How should Christians treat animals in research?

By Mark F. Carr


In doing scientific research, we must not forget the domain of our stewardship, so as to move away from procedures that cause pain suffering in animals. We can and must aspire to a higher level of responsibility to God and the rest of His creation.


One of the most  contested and perennial issues in how we relate to our environment is the use of animals in research. Seventh-day Adventists associated primarily with educational and healthcare institutions engage in animal research. When properly regulated under current accrediting bodies, this research is justifiable. Nonetheless, I will make some proposals that will encourage Adventists and other Christians to move away from research that necessitates pain and suffering in animals.


The use of animals in research

The prevailing arguments in favor of using animals in research programs tend toward one or another form of utilitarianism. Within a utilitarian framework, three primary rules are at work:  replacement, reduction, and refinement. Established with the publication of the The Principles of Humane Experimental Technique by W.M.S. Russell and R.L. Bruch in 1959, these three Rs provide a conceptual framework for morally responsible utilitarian logic.1 Put simply, if there are alternatives to using animals, then a researcher should replace the animals. Then, effort should be made to reduce the number of animals in use. Finally, researchers should refine their experimental technique so as to avoid all unnecessary pain to the animals involved.

The prevailing arguments against using animals in research center on the idea of animals rights, and that basic among those rights is freedom from pain and suffering. Without turning this essay into an argument about animal rights, it is important to recognize the presence and force of this line of reasoning in the ethics of animal research. Following the basic definition of human rights to be that which any person has simply because he or she is human, 2 an animal rights definition would assert a certain set of protections and freedoms for all animals (or non-human animals, to be precise).3 If we choose to engage in this conversation, then we must specify to what degree animal right exist and how those rights do or do not jibe with human rights.4

How animal research is conducted. Of primary concern here is the laboratory research foisted upon animas that causes them pain and suffering. Such research must be morally justified, and this is usually accomplished via national legislation and, increasingly, through international oversight groups. The single most important international oversight agency is the Association for Assessment and Accreditation of Laboratory Animal Care International (AAALAC).

The guiding documents that provide oversight and management of the actual research upon animals make up a vast body of literature and regulation. The details are phenomenal and at least us – if not more – rigorous as those associated with research protocols using human subjects. What can we glean from these documents with regard to how Adventists might responsibly engage in research using animals in the educational and healthcare institutions that are so vital to the life of our church the world?

Principles worth upholding. Three levels of regulation and oversight must be maintained if we are engage in morally-responsible animal research?

Institutional: All morally-responsible research must be monitored and regulated by the institutions within which it occurs. To put it negatively and within the specific context of the Adventist church, no individual researcher/teacher in a Seventh-day Adventist educational institution should engage in research/class exercise without direct institutional oversight. This oversight must be encouraged. Supported, and maintained by the institutional/school.

Local: Institutional oversight must include complying with any relevant local government laws. These laws will vary widely across the nations within which the church maintains educational institutions. Regardless of variation, local legislation must be followed. For instance, vivisection (the dissection of live animals) is forbidden in England but not in the United States.

International: Independent and international accreditation offered by AAALAC should be sought after, achieved, and maintained by all Seventh-day Adventist institutions engaging in animal research. AAALAC provides the gold standard for any and all efforts to justify research on animals that potentially cause pain and suffering.

While these three fundamental rules can provide practical guidance for the ethics of animals research, they cannot, and do not, establish acceptable conceptual guidance for the Adventist church. The conceptual problems associated with animal research revolve around issues of morality informed by the scripture, theology, and church teaching.


A three-point proposal

As a means to encourage the church forward, I offer the following three strategies.


Proposal 1: Establish consensus that all non-human creation has moral status. Laboratory research that causes pain and death of animals must be morally justified.” This very fact recognizes that there is some moral value inherent in the non-human animal creation of God.7

Moral value or status is a term used in ethics to help us conceptualize “who or what is so valuable that it should be treated with special regard.”8 When I refer to moral status here, it is to note our intuitive, nurtured, and commanded sense that the object to which we refer is morally important. I say intuitive because, as creations of God, bearing His image, we have an intuitive sense (when we follow His will) that other parts of His creation are morally important. I say nurtured because we take Scripture seriously in our personal, familial, and congregational life, and scripture teach that God cares for His creation. If God cares for his creation, then we also ought to care for it. Ought implies moral obligation or status. I say commanded because we have been assigned by God a particular role and responsibility within His creation, as stewards, to value (morally value) other parts of His creation. The onus of responsibility here is ours, and it means that we should treat the rest of creation of God Himself would treat it.

