Antispeciesism or the Denial of the Existence of God (1)

August 01, 2022
Peter Wohlleben

Antispeciesism is defined by Larousse as a “vision of the world which rejects the notion of hierarchy between animal species and, particularly, the superiority of human beings over animals and granting all individuals, independently of the species to which they belong, the same moral status.” The first part of this analysis presents the concept as presented by one of its fervent defenders. The second part will rebut it.

An affirmation immediately emerges from such a worldview: antispeciesism is a – practical – denial of the existence of God.

There are various paths to reach this conclusion. One of them consists in following an author in his thinking and marking the stages of the formation of this antispeciesist thought which does not necessarily say its name, but which is easily recognizable.

The person examined here is Peter Wohlleben, born in 1964 in Bonn, a forest engineer, who is the author of a worldwide bestseller, translated into 32 languages ​​and selling over a million copies: The Hidden Life of Trees, published in German in 20a5, English in 2016, and in French in 2017

The author did it again the following year with The Inner Life of Animals, published in German in 2016, in English in 2017, and in French in 2018. While the reception by scientists and nature specialists had been mixed for the first title, this second book would be severely criticized from a scientific point of view.

The Hidden Life of Trees

The discovery of the thinking tree

In browsing through this book, whose full title is: The Hidden Life of Trees. What They Feel. How They Communicate, the reader may note many statements unusual to a person with some knowledge of nature, if only from personal observation.

The author’s first observation is that trees are capable of retaining information and transmitting it. It is true that this remains very rudimentary, but it is recognized that certain aggressions – chemical, physical or thermal – provoke reactions in certain plants, such as the production of toxins by acacias in response to intensive grazing by herbivores, resulting in their death.

But we must immediately point out that the terms “retain” and “transmit” are ambiguous in this case, because they suggest a kind of memory and language that we liken to our own. Which is deeply inaccurate. So, whether there is a “recipient” present or not, the physico-chemical signal induced by an attack on the plant will be transmitted.

Wohlleben goes further by explaining that trees speak: they emit “ultrasounds” which are the result of a purely mechanical phenomenon induced, for example, by a break in the flow of sap. But, for our author, by a bold comparison, such a thing would be a “cry of thirst.” From there to say that the tree feels something, is only one step... which is crossed.

The trees are suffering, he insists. In this piece of purple prose, the oak seedling devoured by a deer suffers and dies, as does the wild boar slaughtered by a wolf. For now, it’s nothing more than a metaphor. Because, to feel suffering, it takes both senses and a centralized structure to turn information into pain. For once, there is nothing more than a metaphor. Because, to feel pain, there must be need both senses and a centralized structure to transform information into suffering.

Finally, we come to the crowning glory: trees are smart. And, suffice it to say right away, the brain is located in the stump or the roots. Induction lies in what is above: storage of information, chemical control of functions, electrical signals, language, and suffering.

And to conclude with aplomb – or candor? “Do plants have brains? Are they smart? Needless to say, a lively debate has animated the scientific community for years.” A debate absent from academic publications, recognizes Wohlleben.

But that does not stop him: “a majority of academics” criticize the brain-roots thesis, because, explains the author, it “tends to erase the border between the plant world and the animal world.” But, he asserts: “The division between plant and animal is an arbitrary choice essentially based on the mode of nutrition,” photosynthesis on the one hand, digestion of living organisms on the other.

This is a completely reductive and erroneous way of presenting the problem which suits the thesis well; we will have to come back to it.

Trees and their rights

From feeling and intelligence to law, there is only one step. Wohllaben advocates the protection of trees – as well as animals – which must avoid classifying them as things. He resumes his metaphorical language to speak of the “corpse of a beech or an oak” whose flames seize. “Birches and spruces felled – therefore killed” for the sole purpose of obtaining paper.

Then comes the accusation: “we use living beings that are killed to satisfy our needs.” We could point out that the author's book - sold over a million copies, it should be remembered - participated in this “massacre.” The author acknowledges the use; what he condemns is excess: “we must treat trees as we treat animals, saving them unnecessary suffering.”

And he lists the rights that should be recognized for trees: “to be able to satisfy their needs for exchange and communication, … to be able to transmit their knowledge to subsequent generations. At least some of them must be able to age with dignity and then die a natural death.”

The secret life of animals

Wohllaben, in his last chapter, raises the question of the possibility of a soul for animals. After a few meanders where he admits that he does not believe in an afterlife for lack of imagination, he attributes a soul to all animals. But there is still ambiguity: he conceives this animal soul in the manner of the human soul.

Indeed, he admits in his epilogue: “if I like to look for analogies between animals and humans, it is because I cannot imagine that their feelings are fundamentally different from ours.” This time, it is no longer a lack of imagination, but a beautiful excess, which continues further: “whoever understands that the deer, the boar, and the crow lead their own life, perfect in itself, and moreover, take joy in it …”

This reduction is crowned in the final word which equates human happiness with secretions of hormones. Which is a way of saying that animals that also have these kinds of hormones are also capable of this thirst that animates the human species... and it alone. The assimilation is almost total.

Balance sheet

All this stuff depends a good deal on ignorance of what life really is, all life. And also on a profound misunderstanding of the cosmos which is a harmony – this is the etymological meaning of the term – between beings, an order established by God, who is the first good willed by Him in things.

Now, and this is the important point, this harmony can only exist between diverse and hierarchical beings. A world of total equality between beings does not go beyond the mineral world – if that. This simple observation shows how antispeciesism is directly contrary to the will of God and represents a negation of His existence.