PoE Concerning Superfluous Animal Suffering
This forum is a continuation from a discussion here: http://www.rationalresponders.com/forum/sapient/atheist_vs_theist/7576?page=6
PoE Concerning Superfluous Animal Suffering.
Gavagai, in order to try to avoid epistemological problems, first I’ll ask you: is there any identifiable horrific action in history that may not have been for the greater good? You wrote that, “human cognitive systems came to (fallibly) recognize moral facts.” Can there be/ has there ever been a moral action qualifiable with sufficient accuracy (to humans); has there ever been identifiable moral progress? Last, does intuition trump empiricism as the most accurate method for identification and qualification?You wrote to Scottmax, “please provide some good reasons -- beyond what you personally have trouble "imagining" (as an atheist) -- to believe that there is suffering such that we know there can't possibly be any reason why an omnibenevolent, omnipotent, infinitely wise and omniscient being would permit that suffering” in order to refute a logical argument based on unverifiable modal parameters. It was clear to me (to you?) that Scottmax intended to have an evidential argument. When he asked you what possible reason you would accept, instead of giving a single example (perhaps because there aren’t any), you replied with “any good reason will do.” Is it possible for you to give us one example Gavagai? If so, would you please?
(I said please!) Perhaps you feel that Scottmax’s request is as epistemologically unreasonable as yours is; so, I’m going to reword the premise and try to build the case evidentially, while avoiding as much ambiguous terminology as possible (e.g. “perfect,” “omni-benevolent,” “omnipotent,” etc.). I will try to use “good” as it is inferred by the bible. So, let’s start with some good evidential reasons for accepting my version of Scottmax’s premise that also suspends the modal property of omnibenevolence for now (since the precepts of good moral conduct proposed by Jehovah and/or Jesus are commonly used theodically, I’ll consider them as theodically sufficient without employing the extreme modal property of “omnibenevolence”. ); namely, that there are good reasons to believe (evidence) that there is superfluous non-human suffering in the world that is not for the greater good of humans and/or non-humans when in the context of the observable inconsistency between: (a) the precepts of good moral conduct proposed by Jehovah and/or Jesus and, (b) their relationship to the observable condition of nature, allegedly under the co-stewardship of Jehovah (Psalm 50:10-11, Matt. 6:26-32) and humans (Gen. 1:26-30). So far, you’ve conceded that “…animal suffering is an instance of evil,” (Emphasis mine- natural or moral?) and “…that animals really experience pain (i.e. they aren’t automata).” I probably don’t have to tell you that since this premise is based upon an accumulation of observable evidence, a singular rebuttal will not serve to refute it entirely as with a logical argument. Ultimately, I expect you to provide more observable evidence of the positive utility of animal suffering than there is against it. I also expect you to give rebuttals that are sufficient in themselves and do not require excessive ancillary research. I propose we both reserve the right to modify our propositions in order to continue the discussion, if desired. Again, I am not an experienced debater, but I think this is how you prefer to work, so I’ll do my best to stay within your preferred guidelines. Here’s a list of propositions I’ve created that will amount to support for my original premise above: 1. We observe that animals can and do experience pleasure and pain; therefore there is good reason to believe that they have the ability to facilitate at least first and second order good and evil.
2. We observe evidence for the existence of animals that suffer and die at birth or shortly afterwards (with a suffering to non-suffering ratio 1>~ [negligible]). The possible existence of an animal that does not suffer (with a non-suffering to suffering ratio 1>~ [negligible]) does not alleviate the suffering of the former set. This is a good reason to think that there is animal suffering that has nothing to do with the greater good of the animals themselves during their existence in this world.
3. We observe evidence that there are/were animals that exist or have existed in remote, unreachable settings (to humans). There is no good reason to believe that we have or ever will verify the existence of every animal with the capacity for suffering that has ever existed. There is no good reason to think that any unobserved animals that exist or have existed suffer any differently (more or less) than the animals for which we can verify existence.
4. We observe more evidence for the existence of non-human biological entities (past/present) with the capacity for suffering than we do for the existence of humans.
5. There is no observable mental difference between human and animal sentience that can significantly, completely, or permanently eliminate physical suffering.
6. (From (1-5)), there is good reason to believe that there has been significantly more non-human physical suffering than there has been human physical suffering in this world.
