Thursday, 4 October 2012

Craig's Odd Views on Animal Suffering

Stephen Law has drawn attention to the above video, by SkyDivePhil (good work), that presents the scientific evidence to debunk William Lane Craig's odd view of the animal kingdom:
God has shielded almost the entire animal kingdom throughout its history from an awareness of being in pain! For those of us who are pet owners and lovers of animals, this is a tremendous comfort and a cause of praise to God for His goodness and wondrous, even ingenious, care of creation. Who would have guessed that God had done such a thing? These neurological insights, documented by Murray, greatly reduce the force of the problem of evil posed by animal suffering.
(The quote from Craig shows at least that he accepts that there is a problem of evil, or he wouldn't even bother to make such a silly unscientific suggestion. That is, if there is enormous suffering in the world, then this is evidence against his god.)

As the video points out too, Craig bases this determination of the science solely on the writings of Christian apologist philosopher Michael Murray. The video details what the science really says by asking, er, scientists:

Dr Anita Alvarez, Imperial College/UCL
Prof Stuart Firestein, Columbia University
Prof Joaquinn Fuster, UCLA
Prof Bruce Hood, Bristol University
Dr Lori Marino, Emory University
Dr Diana Reiss, City University NY

They say that Craig is wrong.

So, he gets the science completely wrong, which is odd for someone who wants to present himself as a scientifically-informed philosopher. As Law says, in the comments:
Of course Craig might well be entirely unaware it's misleading thing for him to say. He may have been misled by Murray into thinking this was a scientifically well-attested view.
This appears to be the situation. Craig himself has written this about his investigations into this key plank of his apology against the problem of evil, in a response in his weekly Q&A to a questioner who was not at all keen on his Cartesian dismissal of animal suffering:
So your attacks on Michael Murray’s credibility are quite unwarranted. True, Murray is a philosopher and not a scientist. But he has done a responsible job of studying the scientific literature on animal pain, and his book contains citations of the literature which the interested reader may pursue. 
This suggests that Craig wasn't an interested enough reader himself to examine the citations, else he would not have been so easily misled!

Clearly Craig got a lot of pushback from the Q&A that I quote at the top, since he said in this follow-up post:
I’ve been surprised by the emotional reactions I’ve received to last week’s Question! It almost seems as if some atheists would actually prefer that animals experience terrible suffering than have to give up the objection to theism based on the problem of animal pain! 
This is a daft thing to say. Atheists are responding to the uncomfortable facts that science has revealed about animal suffering, not rejoicing in their implications for theism. The facts show that we humans are part of the animal kingdom and that human exceptionalism cannot be used to justify ill treatment of our fellow travellers. That we share vast amounts of DNA with them, share much of the same ancestry and share many of the same features and functionality. These facts combine to show us we have no more reason to dismiss animal suffering than we do to dismiss the suffering of friends, relatives, or indeed strangers, in need.

In fact, Craig seems mightily confused about the whole issue. He uses Murray's arbitrary three level pain hierarchy:
Level 3: Awareness that one is oneself in pain
Level 2: Mental states of pain
Level 1: Aversive reaction to noxious stimuli
So this leads to the unfounded notion (as the video shows) that "Other animals lack the neural pathways for having the experience of Level 3 pain awareness." and  "So even though animals like zebras and giraffes, for example, experience pain when attacked by a lion, they really aren’t aware of it." What a relief for them, as they writhe on the ground being eaten alive!

The purpose of this nonsense is obvious: to show that animal suffering is not 'real' in some sense, to extinguish the problem of evil:
Viewed theologically, this discovery magnifies the mercy and goodness of God. God has shielded almost the entire animal kingdom throughout its history from an awareness of being in pain! For those of us who are pet owners and lovers of animals, this is a tremendous comfort and a cause of praise to God for His goodness and wondrous, even ingenious, care of creation.
The implication is clear that only third level awareness of pain matters. So the questioner the next week asks the obvious follow-up question:
If animals can not experience pain, is there anything wrong with committing acts against animals which if committed against humans would be expected to cause pain? 
After a lot of poorly thought out objections to a naturalistic grounding for morals, the only reason he suggests it is wrong is because his god has told us to be good stewards:
The theist enjoys the advantage that the ethical treatment of animals can be grounded in God’s commands to human beings to be good stewards of the Earth.
Inflicting unjustified pain on animals would be morally prohibited to us by God.
There's no other reason not to inflict animal suffering? He can't think of one other than that someone told him not to do it? In what sense are we being 'good stewards' by avoiding acts towards animals as if they would cause pain, when in fact they don't? Carving a rock into the shape of a kitten would not be inconsistent with good stewardship, and neither would carving a kitten into the shape of a rock, if animal suffering does not contribute to the problem of evil. But then he says:
Yes, remember that on the view we’re discussing, sentient animals do experience second-level states of pain, which should not be needlessly inflicted. So stunning animals before killing them for food is, indeed, a good idea. 
But this is a back-pedal. If the second level pains should be avoided as well as the third level ones then we still have a massive problem of evil to resolve. He could argue that they are lesser evils, which he does based on incorrect science, but his previous response left the impression that there was little left to worry about - remember he wrote:
For those of us who are pet owners and lovers of animals, this is a tremendous comfort and a cause of praise to God for His goodness and wondrous, even ingenious, care of creation.
But there is still a massive amount of second level pain which could be avoided if god was benevolent, even granting Craig's nonsensical proposition. This is no solution to the problem of evil, for any pet owner or animal lover.

(Incidentally, another curious point of Craig's apology is the idea that pain requires a pre-frontal cortex. Pain is a quale of the mind, and the pre-frontal cortex is material. So Craig is saying that minds require a material grounding, which rather blows his dualism. Do disembodied minds not have qualia? Is pain a peculiar quale? Now he could say, I guess, that this is just a feature of embodied minds only, but this is falling foul of all the usual problems that even Descartes saw in dualism - there is no way to relate the immaterial meaningfully to the material. Check out QualiaSoup's video for a good summary of its problems:

UPDATE: Jean Kazez has written a good analysis of the video, and how the scientists' responses relate to Craig's claims, here. Or, at least, to what Craig appears to claim because, as I say above, it's not too clear what Craig is arguing for, imo.


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