Friday, April 18, 2014

Will Our Pets (and Other Animals) Greet Us in Heaven?

Al Hochrein photograph 
Part Ten:   More Arguments against the Immortality of Animal Souls

In my previous article, we examined the three Bible passages skeptics most frequently use to justify their rejection of the immortality of animal souls.  I explained why none of the passages are relevant, that is, none of them actually speak to the issue of animal immortality. Therefore, they all three fail as valid arguments against the existence of animal souls. In addition to these three Scripture passages, however, there are three other arguments skeptics often use to refute the likelihood that earth-bound animals possess immortal souls, and therefore they will not inhabit the eschatological new heaven and earth.  In this blog article, we’ll briefly examine them and see why they too are invalid arguments.

Only humans were created in God’s image, therefore animals do not have immortal souls

This is probably the most common argument used to “prove” that animals are merely physical creatures without immortal souls. The assumption is that because only humans were created in God’s image, animal souls expire at physical death.

It is unarguable that humans have a special relationship with God that animals do not share. We are the “crown” of God’s creation (Ps. 8:4-8); only people were made in His image (Gen. 1:27). By virtue of this, humans alone possess the communicable attributes of God, and we are of far greater value than animals (Matt. 6:26). Moreover, as far as we can tell, at least here on earth, only humans are innately aware that God exists (Eccl. 3:11). And as I explained in a previous article, animals have souls, but not spirits. Thus, they do not have the spiritual connectedness with God that humans enjoy.

But why should this mean that animals can’t have immortal souls? It doesn’t.  God could bless animals with immortal souls if He chooses to do so, and it’s presumptuous to say He can’t. Theologian Andrew Linzey sums it well: 

There is something theologically odd about all discussions of immortal souls—the plain absurdity, no less, of humans deciding for themselves which essential or substantial qualities qualify them for eternal life and which may or may not exclude animals. . . . Eternal life is God’s own gift; it is not something which we can merit. . . . If full weight is given to God’s gracious and wide-ranging activity in creation, then it is inconceivable that the God who redeems will be less than the God who creates. In this sense the issue of animal immortality is wholly integral to the view that God does actually care not only for the whole world but for each and every individual being within it, including—of course—sparrows. (Animals on the Agenda, 119)

Human dominion over animals means they do not have souls 

This argument claims that because the human race was instructed to have “dominion” over the animal kingdom (Gen. 1:28, KJV), animals do not possess immortal souls. This is probably the weakest argument against animal immortality. Not only is it clearly a non sequitur, but it doesn’t make sense. Space does not allow me to provide an analysis of what dominion means when examined within its full biblical context, but most theologians agree that dominion means stewardship. It denotes mankind’s caretaker role in creation; it doesn’t give people a license to use animals anyway we please. I devote five chapters in my book, Should Christians Be Environmentalists?, to  demonstrate this fact (Kregel Publications, 2012).

We saw in parts two through five in this blog series that God loves, enjoys, provides for, and values the creatures He created. If human dominion (stewardship) over creation teaches us anything, it’s that God desires for all animal life to fulfill the purposes for which He created them. Animals have far more value to God than just their instrumental use for humans. It’s reasonable to conclude from what we’ve seen in previous articles that God’s love for non-human life will not end with their physical death. There is no reason to assume that His love for the animals inhabiting the Earth today will not extend into eternity; that God has more in mind for animals than their short sojourn on this present Earth.

Animals lack the mental attributes that indicate the presence of an immortal soul

This argument claims that animals do not have immortal souls because they lack soul-like qualities. In other words, animals lack the cognitive and emotional attributes humans associate with the existence immaterial souls in us. This may have been a legitimate argument decades ago, but no longer. Since the mid-twentieth century, ethologists (scientist who study animal behavior) have demonstrated that many complex animals exhibit devotion, grief, empathy, sorrow, affection, play, joy, inter-species friendships, altruism, and other mental states analogous to humans. Some mammals and birds even exhibit thought-driven behaviors, and in some cases, a degree reflective reasoning that can trump instinct. Such qualities in humans demonstrate the existence of an immaterial mind distinct from our physical brains—the essential feature of a soul. If some animals possess limited but  similar cognitive and emotion states as humans, why would it not reflect immaterial minds and thus souls? The fact that these mental states are not as fully developed and intensely experienced in animals as they are in humans does not lesson the likelihood of their origin in immaterial minds/souls. This is such an important concept to grasp—that many sentient animals exhibit soul-like qualities—that I’ll spend the next one or two blog articles examining the scientific evidence for this in more detail.

But let me add this for now. Even if animals do not possess human-like thoughts and emotions and instead functioned totally on instinct, there is still no reason why God would not grant them eternal souls and extend His love for them into the next life. He may do so for no other reason than for His own pleasure—and the pleasure they will give humans. On this earth, wildlife is what makes the wilderness wild,  and numerous varieties of animals are our friends and companions. Nothing in Scripture suggests that the new heaven and earth will be inhabited only by redeemed humans, or that animals will not continue their role in the restored new earth. Indeed, the Old Testament in particular says much about animals in God’s eternal kingdom—as we’ll see in future articles. I like the way Randy Alcorn put  this in his acclaimed book, Heaven.

Why [do] so many people find such companionship, solace, and joy in their pets?. . .  I believe it’s because of how God has made animals, and us….It would be simple for him to re-create a pet in Heaven if he wants to. He’s the giver of all good gifts, not the taker of them. If it would please us to have a pet restored to the New Earth, that may be sufficient reason.”
(p. 385)

Next week we’ll examine scientific support for the biblical evidence that at least sentient animals possess an immaterial dimension (a mind/soul), which is distinct from their physical brains. This clearly supports the reality of immortality (new life after physical death) for animals—just as it does for humans.

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