William Lane Craig argues that animals can’t feel pain

October 4, 2012 • 7:56 am

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).

132 thoughts on “William Lane Craig argues that animals can’t feel pain

  1. Oh, well then, no need to administer anti-inflammatory drugs or analgesics. Hell, why not just perform surgeries while they’re awake? What a waste of anesthetic! *Sarcasm*

  2. Craig is one of the nastiest pieces of shit modern Christian apologetics has produced. His response to Numbers 31 is not horror at the genocide and mass child rape it describes Moses and his merry men indulging in, but rather sympathy for the trauma suffered by the Israelites as they had to rape those girls after killing their parents. Won’t somebody think of the soldiers!?

    The only redeeming feature of the Bible is that it’s pure fiction. Craig, not having figured that out, basically doesn’t have any redeeming features.


    1. Ben,

      you will greatly enjoy reading “The Bible Unearthed” by archeologist Israel Finkelstein & Neil Silberman, a hugely convincing reconstruction of the real story of Israel underlying the Bible, based on archeological digs. See also the long summary at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Bible_Unearthed

      Apparently, in the 1940s, archeologists thought they had found confirmation for the sweep of much of the Biblical narrative re David and Solomon, but all this collapsed in the 1990s.

      1. “Biblical archaeology” is a fundamentally flawed concept, for it blinds one to all the surrounding archaeology.

        Of course, it’s only because of Biblical archaeology that we know that the Bible is bullshit…but, well, we know that now.

        So why are scholars still privileging the Bible?

        After all, after Michelson-Morley, physicists stopped looking for the Luminiferous Aether. So why are archaeologists still looking for the Biblical Abraham? Makes no sense.



        1. At this point, I think really reputable archeologists are no longer looking for Abraham or Moses. I don’t think all scholars are “privileging” the Bible. Biblical archeology is just a name that’s stuck for sub-field of archeology like ancient British archeology. You could rename it “ancient Palestinian archeology” and view the old name as an unfortunate moniker like the term “Islamic science” a term still widely used in mainstream academia although “Arabic medieval science” would be arguably preferable.

        2. Reputable archaeologists haven’t treated the Bible as any sort of useful field guide in a long time, after it failed so dismally pretty much every time. This includes the Israeli archaeologists who were directly tasked with confirming the story of the Exodus and had the integrity to report back that no, it was completely made-up mythologising.

          1. Right. The last semi-credible archeologist who was also a Biblicist, a kind of “founder” of “Biblical archeology”, was William Albright. While he did some good work on the Dead Sea Scrolls and dating of pottery etc., his efforts to prove the truth of the Biblical narrative have been thoroughly discredited. His last major publication was in the 1960s.

          2. I wish that were true. However the ‘venerated area’ around Nazareth still trots out the occasional ‘Jesus-era’ house claim.

          3. Well, the Bulletin of the Anglo-Israeli Archaeological Society 25, 2007 would disagree. Pfann, Voss and Rapuano excavated a farm connected to the village, dated to Jesus’ time.

            Furthermore, coins found on the site date to Hellenistic, Hasmonean and early Roman times, to the time of Jesus, as reported in their follow-up, ‘On the Nazareth Village Farm Report’ from volume 26 in 2008 and in Ken Dark in the same volume, ‘Nazareth Village Farm: A Reply to Salm’, who is the (non-archaeologist) who, amongst others, advanced the theory of the hiatus in the occupation of Nazareth during Jesus’ time.

            Dark avers that Salm did not understand the hydrology and topography of Nazareth and concludes,”…this is not a well-informed study…The basic premise is often weak and and shaped by his preconceptions. Overall, his central argument is unsupportable.”

            Moreover, Alexandre,the Director at the Israel Antiquity Authority, confirms the recent find of pottery sherds, connected to a Nazareth house ranging from roughly 100 BCE to 100 CE.

            On a wider point, whether Nazareth existed or not is not relevant to whether Jesus actually existed.

          4. Dermot C
            Not much store should be put into Dark’s response to Salm.

            Here is a review of Dark’s response.

    2. Argh, whenever I see that guy’s plastic face or hear his snake oil salesman voice, this thought occurs: William Lane Craig and Mitt Romney were produced in the same robot factory. They’re Ro-Bros.

        1. so, consider someone responsible for pain being inflicted on an animal, and for whom that pain is of no concern, or, perhaps, even a source of pleasure; would that person qualify as a sociopath?

          1. apparently ben no longer engages with this particular aspect of the subject unless he can whine that it’s off-topic.

    3. The only redeeming feature of the Bible is that it’s pure fiction.

      Hmm, I don’t know Ben, I’d have thought it quite likely that many of those mass killings and rapes did occur, and that the soliders did think that they were carrying our their god’s will.

      1. We have overwhelming reason to be certain that Moses never existed and the Exodus (the aftermath of which is described in Numbers 31) never occurred.

        Of course, we can be even more confident that these types of atrocities have occurred all throughout human history; indeed, they’ve happened in our lifetimes (Rwanda, Somalia, Serbia) and are still happening on a lesser scale in every war being fought this moment. Yes, even by American troops — no invading army ever has ever been guiltless, though some generals have been more or less successful at keeping the troops in check and / or complicit in the atrocities.

        But there never was a Moses, and the Israelites never did commit genocide against the Midianites. Indeed, I don’t know that there’s even any reason to think that the two tribes ever met on the battlefield.



    4. Little ‘heads up’…you lose creditability when you use vulgarity. We are ‘better’ than craig (lower capitalization intentional!!), why not just ‘destroy’ his incredible lack of ‘common sense’ with facts. If you’ve ever seen a dog get hit in the road, scream in gut wenching pain, accoring to craig, he must be asking for a big mac or milk bone.

      What I’d like to see craig do (not really), is to see if he’ll make a video beating up a dog with a baseball bat to a bloody pulp,to where the dog is dead, and then look straight into the camera, and say, “See I told you he doesn’t experience any pain.”

