"At the request of the Swiss government, an ethics panel has weighed in on the "dignity" of plants and opined that the arbitrary killing of flora is morally wrong. This is no hoax. The concept of what could be called "plant rights" is being seriously debated." The initiative derives from a sincerely held conviction that the word "dignity" should be associated with all life forms. The Swiss Federal Constitution, which has triggered this study, is itself a product of a collective social conscience and a Federal Ethics Committee was given the task of articulating what the concept of "dignity" means in the context of plants.
Should convictions about the dignity of plants affect the way we cut and cook asparagus? (source: go here)
How did the working group proceed? What ethical principles did they identify? The participants were not of one mind on the issues: "Even within the ECNH, the intuitions relating to the extent and justification of moral responsibilities towards plants were highly heterogeneous." They sought to capture this diversity of opinion:
"So if we are trying to put the idea of the dignity of living beings into concrete terms for plants, we must first show which basic ethical positions permit the consideration of plants for their own sake. This discussion was structured by means of a decision tree."
Much of the report (12 pages) is devoted to documenting the different perspectives contributed by working group members. It is worth highlighting the absence of appeal to scientific method. Furthermore, there was no lead to any alternative source of knowledge. Theocentrism was defined as: "The basis for this position is the idea of a God who is creator, and therefore the creative ground of all living organisms. What counts for its own sake is God. All organisms count because of their relationship to God." However, the report also says: "No member takes the theocentric position." The emphasis in the report is on capturing what the "dignity of plants" meant to the assembled experts and then suggesting what this might mean for contemporary society. This approach bears all the hallmarks of relativised socially-constructed knowledge. This is a post-modern response to the problem of defining the dignity of plants.
Previous blogs (here and here) have identified postmodernism as a response to the materialist worldview. Despite numerous books and articles, a framework for ethics supported by the scientific method has not emerged. It is possible to find examples of almost any practice in the world of nature, so if the natural world gives us 'norms', then anything goes! The philosophy of naturalism has two faces when it comes to ethics. The first option is to adopt sphere sovereignty (Gould's NOMA) and push ethics out of the arena of public knowledge. This leads straight to postmodernism for every academic discipline other than science (although if you are not a scientist, science also is viewed through postmodern glasses). The other option is to find an ethic within science - usually informed by evolutionary theory. This allows advocates of that ethic to speak with a semblance of authority, but the reality is that their schemes are no more evidence-based than adaptationist just-so stories.
The reaction of the Nature report about plant dignity was to express bewilderment and to publicise the opinion of one scientist that "things will start to become clearer when legal challenges to specific research projects come to court, and case law becomes established." One is inclined to comment: what else can be done if ethics are socially constructed?
ID is not a worldview, although advocates do seek to sensitise people to the worldviews that are prevailing in academia. ID does not come with a blueprint for explaining the dignity of plants. However, since the ID community has concluded that there are innumerable evidences for design in living things, and since design implies purpose and meaning, then ID provides a context for thinking that an objective environmental ethic actually exists. Consequently, seeking out this ethical knowledge is an activity worthy of scholars everywhere.
The dignity of living beings with regard to plants
Moral consideration of plants for their own sake
Ariane Willemsen (Editor)
Federal Ethics Committee on Non-Human Biotechnology (ECNH), April 2008.
First para: The Federal Constitution has three forms of protection for plants: the protection of biodiversity, species protection, and the duty to take the dignity of living beings into consideration when handling plants. The constitutional term 'living beings' encompasses animals, plants and other organisms. At legislative level, the Gene Technology Act limits the scope of the term to animals and plants. Previous discussion within constitutional law relates the term Wurde der Kreatur ('dignity of living beings') to the value of the individual organism for its own sake.
Smith, W.J. The Silent Scream of the Asparagus, The Weekly Standard, 12 May 2008, Volume 13, Issue 33
Abbott, A. Swiss 'dignity' law is threat to plant biology, Nature, 452, 23 April 2008, 919 | doi:10.1038/452919a
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Evolution has become a favorite topic of the news media recently, but for some reason, they never seem to get the story straight. The staff at Discovery Institute's Center for Science and Culture started this Blog to set the record straight and make sure you knew "the rest of the story".
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We are a group of individuals, coming from diverse backgrounds and not speaking for any organization, who have found common ground around teleological concepts, including intelligent design. We think these concepts have real potential to generate insights about our reality that are being drowned out by political advocacy from both sides. We hope this blog will provide a small voice that helps rectify this situation.
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Most guys going through midlife crisis buy a convertible. Austrialian Stephen E. Jones went back to college to get a biology degree and is now a proponent of ID and common ancestry.
Complete zipped downloadable pdf copy of David Stove's devastating, and yet hard-to-find, critique of neo-Darwinism entitled "Darwinian Fairytales"
Intelligent Design The Future is a multiple contributor weblog whose participants include the nation's leading design scientists and theorists: biochemist Michael Behe, mathematician William Dembski, astronomer Guillermo Gonzalez, philosophers of science Stephen Meyer, and Jay Richards, philosopher of biology Paul Nelson, molecular biologist Jonathan Wells, and science writer Jonathan Witt. Posts will focus primarily on the intellectual issues at stake in the debate over intelligent design, rather than its implications for education or public policy.
A Philosopher's Journey: Political and cultural reflections of John Mark N. Reynolds. Dr. Reynolds is Director of the Torrey Honors Institute at