• BOOM! – Craig is, um, owned on animal suffering. Twice.

    If you, like me, were at the Stephen Law vs William Lane Craig debate, your jaw will have dropped when Craig, in defence of God vis-a-vis animal suffering and the problem of evil, claimed that animals don’t suffer pain.

    He claimed that most animals didn’t have the conscious awareness of pain that humans and other primates do. He was solely relying on the work of Michael Murray in Nature Red in Tooth and Claw: Theism and the Problem of Animal Suffering. This book sets out that there are, broadly speaking, three levels of pain suffering and related awareness, amoebas in the first, humans in the last, and most higher animals in the middle. They feel pain but are not consciously aware of it in the same way as humans are.

    And apparently, this lets God off the hook for having them die horribly in their billions over millions of years.

    But it doesn’t. Because he is wrong. He was called out on it in an excellent video by Skydivephil. To which Craig responded in a podcast. And got it wrong again. and was called out again in an even more excellent video by Skydivephil. BOOM!


    Craig’s reply is linked on the second SDP video.


    Craig’s accusations (and the host of the podcast) are so erroneous as to be, er, slanderous! You HAVE to watch these. But if you only have a short time, watch the second one.


    H/T to John over at Debunking Christianity.

    Category: ConsciousnessPhilosophy of ReligionProblem of Evil


    Article by: Jonathan MS Pearce

    2 Pingbacks/Trackbacks

    • You KNOW why Christians say this don’t you? To offset or to minimize the fact that the argument from evil is a powerful argument against God. So, to lessen the the blow, they pull this out of their ass which is just bullshit.

      • It’s great when the bullshitter who calls out the supposed bullshit is themselves bullshitted and found to be empirically, verifiably, provably full of bullshit.
        Or something.

    • Andy_Schueler

      That was indeed some serious pwnage :-). 
      WLC´s statement that a “scientifically informed philosopher” (by which he presumably means himself) is more qualified to address questions such as animal suffering, is laughable given that he is by no means “scientifically informed”. As demonstrated in those videos, he is just as “scientifically informed” about neuroscience as he is about Big Bang Cosmology. 

    • Daydreamer1

      This surely must show why theologically based ideas about morality are rotten. Every single one of them has some weird, un-evidenced, corrupt notion like this.

      It seems to me fairly obvious that a good absolute and objective grounding for morality is pain and an individuals suffering. Basing ‘absolute’ grounding on the guesses of what some imagined thing would think is just about as nuts as you can get – and is surely the reason for the massive moral relativism seen throughout the worlds religions. They just succeed in blinding themselves to this fact by ignoring each others religions…

      It is an irony that we are accused of moral relativism by groups that obviously have very high relativism between them, when we actually have a real material underpinning that can act as as much of an objective and absolute definition as you can get.

      • I think it is fairly obvious that most people have a basic, and often faulty, personal morality, and use religion (or codify it within religion) in order to bolster their own personal relativistic beliefs. That is why there are so many denominations of christianity.

        • Daydreamer1

          Thanks Jonathan,

            Have you seen much argument regarding moral absolutism/relativism that tries to twist around the standard convention of theism that it holds a more absolute ground – to point out that actually materialism can be looked at as having a more solid absolute grounding?
            You cannot get more relative than having story based morality using guesses of what story characters might wish. We can state as evidence the high degree of relativity between denominations and religions for this.
            For materialists real world objective absolutes like cell metabolism, heat, pain reception etc along with other real world subjective facts such as desire etc form a solid base that we cannot interpret and change so simply – that in a changing universe are as absolute as we get from the short geological perspective of species.

            So for example we would attempt to minimise pain, but we can appreciate that the BDSM community is not being immoral since it is consensual and desired. Sportspeople are not committing moral harm by performing activities that result in pain since it is consensual etc.
            These are material and measurable realities – and even the contemplation of the subjective is not too great a complexity that it overwhelms the moralities implied by the objective.
            That is the sort of reality I can ascribe to, and one I believe can fit the human condition without calling us all sinners for enjoying ourselves. But more than that it is actually more absolute than any religious morality. They should not be allowed to get away with simply winning an argument that they are absolute by repeating it often enough, when, if people actually value absolutism in a morality, our ‘relative’ morality (which is actually only relative in the sense that we learn new things – and often change the historic morality when we deem it lacks equality and fairness or is proven to have consequences that affect people negatively) is in reality built on more absolute standards than their story based moralities.

          • Hi there

            Have you read my God is a Consequentilaist essay above? It is also a blog post if you search for it. This pretty much concludes that Go’s morality is defined by the consequences to the actions, and thus contextualised. It is clearly not absolute in a Kantian Categorical Imperative sense (he ordered genocides, after all).