    5. Little ‘heads up’…you lose creditability when you use vulgarity.

      We are ‘better’ than craig (lower capitalization intentional!!), why not just ‘destroy’ his incredible lack of ‘common sense’ with facts. If you’ve ever seen a dog get hit in the road, scream in gut wenching pain, accoring to craig, he must be asking for a big mac or milk bone.

      What I’d like to see craig do (not really), is to see if he’ll make a video beating up a dog with a baseball bat to a bloody pulp,to where the dog is dead, and then look straight into the camera, and say, “See I told you he doesn’t experience any pain.”

  3. Facepalm.

    I am intuitively inclined to consider empathy with animals as somewhat of a litmus test for the soundness of anyone’s moral thinking.

    I vaguely recall that not only was CS Lewis’ worst book ever “The Problem of Pain” but that the worst chapter IN that book was the chapter on Animal Pain (which was odd because there are some powerful descriptions of animal pain in novels written decades later by Lewis , especially “The Horse and his Boy” a childhood favorite of mine).

    Of all the religious or religion-friendly figures that get routinely pilloried here on this site, Craig and Plantinga are the two I find just as contemptible as everyone else around here does. WLC is just greasy.

      1. Agreed! You shouldn’t post over here just to say you’ve reblogged one of my pieces. It’s not really kosher to do that if the only purpose is to call attention to your website.

        1. I’m guessing that people aren’t doing this deliberately, but that there’s some one-click “feature” of WordPress that copies the content and simultaneously leaves these annoying “reblogged” comments (which the reblogger might not even be aware of).

          Maybe there’s a checkbox somewhere in your WordPress account options that lets you disallow reblogging from your site.

          1. It’s firmer than a guess. This WordPress behavior has been noted on this bl- website many times before. I assume Jerry is enjoying his peregrinations too much to have recalled that for the moment…

            One motivation for reblogging (hmm… rewebsiting?) WEIT posts is to create a scrapbook of favourites, so you could see it as flattery, Jerry!


  4. Shorter version

    William Lane Craig is so full of it, his eyes are brown.

    Regarding the video, Dr Marino’s expression when the quote was given to her made me laugh.

  5. WL Craig never misses an opportunity to lie and excuse xian evil and atrocities.

    This is the guy who says the (mythological) genocide of the Canaanites in the bible was because they deserved it.

    The reality is that the Jews were just another tribe of…Canaanites.

    1. An illustration of the principle of human behaviour that small differences are often blown up and exaggerated to the point of conflict, when big differences are simply ignored.

  6. ben summed it up nicely, already. craig is a despicable SOB. he will go to great lengths to see that humans are the pinnacle of creation, even if it means lying through his bitch teeth.

  7. Whenever I see WLC I’m painfully reminded of the fact that this guy is the world’s first used snake-oil salesman.
    It seems he doesn’t have enough sense of decency to sell the sheeple fresh snake-oil.

  8. I would think that whatever argument could be made for an animal being unaware of suffering could apply to a newborn human. So don’t let WLC anywhere near the babies.

    1. Oh, but Craig has Jesus in his heart, which is what makes him so special that he can feel pain and joy and everything else.

      The pre-pubescent Midianite girls with whom Moses and his Merry Men had their ways with weren’t infected with the Jesus nematode, so they didn’t really feel pain.

      Would that Craig were merely ridiculous….


      1. I don’t know if WL Craig (perhaps he would agree to be tested in a clinic?) can feel pain but he seems to not know empathy as he won’t stop inflicting pain on the thinking humans at least.

      1. “Take a half hour and watch Law’s video.”

        This is the ambiguous statement that fergusg probably meant. It’s pretty misleading.

  9. I say people named Lane-Craig feel pain but they’re not aware of it. Much in the same way they read facts and then don’t understand them.
    Where do I find this man so I can test my hypothesis?

    1. You could be on to something, please continue! (Nothing can happen to the man, he has god to protect him.)

    2. I have a question about people calling him “Lane Craig.” Last year he went to England, and I read some accounts of his visit where the British people called him “Lane Craig” or “Lane-Craig.”

      Now over here in the US, if someone uses all three names professionally, and you want to shorten it in an article, you can call him by his first name, or his last name, but we would never use the construction of middle name – last name.

      Is that a different custom over there? It would be like writing an article about Jerry Allen Coyne, and then referring to him throughout the article as “Allen Coyne.”

      What’s up with that?

      1. On this side of the Atlantic one presumes it’s a double barrelled name rather than a middle name.

        Like Parker-Bowles. That’s one surname rather than a middle name + last name. My surname is Barlatier de Mas, that’s all one surname.

      2. Well, precisely. JAC does NOT routinely go by the name “Jerry Allen Coyne” so the analogy breaks down completely.
        It is “normal” to use two names. Celebrities only seem to require one name. A person using three names is so uncommon that many people do not understand how to deal with it, including you and me. Is the second name actually a middle name, or part of the surname? Maybe we should refer to WLC as “Bill” or “Wills.”

        1. Informally I’ve heard him called “Bill” and “Bill Craig.”

          I didn’t realize that it’s uncommon on that side of the pond for people to use fist-middle-last professionally. Over here, it’s pretty common. When we shorten Alexander Graham Bell, it’s just “Bell,” as in Bell Labs, not Graham Bell Labs. A film by Francis Ford Coppola is just called a Coppola film. The guy who killed Kennedy was Oswald, not Harvey Oswald.

          On the other hand, some people use their first-middle together as a familiar name; Tommy Lee Jones goes by “Tommy Lee.”

          I have a female cousin whose maiden name was Billie Jo George, and she went by the first two. Yes, I’m from the South.

        2. If we have to refer to WLC using one name, there are a lot of appropriate names to choose from: scumbag, asshole, sociopath, etc – it depends on the company you’re in. Two names? Cretinous sociopath, incredible asshole, … Three names? Well, you get the idea.

  10. Obviously, WLC has never stepped on a cat in the dark at night.

    Or the resulting cold shoulder and the “you ain’t getting no purrs from me today” look.

