Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Anthropopathism: A failure right out of the box.

[Referred by PZ Meyer at Pharyngula]
Dr. William Lane Craig has taken to justifying the behaviors of animals which bring pain to other animals by invoking Anthropopathism. The problem of pain in animals, and the cruelty of being an animal which is being eaten by another animal, are considered by Atheists to be a problem for the God of the Bible. God certainly wouldn’t allow such things, because we Atheists are incensed and disgusted by the existence of such behavior.

Anthropopathism is a stop-gap for this issue. Or so Lane thinks. Lane refers to a book by Michael Murray, Nature Red in Tooth and Claw: Theism and the Problem of Animal Suffering, which introduces this concept. I have not read the book. Lane reports on it thus:
” Michael Murray distinguishes three levels in an ascending pain hierarchy (read from the bottom up):

Level 3: a second order awareness that one is oneself experiencing (2).

Level 2: a first order, subjective experience of pain.

Level 1: information-bearing neural states produced by noxious stimuli resulting in aversive behavior.

Spiders and insects—the sort of creatures most exhibiting the kinds of behavior mentioned by Ayala—experience (1). But there's no reason at all to attribute (2) to such creatures. It's plausible that they aren't sentient beings at all with some sort of subjective, interior life. That sort of experience plausibly does not arise until one gets to the level of vertebrates in the animal kingdom. But even though animals like dogs, cats, and horses experience pain, nevertheless the evidence is that they do not experience level (3), the awareness that they are in pain. For 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 is more, but I have to stop this right here and right now. Anyone who has ever had an animal friend for which they cared a great deal knows that this is ABSOLUTE BULLSHIT! (Puff, puff, hraak, kaaf – mmmOk I’m better now). Animals KNOW when they are in pain. Step on a cat's tail and see if it is ignorant of that occurrence. The entire concept is maximally absurd.

Lane continues,
”…arguments like Ayala's based on nature's so-called cruelties are guilty of the fallacy of anthropopathism, which is ascribing human feelings to non-human entities.”
It is much more sensible to ascribe anthropomorphism to the Atheist viewpoint of a deity, because that is what they are doing. And to make excuses in order to conform to that fallacy is fallacy-squared. Further, there is nothing in the Bible which ascribes empathy for human pain to the diety, much less empathy for animal pain. So there is no reason to cover up for that deity, by claiming that animals “don’t know that they are in pain”. (The falseness of that statement renders it painful even to read).

In fact it is possible to consider that pain is a gift, it is an incentive not to do damaging things to oneself, or to allow others to them to you. It is a survival mechanism; it keeps you bedded down when your leg is broken so it can heal; it helps you decide not to jump out of that tree onto those rocks, and to keep your fingers out of the fan-belt.

And the assertion that animals don’t know they are in pain is a ripe target for ridicule, because it is so observably false and counter to every experience we have with animals (PZ is uncharacteristically bland on this).

The real question is whether pain is evil. And the answer to that is fairly obvious: sometimes pain is even good, and at its core it is not an agent, especially not a moral agent, so, no, pain is not evil. And in the animal kingdom, there are no moral agents either, so there are no evil animals.

So without pain being evil, and without animals being evil, then the problem of pain in animals is not a moral issue. Only if animals are anthropomorphized could animals be evil agents. And only if the deity is anthropomorphized could the deity be evil for allowing animals to inflict pain on other animals. It is a Category Error to apply human characteristics to the deity.

I have almost nothing else to say, except that Anthropopathism is a sorry excuse for trying to cover up the non-western, non-human, non-material characteristics of a deity in order to prepare a fake human-like demeanor for a non-human being.

I don’t follow Craig, but I had thought better of him than this. I hope he comes to his senses.


FrankNorman said...

My take on this... I have a dog, and I agree that Craig chose his examples poorly. Animals like jellyfish or snails probably don't have anything we could call "consciousness", and simply react to the "damage detected" neural signal in an automatic way. But most warm-blooded animals are way above that. To quote CS Lewis:
We must begin by distinguishing among animals: for if the ape could understand us he would take it very ill to be lumped along with the oyster and the earthworm in a single class of ‘animals’ and contrasted to men. Clearly in some ways the ape and man are much more like each other than either is like the worm. At the lower end of the animal realm we need not assume anything we could recognise as sentience.

Craig's mistake is a common one, I think - that of a simple dichotomy between human and animal, according to which only humans have souls, and all animals are just biological automata. People think that this idea comes from the Bible, when it really comes from human philosophy, in particular, I think, the ideas of Rene Descartes.

Jotunn said...

"It is a Category Error to apply human characteristics to the deity."

Creating and permitting evil is a good thing, when god does it. Theistic morality in fine form.

WLC defends the biblical slaughter of children. Claiming animals don't really feel pain is actually a step up for him.

Stan said...

Your argument presumes the existence of a deity, so I will continue with that as a presupposition.

Given that there is a deity to be judged for his behavior and moral sense, and that the deity gave moral rules for the behavior of his creations (in the same sense that he provided laws of physics for his physical creation), then the moral sense of humans either comes from the deity or else it is a mere opinion of an individual.

Now if the deity decides on a course of action, and instructs his people to execute that course of action, to declare that course of action immoral is without meaning.

The moral authority in a universe which has a deity would necessarily be the deity, not the creation. So the moral authority of those who condemn the deity is nil, without force, without any meaning. It's just another guy's opinion, amongst billions of guys with opinions, all without moral authority or force.

To exacerbate the lack of moral force, Atheism has no morals or moral authority attached to it: to view Atheism in its pure form, anything goes, including torturing babies to death. There is no "Atheist moral injunction" against it. Oh sure, there are moral opinions amongst billions of other opinions, but again no moral authority. In fact, Atheism is a relief from moral authority, total freedom from it.

Assuming that there is a deity and then condemning it, is irrational.

Yet Atheists do it all the time.

Jotunn said...

My argument? Seeing as I started by quoting you, don't tell me I'm presupposing a deity. I'm working off of YOUR assumptions.

Your rebuttal confirms your belief that if god is evil, it is good to do evil.

If the devil created the universe, would you be holding him up as a moral authority? By your arguments, any condemnation of his actions would be without meaning.

Good job, you've apparently rendered morality a meaningless concept. Or rather, whoever has the biggest stick (moral force) dictates morality.

Atheism has no bearing on morality. It is a response to theistic claims. Atheism doesn't equate to nihilism, satanism, or in any other way have an opinion on morality.
Perhaps you are thinking of Humanism, or maybe Utilitarianism, Relevatism, Normative Ethics, Hedonism or Natural Law?