42. Why does God allow animals to suffer?

Cat eating birdThe Bible doesn’t have much to say about why God created animals, other than to say He did, and gave mankind dominion over them (Genesis 1:26). Whatever His reasons, God (or nature) has chosen not to spare many animals from pain and suffering. Why?

Human suffering vs. animal suffering

In many ways, the problem of animal suffering is even more problematic than the problem of human suffering, because many of the standard explanations for evil are worthless when applied to animals.

For example, Christianity teaches us “It’s our own fault we suffer, it is a consequence of sin and the fall of man, and we are all sinners like Adam.” But animals did not sin against God, and therefore should not be punished as equals. They seem to suffer only as collateral damage in a conflict between man and God.

Christianity also teaches us that, “Humans must suffer in order to experience free will,” but what is free will to an animal?

Or Christianity reasons, “It’s okay that we suffer, because God will reward us eternally in heaven,” but these animals receive no such reward.

And the overwhelming majority of animal suffering takes place out of view. If an animal suffers and no one sees it, is there a good reason to allow it? If not, how shall we excuse our benevolent God from the gratuitous amount of suffering he created?

Do animals feel pain?

If the innocent are made to suffer without cause, then God cannot be benevolent, for a benevolent God would seek to eliminate any and all suffering that wasn’t absolutely necessary.

The believer is then placed in the unenviable position of having to defend why a good God would allow such bad things to happen to innocent creatures. One such explanation is to completely deny that animals feel pain.

17th-century Catholic philosopher René Descartes argued that animals were just like machines, and they could not feel pain because they did not have a spiritual mind (an idea that later became widely accepted).

Modern theistic philosophers like Michael Murray still argue that animals cannot feel pain at the same level humans do because they lack self-awareness (a highly controversial philosophy).

Dog

Professor Bernard Rollin disagrees with them, facetiously recommending that anyone who denies that animals can feel pain should test their hypothesis by using a pair of vice grips to squeeze the balls of a large doberman.

While animals can’t tell us directly that they feel pain, it can be logically inferred by their similar reactions to it. If you’ve ever accidentally stepped on a dog’s toes or tail, you know they respond to pain. Animals vocalize their pain, they withdraw from it, and they will even change their behavior to avoid it. Animals can also experience the opposite of pain, like a dog who enjoys having his belly rubbed.

We can also infer that animals suffer pain because they share much of the same anatomy and neurological makeup as humans, and they even respond positively to the same pain relievers we use. All these analogous behaviors and physical similarities make it obvious that animals feel pain, and there are also numerous peer-reviewed studies supporting this conclusion.

Speaking from personal experience, I once witnessed a dog get run over by a car, and he yowled in agony for several minutes in much the same way a human would. I can’t look at that evidence and say, “That dog didn’t really experience pain because he has no soul,” or “That would’ve been significantly more painful if he was actually self-aware.” No matter the degree, this dog was clearly capable of suffering. And for all we know, not being self-aware may make pain even more confusing and stressful.

Is God guilty of animal cruelty?

Many diseases and defects are endemic to specific kinds of animals. It’s almost as if predation and accidents alone were not enough suffering, so God designed specialized bacteria, viruses, parasites and diseases to multiply the suffering of animals.

Tasmanian Devil Facial Tumour DiseaseTake, for example, the Tasmanian Devil we discussed earlier. Even at birth, his odds of dying outnumber his odds of surviving. Those that do survive are more than likely to contract Devil Facial Tumour Disease, a fatal contagious cancer that causes large growths on the devil’s face, making it difficult for them to eat or see, and putting the entire species at risk of extinction.

Why? Have they done something to offend God? Did they eat of the forbidden fruit? Does their suffering help increase their faith? Or help them to experience the full extent of free will?

And there are many other diseases and plagues that are endemic among specific birds, reptiles, mammals, insects, etc. If God crated this world for humans — as some sort of test or necessary experience — then why not just design diseases to target us? 

Can we trust a god who abuses animals?

The fact that innocent animals suffer through no fault of their own should be very disconcerting to the faithful, for if God is willing to allow innocence to suffer without cause or reward, why should we believe we are any different?

