Can William Lane Craig feel pain?

| 32 Comments

I haven’t the foggiest idea, but I recently saw a video, which you may link to here, in which Mr. Craig, a Christian apologist, argues that (nonhuman) animals cannot feel pain but only responses to stimuli. Or if they can feel pain, then they do not know it is pain. And if they can feel pain but do not know it is pain then it is not pain. Or something.

My unsolicited advice to Mr. Craig: Study today’s (Nov. 16) Non Sequitur cartoon very, very carefully.

32 Comments

It certainly is an interesting concept excluding, of course, Billy Craig from the discussion; he’s an idiot.

in a YouTube video of a panel discussion floating around Neil deGrasse Tyson observes that the brightest bonobo chimps are equivalent to a human two-year old allowing for a 1% difference in DNA. (I’m being very simplistic, here, but follow along!) So, Neil, imagines “another civilization that is 1% different from us but for whom our brightest equal their two-year old. And so it goes, turtles or aliens all the way up. His notion is that an “advanced” alien civilization might not even recognize us as “intelligent” in their terms. I once heard a similar comparison about ants to humans as humans to “the others.”

And, finally, along these lines I recall a science fiction story (can’t remember the title or author) where Earth is “invaded” by aliens who simply ignore us and go about their business. All attempts to communicate with them fail and ultimately the aliens prevail in colonizing the planet much as the Europeans colonized the New World which I think was the point of the story.

Anyway, good stuff, except for Craig who is still an idiot.

And if they can feel pain but do not know it is pain then it is not pain.

When we listen to WLC we do not know that what is said is the result of rational thought.

I suspect that he’d do better not to surmise too much from the apparent low level of rational thought in non-human animals…

Glen Davidson

Any number of animals is smarter than this loser called Craig.

No one would have believed in the last years of the nineteenth century that this world was being watched keenly and closely by intelligences greater than man’s and yet as mortal as his own; that as men busied themselves about their various concerns they were scrutinised and studied, perhaps almost as narrowly as a man with a microscope might scrutinise the transient creatures that swarm and multiply in a drop of water. With infinite complacency men went to and fro over this globe about their little affairs, serene in their assurance of their empire over matter. It is possible that the infusoria under the microscope do the same. No one gave a thought to the older worlds of space as sources of human danger, or thought of them only to dismiss the idea of life upon them as impossible or improbable. It is curious to recall some of the mental habits of those departed days. At most terrestrial men fancied there might be other men upon Mars, perhaps inferior to themselves and ready to welcome a missionary enterprise. Yet across the gulf of space, minds that are to our minds as ours are to those of the beasts that perish, intellects vast and cool and unsympathetic, regarded this earth with envious eyes, and slowly and surely drew their plans against us. And early in the twentieth century came the great disillusionment.

–H. G. Wells, opening paragraph of The War of the Worlds

Might that not speak to the fallacy of the Christian’s so-called philosophy of dominion over the animal kingdom? Perhaps that was simply an excuse by early Christians to justify their eating animals that do feel pain, so they can ignore it since they have dominion over those animals. Wasn’t dominion intended to mean caretaker, not dominator?

It’s actually kind of funny (in a sick way) to see Craig reverting to the behaviorism of the first half of the 20th century. B.F. Skinner would be proud of him.

Just Bob said:

No one would have believed in the last years of the nineteenth century that this world was being watched keenly and closely by intelligences greater than man’s and yet as mortal as his own; that as men busied themselves about their various concerns they were scrutinised and studied, perhaps almost as narrowly as a man with a microscope might scrutinise the transient creatures that swarm and multiply in a drop of water. With infinite complacency men went to and fro over this globe about their little affairs, serene in their assurance of their empire over matter. It is possible that the infusoria under the microscope do the same. No one gave a thought to the older worlds of space as sources of human danger, or thought of them only to dismiss the idea of life upon them as impossible or improbable. It is curious to recall some of the mental habits of those departed days. At most terrestrial men fancied there might be other men upon Mars, perhaps inferior to themselves and ready to welcome a missionary enterprise. Yet across the gulf of space, minds that are to our minds as ours are to those of the beasts that perish, intellects vast and cool and unsympathetic, regarded this earth with envious eyes, and slowly and surely drew their plans against us. And early in the twentieth century came the great disillusionment.

