What is the Christian perspective on animal sentience and their capacity for conscious experience of pain and suffering? Do Christians affirm the consciousness of animals and their ability to suffer? What is an overview of Christian viewpoints on this matter?

I'm especially interested in exploring the rationale, evidence, biblical foundations, and arguments put forth to support each viewpoint.

Context: this inquiry holds significance in the context of grappling with the problem of natural evil, animal suffering, and theistic evolution. It is asked as a follow-up to my previous question According to Christian evolutionists, how can the suffering of evolution be reconciled with a loving God?


Evidence that the topic is relevant (and possibly controversial) among Christians:

Recently, some theists have attempted to deal with that part of the problem of evil generated by horrendous animal suffering found in nature - including hundreds of millions of years of animal suffering before we humans even showed up - by saying that animals aren't aware that they are in pain. They maintain this is what "science" has shown. That helps bring the problem of suffering down to size!

Indeed, that animals aren't aware that they are in pain is a remarkable "recent scientific discovery", said Christian apologist William Lane Craig in his debate with me, for example. Craig claimed that all animals other than higher primates lack a pre-frontal cortex, and thus are unaware that they are in pain (see Craig speaking in the video below from about 2 mins 30 secs - P.S. he says e.g. cats have a level of pain awareness, but he maintains science has shown that cats are unaware that they are in pain, which, he says, will be a great comfort to animal lovers like himself).

(source: William Lane Craig: "Animals aren't aware that they're in pain")

A second (though unpopular) response to this problem is to deny that animal pain and suffering is real or morally relevant. Most will react to this response with incredulity: “Isn’t it just obvious that some animals experience pain and suffering?” The answer to that question is yes and no. We do think it an item of common sense that animals experience pain and suffering. But the scientific evidence for this is not as strong as you might think. Of course, scientists all acknowledge that many animals display behaviors that make it look like they are in pain. But that is not good enough. To see why, consider the phenomenon of “blindsight.” Patients with blindsight claim to be blind, and yet are at the same time able to point to objects and, in some cases, catch balls--something they could only do if they could in fact see. So are they blind or not? Well, it depends on what you mean by “sight.” They can see in the sense that they can use visual information to regulate their behavior. But they are not consciously aware of the fact that they can do this.

(source: #113 Animal Suffering | Reasonable Faith)



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