon. 4:11).

[23] Matthew 6:26

[24] Matthew 8:28–34

[25] Luke 14:5

[26] Graham Cole in Gordon Preece (ed), Rethinking Peter Singer (IVP 2002) p. 102

[27] See, for example, Romans 8:19–25; Colossians 1:15–23

[28] e.g. New Dictionary of Christian Ethics and Pastoral Theology (IVP 1995) under Consequentialism

[29] J.P. Moreland and William Lane Craig, Philosophical Foundations For A Christian Worldview (IVP, 2003) p. 438

[30] Peter Singer, How are we to live? p.18–19.

[31] E. Crooks and S. Briscoe, ‘How to be Happy’, Financial Times, 27 December 2003, as reported by Dean Giustini, British Medical Journal, 24 December 2005

[32] Apparently, when Singer’s mother was suffering from advanced Alzheimer’s Disease, he paid for her nursing care himself but did not advise euthanasia. He defended this by saying that his sister’s preferences had been an important factor. See Stuart Jeffries, ‘Moral Maze’, The Observer, 23 July 2005 – books.guardian.co.uk/review/story/0,12084,1533705,00.html (accessed on 30 January 2006)

[33] Gordon Preece, Rethinking Peter Singer p. 26

[34] Romans 1:18–32

[35] Singer, Heavy Petting, www.nerve.com

[36] The use of prostitutes in UK has apparently doubled in the past 10 years, especially among young men who buy sex much as they would any other leisure activity. (Survey reported in Journal of Sexually Transmitted Diseases, December 2005)

[37] Colson, A Beast of a Theory, www.boundless.org

[38] Preece, Rethinking Peter Singer p. 25

[39] Galatians 6:2

[40] 1 Timothy 5:8

[41] James 1:27

[42] Hebrews 13:2

[43] Galatians 6:9–10

[44] Singer, How are we to live? p. 19

[45] 1 John 3:17–18

[46] Galatians 6:9–10

[47] Matt. 6:20

[48] Peter Singer, Christians, Riches and Camels

[49] Recent evidence has shown that Christians are not as mean as Singer implies. A survey of 1,200 evangelical Christians shows that they give away nine times as much as the average householder in the UK, donating, on average, 12% of their net income annually (reported by Ruth Gledhill, The Times, 4 January 2006)

[50] 2 Corinthians 9:7

[51] Lev. 19:18, Luke 10:25–28

[52] Luke 10:30–35

[53] Matt. 7:12

[54] Singer, How are we to live? p. 272

[55] Actually he names only those three of the major traditions: he cannot, for instance, find this teaching in the Koran.

[56] Hindu, Mahabharata XXIII:5571,  Rabbi Hillel, Talmud Shabbat 3,  Confucius Analects 12:2

[57] Matt. 6:34

[58] Luke 12:48

[59] Singer, How are we to live? p. 275

[60] Singer wrongly asserts that others got there by reasoning. Jesus said he taught what the Father gave him to say (John 12: 49), and Christians, too, understand it by revelation through the Spirit-inspired gospel accounts of Jesus’s life and teaching. No-one, it seems, got there by reason alone.

[61] Singer, How are we to live? p. 275

[62] Singer, How are we to live? p. 277

[63] William Lane Craig, God? (OUP, 2004) p. 126

[64] Singer, How are we to live? p. 274

[65] Singer, How are we to live? p. 280

© 2006 Peter May
This is a sample chapter from the book, 'Playing God: Talking About Ethics in Medicine and Technology' which is from the Damaris' Talking About... series

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