7. Considering the unparalleled non-physical (i.e. intellectual) human pleasure allegedly bestowed upon humans alone by Jehovah (Psalm 19:8, 28:7, 30:11, 33:21, 51:12, 70:4, 94:19, etc.), and that Christian theology contends that there is ultimately more qualitative and/or quantitative good than evil (or God would not have created the world), in addition to other intellectual pleasures that are experienced by humans (that animals are incapable of experiencing) in this world, there is no good reason to believe that any remainder of intellectual human suffering exists unabsorbed by human intellectual pleasure. Even if any remainder of intellectual human suffering did exist, there is no good observable reason to assume that it would outweigh the immense remainder of non-human physical suffering, nor does it sufficiently alleviate non- human physical suffering.
8. (From 1-7), there is good reason to believe that there has been more overall suffering of non-humans than humans.
9. There is no good secular or biblical evidence to infer that the existence or nonexistence of unobserved animals has any consistent or significant effect upon the functionality of human related ethics in this world (e.g. the life and death of an unobservable organism deep in the earth’s crust does not consistently or significantly [if at all] affect my moral disposition toward my neighbor).
10. Christian theology generally contends that non-human animals are amoral beings who “are of the dust, and [all] turn to dust again” (Ecc. 3:19-21), because they cannot be redeemed. Christian theology generally contends that the suffering of animals is some form of evil (natural or moral) that is a direct consequence of the sinful action of humans/the first humans. Christian theology generally contends that humans are ontologically connected to nature enough for animals, as sentient beings, to have to suffer immense pain/collateral damage and death because of the immorality of humans (Ecc. 3:18-19). Christian theology generally contends that God has implemented a salvation plan that serves (amongst other things) to alleviate the suffering of humans during their experience of sentience (7), but offers no comparable alleviation for the suffering of animals during their experience of sentience, other than the possible positive effects of the co-stewardship of Jehovah (Psalm 50:10-11, Matt. 6:26-32) and humans (Gen. 1:26-30). Humans commit evil, yet both humans and animals deserve to suffer the consequence; humans commit evil, yet God reasons that only humans deserve succor (both in this world and afterwards) and the animals don’t. This moral sequence is confirmed by the Parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32). Christian ethical examples in the bible fail to offer reasonable, let alone observable explanations for why humans aren’t the only ones negatively affected by the Fall- that is, why there was collateral damage to the rest of nature to begin with if the reconciliation brought by Jesus was/is for humans only. Whether animal suffering is an instance of natural or moral evil, the dominant Christian theological notion that even though animals deserve* to suffer as much as humans, yet still do not deserve relief from that punishment at any time in their existence, gives us a good reason to consider that there are moral and/or ontological inconsistencies in Christian theology. (*deserve in the sense of value/worth for moral evil or deserve to follow in the causal chain that God created for natural evil.)
11. That animals are sentient beings that suffer pain (1) and are ontologically connected to humans enough to suffer similar theodical consequences during their existence (10), and that there is no observable mental difference between human and animal sentience that can significantly, completely, or permanently eliminate physical suffering (5) is a good reason to believe that harmful action to animals is an immoral act.
12. Jesus said, “So whatever you wish that men would do to you, do so to them” (Matt. 7:12). If there is no observable mental difference between human and animal sentience that can significantly, completely, or permanently eliminate physical suffering (5, 7), and if humans are connected to animals enough for animals to have to suffer immense pain/collateral damage and death as sentient beings (10), then there are good reasons to believe that Jesus/Jehovah should clearly explain why His proposed moral disposition (and salvation plan) unto men is not related to animals as well.
13. Jehovah claims propriety of all animals, “For every beast of the forest is mine; and the cattle upon a thousand hills. I know all the fowls of the mountain; and the wild beasts of the field are mine” (Psalm 50:10-11). That the owner of sentient beings with the capacity for pain would subjugate them to mostly evil beings (Matt. 7:13- 14) is a good reason to believe that His stewardship plan does not alleviate the most suffering that it could, since He could have either refused to share the stewardship of nature with humans and/or made nature incorruptible/impervious to humans.
14. (From (1, 2, 7-13)), by creating and exposing amoral sentient beings with the capacity for suffering to conditions of suffering by collateral damage and/or because of poor stewardship, Jehovah commits/has committed an evil act of the second order upon at least some animals.