–H. G. Wells, opening paragraph of The War of the Worlds

I prefer the Jeff Wayne musical version myself.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OP1pIb43AUI

One should notice that the very same ID clowns who praise Craig are quick to blame Darwin to have beaten his puppy when he was a child although he felt regret about it as he descried in his autobiography:

Once as a very little boy, whilst at the day-school, or before that time, I acted cruelly, for I beat a puppy I believe, simply from enjoying the sense of power; but the beating could not have been severe, for the puppy did not howl, of which I feel sure as the spot was near to the house. This act lay heavily on my conscience, as is shown by my remembering the exact spot where the crime was committed. It probably lay all the heavier from my love of dogs being then, and for a long time afterwards, a passion. Dogs seemed to know this, for I was an adept in robbing their love from their masters.

(the part creationists quote-mine is high-lighted)

Don’t have time to listen to the debate – I’ll assume the representations of Craig’s position are fair.

Can William Lane Craig feel pain? Sure.

Empathy? Maybe not so much.

Or if they can feel pain, then they do not know it is pain.

Well of course they don’t know the English (or other human language) word for it! :p

(That’s aside from the occasional gorilla that might know how to say it in sign language, or a parrot that might actually associate the word with the feeling, etc.)

Henry

Why do animals avoid repeating previously painful experiences when they have no awareness of having had painful experiences?

I’m reminded of what my old Marine Invertebrate Prof used to say- “No brain, no pain.” Not speaking of most animals, but of the non-Cephalopod invertebrates, having only ganglia, he would argue that they probably lacked the capacity to feel pain.

Maybe he’s talking about bread.

Does being an idiot hurt?

One would think that someone educated enough in a field as formally rigorous and logic-oriented as Philosophy would be resistant to this kind of thinking, but then again this is William Lane Craig.

I’ve heard other people express similar ideas about animals of all kinds, that “they don’t REALLY feel pain, not like we do.” It makes me wonder how many of them have ever owned even a dog. While you can argue that it’s easy to project a humanized-view onto them, even a critical mind can observe that dogs react to pain and suffering (both physically and emotionally) in a way that’s not very distinguishable from a human, especially a child. My dog seeks me out when he’s feeling bored, he lays his head in my lap when he’s frustrated or in pain, he enjoys spending time with me and other members of my family and visibly suffers when he can’t. He also displays pangs of want or longing when deprived of play, human food, or kept away from interesting but dangerous items that catch his fancy. Dogs show reactions to these situations that are akin to our own internal experiences of pain, suffering, loss, or desire. It’s even demonstrable that dogs who are deprived of happiness and mistreated or stressed show many of the same symptoms of suffering from emotional damage that humans do. Confusion, trepidation, mistrustfulness, aggression, disinterest, vocalizing as if in physical pain even if there’s no physical stimulus to provoke it.

The opposite is also true: when things are good, they’re happy. They show affection, elation, eagerness, etc. Their behavior is different when being put through different emotional states as we’d expect if they do indeed experience them. While this is more than enough to convince me that dogs have an awareness of their pain and suffering (and I feel they have the same states in other creatures in their “pack”), it might not convince everybody. What it should do is provoke an empathic response. Their behavior and reactions are sufficiently human-like to make you think twice before subjecting them to harm.

Dogs don’t even pass the mirror test. Neither do very young children (and certainly, a fetus wouldn’t). What are the implications of that for WLC’s stance on other issues?

DavidK astutely observed: Wasn’t dominion intended to mean caretaker, not dominator?

Yes, absolutely! Jacob/Israel is recorded in Genesis 49 cursing his sons Simeon and Levi because they maimed oxen:

5 “Simeon and Levi are two of a kind;

their weapons are instruments of violence.

6 May I never join in their meetings;

may I never be a party to their plans.

For in their anger they murdered men,

and they crippled oxen just for sport.

7 A curse on their anger, for it is fierce;

a curse on their wrath, for it is cruel.

I will scatter them among the descendants of Jacob;

I will disperse them throughout Israel. (NLT)

That verse doesn’t quite say that animals experience no pain, but it does say that hurting animals “just for sport” is a rotten thing to do.

ksplawn said:

One would think that someone educated enough in a field as formally rigorous and logic-oriented as Philosophy would be resistant to this kind of thinking, but then again this is William Lane Craig.

Who has left philosophy behind as he’s become merely a high-sounding apologist. In apologetics anything goes.

Richard B. Hoppe said:

Who has left philosophy behind as he’s become merely a high-sounding apologist. In apologetics anything goes.

Apologetics is literally the formalized practice of starting at the conclusion and working backwards. Once I figured that out, any respect I had for it as a field of “study” went out the window and nothing has since been able to convince me of its utility for settling anything.

Carl Drews said:

DavidK astutely observed: Wasn’t dominion intended to mean caretaker, not dominator?

