::Ask the Alliance #10::: Does God permit torture?
Question submitted by Steve: Have any apologists spoken about the problem of animal pain (nature being “red in tooth a claw”)? It is hard to understand the violence of the natural world (which includes us) in relation to the character of God. Is the violence of nature strictly a result of the fall? How do the theistic evolutionists make sense of this aspect of the physical world?
Steve, thank you for your question. This answer is going to be lengthy, as it is taken directly from our dialogue in The Christian Apologetics Alliance:
Nicholas Olsen: WLC’s Q&A comes to mind (#113, #134, #242, #243, #355). The problem of animal pain according to how WLC answers it, is transporting our emotional and physical experience onto animals. WLC believes that animals do not experience pain in the same way or think of it in an existential way either. I think the scientific evidence he cites regarding animal consciousness is from Micheal Murray, but I could be wrong.
C.S Lewis has an analogical story about a bear experiencing pain, where he describes only the material sensations with no capacity to dwell on it. Both WLC and C.S Lewis in this instance would probably say that the “problem of pain” is a misplaced problem, because we’re importing our thoughts/emotions/feelings of painful experiences onto them as if they think the same when they really don’t.
My personal answer would be that our experience of pain is a necessary function. For instance, if Adam were in the midst of eating an apple and Eve makes him laugh while eating, then in a pre-fall world…. Would Adam have been able to make his food go down “the wrong pipe”? I believe pain is a biological necessity because of the world described in pre-fall Genesis. Air breathing life should not breathe water, so how does one learn not to breathe water without some explicit intellectual warning? I think the knowledge is instinctual (God created intuition).
I’m not entirely convinced that animal interactions or nature was free of pain or its food-chain cycles given the environmental description of the pre-fall world. I’d like to note exactly what sin did in terms of God’s curse was pretty much depriving humanity of luxuries like working for food, painless child birth, shameless nakedness, and peace between the sexes. I see the fall as a means of punishing humanity only, so I don’t see the fall as an event that deprived a heavenly world from animals.
March 8 at 8:48pm
Prem Isaac: In the poem containing the quote “nature red in tooth and claw”, Tennyson also writes “Are God and Nature then at strife, That Nature lends such evil dreams?”
The answer, it seems, is yes they are in conflict now, but it was not always so. See Romans 8:19-21 – Could God’s response to the fall entail animal death? Apparently, the whole creation is in a state of corruption which was induced by God. The fall eventuated not merely the loss of luxuries for mankind, but corruption of the entire creation, which is now “groaning” in birth pangs for final redemption.
Gen 1:30 indicates animals having a vegetarian diet in the initial state just like humans (see v29), so nature was NOT red in tooth and claw as Tennyson stated in its initial condition. Note this doesn’t deal with animal death due to natural causes, but rather the issue of pain and predation.
It seems, atleast from a pre-millenlial viewpoint, that this sort of predatory behavior is not a feature of the earth in its future and more blessed state – Isaiah 11:6-9. If this description refers to an actual state of affairs, it looks like predation will cease.
Whatever apologetic we come up with ought to agree with or engage meaningfully with these passages.
Inicidentally, in order to stay faithful to the Romans 8 passage, Dembski has proposed a retro-active application of the fall to sustain the notion of predation prior to the fall, in a manner similar to the retro-active application of Christ’s atonement to those who were justified by faith prior to the Incarnation.
March 8 at 10:09pm
Anthony Holdier: I imagine that WLC’s use of Michael Murray’s Neo-Cartesian suggestion is jumping to many people’s minds, but this is probably not the most helpful way to think about animal pain. While it is a fun philosophical move to play with possibilities (for it is certainly possible that animals merely give the appearance of pain-feelings without possessing the higher-order brain functions to truly appreciate their significance), the neuroscience behind it appears somewhat suspect. Consider how the recent Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness concludes that “the weight of evidence indicates that humans are not unique in possessing the neurological substrates that generate consciousness” in precisely the moral arena that we are concerned about here. Moreover, WLC’s time-crunched summary of the solution in his debates is misleading, for humans and “higher primates” are not the only creatures with brains possessing adequately developed pre-frontal cortexes to generate morally concerning levels of thinking.
And, as Andrew Linzey (who has written more on this issue than probably any other Christian alive today) has pointed out, any argument that operates in WLC/Murray’s fashion is equally applicable to infants and the severely mentally infirm. As much as it pains me to disagree whole-heartedly with two of my philosophical heroes, I think that both C.S. Lewis and WLC are wrong here: the problem of animal pain is, indeed, a problem.
