My Labrador retriever, Blue (pictured), died recently. She was my constant companion for almost fifteen years. So my assigned question hits home just now. Will God include animals in Heaven? In The Problem of Pain, C.S. Lewis speculated that some animals become so deeply ingrained in our lives, so much a part of our identities, that we could not really be ourselves, or truly happy in the next life, without them. I am hopefully inclined to agree.
But if so, what should we think will become of the billions of other animals that will have existed on earth? Will they have served their created purpose as important instruments of evolution in this life? Or do they have a future after death in an afterlife? Put in canonical Jewish and Christian terms, will animals inhabit the messianic kingdom of God on a “new earth” together with human beings?
One reason to think they will do so simply is that God created them in the first place. Should we think that the value of non-human beings is merely instrumental, and that they will have exhausted their evolutionary purpose prior to death? In Genesis 1, the author depicts God declaring non-human beings “good” in their own right, as having very high intrinsic value as parts of the “very good” cosmic whole. Should we think, then, that this ontological status would ever end, and not obtain in the messianic cosmic whole promised to come?
Furthermore, billions of animals fail to flourish as individuals prior to death. The evolutionary carnage is unimaginable. Should we think that God accepts this mass failure as the inevitable cost of creating valuable life by naturalistic means? Somehow, this way of thinking does not seem either aesthetically or morally right. It seems reasonable to expect an omnicompetent and morally perfect God to bring the being of all creatures and things to fruition according to their created natures.
More straightforwardly, it also seems that many species of animals are sentient, so that they can suffer in a morally important sense. Presumably, the profusion of undeserved suffering of animals in the world is a morally bad thing, a wrong that a morally perfect God would wish to make right. In Keith Ward’s words: “If there is any sentient creature which suffers pain, that being—whatever it is and however it is manifested—must find the pain transfigured by a greater joy.” And it seems clear that such evil-rectifying (and God-justifying) joy could only happen post mortem, in Heaven.
Beyond these philosophical considerations, Jewish and Christian canonical texts explicitly encourage belief that animals will inhabit Heaven, as envisioned.
Besides Genesis 1, which underscores God’s assessment of animals as “good,” and as essential to a cosmic whole that is “very good,” other texts suggest the inclusion of animals in the messianic age to come. In Genesis 6-7, God commands Noah to include all “kinds” of animals on the ark. Notably, after the flood, in Genesis 8-9, God makes a covenant with Noah that promises divine protection and preservation to all human and non-human beings. God makes this promise and repeats it two more times:
I now establish my covenant with … every living creature that was with you—the birds, the livestock and all the wild animals, all those that came out of the ark with you—every living creature on earth” (Genesis 9: 9-10).
The speaker declares the covenant to be irrevocable—“everlasting” (Genesis 9: 16).
In the speeches of God from the windstorm in Job, God speaks at length about God’s intimate care even for animals living in wild realms that God seems to have abandoned—they, too, fall within the scope of the messianic vision. In Isaiah, that vision has the wolf at peace with the lamb, lions eating straw like the ox, and serpents venomous no more (Isaiah 65: 25).
In the New Testament, the apostle Paul writes that the whole creation “groans” in bondage to pain and futility, in the throes of decay and longing to be set free (Romans 8: 18-23). The emphasis on pain in nature suggests an allusion to the experience of animals, and that Paul’s expressed hope of the coming cosmic redemption includes them.
There is one last distinctly Christian reason for hoping that animals will inhabit Heaven. I suggest that the Christian doctrine of the Atonement provides unexpected grounds for that belief.
In Christian history, theologians have treated Atonement as a matter of reconciliation between God and human beings, who have allegedly wronged God. But animals have not done anything wrong, much less wrong to God. If anything, God has wronged animals by inscribing undeserved suffering into their existence. Can it be that the Atonement also had the aim of resolving that moral problem? Perhaps.
Christian writers have traditionally referred to Christ crucified as “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world” (John 1: 29). In Hebrews, the writer likened Jesus to the Scapegoat slain painfully on Yom Kippur (Hebrews 5-7). In all these typological metaphors, Christ is identified with blameless sacrificial animals. Is it far-fetched to think that this imagery conveys reconciliation between God and the animals?
Some modern writers (notably, Holmes Rolston II and Christopher Southgate) have referred to the evolutionary narrative of species as cruciform, as a “slaughter of innocents,” as a via dolorosa and a Darwinian kenōsis analogous to the “self-emptying” of Jesus on the cross (Philippians 2: 5-11). Meanwhile, the writer of Hebrews stressed that Christ’s death has brought an end to the need for animal sacrifice (Hebrews 10). Perhaps, then, the Atonement is not only a manifesto of liberation from sin and death for human beings, but also a symbolic declaration of an impending freedom from suffering in store for non-human beings in the messianic kingdom of Heaven that is promised to come.