    There is a Fourth Level of Pain that comes from listening to jackasses like Craig bray such foolish nonsense.

  11. Many years ago, in the stone-age years of Black & White TV, there was featured, on many variety shows, including the Ed Sullivan show, a Professor (something or other – his name escapes me) and his world famous dancing duck. The camera would close in on the duck, music would play, and the duck would begin to dance. The audience was always amazed that a duck could be taught to do such things, until it was ultimately discovered that the “Professor” was placing the hapless duck onto a hotplate – the duck’s dance was an effort to avoid burning his feet.

    If he couldn’t feel the pain, one must wonder why he didn’t remain flatfooted as his feet fried.

    1. “If he couldn’t feel the pain, one must wonder why he didn’t remain flatfooted as his feet fried.”

      You give WLC far too much credit. His claim is much more odious than that. He is saying that the duck can feel pain, but that it just doesn’t matter because the duck doesn’t have a homonculus to share the suffering with. And all us animal lovers, like him, can rejoice that we don’t have to worry about animals being in pain. What a relief.

  12. I fear that the claim that pain is a quale, and therefore there is no difference between feeling pain and being aware of pain, is empirically false and refuted by clinical evidence. For details check the book “Feeling Pain and Being in Pain” by Nikola Grahek which has a foreword by Daniel Dennett. It shows that there are neural disorders where patients can experience extreme pain without being aware of any hurtful sensations. Sounds weird, but is true. Therefore, Lane Craigs point of view, even if it might be wrong, is far from being just apologetic nonsense.

    1. Sounds weird, is weird, and is false.
      For to experience something is to experience it consciously. The concept of an unconscious experience is a contradiction in terms. Pain is a bodily sensation, and sensations are (conscious) experiences by definition. That is, nobody can experience pain without sensing it; and unexperienced or unsensed pain isn’t pain.

        1. what about reactions?

          when I tap the area just under where your patela is on your knee, and your leg automatically jerks in response.

          that’s not a conscious response.

          there are a great many autonomous responses to stimuli, pain being just one.

          1. …to clarify:

            there are often multiple levels involved in stimulus-response pathways.

            some only involve autonomous responses, others involve reactionary responses (meaning the brain gets involved in making some behavioral decision based on the stimulus input).

            some involve both; the autonomous response and reactionary response not even needing to be in parallel.


            I tap your knee with a mallet, your leg jerks out. If you knew ahead of time I would do that, your leg STILL jerks out, but your REACTIONARY response will likely be quite different than if you had no idea i would be doing that.

    2. Is that like people that need to be careful that they don’t touch hot surfaces because they will just leave their hand on the surface because they aren’t aware of the sensation of being burned? Because, that isn’t what can be observed in the reaction that animals have when experiencing a stimulus that would cause most humans to feel pain in a similar circumstance.

    3. “This book is principally devoted to the thorough consideration and general theoretical appreciation of the two most radical dissociation syndromes to be found in human pain experience. The first syndrome is characterized by the complete dissociation of the sensory dimension of pain from its affective, cognitive, and behavioral components. The second syndrome is an absolute dissociation in the opposite direction: the total dissociation of the pain experience’s affective components from its sensory-discriminative components. The former syndrome can be described as pain without painfulness and the latter as painfulness without pain. In the first case, one is able to feel pain but is not able to be in pain, whereas in the second case one is able to be in pain but is not able to feel pain. Given our common experience of pain, it might seem to us that the two syndromes
      just described are inconceivable and, thus, impossible. In order to make them more intelligible and, thus, less inconceivable, I will explain the crucial distinction between feeling pain and being in pain, and defend it on conceptual and empirical grounds. But the main point is that we know that pain without painfulness and painfulness without pain are, however bizarre or outlandish, nonetheless possible for the simple reason that clinical evidence amply documents their existence. So, the question is not whether they exist or could exist, but what they can teach us about the true nature and structure of human pain experience. Accordingly, the major theoretical aim of this book will be to appreciate what lessons are to be learned from these syndromes as far as our very concept, or more importantly, our very experience of pain is concerned.”

      (Grahek, Nikola. Feeling Pain and Being in Pain. 2nd ed. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2007. pp. 1-2)

      It seems to me that, in Grahek’s sense, “pain without painfulness” means “pain experience without pain behaviour”, and that “painfulness without pain” correspondingly means “pain behaviour without pain experience”. Then, “to experience pain” means “to feel pain”, and “to exhibit pain behavior” means “to be in pain”.

      But from the (alleged) empirical fact that pain experience and pain behaviour can be dissociated from one another it doesn’t follow that the occurrence of unconscious, unexperienced, unfelt, unsensed pains is possible.

      Of course, if to be in pain is just to exhibit pain behaviour independently of whether or not it is accompanied by pain experience, then it is possible to be in pain without feeling pain. But if “to be in pain” isn’t used in Grahek’s behavioristic-functionalistic sense, i.e. synonymously with “to exhibit pain behavior”, but in the phenomenological sense, i.e. synonymously with “to feel pain”, then it’s an obvious conceptual truth that to be in pain is to feel pain.

      1. I haven’t read this work, but Dennett’s work over the past >20 years has included the importance of not thinking of “qualia” as somehow irreducible or unanalyzable. Subsequently, when we say pain is thus and so, he would (rightly in my view) caution us that this *avowal* is just itself another datum, and potentially its semantic content may be misleading. (This is one of the key, often brushed by, parts of his masterpiece, _Consciousness Explained_.)

  13. Let’s go crazy and suppose Craig is right. So, he’s not saying animals don’t suffer, but that they are not aware of their suffering.

    Where would this leave his argument about animal suffering and its relation to evil?

    The point of the awareness bit in humans is it’s connection with sin, and being aware that we suffer pain, and being aware others suffer pain. We are sinful when we inflict pain on other humans, because we are aware, through comparison with ourselves, that other humans are aware of the pain we inflict on them.

    What about humans inflicting pain on animals? I suspect Craig would still call it evil because to knowingly inflict suffering, to be aware that animals are suffering even though they are not aware of the suffering we inflict on them, is evil. It is our knowledge in this that makes us evil.