            I would be interested in what you think if you comment on the blog post version!

            Also worth a look is the nonsatmpcollector video called CONTEXT!!!


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    • Joseph O Polanco

      Are animals, then, self-aware?

      • Some are, yes. Defining the terms is useful, though.

        • Joseph O Polanco

          If the definition is so muddled how do you know any animal is?

          • And your point RE Craig’s bungled apologetics is?

            • Joseph O Polanco

              If animals are not in fact self-aware, how can they suffer?

            • You OBVIOUSLY haven’t watched the videos then. Please do not bother commenting until you have engaged with the OP.

            • Joseph O Polanco

              I must have missed it then. Where (time-stamp) does she conclusively prove that animals possess self-awareness?

            • This shows you have not even attempted to watch the video since most of the videos are interviews or commentaries from experts in the field.

              Don’t be so bloody lazy and expect me to do your work. Get off your lazy arse and start doing some critical thinking and analysis.

            • Joseph O Polanco

              So if she doesn’t prove that animals are self-aware, how is my question invalid?

            • Watch the bloody videos, for goodness sake. Stop wasting my time.

            • Joseph O Polanco

              Ok, ok. If you can’t explain it just say so. No need to get all catty, sheesh! :)

            • I can explain it PLENTY well enough. I do not produce posts or embed videos just so people can come here and demand me to transcribe the videos because they can’t be arsed to watch them themselves.

            • Joseph O Polanco

              You misapprehend. I’ve made no such request neither overtly or implied.

              I’m simply trying to understand how has it been proven that animals are self-aware given the hazy definition of this term, because if it turns out they’re not, how is Craig wrong in asserting that animals cannot suffer because of their lack of self-awareness?

            • Er, but that is almost the ENTIRE POINT of these videos. Hence my calls for you to watch them rather than waste my time explaining them to you because you are too lazy to go to the source.

            • Joseph O Polanco

              No, it’s not. They focus on how Craig bungled when he ascribed self-awareness to the pre-frontal cortex and goofed when he claimed only primates and humans possessed such a feature.

              The question as to whether or not animals possess self-awareness was left in the air which, in reality, is at the heart of Craig’s misshapen argument.

            • John Grove

              Joseph, what a lazy loser.

            • Just returning to this thread.

              “he claimed only primates and humans possessed such a feature.

              The question as to whether or not animals possess self-awareness…”

              The point that primates are animals escapes you?

              “Now, let me say one other thing, however, that is a result of recent scientific discoveries that shed remarkable light on the problem of animal suffering. In his book Nature Red in Tooth and Claw, published by Oxford University Press, Michael Murray explains that there is really a three-fold hierarchy of pain awareness. On the most fundamental level there’s simply the reaction to stimuli, such as an amoeba exhibits when you poke it with a needle. It doesn’t really feel pain. There’s a second level of pain awareness which sentient animals have, which is an experience of pain. And animals like horses, dogs, and cats would experience this second level pain awareness. But they do not experience a third level pain awareness, which is the awareness of second order pain, that is, the awareness that one is oneself in pain. For that sort of pain awareness requires self-awareness, and this is centered in the pre-frontal cortex (PFC) of the brain, a section of the brain that is missing in all animals except for the higher primates and human beings. And therefore, even though animals are in pain, they aren’t aware of it. They don’t have this third order pain awareness. They are not aware of pain, and therefore they do not suffer as human beings do.

              Now this is a tremendous comfort to those of us who are animal lovers like myself or to pet owners. Even though your dog or your cat may be in pain, it really isn’t aware of being in pain, and therefore it doesn’t suffer as you would when you are in pain.”

              Read more here: http://www.reasonablefaith.org/animal-suffering#ixzz2sLHKhM00

              Craig also claimed:

              “All animals but the great apes and man lack the neural pathways associated with Level 3 pain awareness. Being a very late evolutionary development, this pathway is not present throughout the animal world. What that implies is that throughout almost the entirety of the long history of evolutionary development, no creature was ever aware of being in pain.” http://www.reasonablefaith.org/animal-suffering

              One must remember that Murray is himself not a scientist or even working in the relevant fields. He is not peer-reviewed or anything. Craig does nothing to communicate this lack of relevant expertise to the audience.

              The fact that skydivephil include amongst their interviewees and citations the author of the most cited paper on animal self-awareness in the world should tell you something about the level of disdain for the claims that Murray and thus Craig make.

              All you seem to have done is assert Murray is correct with no evidence and then refuse to deal with the source material of that which deconstructs Murray’s claims.