To put it negatively, if we mistreat an object of His creation (one that He has told us we are responsible for [Gen. 1:26-28]), we suggest engage in a moral wrong, a sin. For instance, there is little or no debate about the moral ramifications of crushing rocks to make gravel. Crushing the skulls of animals in order to study brain trauma for human well-being is an entirely different moral activity, and we recognize it as such. If we do not, we are morally retarded and fail to properly reflect God’s image within His creation.

The relevant statements of the Adventist church regarding moral status emerge in two different forms, the Twenty-Eight Fundamental Beliefs and the official statements of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists. Fundamental Belief number six, titled “Creation,” states that humankind made in the image of God represented “the crowning work of creation.” Echoing the words of Genesis 1:26 (KJV)l, the statement notes that we were “given dominion over the world, and charged with responsibility to care for it.”9 As the belief is interpreted and published in Seventh-day Adventists Believe, we find two passages: one asserts that we have a “divinely bestowed responsibility of preserving the quality of our environment”: the other notes that “because life is a gift of God, we must respect it; in fact, we have a moral duty to preserve it.”10


Proposal 2: Re-evaluate our theology of stewardship. Seen through the lens of theological ethics, what is at stake in the creation accounts of Genesis is our very identity, our role, and our place in the entirely of God’s creation. There are two principal metaphors essential to a biblical, and thus Adventist, interpretation of our role in God’s created order, namely, dominion and stewardship.

On having dominion. Humans have failed through the course of history as we narrowly interpreted dominion to mean that we could be the dominators, users, takers, and abusers of the rest of the creation that God announced good. Following the metaphor of dominion, in Christian Western society, the rest of creation was thought to have value as it benefits humankind.11 how humans relate to the rest of God’s creation is revealed through beliefs and actions. When something (say, a snail) has intrinsic value, it has value in and of itself. This is true simply because God created it. God does not need to command us to value the snail. The snail has value because God made it. Those of us who hold to this view typically argue that all of God’s creation has intrinsic moral value. Those who hold a different view assign value because they choose to or because God commands it. That is there is no intrinsic value in the snail. Rather, it attains value only when we attach value to it (because God has told us to or we like what it does for us).

Of course, one can take a position on the intrinsic/extrinsic value of the rest of God’s creation on a very complex scale.12 at either extreme of a scale of value are the following two positions:

1. All things – all of God’s nonhuman creation – are intrinsically valuable (they have moral status) because he created each and pronounced them good. Value here is essential in the entity itself.

2. All thing – all of God’s nonhuman creation – are extrinsically valuable (they have moral status) because they benefit humankind. Whether a stone or, a grape, all of the rest of creation has value only as it enhances human life. Value here is instrumental to mankind.

In my theological ethics framework, I must take the position that all things God created hold at least some moral status. Any amount of moral status imposes a moral obligation upon me as the responsible steward of God’s creation.

On being responsible. The responsibility that God assigns humankind is a moral one. We have a moral responsibility to engage in a managerial role within the creation. This managerial role is best understood under the theological framework of the principle of stewardship. Stewardship, argues Bauckham, is a “vocation of caring responsibility for other creatures.”13

My point is that we must understand the metaphor of dominion through the metaphor of stewardship and responsibility. With Bauckham, I would note that “the human relationship to the rest of creation, as intended by God according to the biblical material … cannot be easily summed up by a single term such as stewardship.”14 the expository document of Adventist fundamental beliefs blends both metaphors in its reference to Adam and Eve’s responsibility: “This was the responsibility to rule graciously over the world, imaging or reflecting God’s beneficent rule over the universe.” Additionally, it urges us toward the view that “as human beings, we are to act like God because we are made to be like God. Though we are human, and not divine, we are to reflect our Maker within our dominion in every way possible.”15

Three official statements from the Seventh-day Adventist Church are relevant to our role as stewards of God’s creation, listed here chronologically: “Caring for Creation – A Statement on the Environment,” “A statement on the Environment,” and “Statement on Stewardship of the Environment.”16 “Caring for Creation – A Statement on the Environment” is the only one that explicitly refers to animals. It refers to wildlife being plundered as a result of human disobedience to God. I deeply appreciate these statements, finding them among the most eloquent ever made by our church. Aside from these statements, there has been no effort to shape an ethic of responsibility aimed toward the environment in general or at animals in particular. Nonetheless, our church has called us to respect creation, use restraint in our relationship toward Earth’s resources, reevaluate what we really need, and reaffirm the dignity of created life.17


Proposal 3: Move medical research beyond the use of live animals. As we use animals in laboratory and medical research, we must do so with full recognition of the previous two proposals: namely, that these animals have intrinsic moral status and that we are morally responsible as God’s stewards. Clearly, conducting research on animals has instrumental or extrinsic value to both humankind and non-human animals. We benefit tremendously from this research, as does the animal world itself.