(Much like Prem Isaac laid out already), the whole of creation – including, presumably, the animal kingdom – was affected by Adam’s sin (and again later in the events leading up to Gen. 9:3), but William Dembski’s approach towards a defense of the issue in his book “The End of Christianity” is a tad long, but very helpful. It’s a bit strange to think about, but if Christ’s work on the cross could have soteriological effects in both temporal directions (as Hebrews 11 discusses), then why could Adam’s work in the garden not have hamartiological effects in precisely the same fashion? [The author of this “Ask the Alliance” blog post, Maryann Spikes, has this to insert: Christ’s work on the cross was a demonstration of eternal grace, rather than working backwards or forwards from the moment of the cross.]
Dembski proposes that Genesis 1 describes God’s initial conceptual plan for the universe, but Genesis 2 and 3 record the actual way things played out given human free will and sin – it’s essentially an overlay of the old “perfect vs. permissive” will of God dichotomy onto the first chapters of the Bible. What this means is that God could have created the world in an already fallen state with Adam as the (temporally later) causal justification for that Fallenness and still pronounce the creation good (since His will still ordained it).
And this has drastic implications for the animal world! Not only does this easily allow for animal pain (not to mention even bigger things like natural disasters), but it can even justify animal predation pre-Genesis-3: Genesis 1:30 falls under the description of God’s perfect will, but not necessarily his permissive will. Perhaps all animals will be vegetarians in Heaven (though I would hesitate to read the visionary experience of Isaiah 11 too non-symbolically), but this view does not require a perspective on that any more than it requires us to recognize vegetarians as the initial form that God created all animals to actually be.
In short, all old-earth creationists (theistic evolutionists or otherwise) can rest well (in a sense) with the knowledge that all of the brokenness of God’s Creation falls squarely on the shoulders of the first human entrusted with its care. The fact that animals feel pain is tragic; the fact that it is mankind’s fault that animals feel pain (both in the ultimate and often proximate sense) is all the more tragic.
March 8 at 10:45pm
Prem Isaac: I took a class with Dembski in which he outlined his view. But in fairness, I’ll say I am not entirely convinced due to Gen. 1:30 – I’ll keep an open mind, though.
March 8 at 10:45pm
Billie Goodson: Just as a clarification, it would seem the precise objection would be more relevant to suffering, not pain. There are many beneficial aspects to pain for both humans and animals that should not be overlooked. In that regards, WLC in his debate with Laws spoke to animals not experiencing suffering. His comments there explicitly acknowledged that animals did experience pain.
March 8 at 11:16pm
Anthony Holdier: Billie, that’s a fair distinction, but it’s not one that I’m convinced that either WLC or Murray has shown to be relevant to the actual situation. The science underpinning WLC’s claim in his debates (which he is just simplifying from Murray) simply doesn’t hold up (since we have no reason to think that animals, in fact, lack the higher brain functions that would shield them from experiencing suffering in addition to pain).
March 9 at 12:51am
Maryann Spikes: So, C.S. Lewis has a chapter on animal pain in “The Problem of Pain” — anyone read it?
March 18 at 10:37pm
Anthony Holdier: Maryann, yup. Lewis says something very similar to the Murray/WLC Neo-Cartesian approach – namely, that we only know that animals appear to feel pain, but we don’t know that said pain is actually real or morally relevant. I actually see Lewis contradicting himself here, for he goes on to theorize that there may have been an animalistic Fall that pre-dated the human Fall (he was criticized for suggesting that “Satan tempted monkeys”) and suggests that animals may also experience eternal life (in a qualified sense).
Actually, his third point is the most interesting. He suggests that some animals might experience eternal life via their relationships with certain humans. So, a beloved pet might arrive in heaven, even if it is not itself conscious, but because its human is conscious *of* it. He says, “in other words, the man will know his dog: the dog will know its master and, in knowing him, will *be* itself.” It’s a clever way to deny the animal-soul question.