    So, what about animal on animal inflicting of suffering? OK, the animals are not evil because of their lack of awareness – they are not aware of their own suffering, or of the suffering they inflict on other animals.

    But surely God is aware of the animal suffering even if the animals themselves are not – so God is evil for allowing this suffering.

  14. As the video said, the argument contradicts another of Craig beliefs : that the soul/mind is separate from the physical brain.

    So arguing that animals don’t feel pain because they lack the necessary part of the brain is basically tying up the mind with the brain, ergo not Jesus.

  15. The problem isn’t theodicy it’s idiocy. Stupid isn’t a quale so der William isn’t aware of it.

    Even when it does keep hitting him in the head.

    1. “The problem isn’t theodicy it’s idiocy.” In light of a full consideration of the evidence, the only reasonable conclusion is that the first is just a special case of the second.

    1. Scary that a Doctor would argue that animals don’t suffer pain, when it is obvious to even a child that they certainly do.

  16. Pain is a necessary ingredient for the survival of any species. If we did not feel pain, we would be subject to far greater injury and ultimate death we would not even be aware of until it was too late. If you actually even bothered to read Dr Craig’s claim at all, you will discover that is indeed it possible that animals feel pain but are not consciously aware of it.

    An excerpt from “Nature Red in Tooth and Claw” by Dr Michael Murray.

    A second (though unpopular) response to this problem is to deny that animal pain and suffering is real or morally relevant. Most will react to this response with incredulity: “Isn’t it just obvious that some animals experience pain and suffering?” The answer to that question is yes and no. We do think it an item of common sense that animals experience pain and suffering. But the scientific evidence for this is not as strong as you might think. Of course, scientists all acknowledge that many animals display behaviors that make it look like they are in pain. But that is not good enough. To see why, consider the phenomenon of “blindsight.” Patients with blindsight claim to be blind, and yet are at the same time able to point to objects and, in some cases, catch balls–something they could only do if they could in fact see. So are they blind or not? Well, it depends on what you mean by “sight.” They can see in the sense that they can use visual information to regulate their behavior. But they are not consciously aware of the fact that they can do this.

    When it comes to pain, then, the question is: might the behaviors that we associate with animals that look to be in pain constitute something like “blindpain”–showing all the behavioral symptoms of real pain, but without the conscious awareness? Amazingly, given what we know about the functioning of the brain, the answer might be yes. Those parts of the brain most closely associated with consciousness of pain, are also the parts that were the last to arrive among mammals: the pre-frontal cortex.

    So Dr Craig’s and many other’s view on this topic is not improbable and actually highly possible.

    1. Except for all the evidence that suggests that many other animals besides “higher” primates are indeed aware of pain, the fact that many other animals have pre-frontal cortexes, and not to mention the fact that the very large majority of scientists that actually study cognition and neurobiology in animals other than humans think that Craig’s claims are ludicrous and not supported by the evidence.

      Did you miss the part where it was explained that Dr. Michael Murray is not a scientist and has not bothered to ever even publish his claims in any peer reviewed publications? Given that virtually all the scientists that have directly studied and done research on this issue think that Murray’s claims are dead wrong and not supported by the evidence, how do you conclude that his claims are “highly possible.”

    2. Your conclusions and support of WLC begs the question, you seem to suffer from the blindsight that you describe. You seem to notice that animals can feel pain but are unaware of the behavior of the animals subsequent to the event, which certainly suggests that many animals are aware of pain and remember what the cause was as well.

    3. So Dr Craig’s and many other’s view on this topic is not improbable and actually highly possible.

      It’s more likely that WL Craig is an evil, vaguely humanoid toad. He is a known liar and notorious defender of genocide, rape, and the murder of infants. On the basis that god supposedly commanded those to happen in the bible.

      many other’s view on this topic

      Who are these “many other’s”. My guess is they are all fundie xians who are incapable of empathy, a characteristic of normal human personalities lacking in many fundie xians especially the notorious consistent, routine liar kind.

      Murray received his B.A. in philosophy from Franklin and Marshall and his M.A. and Ph.D. from the University of Notre Dame.

      Oh Cthulhu. I had never heard of Murray. He works for the Templeton foundation!!! He is a religious kook. He is not a scientist, but a religiously oriented philosopher. I can’t think of anyone less objective or less qualified to pay attention to on a biological subject.

      Pacman, whose are the others on your list of defective personalities you quote as authorities. My guess would be Plantinga, Hagee, Pat Robertson, and the Pope.

  17. This came up earlier this year on another site I frequent. Apart from Craig’s bottom-line thinking (where you start at the conclusion and work back to your premises, his argument fails basic biology in fairly obvious ways.

    But one interesting thing is that the notion of hammering home that animals don’t have souls, don’t really suffer, are barely above robots, etc. is actually mainstream in evangelist circles – it’s not an odiousness original to Craig. Hence his shock that people are quite so outraged at it.

  18. Well, I watched the video. OK, Craig’s an idiot. But otherwise it was packed full of red herrings (grateful whales, playful sealions, the preforontal cortex of rats, ther mirror test, emphasis on the cherry-picked special cases of apes and ceteceans, etc.), subjective opinion offered as scientific conclusion, and question-begging.

    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.

    But that’s incorrect. Pain is not primarily a “conscious and subjective sensation—which demands awareness”, but rather a hard-wired system of specialized sensory receptors and dedicated neurons (which use unique neurotransmitters) that project to specific (if poorly characterized, so far) areas of the brain. Even in us hyper-aware humans, our initial behavioral response to painful stimuli requires no conscious awareness whatsoever–the withdrawal and crossed-extensot relexes, for example, are organised in the spinal cord and the brain gets informed about the pain only after the behavioral reaction.
    If I present an ant or an amoeba with a noxious stimulus, it will head in the opposite direction. This is behavioral avoidance of potentially harmful stimuli, but it has nothing whatsoever to do with consciousness or subjectivity.