            • I suggest you read skydivephil themselve son this on Law’s own website:


      • Joseph O Polanco, let’s reframe that question in terms in which it might have been (and was) put, in the United States in the 1820s…

        “Are black people, then, self-aware?”

        Of course they are – but for the majority of Western interactions with our melanin-augmented cousins, a very large majority of people were convinced the answer was “No”… which justified all manner of vile treatment of, and behaviour towards, people of African descent.

        It dawned on me in 1996 that our descendants would look back in horror at the idea that we did not give animals the ‘benefit of the doubt’ when it comes to their inner lives: I had just read some material in a book from an 1820s anti-abolitionist, asserting that negroes did not feel “the same way as humans did” or words to that effect, and it was screamingly obvious that we were doing the same thing: pretending not to see the emotional lives of our own pets (or pretending that obvious parallels were ‘anthropomorphism’).

        We don’t even know what metric to use in assessing whether animals have inner lives: octopi don’t have much of a brain to speak of, but are able to solve complex problems, have short- and long-term memory, and can mimic other species when it suits them. What *else* don’t we know about them?

        So let’s say we make a deal: I will admit the possibility that black folks have emotional and cognitive lives every bit as rich as mine… and you admit the possibility that your cat is aware of its self. (That lets me off the hook, since I *already* accept my side of the bargain: being 25% Maori, how could I otherwise?)

    • Andrew

      Craig is a con artist. His position depends on his audience not being able to check his claims.

    • Gilberto Ramirez

      Just want to put out here for consideration that pain doesn’t exist except in organisms that have the specialized structures to react to cellular damage or irritation and then Transmit via some chemical mechanism to structures that not only modify behavior to reduce the stimuli but product a conscious experience which we call pain. Pain does not exist! when humans react to stimuli via reflex pathways at the spinal level no pain is felt via that pathway. Pain is only felt due to consciousness and related pathways. For anyone to speak of pain sensation is to already accept that it is felt in consciousness. Consider that you burnt your finger. On a spinal reflex pathway a signal goes to the spine from a nociceptor which has had it’s potential reached by the physiological response to the cells that were burned and damaged. This is a complex process look it up. Point is that the pathway reaches the spine and produces a signal that jerks your hand away. The other pathways send the signal up the spine to the brain where you interpret the event. You might think you were burned when if fact you were stung by fire ants. The point being that if animals react by reflex that is one thing but if they have pathways that produce pain they would have to have a consciousness to experience that..
      This is my understanding as a physical therapist with a B.S. degree.

      • Essentially it comes down to establishing the level of consciousness, then?

        • Gilberto Ramirez

          The term level of consciousness usually refers to an assessment of a person. We already know that humans have consciousness. If we are assessing a patient who is something other than alert and oriented to time, place, and person, we encounter levels of consciousness. Drowsy, confused, obtunded,stupor, coma, brain dead, shut in.
          But in terms of this discussion we are speaking of or at the level of species? Humans ca suffer a LOC event but they don’t lose their rights to not be tortured because they might not feel pain. Additionally, there are humans who have lost the sensation of pain but they too don’t lose their rights to not be tortured.
          So in this discussion we are asking do species of animals perceive pain. I am suggesting that pain doesn’t exist so to feel pain is a test of consciousness. Only consciousness can experience pain. Pain is a higher function that reaction to stimuli at a spinal level. I think consciousness is analogous to quantum states in that consciousness is not or is. There are only two states of being.
          I think consciousness is analogus to

          • Gilberto Ramirez

            New IOS7 is flaky on my iPad couldn’t edit response hope it was understood.

          • The problem being that we cannot easily assess the ‘level’ or complexity of consciousness without being in other organisms’ heads.

          • What would be your broader point in relation to the problem of evil?

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    • OK, someone has to be “that guy”… I’m no expert on animal suffering, but the lady in the video could convince me of pretty much anything.

      Jokes aside, anybody who believes that animals don’t suffer is retarded. When I read that Rene Descartes claimed that the screams of a cat being vivisected were the ‘screeching of the gears in a machine’, I resolved to go back in time and slit his throat the moment the technology became available. (It’s already happened… in an alternative timeline, Rene Descartes is an unheard-of Frenchman who died in early adulthood – slain by an unknown assassin with an Australian accent).

      inb4 “vegetarian”. Of course I’m a fucking vegetarian.

    • Tony_Lloyd

      If you, like me, were at the Stephen Law vs William Lane Craig debate, your jaw will have dropped when Craig, in defence of God vis-a-vis animal suffering and the problem of evil, claimed that animals don’t suffer pain.