15. The abandoned theologies (with their dysfunctional utilities, e.g. lightening is caused by Thor’s wrath, etc.) in history are ubiquitous enough to give us good reasons to think that theology has explanatory power that is limited enough to be inferior to the observable utility of empirical observation when dealing with observable phenomena.
16. (From (1-15)), excluding any effects upon animals due to the Christian theological paradigm for the subjugation of animals in Gen. 1:26 (which I feel is a generous exclusion), by Ockham’s Razor, the suffering in the animal world is equal to what we would expect to see if the theodical utilitarian properties of Christian ethics did not exist, and is a good reason to believe that the absence of the theodical utilitarian properties in Christian ethics is more plausible than the existence of the theodical utilitarian properties in Christian ethics proposed to explain it. (The OR problem would be exacerbated if we were to include theodicies with the modal property of omniscience alone, with its necessarily bloated theological appendages, namely: will and potential.)
17. Jehovah mandates vegetarianism before the Fall (Gen. 1:29). If the suffering of animals is a moral instance of evil, that vegetarianism is not explicitly mandated by Jehovah/Jesus after the Fall as well (Gen. 9:3, Mark 7:18-20) is inconsistent with what was considered “good” before the Fall. The scarcity of food sources is not a reasonable justification. In light of Jesus’ recommendation to, “take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed? ... Take therefore no thought for the morrow… for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things. But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you” (Matt. 2:26-33), vegetarian options for food could always be available and provided by Jehovah for His followers, so killing animals for food would be unnecessary for believers, and should not be supported. At best, other biblical writers are only concerned with curtailing a carnivorous diet when it offends other people (1 Cor. 8:13, Rom. 14:2, 20-21, see also Acts 10:9-13, 1 Tim. 4:1-3). The bible offers no post-Fall support for any notion that even though the suffering of animals is a consequence of moral (human) evil, it should be alleviated on its own merits. There is good reason to believe that the post-Fall dietary admonitions of Jehovah/Jesus neither support a dietary plan that alleviates the most animal suffering, nor are those dietary plans consistent throughout the bible.
18. In Matt. 6:26, Jesus points to birds as evidence of how God takes care of His creations. He gives God all the credit for taking care of them, while we observe that the mother bird is the one who labors to build the nest, migrates thousands of miles, endures poor weather conditions, protects against prey, and has to hunt insects or scavenge for food to feed its young and survive (also consider the lilies of the field- Jesus says “they toil not,” as well, but do they not also show survival effort? Are there not trees in the Amazon that literally walk towards the light [I’ve seen them!]?). God’s creations frequently die because of a lack of resources, space, and/or poor environmental conditions that have nothing to do with humans. God's creations constantly go extinct even though they have His care and direct blessing to "be fruitful and multiply" (Gen. 1:22). What did it mean to the animals to have God's blessing to multiply if they are constantly going extinct? Considering the scientifically documented amount of death and suffering of young birds (most die before even leaving the nest) and other animals, is Jesus’ evidence for God’s stewardship superior to the stewardship of the animals themselves or by (human) animal caretakers (when applied)? The demonstrable survival efforts of the animals themselves are a good reason to believe that the divine stewardship of Jehovah/Jesus offers as much relief to animal suffering as if it didn’t exist at all.
19. (From 1-18), we observe that there is no evidence for a sufficient quantity or quality of second order goods (i.e. sympathy for animal suffering) in Christian theology (nor would it be consistent even if we found some evidence of it) or in this world that can absorb the second order evil committed by God upon animals. Excluding an insufficient amount of human sympathy, there is significantly more evidence of indifference to animal suffering, or at best, first order goods applied to animals (which will not sufficiently absorb second order evil) in Christian theology. Additionally, there is no afterlife for animals in Christian theology that offers even the possibility of absorbing the second order evil either. Therefore, there is superfluous animal suffering in the context of Christian theology.
20. (Concerning a limited ontology of animals.) If we set up a scale of intelligence (which has a direct relationship to an understanding of the utility of moral behavior) for humans on a scale of, for example, 1- 100 (1 being a complete vegetable from birth to death, 100 representing the most intelligent person); and we set a relative scale of intelligence for animals at 1- 20 (we will arbitrarily assume, for illustration, that animals max out at 20 and are 80 points inferior to humans, though the actual number may be more or less), no matter how the highest numbers qualitatively relate in either scale, there will still be humans who consistently, demonstrably show lesser intelligence than at least some animals.