But Lewis’ whole focus in that book is on justifying God’s goodness in the face of pain, so that chapter is consciously trying to explain away animal pain rather than grapple with it. Lewis actually had a rather protective view of animals. For example, he wrote an anti-vivisectionist argument (available today in “God in the Dock”) that explicitly condemns mistreating animals simply because ‘humans are more important’ or something like that. Here’s a fun quote:
“We may find it difficult to formulate a human right of tormenting beasts in terms which would not equally imply an angelic right of tormenting men. And we may feel that though objective superiority is rightly claimed for man, yet that very superiority ought partly to consist in not behaving like a vivisector: that we ought to prove ourselves better than the beasts precisely by the fact of acknowledging duties to them which they do not acknowledge to us.”
(I’m actually delivering a paper next month at an SCP conference on this very subject, hence my lengthy comments.)
March 19 at 2:34pm
Maryann Spikes: All very interesting. Randy Hardman, I noticed your recent related blog post. Would you mind contributing a condensed version here?
March 19 at 5:14pm
Gary Speer: I take an old-earth position, and the best resource that I’ve ever come across that addresses this topic was a round-table discussion with the folks at Reasons to Believe. I believe the MP3 version costs about $10, but it is well-worth it. I’ve listened to it at least 3 times all the way through. It’s about a 3-hour talk, and they cover pretty much every conceivable angle of this issue in a very persuasive manner, IMHO. One point that was made that has always struck me is that this controversy of animal death and pain before the Fall is really a modern, urban controversy. If you asked a farmer about this, or pretty much anyone from before 150 years ago when agriculture was the dominate industry in the world, this wasn’t really that controversial a topic, because those people didn’t have the sentimental attachment to animals that many people have today, especially us urban-dwellers.
March 20 at 9:51am
Maryann Spikes: There’s a whole series here: http://danstory67.blogspot.com
March 22 at 12:05pm
Anthony Holdier: I’ve not yet received this book in the mail, but I’m rather excited for it! It seems to relate to what we’ve been discussing here. Death Before the Fall: Biblical Literalism and the Problem of Animal Suffering.
March 22 at 12:27pm
Randy Hardman: Anthony Holdier, I just finished the book. It’s an excellent read. I did my part 1 of the review on my Bara Initiative blog.
March 25 at 2:27pm
Randy Hardman: So, here’s my progression of thought on this issue, for whatever it is. I have a good friend, a popular apologist and cultural critic, who is a YEC for this very reason: death and suffering before the fall. I saw his logic, of course, but struggled with his reading of Genesis for the simple fact that it doesn’t provide us with the nice, clean neat portrait he thought it did. Namely, we DO have death before the fall at the very least in the eating of fruit and vegetation. Why should we think, for example, that death is only a theological problem for beings of consciousness or sentience? What is our dividing line, where death of animals presents a problem but death of fruit does not? And what of the fact that, usually, when we go lower down the food chain, we have beings which lack sentience in much of any reasonable way? Is there really much of any difference between the awareness lives of a gnat and that of a tree? It was the very fact of plant death that made me question the whole role of death in the Fall.
Years later I found myself convinced of evolutionary theory. But still, the problem remained as to why in the world would death exist in the world prior to the fall. Textually, the problem was solved for even in my prior-literalist reading of Genesis, I realized that death, on some level, preceded the fall (that is, unless we’re wanting to conjecture some sort of regenerating fruit hypothesis…but I’ll leave that one up for Ham to deal with!). It is part of the theodicy and a crucial part of the whole problem of pain.
Now, on the young-earth position, I see a host of problems, but one specifically: why, in the sin of Adam, did the whole cosmos fall? That is, why do thorns grow out of the ground, lions all of a sudden grow fangs, and insects devour each other from the inside out?
On the other hand, it should be conceded that we don’t attribute murder to the lion, torture to the insect, or just plane mean-ness to the thorns that prick us. But they do still present a problem, especially when one realizes that nature is not often abstract but relational (as Lewis put it, animals are “our brothers”). Yes, a bird might fall out of its nest and die in the cold or be snatched up by a cat, and that *is* nature at work, but we still do feel as if something is wrong…somewhere, somehow, it shouldn’t be in the *nature* of animals to devour each other. There is no moral accusation that one can lay upon animals, acting like animals, but there is still moral sensitivity. Even I don’t intentionally try to step on ants (spiders are a different story…those minions of the devil!). And the question, I think, is *why* in a world that was perfect and harmonious did lions develop fangs and gnats become SO annoying! Why should we think that this “curse” of the Fall was the result of God’s doing?