Yes, absolutely! Jacob/Israel is recorded in Genesis 49 cursing his sons Simeon and Levi because they maimed oxen:

…

That verse doesn’t quite say that animals experience no pain, but it does say that hurting animals “just for sport” is a rotten thing to do.

The tradition of respecting animals is deeply ingrained in Judaism and Hebrew history. It even figures into their dietary laws; unnecessary cruelty has to be eliminated or else the meat isn’t kosher. The Old Testament takes it pretty seriously in more places than Genesis.

ksplawn said:

Apologetics is literally the formalized practice of starting at the conclusion and working backwards. Once I figured that out, any respect I had for it as a field of “study” went out the window and nothing has since been able to convince me of its utility for settling anything.

Can I quote you on this?

Wasn’t dominion intended to mean caretaker, not dominator?

Exactly.

“A righteous man cares for the needs of his animal, but the kindest acts of the wicked are cruel.”

-Proverbs 12:10

dalehusband said:

Can I quote you on this?

You just did.

Forgive my laziness, but I can’t be bothered to weatch WLC for even a few moments, the man has to be the most overrated thinker this side of Plantinga. How does he explain my dog’s howls, which sure sound like pain to me, when he is cut or otherwise injured?

I find it hard to believe that anyone would doubt animals feel pain. Pain is a source of information that some stimulus is doing damage, “stop doing that” is what it says. Any animal capable of learning in the slightest degree would need a nervous system that registered input in varying degrees and “pain” is the upper end of the scale. Do jelly fish feel pain? Can they learn from it? Without much of a nervous system or central processor I doubt it. Can lobsters feel pain when you put them in boiling water? Probably since a lobster could respond to such a stimulus and avoid it in the wild. I find the attitude that only humans feel pain to be one of those human chauvanisms that are generated by people who don’t think on a biological continuum. If we feel pain why not chimps and dolphins and dogs etc?

The question he’s posing is not so much whether animals sense pain signals, but whether they know what’s going on enough to feel even worse for the fact that they’re in pain. Whether they suffer from being in pain, or just respond by thrashing about automatically like a lightbulb glowing when you flick a switch.

If they didn’t feel worse then what point would it serve? If animals don’t feel pain then why do they respond positively when you aleviate that pain? When kittens get eye infections and you first begin to treat them they fight the treatment but after a few treatments they accept the medicine with little fight. I can only assume they have learned that the medicine makes their eyes feel better. If they didn’t register pain as an ongoing thing they wouldn’t learn to accept the treatment to fix that pain. Yes animals feel pain and dogs are smart enough to know that humans can sometime fix it. How else would you explain that? I think this whole discussion is people failing to admit that animals can feel like they do. That would make the christians not feel so superior if animals could suffer just like us “higher” creatures.

One of the unmistakable impressions I get repeatedly from the pushers of pseudoscience, such as Craig and the entire spectrum of ID/creationists and their campfollowers, is that they have no capacity for embarrassment at being completely wrong about basic facts and evidence. They simply double down on their ideology, misconceptions, and misinformation while accusing the science community of being an ideological cabal out to thwart them.

Something is missing from the “wiring” of “philosophers” like Craig that would compel other humans and non-human creatures to actually check things out. They live inside their own minds, tying themselves into epistemological and ontological knots in order to justify not looking at, even as they simultaneously deny, the facts in the world around them. If it is “logical” it is right, contrary evidence be damned.

They are never embarrassed when confronted with unequivocal evidence that what they just claimed is wrong; they just simply deny and reassert their claims. They unabashedly project their own tactics onto others, accusing others of being blind to reason and evidence, even as they themselves never look at evidence or correct their misconceptions and misrepresentations.

What kind of brain damage is that? Is it caused by total immersion in a subculture; or do people with that kind of brain damage gravitate to such subcultures?

This formalized pseudoscience has been going on since at least the 1970s. Duane Gish and Henry Morris never seemed to be embarrassed by being dead wrong. Dembski and the entire crowd at the DI are not embarrassed by being dead wrong. Ken Ham is not embarrassed by being dead wrong. Craig is not embarrassed by being dead wrong. None of their camp followers over at UD are ever embarrassed at being dead wrong.

There does not seem to be any sort of self-corrective pressures within their neurological systems that would cause any of them to reread or double check anything. It always comes down to bald assertions and “irrefutable logic” that trumps everything else. That has to be brain damage of some sort. Animals who get reality wrong in the wild don’t survive very well. We humans seem to have provided a comfortable environment in which some humans can retreat from reality and still survive and thrive on fantasy.

If they didn’t feel worse then what point would it serve? If animals don’t feel pain then why do they respond positively when you aleviate that pain?