What joys await animals—including Blue—in Heaven, we can only guess. But I suggest that canonical Jewish and Christian traditions together make it reasonable to believe that gloriously good things do await them, nonetheless.
Theology emeritus, Calvin College
Philosophy, Grand Valley State University
 Keith Ward. The Concept of God (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1974), 223. Cited by Southgate, 78.
Part of the beauty of natural systems is their wildness. We intuitively value things that are un-spoiled, pure, natural, wild and free. A field of sunflowers would seem less beautiful if we found out that the sunflowers were plastic replicas. The beauty of Old Faithful would be much diminished if the National Parks Service had to install pumps to keep the geyser operating regularly. And fishermen would find their “appreciation for catching cutthroat trout in an isolated and rugged mountain valley reduced by reports that the Department of Fish and Game stocked the stream the previous week.” There is great value, then, in letting natural systems remain free of the external influence of persons. Tampering in the natural order strongly detracts from the aesthetic value that wildness brings to the the Earth.
If we look at the world in its entire history, it seems as if God values wildness very much even though wildness comes at an enormous cost to individual creatures. The graceful tiger leaping for its prey with unsheathed claws is an awe inspiring sight but it led William Blake to wonder, “what immortal hand or eye dare frame [the tiger’s] fearful symmetry?” Although the untamed wild is stunning–beauty often flourishes on the same tangled vine where the grotesques and horrors bloom. We now know that the existence of wild animals, parasites, viruses and bacteria were not the result of the Fall, but are part of God’s original design plan. It is perhaps because of the great good of wildness that God chose to let the first creation evolve under natural laws without much, if any, divine intervention. An all-powerful being could have intervened in our evolutionary history to keep parasites and predators from evolving, to redirect hurricanes and still tsunamis and to rescue lambs from lions, but He does not. Presumably one reason God chooses not to intervene in the natural world is because such interventions would detract from the wildness of natural systems and would thereby destroy their inherent beauty and value. Such interventions would come at the cost of the wildness.
If God valued wildness the first time around, perhaps He will include a space for the untamed in the New Creation. Wild nature is beautiful but, at least in our world, it comes with its costs. It be disappointing if the New Earth is one large cultivated garden; I would hope that there are spaces that are untouched by persons where animals run free. But I also hope that much of the natural evil that causes so much suffering in our world will not be present in the new creation. There are hints in the Bible that the New Creation will not be ‘red in tooth and claw.’ (I’m sure that the rabbits living in the Eschaton would prefer not to be torn apart by hounds.) Perhaps we can have it both ways in the New Creation—maybe we can have the natural beauty of the untamed wild without the predation, disease, decay and death. But perhaps we can’t have it both ways. If it were possible to have wildness without suffering in the first creation, wouldn’t God have done it that way? Perhaps untamed wilderness is a good that can only be had in the first creation and in the eschaton untamed wildness will be replaced by another kind of good.
 Ned Hettinger and Bill Throop, “Refocusing Ecocentrism: De-emphasizing Stability and Defending Wildness,” 140.
 Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, 148.
In this brief post—based somewhat on a section of my book The Problem of Animal Pain: A Theodicy for All Creatures Great and Small—I defend the thesis that animals are created in the image of God. I will argue that the notion of bearing the imago dei is “graded.” That is, bearing the image is a property that comes in degrees, of, if it is not the same thing, there are many ways of bearing the image of God, which can be placed along a spectrum from triviality to very substantive.
I write from a Christian perspective, but won’t focus on the biblical data. However, it is very much worth noticing one feature of the Genesis narrative. One frequently hears—including in sermons—that the imago dei doctrine is taught in Genesis 2:7. Man “becomes a living being” when the “breath of life” is “breathed into his nostrils.” God had just said “Let us make man in our image” and nothing follows that is a better candidate for the imaging happening than the instilling of the breath of life. As with the Greek pneuma, the use of the Hebrew neshamah evokes a connection between breath and soul. And it is often thought that the soul, whatever else it is, is the locus of the image of God. But Genesis 1:30 had just abbreviated a long list of animals with the covering phrase “everything that has the breath of life” (1:30). And, like its cousin neshamah, nefesh—used here—is sometimes rendered “soul.” And, again, there is nowhere else in the creation narrative that is a plausible ground for the imago dei. Nowhere in Scripture is a premium put on abstract thought and there’s certainly nothing about it in the creation narrative. (It is perhaps there by implication in the act of speech in the naming of the animals by Adam, but that’s a bit obscure.) And speaking of abstract thought…
Once when presenting a paper at a regional meeting of the American Catholic Philosophical Society in Western New York, I made reference to Sosa’s distinction between animal knowledge and reflective knowledge. A guy pointed out to me than “animal knowledge” might not be an apt phrase, since, in certain respects, apt belief (in Sosa’s sense) is more like God’s knowledge than human knowledge. The relevant respect was that animal knowledge is “direct” in a way that included being non-discursive but also included being “hooked up” to the world in a way that “skips” ratiocination involved in much human knowledge, especially Sosa’s reflective knowledge. This is inchoate, but it points the direction to a way in which animal cognition might be much more in the image of God’s cognition than distinctively human cognition. An extension of this is the fact that humans are plagued by doubt in ways most animals don’t seem to be.
