Monday, 3 February 2014

Craig adds to the Pain

Mooch the cat (and friend)

In a debate with Stephen Law, William Lane Craig claimed that science shows that animals aren't aware of the pain they are in, and this might be an answer to the perennial theistic problem of evil. It's not at all clear to me how that follows, and Stephen Law subsequently pointed out, with the help of a film made by skydivephil, that Craig simply had the science wrong anyway. Jerry Coyne also posted on the subject, noting:
But there’s no difference between feeling pain and being aware that you’re feeling pain. Pain is a “quale” (plural “qualia”)—a conscious and subjective sensation—which demands awareness, unless it’s simply a sensation that you have learned (or evolved) to avoid.  But if you’ve learned or evolved to avoid it because it’s unpleasant, then you are indeed aware of feeling pain! Finding a sensation unpleasant demands sufficient consciousness to experience qualia.
I tend to agree, although I could concede there may be a difference between the pain felt by animals that have self-awareness about pain, like humans, (what Craig calls third-level pain) and those that don't (second-level pain). However, I cannot see that self-awareness alone renders the pain morally relevant. Oddly Craig did ask himself this question on a question of the week some time ago:
So let’s grant, for the sake of argument, that Murray has got it right about the science concerning animal pain: sentient animals do experience pain, but they (apart from the higher primates) are not aware that they are themselves in pain. What ethical implications for the treatment of animals would this affirmation have?
The only answer I can see him offering is this:
Inflicting unjustified pain on animals would be morally prohibited to us by God. 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. Even with regard to animals which do not experience second-level pain, the theist can maintain that we should not needlessly impair or kill them.
...which appears to concede that animal pain is morally relevant (it's 'a good idea' to avoid it), even if his distinction between second-level and third-level pain stands.

Craig has now added a follow-up with a response from Michael Murray, who originally drew the distinction. Craig seems to think the strongest point that Murray makes is:
...that non-human animals do not have a first-person perspective on their experiences, including experiences of pain, that is to say, they cannot adjoin to their experiences the prefix “I think/feel that. . . ,”so that animals, even if in pain, are not aware that they are themselves in pain.
Once again, he does not argue here why that makes the pain morally irrelevant, but he does think that:
Dr. Murray shows that his critics have not shown that animal suffering of a morally significant sort really exists.
That's a pretty weak claim; likewise one presumes that Craig and Murray also think that no-one has shown that baby suffering of a morally significant sort really exists either, if the distinction is simply that the organism cannot adjoin to their experiences the prefix "I think/feel that...". Further, it is a betrayal of the cautionary principle: that if animals, and babies, display the symptoms of pain, we should assume they are feeling pain.

Murray appeals to the possibility that animals have pain without any “negative-feeling”, based on reports of humans that have reported such a thing after disruption to their prefrontal cortexes. Well I'm no scientist, so I will leave that one to them, but it seems far from clear why we need to prove the precise nature of animal pain before we consider it relevant to our moral calculations. Murray's argument is simply that:
...perhaps most animals do not experience negative-feeling-pain (because they lack a PFC).
But either animal pain is not negative, in which case avoiding it is neither a good idea nor a bad idea, contra Craig above, or it is a negative, in which case the problem of natural suffering is not answered by this argument.


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