God is essentially saying, “Sure, I make other innocent things suffer for no reason, but not you! You are different! You may be guilty of sin, but you have a soul! You suffer for a purpose!” Lucky us!

To use a parable: A woman once began dating a handsome man, only to later find out he had a ferocious temper, and had beaten and killed several dogs. He tried to reassure her by saying, “Baby, those were just soulless dogs! I would never do that to you!” But in the end she left him, because even if he never laid a hand on her, she would always fear that he would, and did not want to be with someone who could justify cruelty to innocent creatures.

Do all dogs go to heaven?

We might be able to justify the suffering of animals if we suggest that these animals go to heaven, but most theologians have ruled out this possibility:

“Our souls are rational–theirs aren’t–and ours are rational because they’re spiritual, not material.”
Catholic.com

“…if the word ‘soul’ is used to refer to an immortal soul that one day will inhabit heaven or hell, then no, animals may not be said to possess a soul. This is the only conclusion that can be drawn, respecting the instruction on the subject found within the Word of God.”
ApologeticsPress.org

The Bible does seem to segregate men from the animals:

Not all flesh is the same: People have one kind of flesh, animals have another, birds another and fish another.
1 Corinthians 15:39

But these people blaspheme in matters they do not understand. They are like unreasoning animals, creatures of instinct, born only to be caught and destroyed, and like animals they too will perish.
2 Peter 2:12

So it doesn’t matter if a 40-year-old chimpanzee is much smarter and has suffered longer than a 3-day-old baby, if they both die, it’s the human that goes to heaven and the chimpanzee that “perishes.”

What if animals did go to heaven?

tumblr_kr2tk66FEH1qzmd3ao1_500_large

Just for kicks, let’s imagine that animals do go to heaven. This raises a lot of interesting questions, like: Would they all go to heaven? Elephants? Horses? Apes? Chimps? Dogs? Cats? Snakes? Rats? Birds? Mice? Mosquitoes? Ants? Gnats? Plants? Amoebas? Bacteria? Or does God draw the line somewhere?

If single celled organisms are allowed into heaven, do all the cells that make up my body go to heaven? Or just the soul they hosted? (Because they have served me well, and I think they deserve a vacation from all my abuse.)

If single celled organisms are not allowed into heaven, how many cells must an animal have before it does qualify for heaven? 10? 1000? 1,000,000?

Or perhaps it’s not a matter of cell count, but intelligence. If that’s the case, is that 40-year-old chimpanzee worth more to God than the 3-day-old baby?

AnglerfishAnd what about ocean life? Do whales and dolphins go to heaven? How about fish? Even ugly fish? Like the anglerfish? Or do ugly fish go to hell? Does heaven have an ocean for these occupants? Or do they just float around us in heaven? Even the ugly ones? Because I don’t want ugly fish floating around me in heaven.

Finally, what about extinct animals? Will heaven be filled with friendly t-rexs, pteradons and trilobites?

Allowing animals into heaven may help us feel better about their suffering, but it’s not very biblical, and it seems to raise more issues than it solves.

Is God obligated to show us grace?

One more explanation I ran across while researching this question was the Calvinistic idea that animals, like humans, are basically deprived creatures that should feel lucky that God shows them any grace at all. But I would argue that God’s benevolence obligates Him to extend grace to His innocent creations.

The argument of last resort

When all else fails, you can still reason that there is an answer, we just don’t know what it is. This reasoning sounds like this…

We do know that God is just and that when we get to heaven we will find ourselves in complete agreement with His decision on this issue, whatever it may be.
GotQuestions.org

This is like saying, “Never mind that God’s actions are nonsensical and cruel, just keep believing, and when you die, you’ll find there really was a good reason for all those animals to suffer, just as there really was a good reason for God to allow all those children to be raped and murdered! There’s no absurdity God can’t explain! It can all be rationalized and marginalized in the afterlife!”

Assuming we approve of the idea that all nonsense can be explained away in the hereafter, then all religions become equally viable, since all their absurdities (the reasons we object to them) can also be explained away in the afterlife. The reason we reject these other faiths is because we find something about them that we consider illogical, and we rule them out. Likewise, if we find something about Abraham’s God to be illogical, we should rule it (or Him) out.