What point do signals of harm in an amoeba do? Yet most of us doubt that amoebas truly feel pain–at the least, we have little cause to suppose that they do.

It would seem that bacteria, protozoa, and archaea do get “harm” and “damage” signals that lead to aversive behaviors that, at the very least, don’t obviously involve consciousness of pain.

Naturally, this doesn’t do anything to change the fact that, evolutionarily and physiologically, we have every reason to suppose that chimps do feel pain much like we do. Chimps, but also dogs, cats, birds, and I would extend it to at least reptiles, probably to fish. Flies, ticks, planaria, nematodes? It really isn’t clear where it might end, if it does (but could a single cell experience pain as we do? Is that possible? Maybe, but it’s not clear how).

Plants, animals, single cells, and any relatively independently-acting robots need signals indicating harm to themselves. That seems clear. Why it would ever need to be conscious, though, is the real question. I doubt that it really needs to be conscious in any organism, but, given that we consciously experience pain, the only reasonable assumption is that at least most vertebrates probably do also.

Glen Davidson

Mary H said:

If they didn’t feel worse then what point would it serve? If animals don’t feel pain then why do they respond positively when you aleviate that pain? When kittens get eye infections and you first begin to treat them they fight the treatment but after a few treatments they accept the medicine with little fight. I can only assume they have learned that the medicine makes their eyes feel better. If they didn’t register pain as an ongoing thing they wouldn’t learn to accept the treatment to fix that pain. Yes animals feel pain and dogs are smart enough to know that humans can sometime fix it. How else would you explain that? I think this whole discussion is people failing to admit that animals can feel like they do. That would make the christians not feel so superior if animals could suffer just like us “higher” creatures.

Whether animals can respond to pain and whether they consciously experience pain are two different questions.

I’m fairly sure that kittens experience pain consciously. I’m also fairly sure that you are correct that they learn to associate, in your example, eye treatments with relief of symptoms. The perfectly good alternate hypothesis would be that they simply habituate to the treatment, but I’m almost positive that the highly cephalized cat nervous system, which is extremely good at learning and modifying behavior according to learning, could “figure that out”. Kittens are not fully developed adult cats but they show plenty of learning.

However, while a “philosopher” who argues that animals definitively can’t feel pain is actually a mere buffoonish dullwit and incompetent propagandist, seeking to promote a resentment-based post-modern authoritarian ideology, but actually succeeding only in making look even slightly more moronic than it looked the instant before he launched his efforts, a philosopher who pointed out that I can’t really objectively be sure what kittens feel would be 100% correct. Purely hypothetically, they could be solving complex equations in their fuzzy little heads. Or they could be emotionless robots that coincidentally display behaviors that we take as indicating emotional states. However, I think that they experience emotional states. Furthermore, I am much less concerned that lobsters experience what I consider emotional states. (I will admit a cultural bias here - boiling lobsters is part of my culture. But I have valid, non-lobsterist reasons as well.)

I’m a species-ist, but so is every single animal rights advocate. Not one person anywhere has ever argued that all metazoans be given human social rights. Find me an animal rights activist who doesn’t call the exterminator to get rats and cockroaches out of his house, let alone one who contracts a parasitic worm infestation but won’t take the medicine that would stop his anus from itching, to prevent harm to the parasitic worms. (This comment is likely to provoke a raging, brain-exploding response from someone who pretends to expresing scorn at the “ridiculous” comment but who is actually experiencing cognitive dissonance that was provoked but the terse but effective critique of his hypocrisy. I can put this prediction right here, in the middle of the comment, and it won’t necessarily prevent it from happening.) A true non-speciesist does not exist. Rather, some attention-seeking controversy junkies pretend to argue that a very limited number of highly cepalized and “cute” mammals and birds deserve more welfare protection than we already give them. In some cases, I think they’re right for the wrong reason. Some post-modern agricultural practices are excessively cruel, for example. However, since their true goal is to rationalize aggressive behavior against weak targets while absurdly declaring themselves ethically superior, all the while evading any confrontation with tougher targets (why the cancer research lab instead of the slaughterhouse - do you really think the rest of us can’t see how silly that is?), they’re right for the wrong reason.

But anyway, why do I think kittens feel pain, (as well as, fortunately, many positive sensations), since I can never, ever, personally experience what a kitten experiences?

In the end, at some level, we all fall back on the assumptions or heuristics that are intuitively acceptable. Science is built on basic assumptions. I find those basic assumptions intuitively unassailable. For example, I believe that there is some continuity of physical reality over time, I believe that my senses give accurate information about the universe, I believe that other people exist, have similar senses, and can also experience the universe, etc.

