Theodicy and Animal Suffering

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Four ten-day-old kittens

Four ten-day-old kittens (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Too many attempts at developing a theodicy, a broad-based account of why God allows evil and suffering in the universe, take account only of human suffering. Either writers do not deem it important, or else in Neo-Cartesian mold they deny either than animals have emotions or that because they do not find a sense of anomie in pain that they do not suffer in the way that human beings suffer. The Neo-Cartesian route, though still defended by certain Evangelical Protestant scholars who want a cheap way to get God off the hook for animal suffering, is so far from our experience of animals to be absurd. When will Calvinist philosophers stop try8ing to find a cheap way out of a real problem by denying it’s a problem? It is the propensity of some Evangelical scholars to deny the hard issues of their position: the Bible not being inerrant on historical and scientific matters, the evidence for some kind of macroevolution (even if more than Darwinian mechanisms are insufficient to explain all of evolution), the accounts of God in the Bible as an arbitrary, angry, jealous individual who kills with as much ease as He creates–and the problem of animal suffering. Not all Evangelical scholars agree with the Neo-Cartesians (to be fair, this includes Calvinist scholars–my intense dislike of Calvinism encourages me to be rather expressive emotionally).

The Neo-Cartesian position some scholars espouse has been used to justify abusing animals since “they don’t really understand pain like we do” and since “humans are over the other animals”.Despite the claim of some that animals have a sum total of positive emotions that outweigh any bad, one should also consider their short lives in the wild, often spend in running from predators and seeking sufficient food. Human beings have burdened animals with enormous tasks, The history of man’s treatment of animals has, at best, been a “mixed bag” (no pun intended). Abuse and/or abandonment of pets is a growing problem, especially during difficult economic times. Thus both evolutionary biology and its nature “red in tooth and claw” (Tennyson) and man’s abuse has resulted in a tremendous amount of animal suffereing. How could a good God allow such suffering.

Evolutionary biology provides little help, for animals must pass on their genes to their offspring for the species to survive. Survival–life–is the necessary condition for all other good things in life. Why the food chain? Why so much pain due to predatory relationships between carnivores and omnivores and their prey?

Why is there so much human abuse of animals–dog fights, cock fights, beating pets until they are bruised and bleeding. Does God simply overlook such pain and suffering? If man, the steward of the animals, fails to exercise stewardship and instead exercises cruel domination, do animals have any recourse in a just and merciful God?

Francis Collins, John Hick, and C. S. Lewis have provided attempts to explain animal suffering within an evolutionary framework. For Hick, animal suffering is the required result of God using evolution to bring forth life. Lewis posits a fall of some kind to explain animal pain. Without an eschatological dimension, as I have mentioned in previous posts, animal pain has no redemption–and Romans 8 makes clear that the entire creation, not merely man, will be subject o the saving power of God. John Wesley correctly understands that animal resurrection is a possible implication from the Romans passage.

I do not believe that such resurrection involves just the species. God’s concern is for individuals, and millions of individual animals have suffered over the millenia without a smidgeon of support Duns Scotus was correct in holding that each being is individuated by haecceiitas, a unique formality that contracts the individual natures into an individual thing that is incommunicable. Only God knows the haecceitas in this life. It is arbitrary to say that only the human body is resurrected–why not animals? If God cares about each blade of grass, surely He cares enough about individual animals not to allow them to be annihilated at death. Alternatives allow no justice for the suffering endured by animals (or by people), In raising humans and non-human animals, God reveals His mercy and love in extending the gift of eternal life to the sentient beings of His creation. To deny this is to deny the love of God for His creation and His concern for the “least of these.”

The Evil God of Calvinism

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Engraved from the original oil painting in the...

Image via Wikipedia

Would a good God predestine some people to Heaven and the rest to Hell no matter what choices people made? The answer seems obvious–except for Calvinists.

The intellectual father of John Calvin was Augustine (354-430), Bishop of Hippo in North Africa. Augustine developed a doctrine which amounted to “single predestination,” the notion that God predestines some individuals to Heaven. Everyone else goes to Hell by default, since all humans have sinned and deserve Hell. In the Confessions, Augustine even believes that unbaptized infants are going to Hell, giving a new meaning to the term “Burn, baby, burn.” Although the Council of Orange in the seventh century softened Augustine’s doctrine for the medieval Roman Catholic Church, John Calvin revived it and made it more radical than before. Calvin, influenced by late medieval Nominalism, believed that everything is subject to God’s sovereign will. He thought that the only way to preserve God’s total sovereignty was to posit predestination. To be fair, Calvin does not consider God’s choice of the saved and the damned to be arbitrary; he leaves it a mystery. But he does seem to accept double predestination–even if he were interpreted to accept single predestination, the result is the same–people are saved or damned without any choice of their own being involved. The seventeenth century Synod of Dort solidified hard line Calvinism into five points: Total Hereditary Depravity, Unconditional Election, Limited Atonement (Christ only died for the saved), Irresistible Grace (the saved cannot accept or refuse God’s grace–it is granted to them unconditionally and they cannot resist it) and Perseverance of the Saints (“once saved, always saved”). This system is sometimes known as TULIP Calvinism. Contemporary Southern Baptists inconsistently accept perseverance of the saints without accepting a strong view of predestination.

The God of TULIP Calvinism is an evil God, period. Any God who would pick out some people to be in endless bliss with that God forever and choose to damn the rest to eternal misery in Hell is a bully, a monster, utterly unworthy of worship. A doctrine of the absolute sovereignty of God is preserved at the cost of God’s goodness. The God of the Bible is a God of love, and love requires mutuality. A good God loves everyone, and everyone has a choice whether to love God and grow in that love. God’s grace is unmerited favor, that is true. None of us “miserable sinners” can stand in God’s presence as justified without His grace. But if we choose to receive that grace, God will help us to fulfill His will and grow in love to Him. God’s love is not arbitrary, it is not cruel, but we must accept that love or else God will let us live forever left to ourselves–and that is Hell. “God is not willing that any should perish, but demands that all men everywhere repent.” Sure, there are passages of Holy Scripture that Calvinists take out of context, but it surely says something about how the early Christians understood Scripture that NO ONE in the early Christian church, NONE of the Church Fathers came up with a Calvin-like doctrine of predestination before Augustine.

If the God of Calvinism existed, I would rather go to Hell, because living with such a deity would be worse than living with Satan himself.