Last year the infamous theologian William Lane Craig debated philosopher Stephen Law, and made the extraordinary claim that many mammals can’t feel pain, or, if they do “feel” pain, then they aren’t aware that they feel pain. Only “the higher primates and human beings,” claims Craig (“higher” of course, is a scientifically inaccurate term), are aware that they feel pain.
But there’s no difference between feeling pain and being aware that you’re feeling pain. Pain is a “quale” (plural “qualia”)—a conscious and subjective sensation—which demands awareness, unless it’s simply a sensation that you have learned (or evolved) to avoid. But if you’ve learned or evolved to avoid it because it’s unpleasant, then you are indeed aware of feeling pain! Finding a sensation unpleasant demands sufficient consciousness to experience qualia.
The reason Craig and others argue that animals don’t suffer is because it eliminates one of the vexing aspects of the theological problem of evil (theodicy): why do innocent animals (who haven’t sinned) suffer? If you claim that they don’t suffer, that part of the problem goes away. As Craig notes at the beginning of the video below:
“Even though animals feel pain, they’re not aware of it.. . Even though your dog and cat may be in pain, it really isn’t aware that of being in pain, and therefore it doesn’t suffer as you would when you are in pain.”
Craig sees this as a “tremendous comfort” for animal lovers like himself. That’s theology for you: simply make up whatever brings you comfort. Really, if you step on a cat’s tail, you don’t think it feels pain?
On Stephen Law’s website today, he posts a video in which a bunch of scientists rebut Craig. It’s pretty well established now that many species do experience pain as an unpleasant sensation. The video shows that Craig has simply lied about the biological facts.
The YouTube site notes:
All of the scientists who were featured in the movie were sent a preview copy and asked to let us know if they feel we had misquoted them or made any scientific errors. No instances were identified by them.
Many thanks to those that helped in the making of this movie.
Dr Anita Alvarez, Imperial College/UCL
Prof Stuart Firestein, Columbia University
Prof Joaquinn Fuster, UCLA
Prof Bruce Hood, Bristol University
Dr Lori Marino, Emory University
James Moskito, Great White Shark Adventures
Dr Diana Reiss, City University NY
Take a half hour and watch Law’s video. It thoroughly debunks the odious Craig. And yet there are some readers of this site who greatly admire Craig (I usually don’t put up their posts).