    The key distinction being lost in this post and video is the difference between sensation and perception. The former is harwired neurology that certainly exists in all vertebrates (and probably other animals with sufficiently complex nervous systems); the latter is the subjective, conscious ‘feeling’.

    Our brains are constantly receiving all kinds of sensory information of which we are not consciously aware, and there’s no question that these can modify behavior. It is entirely plausible to attribute behavior that appears be be consistent with avoidance of ‘unleasant’ stimuli to hard-wired and completely subconscious pathways of sensation only. Perception need not play a role.
    The rest is anthropomorphism. Pace Feynman, you must not fool yourself and you are the easiest person to fool, especially about yourself.

    1. Obviously animals feel pain and their bodies react by moving away, just as ours do. Whether they have a secondary emotional/psychological response is the harder question. It seems that many animals change their behavior (less eating, aggressive, less social etc) after being exposed to something pain producing. This would seem very strong proof that there is a secondary experience to the simple pain/withdrawal response that most creatures have.

    2. Coyne is right: To be in pain is to feel pain. There’s a lot of unconscious stimulus or signal processing going on in the nervous system, but as long as it isn’t subjectively experienced, it’s not a bodily sensation such as pain.

      “That pain is a subjective experience seems to be a truism. Given our common-sense understanding of pain, this seems to be the more dominant thread: instead of treating pains as objects of perceptual experience, it treats them as experiences themselves. Indeed it is this thread that the official scientific definition of ‘pain’ picks up and emphasizes, which was first formulated in the 1980s by a committee organized by the International Association for the Study of Pain (IASP), and has been, since then, widely accepted by the scientific community:
      Pain: An unpleasant sensory and emotional experience associated with actual or potential tissue damage, or described in terms of such damage.”


      “The key distinction being lost in this post and video is the difference between sensation and perception. The former is harwired neurology that certainly exists in all vertebrates (and probably other animals with sufficiently complex nervous systems); the latter is the subjective, conscious ‘feeling’ – chascpeterson

      There is a difference between conscious, sensation-entailing perception and nonconscious, non-sensation-entailing perception (e.g. blindsight). The latter is perception but not perceptual experience. All sensations are perceptual experiences, with experiences being conscious and subjective by definition.

    3. [i]Well, I watched the video. OK, Craig’s an idiot. But otherwise it was packed full of red herrings (grateful whales, playful sealions, the preforontal cortex of rats, ther mirror test, emphasis on the cherry-picked special cases of apes and ceteceans, etc.)[/i]

      I don’t know why you consider the mirror test a red herring. Obviously, if an animal is aware of itslef, most probably it is aware of pain.

  19. I really HATE to agree with Craig on this topic but there is a modicum of legitimacy to what he says. Consider an earthworm. Does it feel pain when you insert a fishook in it? It certainly writhes in a way that you’d associate with agony in a human but that doesnt mean its suffering in the same way. As someone in the clip pointed out you could program a machine to respond in a way that mimicked agony when you poked it. If pain is the reception of a stimulus then bacteria feel pain. But suffering is something more. The philospher Craig quotes says that self-awareness is key to suffering. I’m not sure I agree but even if thats true many animals are self-aware to a degree, and so would suffer in proportion. I’ve always thought suffering was the emotional response to pain. I may be corrected on this but I got the impression that one of the reasons people were given lobotomies in the old days was due to cronic pain. The operation didnt ameliorate the pain at all but it severed the emotional component and so, as the patients reported, they could still feel the pain but they didnt suffer.
    But even if everything I’m suggesting ( or Craig’s philosopher is suggesting) is correct that doesnt justify Craigs conclusion. There are still several species; chimps, gorillas, dolphins etc that suffer and that casts doubt on the Christian god.

    1. In order for an animal to be able to feel pain it doesn’t have to have higher-order consciousness, i.e. it doesn’t have to be able to form thoughts about its being in pain.

      “Consciousness is not the same as wakefulness. Nor is it the same as self-awareness. When you woke from the coma you experienced various sensations, but whether you reflected on those sensations is another question. To experience those sensations is not the same as to think that you experience them, or to say that you do. We do often reflect on our own experiences and tell each other about them, but this is not the same thing as merely having them. So we should not confuse consciousness with self-consciousness. When you are at the movies, immersed in the experience of watching the action, you seldom ascend to the level of reflecting that you are having all those experiences. You just have the experiences without forming any reflective thoughts about them. Babies presumably undergo a range of conscious states, but it is doubtful that they are reflectively self-conscious: they have no notion of self at all, at least in the early stages. And many animals are in the same state: they have a conscious life, but they do not aspire to reflect on this fact. They do not, to put it another way, apply mental concepts to themselves. To have a conscious state is not the same thing as applying a concept of that conscious state to oneself, any more than to have a certain color hair is to describe oneself as having that color hair. Being a certain way and characterizing yourself as being that way are logically independent facts.”

      (McGinn, Colin. The Mysterious Flame: Conscious Minds in a Material World. New York: Basic Books, 1999. p. 3)

    2. Worms don’t have a central nervous system, so they most likely are not feeling pain. Same with insects. Vertebrates are a completely different matter.

    3. “I’m not sure I agree but even if thats true many animals are self-aware to a degree, and so would suffer in proportion.”

      No need to beat yourself up. As it turns out you don’t agree with Craig after all. Craig’s claims very specifically, and with forethought I am sure, include the claim that only humans and some “higher” primates are capable of any level of self awareness. This is the key upon which his argument hangs. And it just so happens that the more science has discovered about animal neurobiology and cognition, the more apparent it has become that self awareness is a spectrum, and that many different animals fall relatively high on that spectrum.

      I have never understood why so many people, even ones without any apparent vested interest in the issue, give such credence to arguments that humans have special unique cognitive abilities that no other animals have, even when there is no good evidence to support those arguments. Even if there were no evidence either way yet, is that the more parsimonious position? Doesn’t seem that way to me. Hell, even without any specific evidence either way, how often do phenomena, especially biological phenomena, ever occur in discrete, on/off, binary fashion? It is always messier. It is always a spectrum.