      I was at the debate but my jaw didn’t drop. Mainly because I know f*** all about neuroscience. I wasn’t entirely taken in, I did discount “scientific discoveries” to “interesting new theory put forward by some in the field”. But I did believe that: that a number of people who do the research put this forward. I thought it had the kind of status Fred Hoyle’s Steady State theory had before the discovery of the Background Radiation.

      I had no idea that there was this level of bullshit and am grateful to you, Stephen, Phil and Monica for revealing it.

      What is jaw dropping, which has just dropped my jaw is the total lack of embarrassment shown by WLC. I don’t need Phil and Monica’s debunking to recogniise in the Michael Murray piece on WLC’s website a revelation of the BS. WLC’s source is full of caveats, he speaks in of utter confidence. And WLC puts it on his website! Phil and Monica’s videos give details of other misrepresentations but there is entirely sufficient proof of WLC’s bullshit on his very own website.

      What is wrong with the man? Does he not understand? Or does he not care?

      • I think the problem exists when you are debating things of science and you are committed by default to certain conclusions. There is always a sense of post hoc rationalisation when apologists approach problematic issues. It becomes about cognitive dissonance and psychology.

    • John Bebbington

      Like you, Johnathan, I was at the debate but what struck me at the time was that WLC admitted that non-human apes experience 3rd level pain and that for me was sufficient to defeat his entire argument. It’s the creationist equivalent of finding a single rabbit in the Precambrian.

      • This is absolutely true, and reflects the potency f the Problem of Evil argument. I have said before, it only takes on gratuitously stubbed toe invalidate the claim to God’s omnibenevolence.

        Thanks for commenting!

    • Philolinguist

      On this issue, both WLC and his critics may be barking up the wrong tree. The reason the topic of animal and infant suffering was brought up in the first place was as a classic Problem of Evil objection to God’s existence. The objection is typically stated as ‘If suffering is the result of sin, then why do sinless animals and infants suffer?’

      There’s a fairly straightforward philosophical counter-argument to this objection, but whether it accords with the theology of any particular religion is a matter that would have to be left to theologians. Perhaps WLC’s theology precluded this counter-argument, so he resorted to the flawed neo-Cartesian alternative.

      The counter-argument actually relies on WLC’s four-level classification of pain, but without denying the existence of suffering at the third level. Instead, the third level is characterized by the presence of pain, but the absence of an ability in the creature to relate to itself in the first-person (an ability that requires language, and which is present only at the fourth level).

      So the animal or infant experiences pain, but is unable to understand that it is experiencing pain as a person, self-identified (from a first-person perspective) as someone separate from other persons. In other words, such creatures lack personal identity (the kind that comes with learning a first language).

      Some theologies would contend that a person cannot sin if they lack personal identity (because they need to identify themselves as someone separate from God, in order to
      knowingly rebel against Him). Some of those theologies would go a step further, and claim that once a child attains personal identity, it is automatically a sinner; since once it has identified itself as a separate person from others (including God), it will willfully disobey God.

      So the objection from animal/infant suffering is aimed at
      those theologies. Since such theologies claim that animals and infants are sinless, why do such creatures suffer (if suffering is part of the penalty for sin, surely only sinful humans should bear the consequences?).

      Now comes the philosophical counter-argument that some theologians may find objectionable. The counter-argument is
      based on the premise that God experiences the suffering of all his creatures. In other words, when animals or humans (whether infants or adults) are in pain, God suffers. That is to say, God experiences all pain, from Level Two up.

      So because animals and infants lack personal identity, when they suffer, ONLY God suffers (though the creatures display pain behavior, it is only God who feels the pain). When humans with personal identity suffer, they suffer as persons
      self-consciously separate from God (who also experiences their suffering). Because such humans are also sinners, their collective suffering (but not God’s suffering, except in certain special cases, according to some theologies) is part of the penalty for sin (the question of why some sinners appear to suffer more than others is a separate issue from that of animal/infant suffering, since it calls for a different set of responses).

      This counter-argument turns the objection from animal/infant suffering around. Instead of being part of the Problem of Evil, the ‘objection’ is now an indictment by God against sinful Humanity. The counter-argument holds sinners culpable for the suffering of sinless animals and infants,but does not hold God culpable,because He is the only one suffering when animals and infants are in pain.

    • Matt Mossberg

      I saw the second response and wow, I learned a lot about how much we do know about animal consciousness! The only thing I’ve ever read up in was the mirror test but today I can saw that I am much more informed. I have not seen the debate, nor have I ever seen the question of evil as it pertains to animals. What baffles me the most, is when WLG talks about philosophers who have been dead for centuries, yet WLC males it seem that their ideas, with no scientific backing, has merit. Does he think we should take a famous philosophers word over science? Later on I would see that indeed he does.