I think, then, we must look at Rev. 12.7-9 in which the Devil and his followers are cast “out into the earth.” As Osborn notes, “These mysterious verses suggest a widely overlooked fact: the earth itself in a certain sense is the only ‘hell’ that has ever existed.” There is, for Lewis and for myself, the reality of a cosmic war in which creation exemplifies both the handiwork of God and the handiwork of forces which are in the business of “uncreation.” If we find ourselves, and if Adam and Eve found themselves, smack dab in the middle of a spiritual war which was all about them (read Lewis’ Perelandra), there is little reason to think that this cosmic war would not have been enacted in all of creation and evolutionary history prior to the encounter in the Garden (however literally or metaphorically you want to take that story). It’s in this sense, then, that I read the story of man’s creation. Man is here in part to play a redemptive role. Adam was told to *conquer* the creation (a Hebraic military term), he was “placed” in the Garden from outside of it (a sort of safe-place) and instructed to cultivate it, and he was given the Image of God which, Christologically, we *must* see not just as creator but as redeemer. Indeed, if one reads the text closely one realizes that Adam and Eve were not immune from death naturally but, rather, were told to eat of the fruit so that they could continue to live. What point was the Tree of Life if it wasn’t life-giving, precluding the death outside of the Garden. God, in Genesis, gives man a role in redemption and eternal life, physically as well as spiritually, a role given so long as they conquered and redeemed, so long as they sought to spread the Imago Dei throughout creation.
This, of course, has other implications on how we see Jesus as “the second Adam” for it is in Jesus that we see God saying, “Okay, looks like I have to do this whole redemption thing ‘kenosis’ style. Christ enters into the battle, defeating death itself by emptying himself onto a cross. God does what only God could do.
I think, then, that while of course there will continue to be theodicy problems in any system, namely “Why does God permit evil to happen now, much less for the past several millions of years?” (the personal question was what sent my mind off in the direction of evolutionary suffering), we *have* to start reading Genesis Christologically. That seems to me to be the only way we can even begin to understand death, suffering, and animal suffering.
March 25 at 3:15pm
Prem Isaac: Randy, did ancient Israel read Genesis with the hindsight of Christology? Is it not an indisputable tenet of hermeneutics that we endeavor to read a text in its original context ?
In their context, what did the text mean? Specifically, there are some texts to address: Gen 1:29 & 30 indicated that originally plants were to be food for both animals and people. There no notion of the death of plants is mentioned. Even in the flood account, death is something that pertained to whatever had “the breath of life” – nepesh hayah. We know by modern day biology that plants breathe. However, ancient Israel did not. So are we justified in importing present day information into the interpretation of the text?
Biblically, is there any reason to think that plant consumption is referred to as death? Why construct a theology which considers plant death on par with animal or human death? I also think that making animal death itself an issue is a means to set up an obstacle and then trip over it. In Gen 2 & 3, the main issue is human death, not animal death. God seems to warn of the certainty of human death contingent upon Adam’s disobedience, and confers a clear death sentence after his sin in Gen 3. Animal death, it seems to me, is a curiosity, but really a distraction.
You ask “Why do thorns grow out of the ground?” and also “Why should we think that this “curse” of the Fall was the result of God’s doing?”
Specifically Gen 3:17,18 seem to give a plain answer – it was God’s doing, in response to Adam’s sin. We know the text of Genesis does not directly talk about fangs and sabre-tooth tigers and the like, so no real need to extrapolate on what we don’t know.
“Man is here in part to play a redemptive role” – what exactly was sinless Adam supposed to redeem? Theologically, redemption has always been about rescuing man from the consequences of his sin. So what is the basis for somehow expanding this notion to some purpose for which Adam is supposed have been made, especially when he had not sinned?
Lewis was a great writer and contributed much towards the defense of the faith, but he was no theologian by training, more a writer of fiction (Perelandra) and a teacher of literature. I cant see how animals can be thought of us our brothers Biblically or theologically. It would be quite interesting to see if there have been schools of thought which have espoused this idea in the history of the church or in modern theological scholarship.
March 25 at 4:18pm
Either life got in the way of furthering this discussion, or the gentlemen took it up via private message at this point. Either way, all are welcome to continue in the comments below, if they like.
Here are some search results using the Christian apologetics search engine, C.A.S.E..
Here are some search results found at Biologos.org, for the Theistic Evolutionist‘s perspective.
We thank you for asking, Steve! 🙂
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