Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Do Some Pit Bulls Go To Hell?

This morning I read Genesis 9 for my morning devotions and Genesis 9:5 jumped out at me,
and for your lifeblood I will surely demand an accounting. I will demand an accounting from every animal. And from each human being, too, I will demand an accounting for the life of another human being (TNIV).
This passage in particular raises the question of animals and morality. For, if they're not capable of immorality, why kill them for killing people? It seems clear to me that killing the animal that killed a person is the animal's punishment. What's the point? Clearly underlying this section is that human life holds intrinsic value, but I still fail to see why you punish a non-moral being, unless...animals aren't non-moral. Again, how can you demand an accounting of non-moral beings unless...animals aren't non-moral.

If animals are moral agents then this opens a whole range of questions. What does animal redemption look like, then? Are some banished to hell forever and do some go to heaven to await the new heavens and the new earth? Are all given grace by God? I realize that all of these questions are outside of the scope of revelation, but I think it's interesting to think about. I also think that if animals are moral beings then it may necessitate a change in how we relate to them, but I don't want to go down that path tonight.

Does anyone have any thoughts on all of this?


  1. At least at the biological level, decision making in humans is primarily made in the frontal cortex. From what I remember from my psych and philosophy classes, certain animals have a similar brain structure and use the frontal cortex like humans for decision making. This doesn't prove moral decision making, but just shows that the process may be similar in certain aspects.

    As for the whole animals taking account, could it come under the understanding that animals die after the fall? Does the fact that they die be a part of how they come into account? I'm not sure that something has to make moral decisions to be held in account. My eschatology is still fuzzy so I'm not sure exactly what God will do when he brings about the New Jerusalem, but my guess is that animals won't die as part of redemption.

  2. Thanks Brett, I wonder if perhaps only 'more advanced' animals might be moral agents. Maybe those would be the ones that similarly use the frontal cortex. Some animals seem to display things like guilt. At least I know that my dog would sneak around when it knew that it had done something wrong.

    I think you make a good point that I overlooked. You could hold someone/thing accountable apart from moral ability, perhaps that's what's going on here. That, though, would make me question the fairness of such a judgment. If it was for the purpose of correction I could see it still being fair, but death is not remedial. If human freedom is compatibilist, what then does animal freedom look like if they're not moral agents? I must concede though, that perceived fairness is not the final arbiter of right and wrong.

    One last point, I'm not sure that animal death wasn't already in existence prior to the fall. Human death may have been initiated at the fall, but certainly there was already death at the cellular level prior to the fall, thus animal death is possible (and required if one holds to a theistic evolutionary model). Bringing up eschatology is a good point. How literally or metaphorically should we take passages about e.g., 'the lion laying down with the lamb?'

  3. In terms of psychology and philosophy, the framework in which they researchers interpret morality for a chemical or mechanical component. It is hard to assess what kind of decision making has a concept of guilt or morality. For example the dog that appears to feel guilty could simply just be fearing the punishment. I don't think that fear of punishment or a negative consequence is necessarily a moral understanding. I currently view animals' behavior as best understood by a behavioral theory where there are stimulus and responses. This doesn't fully address the issue of morality but can explain an animal's actions outside a personified explanation.

    I agree that a theistic evolution perspective requires that animals die pre-fall and was something that I missed when thinking it through. I still am thinking over the whole eschatology.

  4. I remember Ralph Winter saying at a conference that it was only after the fall that animals began to do violence to one another. He had in mind the brutal way that predators pursue and consume their prey, tearing flesh from bone wight their teeth. He said it was one way that the animal kingdom participated with humanity in our fallen state and that violence permeates fallen creation even at the molecular level.

  5. I think that determining what the effects of the fall on all of creation are difficult. It's very clear that it had a significant effect, but it's hard for me to believe that we had no carnivorous animals pre-fall given what we know from biology and geology.

    At the same time, Isaiah 11:6-9 does seem to suggest that violence in the animal kingdom will end in the new heavens and new earth, so perhaps that's the way it was before the fall. In my mind, Is. 11:6-9 constitute the biggest challenge to the theistic evolutionary position that I hold to.