21. (Concerning a limited ontology of animals.) Do animals have souls, morality, and/or free will? To quote Sam Harris:What if mice showed greater distress at the suffering of familiar mice than unfamiliar ones? (They do.) What if monkeys will starve themselves to prevent their cage-mates from receiving painful shocks? (They will.) What if chimps have a demonstrable sense of fairness when receiving food rewards? (They have.) For most Christians, soulless animals go back to the dust (Ecc. 3:19-21)- though some Christians argue that they have souls (e.g. Seventh Day Adventists. Gen. 1:21, 24 uses the same combination of words for animals, "chay nephesh" or "living soul" as is used for man in Gen. 2:7). From the bible verses in (11, 15, 16), there is no good reason to assume that Jehovah would/could not provide vegetarian options for animals, so if animals do not have souls, morality, and/or free will, why are there some animals that remained vegetarians (which God temporarily desired before the world was corrupted) after the Fall, while others turned carnivorous or omnivorous? Why were some animals relegated by Jehovah to have strictly evil (by “good” pre-Fall standards) carnivorous diets? Why would only some animals deserve this unfavorable mutation when Jehovah could/would/should provide vegetarian alternatives? Is it possible that this type of phenomenon may be more evidence of moral choices (however basic or crude) made by animals at some point, who later evolved bodily out of habit? If so, isn’t the ability to make moral choices the same evidence that some Christians use to affirm the necessary moral identity of humans? Even aside from possible moral dietary choices, other observable moral actions of animals (e.g. Harris’ examples above) give us good reasons to, in the least, reconsider the dominant theological notion that even though we observe that animals suffer physically as much as humans in this world, they do not have the same ontological underpinnings as humans necessary to implement moral choices. That animals with morality would help to absorb some (but not all) of the first order evils (by the second order good of animal sympathy) and that animal morality would better explain collateral damage from the Fall are good reasons why the dominant Christian theological notion of animal amorality is less plausible and inconsistent with a divine stewardship based on good moral precepts.
22. (Concerning a limited ontology of animals.) If animals do not have free will, and yet suffer, Jehovah incurs culpability by way of non-intervention/non-prevention of their suffering and is at least partially responsible for it. No free will has been violated, as there is none to retain. Thus He commits a second order evil upon animals.
23. (If one contends that animal suffering is for learning a lesson. Ecc. 3:18-19) That a God would actually cause suffering (you’ve said animals aren’t automata) in order for humans to learn an abstract lesson is a good reason to think that this method of instruction does not infer the “greater good,” by implication of negation, and would be an example of how most people define “terrorism.”
24. (If one contends that animal suffering is for learning a lesson. Ecc. 3:18-19) A plausible situation where animals do not suffer (e.g. there is no inclusion of the unnecessary edibility or suffering of animals- nor is nature affected, e.g. entropy, etc.) while humans do suffer, would serve as better evidence, by observable contrast, for the existence of some terrible past mistake made by humans, than the prevailing moral theodicy without a reasonable/consistent account for collateral damage to amoral nature (with the inference that even an asteroid in deep space must be affected by the sins of humanity- the question of animal amorality still ambiguous) serves as evidence for some terrible past mistake made by humans. My alternative proposition has the benefits of: the avoidance of punishment, pain, and collateral damage to amoral (and hence, inculpable) nature; retained evidence of human responsibility for evil action; an observational contrast that infers more evidence for the Fall than there is with suffering across the board; and the constant reminder of God’s incorruptible perfection all around us- all this and it still keeps human free will and the salvation plan in tact. It also gives us a good reason to believe that the prevailing moral theodicies do not necessarily reflect the most well conceived plan.
Conclusion: (From (1-24)) there is good reason to think that there is animal suffering that has no observable relationship with the greater good of humanity and that it is superfluous in the context of, and/or inconsistent with, biblical inferences of Christian ethics.
Gavagai, no disrespect intended, but pleeeease don’t do a semanticRiverdance around my original premise. Again, this is an evidential argument. I have done my best to exclude any modal parameters of God, and to base moral arguments in the context of Christian theology upon biblical example and instruction. I believe it is coherent and reasonable. Again, I am here to learn.
"If Adolf Hitler flew in today, they'd send a limousine anyway" -The Clash