Conclusion

I can only imagine three scenarios in which one might justify the suffering of animals:

1) Animals don’t actually suffer. They certainly appear to suffer, so if they don’t, we have been deceived.

2) Animals deserve to suffer. Since animals can’t intentionally do evil, the only plausible explanation is to suppose that before they were animals they had the mental capacity to sin. But if animals don’t have immortal souls, this doesn’t seem very likely (and most Christians don’t believe in reincarnation).

3) Animals are rewarded for their suffering. Most Christian theologians have ruled this out, but even if true, God is still evil for making innocent creatures suffer without cause.

Dead baby gorillaTherefore, if God exists, He appears to be a sadist, for He creates suffering because it brings Him pleasure. God was not forced to design animals, or to give them the capacity to suffer, or to design predation or specialized bacteria or viruses or parasites… but He did.

Still… we don’t know what we don’t know, and God may have a good explanation. Assuming He does, He is still guilty of placing us in a deceptive environment, one that leads us to conclude He is evil, for only evil creates innocence and leads it to suffer. We only know what we know, and what He has given us to know is a creation that seems to bare false witness against its good creator, which leads us to incorrect conclusions about imperative matters.

If there is no God, the fact that animals suffer as much as man is nature’s testimony to the fact that she does not distinguish between man and animal. Nature has no mind to respect one and curse the other, they are all the same.

Surely the fate of human beings is like that of the animals; the same fate awaits them both: As one dies, so dies the other. All have the same breath; humans have no advantage over animals.
~Ecclesiastes 3:19

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326 Responses to 42. Why does God allow animals to suffer?

  1. Anonymous says:

    There is no god.

  2. Anonymous says:

    First let me say I love animals. Any type of abuse, suffering ect., that they go through breaks my heart. I just lost my best friend, who suffered terribly. He was a boxer, and unfortunately came from a puppy mill so he was never very healthy, and health problems worsened as time went by. He was 5 when he died. I’ll say this and I’d bet every cent I have on that I truly believe animals have souls. My Rocky had a beautiful soul. (And animals feel pain, as well as loneness, joy, fear, and a ton of other physical and emotional feelings.) God doesn’t cause pain on animals humans do. In one way or another a human being or a group of human beings are responsible for any illness or what ever horrific situation an animal is in. We will never get the answer that we are looking for because Our brains are not capable of understanding. God intelligence level is so much higher the ours therefore we are not capable of understanding. God is loving and merciful. I pray for you to let go of all this, and open you heart up and let your Heavenly Father in.

    • Pebble says:

      I’ll admit that in some ways, God is a “loving and merciful God”. However, “letting go” the fact that billions of animals are suffering everyday isn’t something a group of us can easily do – much easier said, than done. We can rely on God to heal and ease our pain somewhat, sometimes. However, we’re made to feel pain when there’s injustice done and we will toss at night thinking and knowing there isn’t much we can do, except to hope for the mass public to be educated and to grant compassion to ALL non-human beings.

  3. Anonymous says:

    What a crock of shit. There is no god if he allows innocent animals to suffer. And of course they feel pain, physically proven, and no they don’t deserve to suffer. No thanks, not interest in a god like that.

  4. Maryann says:

    Evil came into the world because Adam and Eve disobeyed God. God created all animals and other creatures before He created humans and I believe He loves them very much and have given Him great joy. I have thought of this a long time, animals and other creatures like sea creatures etc. have never sinned against God so why is suffering allowed on them? I can answer that creatures do have a soul. How do I know this? Because our good God let me know, and this is what happened to me. In Aug.2012, my cat Sen Sen died at 18 years old natural causes. She died at 10:00 AM and at around 8:00 pm my husband and I heard her meow in the sunroom where she died and knew it was her because there are no other cats that lived with us. Now, the same year in Sept. our yellow lab died at 15 years old of epilepsy which she had all her life. With these two animals that I loved so much crushed my heart that I cannot put into words, but God was good and let me know that their souls were in heaven. After grieving every day for 3 months, one morning at 5:30am, I heard her bark loudly in the foyer and then one minute later, she was barking out on the porch which is outside our foyer. The following year in Dec 2013 we had a feral cat that was a barn cat named Tiggy. When she became sick, 3 months before of kidney problems which the vet diagnosed, we brought her in our house and nursed her with homeopathic medicines but her time came and she passed away, That same month, I felt her also jump on my bed and I knew also her soul was free and with our Lord and happy. I believe there is suffering because no creature or human is as innocent as our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ who suffered like nobody else has suffered so we can all be saved from everlasting death. So, do animals have a soul? yes they do and all go to heaven because they are free of sin.

    • Hi Maryann,

      So sorry for the loss of your beloved pets, they can become a very special part of our lives.

      “…no creature or human is as innocent as our Lord … So, do animals have a soul? yes they do and all go to heaven because they are free of sin.”

      So… all animals must suffer because they are not innocent… yet, they go to heaven… because they are free of sin. I’m confused. Are they innocent or not?

      If they are guilty, what sin are they guilty of committing? They can no more contemplate the morality of their actions than an infant.

      500Q

    • Razman says:

      hmn….. I love people who are caring to others, your feelings towards your late pets shows how caring you are, your care to Human may be greater…..

  5. Dr Datye says:

    The quantum of pain humans inflict on self, on fellow human beings, and on animals and plants in general relying on antiquated ideas written in religious scriptures by who knows whom, is really appalling. Humans killed animals for food. Beyond that it is plain cruelty in the garb of hunting, shooting, maiming, experimenting without any remorse. Christianity talks about evil – left center right without ever understanding that Human is the devil/evil incarnate. It is time to leave religion behind and walk on righteous path of self realisation.

    • Karla Sanchez says:

      I completely agree. Animals are such innocent creatures and the human race has been abusing them for thousands of years and most of the times just for fun. The only evil creature in this world is the human being. I have started losing my faith after all the cruelty and sadism inflected on those poor innocent souls. They are the one who should go straight to heaven.

  6. Desiree says:

    I really think you have the wrong idea about God. First off God is loving forgiving and just, He doesn’t cause pain. The world we live in has suffering and pain because of Man that’s why God gave us Heaven to go to. We just have to choose him and honor him to get there. Animals are capable of Love and anything that can Love is from God which has a soul. Otherwise animals wouldn’t be capable of love towards each other or humans. They also wouldn’t have personalities which distinguishes them as an individual not a mass production. I also want to mention the lamb was considered a sacrifice in the Bible. If animals meant nothing to God it wouldn’t be a sacrifice which means to give up something that is very dear to you. He also wouldn’t send his Son if he didn’t feel the need to end it and show his love and sacrifice in return. He sent Noah to save two animal of each kind so there would still be animals after the flood, He obviously cared for them. The sufferings of this world are from Man and everything we reap we sew. Unfortunately animals have done nothing to deserve this but are in the cross fire. But if we didn’t suffer here Heaven wouldn’t be such a prized reward. It’s that simple people.

  7. Our Father Who Art On Earth says:

    If there were a god who allowed animals to suffer as they do, then it is evil incarnate. Just the same as a factory farm worker who ignores co-workers torturing or raping or beating animals in their control. Just the same as people who turn their attention elsewhere when hearing a child crying muffled in the next house over.

    It is more plausible that there is no god, or that it is evolving out of the chaos of the cosmos. And it’s going to have a lot to answer for. I believe that the Big Bang was the result of god finally coming into being then realizing the hell it had unleashed on creatures in the cosmos, and it blew apart. Over and over this will continue. Until we find a way to free the evolving god from its own insanity.

    I stopped believing in god when I was 7. I asked my parents why, when Jesus drove the money changers out of the temple, he didn’t free the little lambs and doves imprisoned there to be burned to death. The idea of that tormented me. My mother made up a bunch of nonsense. But later my father pulled me aside and spoke to me with a True Father’s love. He was kind to all little animals, and to children, as well as very strong. We would find sad little city birds and care for them. He was so kind and loving that I didn’t want any parts of a “god” or “savior” that wasn’t at least as much so.

    My father used Socratic Method to ask me what I thought, and he comforted me as I struggled with questions. I am a better woman as a result.

    I am of Nordic and Sami ancestry. I instinctively rejected worship of imaginary fathers for striving to honor my living actual father and be worthy of his unconditional love. I guess if people didn’t know that kind of fatherly love they might believe in pie in the sky stories. But any man who claims animals don’t suffer is a psychopath and should be made Outlaw, as in the Havamal.

  8. Anonymous says:

    ALL EVIL NEEDS TO SUCCEED IS FOR A GOD TO DO NOTHING!

  9. Jon says:

    I would like to think we grow into what we are by starting off at the very bottom. From the smallest form of life we live and die only to live again as something else and mature our soul into what we are and what awaits.

    I believe in a God and a heaven but I don’t believe it is eternal. As I don’t believe the worst human being will suffor for eternity either. I feel karma is a strange but real thing. But how can we blame evil if evil is all a person knows. Is evil a chemical imbalance in the brain or is it an emotional decision based only from experience and external inpact of what you’ve experienced in life.

    I strive to be an honest person who can change the world for the better and minimize suffering if animals as they’re are truly innocent creatures.

    I can’t put my figure on what it was that made me this way. Maybe it was my family dog who I bonded with as a child and view all animals similarly as many pets are only taught to be mean and are not that easy by nature. Maybe it’s a mix of being raised a Catholic and going to a Catholic school until fourth grade but then transitioning back to a public school. I believe in God and heaven but with a scientific mind. I don’t follow much of the Catholic religion other than lent and a few other things.

    I can’t truly explain in my head why people are evil but I do feel it is the people who can’t find a balance between religion and science, or the people who lack self education of life, whether it is understanding the world and life lessons through education or teachings of religion are who the ones who lack compassion for all living things and lack the ability to empathize/sympothize with them. This leads ultimately to greed, selfishness, and everything the nagatives of this world consists of.

    Maybe at some point are mature souls will be able to bring heaven to earth.

  10. Anonymous says:

    God is not loving if he permits innocent living things to suffer. Such as babies and animals😦

  11. melissa says:

    VERY well said, and i so often come to the identical conclusion. And this is coming from one who has been saved. Although I’m a “christian”, I STILL have questions and issues with the God I professed a faith in. The truth of the matter in my opinion is this: The amount of Godly presence in ones life depends on that person. We all have a certain level of relation to God just because of who He is. At large, the majority of mankind pays no mind to the principles of God, much less centering their life around them as well as their childrens lives, grandchildren and on and on. Again, if mankind was appointed to hold dominion over all animals on earth as stated in Genesis 1:26 , I view this as being more of a spiritual dominion or leadership that mankind has over all other forms of flesh on earth. In other words, the moral depravity of man and disobedience to God in the garden of Eden is what brought the flesh to evolving to what it is today. No one is living in the spirit as first intended by God, as stated in Romans Therefore, we lost the ability to depend solely on God and God alone for our needs which would explain why he rendered the remainder of creation to be at our disposal for food, as well as other comforts and needs related to the flesh. Once sin entered our DNA, basically ALL flesh became doomed to fend for himself, due to the wedge of sin now placed between God and his creation. Essentially, a pact was made with the prince of lies by not obeying God and we are paying the price for it as are the animals in which we have dominion over because they bear the brunt spiritually for our lack of dependence and rejection of God. . Their suffering is just the remnant of our spiritual condition , which completely lacks Gods direction for most. So, the short answer would be; upon our submission to sin, we were put on our own but with an option of being redeemed which very few have chosen to take. Thus, leaving our animals to suffer for our spiritual condition.

  12. Anonymous says:

    Thank you for writing this article. I’ve been struggling with this and it has tested everything I used to feel so secure in believing. I have lost my faith because I don’t believe that any feeling entity, call it god, if you will, could intentionally allow innocent beings to suffer. I cannot believe in a cruel god and I will not follow the teachings of a cruel god.

  13. Nanci says:

    I’m so glad you wrote this because it has eased my mind on the way I think. I will say that, although I believe in a God, higher being, whatever, I cannot like, little own love, or follow anything that allows animals to be born hurt or to be abused. Reading this article has made me fully realize that there is no justification for it to be allowed to happen. (sorry for my bad grammar)

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