Even in light of this more pragmatic reality, the intrinsic moral worth of animals pushes us away from research that causes them pain and suffering. In cases where Adventist research is certified by AAALAC, we can be sure that we are maintaining high standards. But high standards may take on type of status quo that should not be acceptable to us as God’s stewards. A more aspirational approach that calls us to higher standards should motivate us. If , indeed, we are called to treat animals as God Himself would treat them, we would do well to find alternatives.

Other models of research must be developed and encouraged that will discontinue the harm these animals are exposed to. The three Rs approach to minimizing pain and suffering (reduce, refine, replace) is consistent with this assertion. When carried to its logical end, the 3Rs move us completely away from the use of animals in educational and research protocols that cause pain and suffering. The Guide for the Care and Use of Laboratory Animals (one of the three primary resources used by AAALAC itself) describes replacement as follows:

“Replacement refers to methods that avoid using animals. The term includes absolute replacements (i.e., replacing animals with inanimate systems such as computer programs) as well as relative replacement (i.e., replacing animals such as vertebrates with animals that are lower on the phylogenetic scale).”18

Consistent with the Guides, there are two broad categories of alternative: in vitro, literally “in glass,” procedure are slowly replacing many animals testing and experimentation processes. Additionally, in silico, or computer modeling programs, are also making some inroads.19 Two simple illustration can make the point that seeking alternatives is viable.  First, observe the trend over the last 20 ye4ars wherein fragrance and skin-care product companies have found alternatives to testing their products on animals.20 Second, how many of us remember when pregnancy testing involved killing a rabbit?21 A test once considered alternative (using a test strip that measures hormonal levels in urine) is now considered standard practice.22

The point is that while we may presently find it justifiable to cause pain and suffering in laboratory animals, using the best possible practices and oversight methods, we do not have to settle for this in the long term. We can and must do our best to manage this domain of our stewardship so as to move away from procedures that cause pain and suffering in animals. We can and must aspire to a higher level of responsibility to God and the rest of his creation.


Seventh-day Adventist around the world who may be involved in animal research or the use of animals in education that causes pain and suffering face an ethical issue. There are strict guidelines that must be followed in order to engage in these activities in morally- appropriate ways. Beyond these practical guidelines, we would do well to think clearly about the biblical and theological convictions of Adventists with regard to non-human animals, and our relationships to them. The church has some beliefs and statements that can serve to move us forward into more thoughtful reflection on our role as stewards in God’s creation. It is our responsibility now to make the effort to move in that direction.23



About the Author

Mark F. Carr, (PhD, University of Virginia), a former professor of ethics in the School of Religion and co-director of the Center for Christian Bio-ethics at Loma Linda University, California, is currently the regional director of ethics for Providence Health and Services, Alaska. He is an ordained minister and was a pastor and youth director in the Alaska Conference of Seventh-day Adventist. His publications include several professional articles and the books Life Philosophy and Moral Issues (Silver Spring, Maryland: North American Division of Seventh-day Adventists, 1999), Passionate Deliberation: Emotion, Temperance, and the Care Ethics in Clinical Moral Deliberation (Dordrecht, Netherlands: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 2001), E-mail:

This article is slightly condensed from its original version that appeared in Stephen Dunbar, L. James Gibson, Humberto M. Rasi, eds. Entrusted: Christians and Environmental Care (Loma Linda, California: Adventus – International University Publishers, 2013). Used by permission.


1. W.M.S Russell and R.L. Burch, eds. The Principles of Humane Experimental Technique (London: Methuen Press, 1959).

2. See James W. Nickel, “Human Rights,” in Encyclopedia of Ethics, 2nd eds., eds. Lawrence C. Becker and Charlotte B. Becker (New York: Routledge Press, 2001), 796-800.

3. The Encyclopedia of Ethics (note 2 Above) offers an article titled, not “Animal Rights,” bust instead “Animals, Treatment of.” A salient quote regarding the assertion and developing  of the idea of animal rights comes from this article: “When Mill writes that all great movements go through three stages: ridicule, discussion, adaption, those who are active in the animal rights movement understandably hope he speaks prophetically of their cause” (p.73, Torn Regan, “Animals, Treatment of”)

