Consciousness in Animals
By: Jim Virkler
Human consciousness is on a higher plane than consciousness in animals. Nevertheless, biologists acknowledge that mammals, birds, and perhaps a few lower animals possess the “neurological substrate” to experience consciousness. Anyone who has owned a pet, most especially a dog, would recognize the presence of conscious feelings. Their feelings are not simply explained by the action of atoms and molecules. Stated differently, consciousness in humans or animals is not a reductionist phenomenon. We cannot explain consciousness in either humans or animals by citing simple physical causes and effects.
Consciousness is one of the ultimate mysteries of the universe. Presently consciousness is beyond the ability of science to explain. We have posited that our omnipotent and omniscient God/Creator is the ultimate supernatural entity of consciousness. We may acknowledge this statement to be true, but in terms of explaining consciousness with cause and effect reductionism, science does not even come close.
Our post title refers to consciousness in animals. Coming from the blurry cloud of speculation, we descend to the realm of clear observation: We are able to observe intense feelings of consciousness in our pets. They express strong devotion to their masters and a desire to please them. They have a sense of playfulness, even humor. They are sensitive to our feelings. On occasions they sense danger for their masters and warn us of the danger.
Many animals are capable of thought and able to plan. Our evidence? Have you ever seen your dog suddenly get an “idea?” Sometimes pets will suddenly scurry off to “parts unknown” for reasons known only to them. Perhaps they thought of the joy of exercise, hunting down prey, or meeting up with one of their friends. (We confess this is pure speculation.)
In their devotion to their masters dogs show emotions such as happiness and shame. Some dog breeds and many other animals do not experience the same positive feelings of consciousness in their interactions with humans. They are cantankerous, even vicious. Their owners would do well to control and curb their conscious, unpleasant outbreaks. God has created animals with a diverse spectrum of consciousness. Humans are able to observe, describe, react, and enjoy these traits.
Because of the many dimensions of consciousness in animals, we must treat our pets, cattle, and domesticated or wild animals with humane respect. A passage in the Old Testament indicates ancient people possessed divinely given freedom to harvest animals for food: “Everything that lives and moves will be food for you. Just as I gave you the green plants, I now give you everything” (Genesis 9:3 NIV). Ancient residents were probably not concerned with deeper existential questions in days when survival was more challenging.
Dr. Hugh Ross has written about soulishness in animals. Many higher level animals have “the capacity for a limited range of thought, choice, and feeling, but without the spiritual qualities possessed by humans.” They have mind, will, and emotions and form relationships with their own species and with man. Soulishness is a concomitant of the fascinating trait of consciousness in many animals. Consciousness, either in humans or in animals, is a product of God’s creative work and is given for our enjoyment.
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Jim Virkler, a retired New Jersey public school science educator, now devotes his time investigating the harmony of scientific discoveries and Christian faith. He and his wife, Eleanor, now reside in the mid-west near their children and grandchildren.