Atheist biologist Jerry Coyne, at his blog, gave the following title to one of his recent posts:
Christians want orca stoned to death
In the post, Jerry Coyne breathlessly announced:
The Rightly Concerned website, an arm of the religious, right-wing American Family Organization, has called for not only the execution of the orca, but death by stoning. . . . Right Christian of these folks. But [t]hey’d need a crane and one big boulder to do the proper Biblical job on Tiliikum!
Tiliikum, the orca being referred to, is the one that recently killed a SeaWorld trainer, and if fundamentalists are literally calling for the whale to be stoned, it is certainly outrageous if true.
But is it?
It turns out that it’s not. Jerry Coyne has set up a straw man. Here’s what the Christian source for Jerry Coyne’s post actually wrote:
Says the ancient civil code of Israel, “When an ox gores a man or woman to death, the ox shall be stoned, and its flesh shall not be eaten, but the owner shall not be liable.” (Exodus 21:28)
So, your animal kills somebody, your moral responsibility is to put that animal to death.
In other words, the Christian author endorses, not the literal stoning of animals, orcas or otherwise, but the general principle that animals dwelling in a community, on killing a person, should be put to death. I’m no fan of the archaic proscriptive laws of the Pentateuch, but this particular law is grounded in good sense. Jerry Coyne, as seems to be a habit of his, misrepresents what a person actually wrote to score some cheap points with his readership. It’s really a move worthy of Rush Limbaugh, not a Harvard trained evolutionary biologist.
A fairer challenge to the reasoning offered by the Christian writer is to simply note that tanked whales are not properly analogized to domesticated land animals, such as bulldogs, living in a community. Unlike a neighborhood bulldog that is put to death for mauling a person, and is a real threat to others, a whale that kills is more sensibly just released back to the wild, for it is unlikely ever again to come into close, forced, or unwanted contact with human swimmers. And if there are good reasons why releasing the orca into the wild is not feasible, SeaWorld could explore ways of keeping the animal alive without it coming in contact with humans.
In other words, between the callous and hasty generalization of the Christian writer and the straw man parodying of Jerry Coyne, there is a middle way: reason with compassion, clarity, and calm and characterize your opposition fairly. As the 17th-century Dutch philosopher, Baruch Spinoza, once wrote:
I have made a ceaseless effort not to ridicule, not to bewail, not to scorn human actions, but to understand them.