Across several posts on his site (which doesn’t seem to allow commentary from readers), WLC makes some fantastic claims about animal pain and how it proves the existence of his god. I’ve taken the liberty of highlighting the relevant texts using a Google Chrome plugin that also creates a tiny url (I’ll edit this post later with a link to the plugin -I’m really loving it so far).
In his first post on the topic, WLC says:
…the awareness that one is oneself in pain requires self-awareness, which is centered in the pre-frontal cortex of the brain—a section of the brain which is missing in all animals except for the humanoid primates. Thus, amazingly, even though animals may experience pain, they are not aware of being in pain. God in His mercy has apparently spared animals the awareness of pain. This is a tremendous comfort to us pet owners. For even though your dog or cat may be in pain, it really isn’t aware of it and so doesn’t suffer as you would if you were in pain.
There are several things wrong with this.
First, and perhaps foremost, the pre-frontal cortex is present in animals outside the primate line. It’s a bit different (primates tend to have granularized cortices ). But its shocking that WLC would so mindlessly and blindly go along with the philosopher he’s citing without so much as a Google search on the topic. Mice have a prefrontal cortex and they use it!
WLC is citing the work of philosopher Michael Murray, who suggests that animals aren’t aware of their pain (therefore god exists) -but Murray has some fatal flaws in his work. Murray differentiates humans from other animals by claiming (with minimal evidenciary support) that there exists a “affective pathway” which allows for self-awareness -this pathway, he says, terminates in the prefrontal cortex in humans. Because non-human animals aren’t self aware of their pain, according to Murray, they aren’t suffering. In other words, gratuitous evil is not present.
But lets suppose it’s the granular layer that’s found in primate cortices that makes the difference. This granular layer is present in many non-human primates, and yet these primates experience pain and are clearly, demonstrably aware of it. Gratuitous evil, therefore, exists among non-human primates that suffer predation, abuse, natural disasters, anthropogenic habitat destruction, infanticide, etc., etc.
If gratuitous evil exists, god can neither be omnipotent or benevolent. Therefore, god doesn’t exist. It’s not my reasoning, it’s the reasoning of WLC and Michael Murray. Surely one or both would move their goalposts accordingly if called on it, so I’m not expecting either to revise their positions. That would be too much like science.
Another thing wrong with WLC’s ignorant and uninformed statement above: “even though animals may experience pain, they are not aware of being in pain.” Seriously? WLC and Murray clearly haven’t done any scientific study on this, but the message WLC is sending certainly isn’t one that he pretends. It isn’t that “God loves animals and spared them the pain and wants us to be stewards of the Earth.” Its a message of “don’t worry about animals. Treat ‘em like shit -they don’t know they feel it anyway.”
No wonder Dawkins refuses to debate WLC. It would be something on the order of Einstein debating physics with Larry the Cable Guy.
- Semendeferi, K., E. Armstrong, A. Schleicher, K. Zilles, and G.W. Van Hoesen (2001). Prefrontal Cortex in Humans and Apes: A Comparative Study of Area 10. American Journal of Physical Anthropology, 114, pp. 224-241 [↩]