Saturday, May 17, 2014

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

Dan Story Photograph
Part Fourteen:  Do Animals Have Emotions and Thoughts Analogous to Humans? (Continued)

Last week’s blog article looked at some of the emotions that many animals share with humans. In this article we’ll see that many animals also share cognitive (thought-driven) attributes analogous to humans. Altogether, they further confirm the existence of a mind in sentient animals.  As I said last week, however, space in these short articles does not allow me to include examples. But I did suggest three books written by some of the world’s leading ethologists (people who study animal behavior), which give specific examples of human-like emotions and cognitive behaviors displayed in many sentient animals. In terms of cognitive attributes, they are readily observed in three broad areas.


Cognition is the mental ability to acquire and understand knowledge through thought, experience, and the senses. It was long assumed that animals were incapable of much thought and functioned mostly on instinct. It’s now widely known that many species have astonishing cognitive skills. They are quite proficient at learning and benefiting from what they learn, as well as teaching such information to offspring and others of their kind. Mammals and birds in particular, but even some less complex animals, are capable of gaining knowledge and understanding and can learn to respond with flexibility to environmental and other challenges,  often in ways that trump instinct.


Learning would be of little value unless an animal could apply it by remembering the past and planning for future activities. Studies in animal behavior have shown that many species of birds and mammals think about the future and learn from past mistakes. For example, subordinate chimpanzees and wolves will pretend they do not see a particular food item if a dominate animal is around—but will return later to eat it. Actually, it doesn’t take a trained ethologist to know that animals have remarkable memories. Most dog and cat owners are well aware of the abilities of their animal companions to remember past errors that resulted in punishment and behaviors that elicit rewards. And as many of us know, dogs have an incredible ability to learn and remember human words. Some can respond to more than a hundred commands!


If animals can learn and remember, it follows they should be able to communicate this knowledge to other animals. They can. We may not understand them, but many animals speak a “language” using various audible sounds that communicate specific information. Dolphins, whales, elephants, dogs, crows, ravens, parrots, gorillas, and many other animals communicate verbally. Other animals “speak” to one another through body language. Specific postures and the position of ears, eyes, tails, and facial expressions are all ways in which animals communicate their emotions and feelings to each other—as well as to humans, if we are attuned to them.


In this and the previous blog article, I have just touched briefly on the mounting scientific evidence that numerous animal species have emotions, express deep feelings, and engage in thought-driven behaviors. They can learn and pass on important knowledge, retain memories that determine how they will respond to future events and circumstances, and, in one way or another, are able to clearly communicate with one another. All these human-like mental activities seem to imply the likelihood that at least some sentient animals are self-aware (have a degree of self-consciousness). Recent research with primates, dolphins, dogs, and a few other animals have demonstrated this. Within the limitations their individual mental capabilities, it seems likely that at least some animals are self-aware. Why is this significant? More than any in other mental activity, self-awareness cannot be reduced to mere instinct. It requires independent, flexible, and abstract thought. 


Decades of field studies by skilled ethologists and laboratory research by trained scientists has demonstrated that many animals do in fact possess emotional and cognitive abilities that reflect intelligence, feelings, and thought-driven behaviors remarkably similar to humans. This in turn sufficiently demonstrates that animals, like humans, possess an immaterial dimension to their being: a mind—the seat of all mental activities. In humans, as we saw in parts eleven and twelve, the mind is the essential faculty of our souls and cannot be reduced to chemical and neurological processes operating within our physical brains. Since animals likewise possess emotional and cognitive attributes that originate in an immaterial mind distinct from their brains, it’s legitimate to conclude that animals also possess souls.

What does this have to do with Animals immortality?

Let me review what we’ve seen so far in this series of blog articles. In parts 1-6, I demonstrated that animals have value to God independent of their instrumental value to humans; God also created animals for His own enjoyment and to fulfill the purpose of their individual creation. In parts 7-12, I demonstrated, theologically and biblically, that animal, like humans, possess immaterial minds and souls. And in my recent articles, parts 13 and 14, I have provided scientific evidence to support this conclusion. Altogether, I believe I have made a compelling case that God has bestowed on (at least) sentient animals immortal souls.

Now it’s time to move in a new direction and explore a different but intriguing aspect of animal immortality. Assuming that earth-bound animals do possess immortal souls and will dwell in the new heaven and earth prophesied in both the Old and New Testaments, what will such a heavenly environment be like? This will be the topic of the next few blog articles. Then, I’ll end the series with the most controversial issue of all: will earth-bound animals be resurrected alongside of God’s people when Jesus returns to set up His eternal Kingdom (cf. Rom. 8:19-23)? 

*  The blog articles in this series are adapted from copyrighted material and may not  be reproduced in book or article form, either electronically or in print, without my written permission. But feel free to send links to these articles, with a brief introduction, to your personal email list, Facebook friends and groups, or other people who may enjoy them. Or post a link on your own website. If you would like to be added to my personal blog email list (people who receive an email notice whenever I post a new blog article), contact me through my website:

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