      In any case, now that the evidence is starting to accumulate we are finding more and more animals that have cognitive abilities that were previously thought to be capable only for humans. That is pretty suggestive evidence for determining just how much credence should be afforded to the archaic suppositions about the uniqueness of human cognitive abilities.

  20. In DBT (Dialectical Behavioral Therapy) a distinction is made between suffering and pain. I suspect that by the definition used in DBT, many animals which experience pain may not be “suffering”.

  21. Does it even MATTER, the difference between pain and suffering? Who would sign up for something that would cause them “terrible, terrible pain–but fortunately, no suffering.” Seems like a distinction without enough of difference–certainly not enough of a difference to absolve this creator god of dickhood. If anything, it could plausibly be argued that with the contemplation that can accompany suffering, benefit might result, but no such benefits are available to non-self-aware–ergo, some kinds of unavoidable pain is more evil than some suffering is because nothing good can possibly come of it. This is a typical load of theologico-rhetorical bullshit.

  22. I do hope someone who debates him in the future pins him down on this.

    This ‘awareness’ he speaks of, what exactly is its role? Remember the Terry Schiavo case? She wasn’t aware and yet the religious were on a mission to say that that didn’t matter.
    They can’t have it both ways.

    1. I do hope someone who debates him in the future pins him down on this.

      Why bother. We already know what Craig does. Lies and then lies some more.

      This isn’t even the worst thing he has ever said. He is on record as supporting the murder of babies. No kidding.

      But only Canaanite babies. And only if god commands it.

      Why not? By killing Canaanite infants, they all go to heaven instead of where Canaanite adults go, which is hell.

      Of course, one can argue that abortion is a supremely moral act using the same reasoning. Fetuses and embryos all go to heaven and have no chance of going to hell. By the time they are adults, many have turned into Catholics, Mormons, and atheists and they are all going to hell.

  23. It should be mentioned that in cognitive science there is a distinction between awareness and consciousness; and given this distinction, the concept of unconscious awareness is not a contradiction in terms, because “awareness” is then used as a purely functional notion. And then the statement that animals are aware of pain without being conscious of it, i.e. without experiencing it subjectively, is no longer necessarily false. (Of course, it can be and arguably is contingently false.)

    “Awareness can be broadly analyzed as a state wherein we have access to some information, and can use that information in the control of behavior. One can be aware of an object in the environment, of a state of one’s body, or one’s mental state, among other things. Awareness of information generally brings with it the ability to knowingly direct behavior depending on that information. This is clearly a functional notion. In everyday language, the term ‘awareness’ is often used synonymously with ‘consciousness,’ but I will reserve the term for the functional notion I have described here. …
    Consciousness is always accompanied by awareness, but awareness as I have described it need not be accompanied by consciousness. One can be aware of a fact without any particular associated phenomenal experience, for instance. However, it may be possible to constrain the notion of awareness so that it turns out to be coextensive with phenomenal consciousness.”

    (Chalmers, David J. The Conscious Mind: In Search of a Fundamental Theory. New York: Oxford University Press, 1996. p. 28)

  24. I’ll add here that the idea that animals can’t feel pain was a 19th century pseudoscientific belief.

    It joined creationism and the Flat Earth long ago as discarded ideas in science.

    We don’t even really know much about human consciousness and how it comes about so it is a hard question to answer. There is some evidence that it partly arises in phylogenically ancient brain structures.


    After anesthesia, “primitive” consciousness awakens first

    4 Apr 2012 – … after general anesthesia represent a rudimentary form of consciousness that arises from ancient brain structures, new research concludes

    Given our present knowledge, to say that other mammals don’t have some sort of self awareness and consciousness isn’t possible.

    As anyone including myself who has lived with dogs and cats can say, they are conscious, self aware, intelligent beings. It isn’t human grade but part of a continuum. This isn’t any way to prove it scientifically, but so what. I do have to trust decades of extensive if unintentional observation widely shared with other pet caretakers.

  25. In the end, I don’t understand why we are even discussing the musings of Craig on these issues, since he knows nothing of animal behavior, cognition, psychology, anatomy, or basically anything else that might even be remotely related to making a reasoned approach to understanding what constitutes pain reaction in any organism.

    Ignorance can be used to create any imaginary construct to try and explain something.

    hence, how religion came to be to begin with.

    what else need be said in response?

    Craig is an ignorant piece of work who won’t think his way out of a paper bag. Not because he’s incapable of it, but simply because he refuses to do so.

    1. Its important to know just how profound Craig’s ignorance and arrogance is. Its another way of discrediting his ‘thinking’ processes as anyone who has owned an animal has felt sick when they are in pain. I’m wondering if he is diagnosable, at least as a personality disorder. I was shocked by him and amazed that some of his colleagues haven’t argued with him. There isn’t even a biblical reference – shepherds know all about animal pain.

      1. A lot of religious leaders, particularly of the fundies seem to be sociopaths.

        It’s an easy way to make huge quantities of money quickly. Pat Robertson is a billionaire and many make tens of millions of dollars.

        They are frequently caught in scandals and occasionally sent to prison after being convicted of serious crimes.

        Draw your own conclusions but it is a common observation.

  26. http://fcmconference.org/

    “The Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness in Non-Human Animals was publicly proclaimed in Cambridge, UK, on July 7, 2012, at the conclusion of the Conference, at Churchill College, University of Cambridge, by Philip Low, David Edelman and Christof Koch. It was written by Philip Low and edited by Jaak Panksepp, Diana Reiss, David Edelman, Bruno Van Swinderen, Philip Low, and Christof Koch. The Declaration was signed by the conference participants that very evening, in the presence of Stephen Hawking, in the Balfour Room at the Hotel du Vin in Cambridge, UK.”

