Monday, 23 May 2016

Craig on Animal Pain *Again*

Mooch and friend

I've written before on William Lane Craig's curious views on animal pain, which amount to a dismissal of it as a phenomenon we need to worry about morally. Here I discussed the views he put forward in a debate with Stephen Law, that suggested that animal pain, following work done by Michael Murray, did not exacerbate the problem of evil for theists, and here I followed up that post with a statement by one of the co-authors of a paper that Murray used to support his findings, philosopher of mind David Rosenthal, who countered Murray and Craig:
Anybody who insists that pain and its attendant effects are not very bad for the creature even when the pain is not conscious pain seems to me to be looking for an excuse not to bother with what is plainly a significant case of suffering.  There is no sound empirical reason nor any or valid theoretical reason to count pain as suffering only if the pain is conscious.  This is simply a matter of defining suffering away by stipulation.
In a new Question of the Week entitled Animal Consciousness Once More, Craig again dismisses animal pain. Joshua, having examined the Cambridge Declaration of Consciousness, is concerned that this puts animals on the same footing (before God) as humans:
If animals do have the same states of consciousness as we do, that animals have the same value and importance, biologically speaking, than us.
The Cambridge Declaration says, amongst other things:
...the weight of evidence indicates that humans are not unique in possessing the neurological substrates that generate consciousness. Non-human animals, including all mammals and birds, and many other creatures, including octopuses, also possess these neurological substrates.
In his reply, Craig says this:
...there is no evidence that animals other than the higher primates have a consciousness of self that enables them to think I myself am in pain. That has huge implications for the problem of animal suffering and so-called natural evil. For even though animals may have an awareness of pain (are conscious), they are not aware that they themselves are in pain (are not self-conscious) and so do not suffer as we do.
He draws the distinction between awareness and self-awareness, which I think is an important distinction, but one that does not mean we can discount awareness. The curious thing about this answer is that Craig concedes that higher primates have a consciousness of self, so presumably he thinks that chimpanzees etc are moral agents, and he already has a significant problem to address.

But, in any case, his 'answer' does not cut the mustard because, as Rosenthal says above, it's the suffering that should be the concern for us as moral agents, not the sense of self. I think it's plausible that a sense of self might change the quality of pain, but it's possible that lacking a sense of self might make awareness of pain worse. For example, lacking self-consciousness one would always be living in the moment - there would be little sense of pain passing, just happening. As self-conscious beings we can often endure periods of pain and comfort ourselves with it passing, or with rewards of future pleasure.

Craig explicitly denies that suffering is morally relevant, instead suggesting that moral obligations simply arise from God's mandate:
Lacking God as a foundation for objective moral values and duties, the naturalist must find something in animals themselves to warrant their ethical treatment. That will be their awareness of pain. ... This naturalistic attempt to ground ethical treatment of animals is doomed to failure, however, since not all animals are sentient--not to speak of rainforests and oceans! A sound environmental ethic, including the ethical treatment of animals, will be grounded in the creation mandate given by God to man to steward the Earth as God’s good gift.
(Note that Craig even bizarrely suggests that rainforests and oceans don't deserve any ethical consideration under naturalism, because naturalists can only ground morality in awareness of pain. Even if they did (and other considerations can be brought in), clearly rainforests (if we're just talking about the wood) and oceans (if we're just talking about the water) wouldn't deserve any ethical consideration per se, but since they are the very environment of many forms of life that can feel pain, they obviously would deserve ethical consideration. Conversely it seems obvious that his morality, if grounded in God's mandate, is arbitrary. If God has imposed a moral duty on us to look after rainforests and oceans as we should look after humans, then will Craig save a tree before a person? Perhaps God has instructed him to protect humans before trees; but is he really committed to a morality that is simply dictated by God? Well, of course, he is!)

The questioner, while confused, is bringing up a significant problem for theists. Why are humans exceptional? Craig's answer seems to be because of self-awareness. But not self-awareness per se, I guess, but self-awareness as evidence that humans have a self or soul that is the object of moral considerations. But even if that's the case, in this quote Craig concedes the problem of animal pain, because he says 'not all animals are sentient'. No naturalist would deny that, but even Craig allows that some animals are sentient, so he has not successfully drawn a distinction between humans and the rest of the animal kingdom, so the problem of animal suffering remains.


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