Did you know that no matter how much pain an animal might experience, they don't actually know that they are in pain? So it's really all good -- it's God's will that animals be able to absorb all the punishment and pain we can inflict on them. At least, that's the position defended by William Lane Craig in his attempt to "solve" the problem of evil and suffering in animals.
Needless to say, his "defense" here is not only a complete failure, but also reveals the extent to which Craig's theology is morally vacuous.
So Christian theologians of all stripes have to face the challenge posed by animal pain. Here recent studies in biology have provided surprising, new insights into this old problem. In his book Nature Red in Tooth and Claw: Theism and the Problem of Animal Suffering, Michael Murray distinguishes three levels in an ascending pain hierarchy (read from the bottom up):
Spiders and insects--the sort of creatures most exhibiting the kinds of behavior mentioned by Ayala--experience (1). But there's no reason at all to attribute (2) to such creatures. It's plausible that they aren't sentient beings at all with some sort of subjective, interior life. That sort of experience plausibly does not arise until one gets to the level of vertebrates in the animal kingdom.
- Level 3: a second order awareness that one is oneself experiencing (2).
- Level 2: a first order, subjective experience of pain.
- Level 1: information-bearing neural states produced by noxious stimuli resulting in aversive behavior.
But even though animals like dogs, cats, and horses experience pain, nevertheless the evidence is that they do not experience level (3), the awareness that they are in pain. For the awareness that one is oneself in pain requires self-awareness, which is centered in the pre-frontal cortex of the brain--a section of the brain which is missing in all animals except for the humanoid primates.
Thus, amazingly, even though animals may experience pain, they are not aware of being in pain. God in His mercy has apparently spared animals the awareness of pain. This is a tremendous comfort to us pet owners. For even though your dog or cat may be in pain, it really isn't aware of it and so doesn't suffer as you would if you were in pain.
Source: Reasonable Faith (via: Pharyngula)
There's just all kinds of evil contained in the above. First, William Lane Craig is lying that only humanoid primates have a pre-frontal cortex -- yes, we can say that he is lying because this is a simple factual question that can be easily resolved by anyone who cares enough to do a few minutes of research.
Second, even if it were true that only humanoid primates have a pre-frontal cortex, that would still allow for a lot more than just humans experiencing "Level 3," which means that while the scope of the problem is narrowed it definitely isn't solved. William Lane Craig, however, doesn't address this.
Third, even if an animals lacks "self-awareness," how does that entail that an animal doesn't suffer from pain? It doesn't -- and it's precisely the suffering that's at issue. The entire problem that William Lane Craig is pretending to solve -- and he really is only pretending here -- is how there can be so much animals suffering in a world created by his god.
Craig's "solution" must be able to demonstrate that for all the pain experienced by animals, they don't really "suffer". But he never comes anywhere close to even trying to do that. Even if he were successful in showing that no animals experience pain quite like humans do -- and he doesn't even accomplish that -- it wouldn't show that they don't suffer to an extent that creates a problem for his theology.
Fourth and finally, consider the implications of Craig's position here: if animals are never aware of being in pain regardless of how much pain they are experiencing, what justification can there ever be for any laws against animal cruelty? Chain up your dog outside in the winter and let it starve! Torture kittens and bunnies! There's no act of cruelty against animals, no matter how terrible, that can be condemned under Craig's theology. So even if we ignore all the above and pretend that his argument is completely successful, it would also successfully justify the worst treatment of animals.
But remember, William Lane Craig is the same theologian who has presumed to tell all of us that when Hebrew soldiers followed God's instructions to commit genocide, it was the soldiers themselves who "really" suffered and not all the men, women, and children who were brutally slaughtered. If he can be so callously dismissive of the suffering of infants and children, it should be no surprise that he'd be in denial about the suffering of animals.
William Lane Craig: Poster Boy for how Religion Causes Psychopathy.