    The Declaration: http://fcmconference.org/img/CambridgeDeclarationOnConsciousness.pdf

    “The absence of a neocortex does not appear to preclude an organism from experiencing affective states. Convergent evidence indicates that non-human animals have the neuroanatomical, neurochemical, and neurophysiological substrates of conscious states along with the capacity to exhibit intentional behaviors. Consequently, the weight of evidence indicates that humans are not unique in possessing the neurological substrates that generate consciousness. Nonhuman animals, including all mammals and birds, and many other creatures, including octopuses, also possess these neurological substrates.”

  27. About 40 years ago, at the start of our life together, my wife brought home a small white part-Persian kitten. We named him Sam. Never having had a cat previously (my parents were NOT fond of cats at all) I was ambivalent. Then a few weeks later a dachshund wandered by our yard. It spotted the cat and pounced. With the rear left leg firmly in its jaws, it shook the kitten like a rag doll. We drove it off after a second or so.
    Sam’s screams of pain were especially heart-breaking as his cry had much of the qualities of a small child in pain. My heart went out to this beleaguered animal.
    We took Sam to a vet. An X-ray showed a neat break in the femur near the hip. We were advised to keep the animal quiet and gradually increase activity. The break would heal naturally we were told. (It did.) A bowel motion the next day was a good sign that all would be well. (The vet didn’t charge; we were dirt poor at the time and very grateful to him.)
    Sam was a much-loved part of our family for over ten years. Our older children still remember him.
    What do I think of William Lane Craig? The man lives in a cocoon of unreality. People pay money to hear him speak?

  28. which is more hypocritical: denying that animals feel pain, in the interest of furthering a religious agenda? or acknowledging that they do, but shrugging it off, in the interest of self indulgence? and is it the most hypocritical to take positive delight in the suffering of animals, and to keep changing the subject to the suffering of humans as an avoidance tactic?

  29. “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.”

    Seems to me that the classic “abused dog/cat/horse/.. syndrome [and I’d bet just about any mammal]. … suggests a metaresponse of prior pain leading to fear, and if that doesn’t mean “suffering”, we’re all nuts!

    1. Craig zinger from linked article…”Here’s where things get really desperate for the atheist. Given naturalism, why think that human beings have any objective moral duties toward other animals? Why is it wrong for humans, who are just relatively advanced primates, to inflict pain on other animals? Who or what prohibits them from so doing? Obviously, we’re right back to the old problem of finding any objective basis for moral values and duties in an atheistic world, only this time the focus is on our duties toward other animals.”

  30. “Level 3: Awareness that one is oneself in pain
Level 2: Mental states of pain
Level 1: Aversive reaction to noxious stimuli
    Organisms which are not sentient, that is, have no mental life, display at most Level 1 reactions. Insects, worms, and other invertebrates react to noxious stimuli but lack the neurological capacity to feel pain. Their avoidance behavior obviously has a selective advantage in the struggle for survival and so is built into them by natural selection. The experience of pain is thus not necessary for an organism to exhibit aversive behavior to contact that may be injurious. Thus when your friend asks, “If you beat an animal, wouldn’t it try to avoid the source of pain so that way ‘it’ wouldn’t suffer? Isn’t that a form of ‘self-awareness?’,” you can see that such aversive behavior doesn’t even imply second order pain awareness, much less third order awareness. Avoidance behavior doesn’t require pain awareness, and the neurological capacities of primitive organisms aren’t sufficient to support Level 2 mental states.
    Level 2 awareness arrives on the scene with the vertebrates. Their nervous systems are sufficiently developed to have associated with certain brain states mental states of pain. So when we see an animal like a dog, cat, or horse thrashing about or screaming when injured, it is irresistible to ascribe to them second order mental states of pain. It is this experience of animal pain that forms the basis of the objection to God’s goodness from animal suffering. But notice that an experience of Level 2 pain awareness does not imply a Level 3 awareness. Indeed, the biological evidence indicates that very few animals have an awareness that they are themselves in pain.
    Level 3 is a higher-order awareness that one is oneself experiencing a Level 2 state. Your friend asks, “How could an animal not be aware of their suffering if they’re yelping/screaming out of pain?” Brain studies supply the remarkable answer. Neurological research indicates that there are two independent neural pathways associated with the experience of pain. The one pathway is involved in producing Level 2 mental states of being in pain. But there is an independent neural pathway that is associated with being aware that one is oneself in a Level 2 state. And this second neural pathway is apparently a very late evolutionary development which only emerges in the higher primates, including man. Other animals lack the neural pathways for having the experience of Level 3 pain awareness. So even though animals like zebras and giraffes, for example, experience pain when attacked by a lion, they really aren’t aware of it.”

    (William Craig: http://www.reasonablefaith.org/animal-suffering)

  31. I think a more proper question would be, “Do animals suffer from the experience of pain in the same manner that we do?” There is no doubt that animals react to painful stimuli; but as has been said about the human condition: “Pain is mandatory; suffering is optional”- one man hits his thumb with a hammer and says, “Ouch! That hurt!” Another man hits his thumb with a hammer and says, “Ouch! That hurt! That shouldn’t have happened! Why did that happen to me? I didn’t deserve that! Stupid hammer! Stupid nail!” I doubt that a dog, for example, is saying to himself, “Here I am, Joe’s dog- he’s beating me again, and it hurts!” However, there is SOME level of self-awareness and self-reflection going on there: qualities which vary from species to species; none of which seem to be as highly developed as our own. To “throw the animals to the dogs” (to basically advocate mistreating or torturing animals because they don’t “feel” pain, anyway) just to defend the notion that “God is all-good, and does not create unnecessary suffering” is not only cruel and ridiculous, but also superfluous to the argument: never mind the animals; we have PLENTY enough in the way of examples of HUMANS being tortured, often in the name of religion, to render the whole notion of an “all-loving God” absurd. It’s just more mental gymnastics in an attempt to fit reality to the “Procrustian bed” of a religious belief system.

    1. My mom adopted a dog from the pound that had obviously been abused by its previous owner. She had a very strong expectation that we would beat her and would react with fear instantly if someone did something that was the slightest bit threatening- this including stretching out an arm to open the door or even just getting close to her when she wasn’t expecting it. Obviously, the dog understood pain well enough to both fear and expect it.