[this is cross-posted from NewApps] These reflections are prompted by Mike Almeida’s interesting post on the question of whether theodicy can ever be successful, and if so what success conditions a theodicy must meet. I want consider ta related, yet distinct question: can theodicies be convincing in the light of specific instances of evil, and the immediate sense this provokes: “God, if he exists, would not have allowed this”? In the wake of the tragic shooting incident at Newtown, I have been thinking a lot about the problem of evil and classical theodicies and defenses, such as John Hick’s soul building theodicy and various forms of free will theodicies/defenses (e.g., Plantinga’s; Augustine’s).
One way to approach the problem of evil is to look at it as an abstract puzzle to be solved. Wielding modal logic and other tools that analytic philosophy offers, we can argue that evil is unavoidable even for a loving, powerful and omniscient God, if he wishes specific goods like free will to obtain. A different option is to focus on concrete, vivid examples. William Rowe presented the case of a fawn, trapped in a forest fire that was caused by lightning, the fawn suffers horrible burns, and lies in dreadful agony for days until its death. A pointless instance of suffering that, Rowe argues, God could have prevented. Now for cases like Newtown we could invoke the free will defense, since – unlike the forest fire in Rowe’s example – the incident was caused by a human agent, exercising his free will, and it was made possible by other instances of free will, such as American policies on gun ownership. But it still seems to me quite a different thing to argue in the face of particular, vivid instances like this that suffering is outweighed by the greater good of the unbridled exercise of free will by moral agents. When confronted with concrete evil like this, theodicy, or indeed any theistic response to the problem of evil, becomes a formidable task indeed.
Let me be clear from the outset: the majority of work in analytic philosophy of religion (PoR) does not aim to proselytize, but is concerned with fairly technical topics, such as the possibility of creaturely free will in heaven, the compatibility of specific divine attributes, or the evidential problem of evil. But some portion of PoR is clearly aimed at convincing the reader that religious belief (usually, Christianity, given the demographics of academic philosophy) is reasonable. To this end, philosophers construct sophisticated arguments, for instance, to show that religious belief does not require evidence, that religious faith is also, or even primarily, a matter of practical rationality, that the evidence is overwhelmingly in favor of theism, etc. Plantinga and Swinburne are good examples. Such philosophy of religion can be plausibly regarded as a form of proselytism–I’m using a wider term than the usual “apologetics”, as apologetics is the more narrow notion of systematically defending a particular religious position. But I’m not entirely happy with the term proselytism either, since I also think that some of this PoR is aimed at those people who have religious faith, but who are wavering, for instance, because others tell them their faith is not rational. So I’ll settle for proselytism cum apologetics as a not entirely satisfactory term for this type of PoR. Is it acceptable for philosophers of religion to engage in proselytism/apologetics?
I am defending a soul-making theodicy for animals in the book, and I am going to briefly summarize some objections and reply to them. Google Scholar turns up not a whole lot on the surface, and I might as well respond to people’s actual concerns, so, if you please, let me know what objections/articles/chapters you find most worthy of being responded to. Thanks.
Assume (a) dualism and (b) that the correlation between physical properties and mental properties is metaphysically contingent.
Now, epiphenomenalism about human conscious states is not a very plausible position. It seems extremely plausible that some of our second-order beliefs about our conscious states, and indirectly many of our reports of these, are caused the conscious states. But in the case of non-human animals, this argument is not so compelling, because it is not clear that non-human animals have second-order beliefs about their conscious states. This can be true even if the non-human animals have beliefs about the mental states of other animals. So, given dualism, epiphenomenalism about non-human conscious states seems to me to be a live option, though it becomes less plausible the higher up the cognitive scale we go.
Say now that “epis” are those animals in principle capable of feeling pain and for which epiphenomalism about pain states is true. Then all the overt behavior of an epi can be explained without making reference to any pain states of it. Let’s say Bambi is an epi, and let E be the evil, actual or not, of Bambi being in horrible pain in forest fire F at t1.
Now, suppose that E would be gratuitous, in the sense that God would not have sufficient moral reason to permit E. Since God would not have sufficient moral reason to permit E, he’d have to prevent it somehow. How? There are two options:
A. Prevent Bambi from being burned.
B. Prevent Bambi from feeling pain while being burned.
Which would we expect God to do?
Society of Christian Philosophers
2011 Eastern Regional Conference
March 18-19, 2011
New York, NY
Peter van Inwagen, University of Notre Dame
N.T. Wright, University of St. Andrews
Dean Zimmerman, Rutgers University
Call for Papers
Discussions of mind, body, soul, and spirit have played a central role in the history of philosophy, and in the theologies of Christianity, Judaism, Islam, and other religious traditions. Possible paper topics include the following: What is the relationship between psychological capacities and states of the human nervous system? Are we animals or something else? What does it take for us to survive over time? What implications do our answers to these questions have for ethics, epistemology, free will and action theory? What implications do they have for theological topics such as resurrection of the dead, immortality of the soul, reincarnation, and our knowledge of divinity? Papers on any philosophical topic are nevertheless welcome.
Submission Deadline: January 1, 2011
Papers should be prepared for blind review, and submitted electronically in an easily accessible form. Reading time should be 25-30 minutes. Decisions will be made by February 1.
For more information or to submit a paper, contact William Jaworski firstname.lastname@example.org
I want to consider a response to a Darwinian Problem of Evil . There are of course other ways to formulate the Darwinian problem. The atheological argument goes this way.
1.1 Were it true that God existed, then there would be no non-human animal suffering in any possible world.
1.2. Possibly, there is non-human animal suffering.
1.3. /:. God does not exist.
Notice that for the atheist, (1.1) is presented as a non-trivially true counterpossible. And it is assumed that MT holds for counterpossibles. It follows from (1.1) that (1.4) is true.
1.4. Were it true that God existed, then it would be true that no non-human animal in any possible world has the essential property of possibly manifesting the disposition to suffer painful mental states in some world.
But, if these are counterpossibles and genuinely non-trivial, then there is much less reason to affirm (1.4) than to affirm (1.5).
1.5. Were it true that God existed, then it would be true that some non-human animals in some possible worlds have the essential property of possibly manifesting the disposition to suffer painful mental states.
In fact, theists and atheists agree that, actual non-human animals have the essential property of possibly manifesting the disposition to suffer pain. So we should expect that it takes much less of a departure from the actual world for the consequent of (1.5) to be true than for the consequent of (1.4) to be true. Of course, it might well be that non-trivial counterpossibles have truth-conditions that make similarity to the actual world irrelevant to their assessment. But then it seems like counterpossibles, true or not, are irrelevant to philosophical argument.
To conclude the argument. If (1.5) is true, then (1.4) and (1.1) are both false, and the Darwinian Problem of Evil is unsound. It is a further advantage of this response that, if it is an essential property non-human animals to possibly manifest the disposition to suffer pain, then the existence of non-human animal suffering is compatible with the existence of God. If the property is essential, then it is impossible that God should fink or mask that disposition in every possible world. But then it is possible that God exists in evolutionaily imperfect worlds.
1.6. It is possible that God exists in evolutionarily imperfect worlds.
I take as non-starters suggestions such as (i) animals do not feel pain, (ii) animals do feel pain, but it’s not so painful (iii) animals suffer but we will eventually all hold hands in the peaceable kingdom and (iv) animals suffer, but they serve some greater human good, etc. I do not claim that none of these is true. I do claim that no one should believe any of them. But of course animals do and have suffered immensely for millions of years, and it’s to Mike Murray’s [recent credit](http://www.amazon.com/dp/0199237271?tag=ektopos-20) to sharply underscore the importance of this to the problem of evil. It looks to me nearly impossible to respond to this problem without saying nutty things. But I have this (perhaps crazy) argument.
1. There are worlds W in which God predicts or prophesies, before he creates anything, that some divine aims will be achieved through painless, indeterministic, evolution of sentient beings.
2. It is true in W that evolution is a painless, indeterministic process that achieves some divine goals.
3. Since the evolutionary process in W is indeterministic, it is true in W that, possibly, the evolutionary process is painful process that achieves some divine goals (perhaps animals evolve toward carnivorism, for instance)
4. There is a world W’ in which the evolutionary process is a painful process that achieves some divine goals.
5. If there are worlds W’ in which the evolutionary process is painful process that achieves some divine goals, then there is a world in which God coexists with a painful evolutionary process.
6. /:. The following propositions are consistent: God exists, there is a painful evolutionary process that achieves some divine goals.
Now I think (1) and (2) are true. But if they are, then there are genuinely indeterministic worlds in which evolution proceeds painlessly. But if it is a genuinely indeterministic process, then it is possible that things evolve contrary to God’s prediction (though of course God is a perfect predictor). In worlds where things go contrary to God’s prediction, its always been true that God never made such a prediction. So we have two choices. Either we say that there are no genuinely indeterministic worlds in which evolution proceeds painlessly. Or we say that there are worlds in which God exists and there is a painful evolutionary process that achieves some divine goals.