4. The following is a brief sampling of more important and/or more recent publications on Christian thought and theology as they relate to animal rights: D.J. Atkinson, “Rights, Animal,” New Dictionary of Christian Ethics and Pastoral Theology, eds. David J. Atkinson and David H. Field (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1995), 745-747: Richard Bauckham, Living with Other Creatures: Green Exegesis and Theology (Baylor, Texas: Baylor University Press, 2011); Richard Alan Young, Is God a Vegetarian? Christianity, Vegetarianism, and Animal Rights, foreword by Carol J. Adams (Chicago, Illinois: Open Court, 1999); Andrew Linzey. Why Animal Suffering Matters: Philosophy, Theology and Practical Ethic (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009); Andrew Linzey, Christianity and the Rights of Animals (Chicago, Illinois: Crossroad Publishing Co., 1987); Norm Phelps, The Dominion of Love: Animal Rights According to the Bible (New York: Lantern Books, 2002); Stephen Webb, On God and Dog: A Christian Theology Compassion for Animals, foreword by Andrew Linzey (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002); Tony Sargent, Animal Right and Wrongs: A biblical Perspective (London: Hodder & Stoughton Religious, 1996); J.R. Hyland, God’s Covenant with Animals: A biblical Basis for the Human Treatment of All Creatures (New York: Lantern Books, 2000); and Donna Yarri, The Ethics of Animal Experimentation: A Critical Analysis and Constructive Christian Proposal (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005, see especially chapter four on “Animal Rights”).

5. This proposal assumes personal responsibility on the part of the researcher.

6. I would include here the routine instruction in Adventist biology curricula that utilizes live animals. In other words, all vivisection presently allowed in our educational system must stop.

7. This is not to say something about whether or not animals are capable of being moral creatures. It is to say much about human ability and obligation as moral creatures. Part of this obligation moves us to recognize the value, the moral value, of other creations of God.

8. My colleague James Walters, PhD, used this phrase in his article “Moral Status” in the Encyclopedia of Bioethics. He notes also that while moral status is not a new concept, its technical use has emerged in part through public debate about the value or status of the human embryo. There is no tie to the animal rights movement or to any particular ideological camp. It is a tool that helps each of us categorize who or what is valuable to us and why. As Walters notes, we may throw pebbles on the beach into the water, “but the people bathing on that same beach are totally different. To wantonly toss one of them into the same water would constitute an immoral, reprehensible act.” Using moral status as a way of framing the reasons why is commonplace in ethics. See Jim Walter, “Moral Status,” Encyclopedia of Bioethics, 3rd ed., ed. Stephen G. Post (New York: Macmillan Reference 2004), 1855-1864.

9. “Creation” available at

10. Seventh-day Adventists Believe: A biblical Exposition of Fundamental Doctrines (Boise, Idaho: Pacific Press Pub. Assn,. 2005), 85, 86.

11. See Ernest Fortin. “The Bible Made Me Do It: Christianity, Science, and the Environment,” Review of Politics 57 (Spring 1995) 2:197-223 for a survey of the history of Christianity and the environment. See also G.M. Tucker, “Rain on a Land Where No One Lives: The Hebrew Bible on the Environment,” Journal of Biblical Literature 116(1997) 1:3-17.

12. Richard Bauckham, The Bible and Ecology: Rediscovering the Community of Creation (Waco, Texas: Baylor University Press, 2010), 37.

13. Ibid. Preface.

14. Ibid 33, 34.

15. Seventh Adventist Believe, 99.

16. “Caring for Creation – A statement on the Environment,: available at http://adventist.or/beliefs/statements/main-star5.html; “Statement on the Environment,” Available at; “Statement on Stewardship of the Environment,” available at

17. These quotes appear in both “Statement on the Environment,” available/main-star9.html and “Statement on Stewardship of the Environment,” Available at

18. Guide for the Care and Use of Laboratory Animals (NRC 2011), 5 (PDF, 32). Available at

19. For instance, there is a journal entirely devoted to molecular biology via computer: ISB In Siiico Biology: An International Journal on Computational Molecular Biology,

20. For instance, in Europe, the European Union’s Office of Consumer Affairs has issued a directive that prohibits cosmetics companies from testing their products on animals see Available at

21, While common reference to this test often refers to the rabbit dying as a result of these pregnancy test, this was only true in the early versions of the test in the 1920s. In keeping with the three Rs approach, later refinement of the test simply allowed for the examination of the rabbit’s ovaries to see whether or not the woman’s urine had a measurable effect on them. See

22. See Carl Howard, “Yes, Dad, There are Alternatives,” AV Magazine, a publication of the American Anti-Vivisection Society, Spring, 2005. Available at

23. I offer my appreciation to David Wolf, DVM, University. He was particularly helpful in my effort to understand animal research. Additionally, I thank Stacey Butler, School of Medicine class of 2014, for offering helpful criticism of an early version of the essay.

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