When it comes to which animals “feel” pain - not which animals have a mechanism to sense and avoid harmful stimuli, whether they “feel” anything or not - I have to fall back on the heuristic of empathy/mirror neurons. I can often tell what dogs are feeling, and they can do a very good job of often telling what I am feeling. I can feel what my interpretation of what they are feeling makes me feel - in fact I do, whether I want to or not, it is an involuntary process.

As to why there is consciousness at all, I really have no great answer. I’ve pointed out in the past that it is a paradox that behavioral flexibility has been selected for, if we live in a deterministic universe. But “awareness” is something else again. Why that should exist, I have no idea.

Descartes suffers from the “no good deed will go unpunished” syndrome of human society. Having provided us with one of the most fundamental corner stones of modern mathematics/technology, and also done the apparently trivial job - but not done before - of demonstrating that we don’t need to doubt out own awareness, he is usually brought up when it’s time to pick on one of his less important seventeenth century opinions, and anachronistically present him as if he were some kind of 21st century bigoted buffoon.

Reminds me of an advertisement placed in my university student newspaper on the last day of term.

“At 2.30 this Friday, members of the Experimental Philosophy club will be meeting to test Descartes’ assertion that animals are mere automatons without any experience of pain, by nailing kittens to a wall in the Philosophy Department lecture theatre. Non-members are welcome to attend. Kittens will be provided but please bring you own hammer.”

Before this thread closes I want to air a thought or two on the inadequacy of Craig’s arguments. The problem of suffering never fails to inspire squirmy, slippery, weasely efforts by apologists, and this episode is no exception. Craig plays the “recent scientific discoveries” card to deflect attention from the crux of the problem of suffering toward the peripheral issue of whether humans experience pain in a completely different, more profound way than other animals. I suppose Craig has an interest in minimizing the importance of animal suffering because he can’t grant god the “soul-building” excuse for the existence of animal pain, as he can for at least some human suffering. Some issues Craig leaves hanging: 1.) Craig claims that “recent scientific discoveries” prove that only humans and the higher primates have the neural architecture (i.e. a prefrontal cortex) to experience what he calls third order pain. But if we grant that premise (which we don’t, actually) then Craig is left with the question whether the soul-building rationale applies equally to chimps and humans. I doubt that he wants to go there. 2.) He takes it as given that third order pain - the awareness of the awareness of pain - must be a qualitatively more profound kind of suffering than mere second order pain. But this is far from obvious. The degree of suffering associated with a painful experience can be mitigated by conscious factors. For instance, we can choose to use meditation, prayer, or distraction to lessen our awareness of pain. We can focus our minds on a loved one, on our patriotic duty, or on taking one for the team. We can keep our eyes on the prize. We can even be tricked by placebos. Isn’t it possible that animals which lack these cognitive filters feel pure, unbuffered pain more sharply than we do? 3.) If the pain of animals is insignificant, thus letting god off the hook for being the author of gratuitous suffering, how can Craig condemn people who intentionally harm animals? If we are supposed to be relieved to learn that our pets don’t really suffer pain, then shouldn’t we be out there campaigning for the repeal of unjust laws against cruelty to animals? Free the cat torturers! Writing this is threatening to give me a fourth-order headache - that is the unspeakable pain that results from listening to apologists use bogus hierarchy-of-pain arguments to rationalize the problem of suffering.

Has no one pointed out (or have I just missed it) that “Michael Murray”, who Craig cites as his authority on neurobiology, is described on the Amazon page for his book as a “Professor in the Humanities and Philosophy”.….

Authority on neurobiology my a*se

Michael J. Murray oversees the programs and evaluation departments of the John Templeton Foundation. Before joining the Foundation, he was the Arthur and Katherine Shadek Humanities Professor of Philosophy at Franklin and Marshall College. Murray received his B.A. in philosophy from Franklin and Marshall and his M.A. and Ph.D. from the University of Notre Dame. He is the author of Philosophy of Religion: The Big Questions (with Eleonore Stump), Reason for the Hope Within, Philosophy of Religion (with Michael Rea), Nature Red in Tooth and Claw: Theism and the Problem of Animal Suffering, The Believing Primate: Scientific, Philosophical, and Theological Reflections on the Origin of Religion (with Jeffrey Schloss), Divine Evil?: The Character of the God of the Hebrew Bible (with Michael Rea and Michael Bergmann), and On Predestination and Election.

http://www.templeton.org/who-we-are[…]j-murray-phd

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This page contains a single entry by Matt Young published on November 16, 2012 5:14 PM.

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