Thursday, March 3, 2011

Do Animals Have Souls?

A few days ago, I entertained a brief discussion on the nature of the human person, as opposed to the nature of machines.  People seem surprised (and upset) that the most common version of the "humans have souls" argument says that animals don't have souls.

Since this argument is in question here, let me try to explain it in more detail.

If you say "humans have souls, which is what makes them different from machines", then you can't believe that animals have souls.  Why?  Because scientists have already created machine animals, such as robot dogs and...robot cats.

But seriously, there are robot flies that look like flies and act like flies. So in a sense, scientists have a point when they say animals are just complicated machines; after all, they've duplicated the "machinery" of a fly.

If having a soul makes you different than a machine, then flies don't have souls.  Because flies are basically machines. Kind of.

Anyway, that's the argument.  You can't build a perfect robot human, because humans have souls.  But scientists have built perfect robot animals.  Therefore, animals don't have souls.  They're just complicated machines.

I don't really support this argument--I think animals are more than just machines--but that's how it goes.


In any case, I think the "humans are different than machines because humans have souls" argument isn't going to be settled, until we get a good definition of the word "soul".  Right?  Right!  Because if two people disagree on what a soul is, they'll probably disagree on whether or not animals have them.

So here are some common definitions of "soul":

1. Aristotle says the soul is the source of knowledge in humans. If you have a soul, you can make logical deductions. Therefore, animals don't have souls.

[Technically, he says animals have a different type of soul than humans do, but let's not get complicated.]
2. Cicero (or someone like him) says the soul is the animating principle of the body.  In other words, if something has a soul, it can move by itself.  These people say animals have souls.
3. Isaac Hayes informs us that he is, in fact, "a soul man".  The psycho-spiritual aspects of this claim have yet to be fully explored.

What do you readers think?  What is a soul?  Let me know.


Anonymous said...

Aristotle wasn't exactly the brightest crayon in the box ;) His law of motion is that an object stops moving because it wants to rest. Learned that today lol. Doesn't have much to do with animals having souls though. I'd say they have a kind of soul, but not a human soul, because animals have personalities and machines don't have any except pre-programmed ones.

Anonymous said...

Personally, I see the soul as an intelligent being with the ability to make decisions based on emotion and/or logic. That includes every living thing that has a brain. That's my personal definition of the soul, and it has nothing to do with religion or the "afterlife".

Alana said...

I agree with Anon 8:42. I think that animals have souls, because they have the ability to make logical decisions and have emotions. Dogs, for example, will protect and show affection towards people they "love" and defend themselves against people they "hate" or are afraid of.

Anonymous said...

A soul is a piece of the Divine which has incarnated in a living being, in order for us living beings to experience physical reality on the behalf of the Divine. Thats my point of view, i dont know what you think a soul is michael.

Anonymous said...

I think that every living thing has a spirit, and there are different types of spirits. A tiger would have a different type of spirit than a bird, and we have a different type of spirit too. We have souls, which are basically just a type of spirit.

As for saying that animals don't go to heaven because they don't have souls, this is kind of true. They don't go to our heaven, maybe they go to a different one, or something else happens to their spirit.

That is what I believe. :)

Morpheus said...

In religion class (I'm Roman Catholic)Father Aaron taught us that the soul is the "will and intellect" of human beings. Intellect is understood, humans are smart, but what is "free will?" I don't think animals are on the same level as machines because machines have zero free will period.

But animals rely on instinct more than anything else. Yes, a dog will love a person that shows care, but will it love a person that hates it? Jesus Christ loved those who killed him, is the dog on the same level as Jesus. Obviously not, He's 100 percent divine as well as 100 percent human, but God gave us that same power. Despite some kids being a total jerk to me, I still care for them. Do you still think I am on the same level as a dog?

My point is that while dogs can love people, it doesn't really give them a soul, because being able to love who are nice to you isn't really free will, it's natural instinct. God gave us a soul so we can love people who like us in return or hate our guts.

Lynniepoo87 said...

If an animal had a soul, God would not have allowed millions of them to be sacrificed in the O.T.

The love people have for animals is a mirror (albeit a weak one) of love Jesus has for his children. Anyone who cries when they see roadkill (like me) knows what I'm talking about.

Animals clearly are able to feel and love on some level. But a soul is what God has given to humans only. As to what it really is? I confess I don't really know, but I think its much more than the human can really understand. Maybe the "essence" of a human would be right. Humans can be redeemed by God, animals are part of the natural world. Humans will die and either go to heaven or hell, but animals (at least we hope) will be part of the new Heaven that God talks about in Revelation.

Just my two cents.

Balin said...

I think animals are, how do I say this, "soul-ish." I think they have some tendencies which makes them more than machines (a cat isn't programmed to love you when you pet him - or her, for that matter), but they are not the same as humans (i.e. don't have spiritual experience).

Balin said...

Oh, I forgot to answer the "what is a soul" question. That's another tough one, but here's what I think: it's not physical, and it's immortal. It's what gives our bodies life, and it lives on after our bodies have decayed.