  32. I would ask WLC exactly, going back in our history of ancestors, where does the perception of pain or suffering or self-awareness stop? If we have it, but animals don’t, then there must be some phylogenetic point where that crossover happens.

    Then the corresponding question is when did you make the transition from a ball of cells that you were shortly after fertilization, that had no experience of pain or suffering or self=awareness, to what you are now, in the years of development that got you to an adult human?

    I have written more about the issue of the inevitability of pain and suffering here.

    1. Presumably Craig will think that’s when the relevant miracles (“ontological leaps”) occur. Crazy, but what can you do other than point it out as scientifically ridiculous and also leading to morally reprehensible outcomes …

  33. “The key distinction being lost in this post and video is the difference between sensation and perception. The former is harwired neurology that certainly exists in all vertebrates (and probably other animals with sufficiently complex nervous systems); the latter is the subjective, conscious ‘feeling’.”

    But the video showed several studies that adressed this very question. I suggest reading victorai Braithwaits book “Do fish Feel Pain” for a further discussion.

  34. We have three dogs and three cats. I have also lived with other animals before and in my opinion I have plenty of observation to conclude that animals can feel pain and are capable of suffering. I don’t think that the accusations of antropomorphising have any weight at all. I could just as well say that those who are proposing this as an argument are simply either ignorant or willfully blind to animal suffering. After all, there are many examples from history where one group of people has denigrated other groups of people.

    “Those who are concerned in the Man Trade have … a confused imagination, or half formed thought, in their minds, that the Blacks are hardly of the same Species with the white Men, but are Creatures of a Kind somewhat inferior…”

    Two Dialogues on the Man-Trade, 1760″

    There is a small, narrow and dilapidated iron bridge at the end of the park where I walk my dogs. The bridge is maybe 10 metres above the ground and it is fenced with iron bars which might prevent a human from falling, as well as a big dog, but the height is visible. When I go with my dogs over the bridge, they start to shake and stoop. There is a street dog that occasionally accompanies me in my walks and today it has had the same reaction, too. I think that it is more than just a reflex. The dogs are actually aware of the height and the dangers of falling.

    Another example why dogs are not simply robots is that they are capable of reacting to stimuli ahead in time. My parents have a house in a village outside town and the dogs just love to go there for the weekend. When I say the name of the village and tell them that we are going there, they become agitated, because they anticipate that they will be running free, even though running free is not a specific thing and a specific stimulus (such as a candy waived in front of their noses) and it is not forthcoming immediately, but it comes after half-an-hour car drive.

    One of my cats has three legs – it has had its frong right paw cut off. She has adapted her lifestyle to accomodate this. For example, when she walks on hard surfaces (e.g. tiles), she doesn’t step on the trunk of her leg at all, but when she walks on the bed she sometimes steps an all four – her three normall legs and the trunk. It is also interesting to see her jump. Whenever she is about to jump on hard surfaces, she takes her time and is more careful, whenever its a soft surface she is landing, she is less careful. In my opinion there are some cognitive processings that are beyond instincts and beyond the programming of a machine.

  35. Now I remember why I don’t come on here every day like I used to. I love the scientific and humourous articles, and amazing photos. But at times this site shines a light on peoples ignorance and lack of compassion – and it’s not a pretty sight. There is no end of lies some will tell themselves and others

    If there ever was such a thing as ‘spirituality’, holy-spirit or whatever you want to call it, the honest-hearted, compassionate and truth-seeking people with an interest in science have it in spades. People who seek truth and accept what is

    I wonder what the implications of Lane’s assertion that animals don’t feel pain really means to him and his followers..whether it allows his followers free reign to treat animals irresponsibly for profit? What is the trade-off for this lie to themselves?

  36. Mr William Lane Craig, how on earth can you you believe animals don’t feel pain? they have nerves, they have blood, they are just build the same way as us, maybe you do’nt feel pain because you have no brain or heart but they do! I’m so chocked to read that kind of theory in 2012! get back to school please..

  37. I remember reading an article some time ago by some notable scientist, only wish I could remember who, who argued that it is likely that many animals actually feel pain more acutely than we do. He reasoned, and it rang true to me, that since we have evolved ‘higher intelligence’ we are able to assess risk of injury without necessarily needing a high pain stimulus, whereas animals need a level of pain that creates an instant and lasting aversion. Actually, he put it much better than that, but you get the idea!

  38. It seems to me, as if he has never had an animal of his own. How silly is his statement. Never heard anything similar. In fact, does he himself feel anything?

  39. As an animal lover, I’m deeply troubled by the cruelty that could result from people taking this nimrod seriously. Could you imagine a Christian veterinarian who decides it’s okay to perform surgery without anesthetic, since animals don’t “really” feel pain? And if animals don’t feel pain, does that mean they don’t feel other emotions or perceptions either? What would be the point of “loving” animals or bonding with them if they are really just automatons with no feelings or perceptions? Might as well bond with your car.

    It drives me nuts how these religious nuts want the respectability of science, but they continuously discount the evidence that scientists present for everything from evolution to the big bang to comparative neurobiology.

  40. I’m sorry, but the whole idea that animals can’t feel pain or be aware of pain is ludicrous. I’ve seen many animals in extreme emotional pain, in videos and in real life. Their eyes show you that they are really feeling pain and their whole body language.

    Also, just for the record, my mother shut our dog’s tail in the door by accident and he screamed a yelp and darted off. Ankmals can feel both physical and emotional pain, they’re more like us than you’ll ever know.

  41. Let’s move on from this topic, assuming safely that our scientific community has indeed put the case to rest that animals do feel pain.

    Starting to think about why someone would argue this way, I feel its to protect the food industry whose hunger for money and the ever hungry population that love to eat ‘animals’ have totally blinded them towards animal suffering for the sake of mass production. The entire industry has a foundation built on pain and suffering of animals that is celebrated, decorated and awarded for culinary expertise and aesthetic presentation of food (I meant animals being eaten).

    Any comments on this?

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *