A Hermeneutic of Stewardship:

The Biblical View of Animals

Presented by Steve W. Lemke
at the 1994 Evangelical Theology Society meeting in Chicago


The Cartesian Majority View

        What is the status accorded to animals in the Bible? Is their pain of any concern for ethics and theodicy? Will animals share in redemption? These questions have been raised repeatedly by theologians and philosophers. The central issue is the nature of animal consciousness. If animals experience pain as do humans, then their pain is of moral concern and compounds the problem of innocents related to theodicy. The majority view in Western thought is the Cartesian tradition, which draws a sharp dualism between humans and animals. In this view, animals as senseless brutes who deserve no moral concern. This paper will argue against that position.

        One modern-day advocate of the Cartesian view is Peter Carruthers, who in his article "Brute Experience" (1) has posed a unique argument that animal pain is not an appropriate object of moral concern. Arguing against Thomas Nagel's advocacy of the subjectivity of animal experience, (2) Carruthers rejects the notion that animal experience has any appropriate analogy in human experience. Rather than Nagel's attempt to explain what it is like to be a bat, Carruthers argues that animal experience and some human experience "feel like nothing" because they are "nonconscious experiences." (3) Carruthers defends this thesis in three interrelated arguments which could be called the Argument for Nonconscious Experience, the Argument for Moral Insensitivity to Nonconscious Pain, and the Argument for Moral Callousness to Animal Pain. (4)   C. S. Lewis has also suggested that at least many (and perhaps all) animals suffer no pain because they are merely sentient, without any real selfhood. (5)

An Alternative View

        If the arguments of Carruthers and Lewis were correct, animal pain would not be an issue of Christian moral concern. But I believe these arguments are fallacious, as I have elsewhere argued. At stake in this discussion are a number of issues, including (at least) one's doctrine of creation (especially of animals), a theodicy that accounts for animal pain, the anthropological question of the uniqueness of persons, and the moral implications of animal pain.

        Although Carruthers' dualistic perspective provides comforting errors for Christian theism, I have endeavored to demonstrate that Carruther's viewpoint is fatally flawed. There are many alternative accounts to that of Carruthers, but I will propose my own. The alternative view that I would offer to Carruthers' account is not fully developed here, but I will at least endeavor to sketch out an alternative.

        First, allow me to outline my presuppositions and basic ontological stance. I would characterize my ontological position as hierarchical personalism, grounded in the worldview of evangelical Christianity. (6) My epistemology offers a holistic balance of rationalism, empiricism,