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Austin Cline

William Lane Craig: Animals Aren't Aware of Their Pain

By November 22, 2011

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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):
  • 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.
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.

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.

November 22, 2011 at 1:14 pm
(1) Karen says:

Craig’s garbage about animals somehow not suffering just really infuriates me. Has the man never in his life had a pet, for crying out loud?

Austin, I’m not sure you can claim though that religion causes psychopathy. Craig may simply be a psychopath who got religion.

November 22, 2011 at 1:56 pm
(2) Grandpa_In_The_East says:

To even propogate such ideas as fill the head of William Lane Craig is an act of cruelty against both the “lower” animals (it there is such a thing) as well as against humankind. And I have “believed” for more than half a century that religiosity does indeed enable the theists of the world to dehumanize there fellow travellers.


November 23, 2011 at 12:50 pm
(3) DavidABrooks says:

If animals can not feel pain, then why does a dog run from an abusive owner?

November 25, 2011 at 10:53 pm
(4) Katvilani says:

In the words of a christian fundamentalist, the Devil made him do it. ROFLMAO

November 25, 2011 at 7:47 pm
(5) MaryL says:

Wonder what veterinarians think of that idea?

November 25, 2011 at 8:00 pm
(6) Stephen says:

The more I learn about Craig the more loathsome he seems. He’s really a fundamentalist who happens to be sophisticated and smart, but he has absolutely no ability to think objectively. He sees everything through the opaque lens of literalist Christaholism. No argument against either his whole outlook or any piece of it could possibly persuade him. In refusing to seriously consider any such arguments he is showing great dishonesty. Austin’s comment that Craig is a liar is becoming more and more obvious. I would not want to be around if Craig thought that God was telling him to shoot people.
As is true of Plantinga and Swinburne, Craig’s arguments are pitifully weak.

November 25, 2011 at 8:05 pm
(7) Stephen B Gray says:

“God in his mercy” is the stupidest assertion I can think of. And what does it matter if animals are “not aware of being in pain” if they are in pain?
I have a lot more to say but I have to get back to writing my book, which addresses the impossibility of Christian “truth.”

November 25, 2011 at 9:07 pm
(8) mia says:

This seems to be more of an attempt to separate humans from animals, thus proving that we are supposedly his god’s creation.
Also, I just love it how christians scoop bites from science and proudly present them whenever they want to be taken more seriously.

November 25, 2011 at 11:58 pm
(9) Robster says:

This bloke is a well spoken twit. Bugger this William Lane nonsense. Let’s refer to the person as Bill Craig. Then it’ll sound like he should have been a hairdresser.

November 26, 2011 at 6:46 pm
(10) dave Y. says:

I would respond to this pig the same way I have always responded to this form of self serving ignorance, you take to a junk yard with a VERY nasty guard dog and tell the pig to hit the dog with a stick after you tie his leg to something so he can’t get away, telling them they don’t have to worry about being EATEN by the dog because he really can’t feel the pain from being hit by the stick!

I have to this day NOT found a Christian thats willing to put their butt where their mouth is!

December 15, 2011 at 10:14 pm
(11) Frances says:

As a pet owner, Craig presumably saves a fortune in vet’s fees. No need to pay for expensive anaesthetics when Fido needs that operation!

Does he seriously expect us to believe that an animal screaming in pain & terror when it is caught in a trap is really unaware that it is in pain?

If animals did not realise that they were in pain, how would they ever learn to avoid things which had caused them pain in the past? They would “remember” what they’d never been aware of – really?

Another breath-taking example of intellectual dishonesty from WLC Enterprises.

December 24, 2011 at 2:14 pm
(12) Mark says:

I submitted a question to Craig on his “Reasonable Faith” website, to which he responded. There was much to object to in his response, so I submitted a rejoinder, which I also posted to my blog, here: http://mb27.blogspot.com/2011/12/animal-pain-and-basis-for-their-ethical.html

August 14, 2012 at 1:29 am
(13) Beau Quilter says:

When Craig delivers this unscientific idiocy about pre-fontal cortexes (virtually all mammals have them!), he is getting his non-facts from his equally dubious source, Michael Murray:

“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.” William Lane Craig, http://www.reasonablefaith.org...

“Furthermore, these cases confirm that in human beings the ‘affective’ pathway terminates in the prefrontal cortex, a region of the mammalian brain which was the last to evolve (and so occurs only in humanoid primates).” Michael Murray, ‘Nature Red in Tooth and Claw’, page 68, 1st paragraph

October 4, 2012 at 10:27 am
(14) skydivephil says:

Weve amde a video debunking Craigs claim in some detail , featuring some of the worlds leading neuro scientists . Thelink is here:

February 25, 2014 at 11:01 am
(15) Andy says:

You couldn’t have portrayed William Lane Craig’s position any more poorly: “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.” – This is a gross misrepresentation of Craig.

Craig makes it very clear that this doesn’t mean it is ‘okay’ or ‘all good’ to abuse or hurt animals in any way simply because they may not be conscious of the pain in the same way that we are. In fact Craig explicitly endorses that “we are obliged to respect their well-being and integrity.” (http://www.reasonablefaith.org/animal-suffering1#ixzz2uLh1qObI).

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