Suffering Animals

The Lord called to Moses and spoke to him from the tent of meeting. He said, “Speak to the Israelites and say to them: ‘When anyone among you brings an offering to the Lord, bring as your offering an animal from either the herd or the flock.

  • Leviticus 1:1-2

“‘If your offering is a fellowship offering, and you offer an animal from the herd, whether male or female, you are to present before the Lord an animal without defect. You are to lay your hand on the head of your offering and slaughter it at the entrance to the tent of meeting. Then Aaron’s sons the priests shall splash the blood against the sides of the altar.

  • Leviticus 3:1-2

Your righteousness is like the highest mountains,
    your justice like the great deep.
    You, Lord, preserve both people and animals.

  • Psalm 36:6

This is the fate of those who trust in themselves,
    and of their followers, who approve their sayings.
They are like sheep and are destined to die;
    death will be their shepherd
    (but the upright will prevail over them in the morning).
Their forms will decay in the grave,
    far from their princely mansions.
But God will redeem me from the realm of the dead;
    he will surely take me to himself.
Do not be overawed when others grow rich,
    when the splendor of their houses increases;
for they will take nothing with them when they die,
    their splendor will not descend with them.
Though while they live they count themselves blessed—
    and people praise you when you prosper—
they will join those who have gone before them,
    who will never again see the light of life.
People who have wealth but lack understanding
    are like the beasts that perish.

  • Psalm 49:13-20

“The Australian philosopher Peter Singer became known as one of the most active advocates of animal rights following the publication of his book Animal Liberation in 1975. Singer takes a utilitarian approach to ethics, following the tradition developed by Englishman Jeremy Bentham in the late 18th century.
“Utilitarianism asks us to judge the moral value of an act by the consequences of that act. For Bentham, the way to do this is by calculating the sum of pleasure or pain that results from our actions, like a mathematical equation.
“Singer’s utilitarianism is based on what he refers to as an ‘equal consideration of interests.’ Pain, he says, is pain, whether it is yours or mine or anybody else’s. The extent to which non—human animals can feel pain is the extent to which we should take their interests into account when making decisions that affect their lives, and we should refrain from activities that cause such pain. However, like all utilitarians, Singer applies the ‘greatest happiness principle’, which says that we should make decisions in such a way that they result in the greatest happiness for the greatest number. Singer points out that he has never said that no experiment on an animal could ever be justified; rather that we should judge all actions by their consequences, and ‘the interests of animals count among those consequences’; they form part of the equation.

  • Sam Atkinson (senior editor), The Philosophy Book, Big Ideas Simply Explained

As for the Scriptures, the first two Scriptures call for animal sacrifice.  It is not that God is ignoring that the animal will suffer pain, but it is in that knowledge that a blood offering is given in this case.  The animal feels the pain briefly if slaughtered properly, with sensitivity toward that pain, but the ones giving the offering, having raised the animal without blemish, maybe keeping the animal in the home to prevent a broken leg, for example…  Those making such an offering will have a greater pain, yet it is necessary under the Levitical Law for all humankind is tainted with the stain of sin.  And Jesus paid the price for that sin so that we have our sin debt removed due to His suffering and dying.  But me must believe and trust in Him.

As for the two psalms, the first is the verse Mark Lowry used in his comedy routine that Dogs Go the Heaven.  And the last psalm quotation uses the last verse twice, that people with money and not understanding are like the beasts.  They will perish and vanish from the earth.

As for Jeremy Bentham, I wrote about his philosophy in Felicific Calculus, which forms that mathematical equation mentioned in the quote.

Peter Singer (1946- present) makes some statements here that could be interpreted in many ways.

The key is to what degree of sentience do we ascribe to dogs, cats, etc.  There seems to be three definitions of sentient.  One is that the animal species can feel something and that something matters to them in a specific way.  Another is that the animal species has feelings, like love, hate, etc.  And a third is that the animal species has a conscious awareness of those feelings and an awareness of their own consciousness.

Our daughter-in-law got a job recently as a dog handler at a doggie day care center.  The biggest benefit is that her two dogs get to stay for free while she is working, and the two dogs get hyper once the children get on the school bus, knowing that doggie day care is next.  Our daughter-in-law crunched the numbers and doggie day care dog handling provided more money at the end of the month than being a paralegal and having to pay for doggie day care, at least at starting salary.

In our daughter-in-law’s training, she was warned early on that she should not anthropomorphize what the dogs are doing.  She needed to react to situations based on dog behavior, not human behavior.  Otherwise, she might end up with a massive problem.  In her first few months, she has had to break up fights and place various dogs in a cage until they settled down.  She is treating dogs as dogs, not people.

Thus, of the three definitions, the only sentient definition that most people would agree with is the first.  If a dog has a thorn in its foot, it will let you know about it.  It will limp.  It will whimper. Depending on the breed, it might bay at the moon or some unseen heavenly being.  That is fairly clear in that level of a sentient being.

But is what we consider actions of the dog that express love, hate, etc. simply us humans anthropomorphizing the dog?  The dog will act differently toward the person that pets the dog than the one who ignores the dog.  Is that love or simply not wasting time when they want to be petted?  The same thing can be said for having to be taken outside for a potty break.  The dog knows who provides food and water.  These are all instinctive things.  We love it when Mom cooks our favorite meal, but a dog simply likes to eat when it is hungry, and they know who provides the food.  The person guilty of anthropomorphizing sees emotions, where the person who knows dogs sees the dog’s instincts.  Dogs are smart.  Given enough incentive, they can learn all kinds of human-like behaviors.  Anything for a treat.

As for the consciousness thing, the Bible only speaks of humans being created in God’s image and having the breath of life breathed into them.

Does ascribing to the first definition diminish the sentience of the animal?  Not really, unless you reject that definition of sentience entirely.  Many animals feel pain and it matters to the animal.  In the quote, it seems that Peter Singer had to backpedal on animal experimentation, but if there is any other method, I think Peter Singer would advocate the alternate.  As a Utilitarian, it comes down to what is best for the more good.  If a few animals suffered in developing a vaccine to stop a pandemic, the Utilitarian philosopher would agree with the cost of 100 rats opposed to the deaths of millions of people.

But there are many things that have been used in animal experiments that even a new product could be a possible unnecessary enhancement.  Should animals suffer for that?

We are made in God’s image and we are to have dominion over the earth, but that dominion is in the form of caring for other species.  Early in the Bible, it establishes wild animals versus livestock, those used for food or animal sacrifice.  But within the parameters that God establishes, we should consider the pain that an animal might suffer.

If you like these Tuesday morning essays about philosophy and other “heavy topics,” but you think you missed a few, you can use this LINK. I have set up a page off the home page for links to these Tuesday morning posts. I will continue to modify the page as I add more.

Soli Deo Gloria.  Only to God be the Glory.

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