Philosopher Dale Tuggy of the “Trinities” podcast recently posted a two-part podcast interview with Trent Dougherty on the problem of evil and animal suffering. (Part 1; Part 2). The second podcast focuses on Dougherty’s recently published book The Problem of Animal Pain: A Theodicy For All Creatures Great And Small. In the book Dougherty argues that God will resurrect animals that suffer. Tuggy cites the following passage from the book in the write-up accompanying the podcast:
“I will defend the thesis that a class of animals… will not only be resurrected… but will be deified in much the same way that humans will be. …they will become full-fledged persons… who can look back on their lives… then they will accept, though with no loss of the sense of the gravity of their suffering. that they were an important part of something infinitely valuable, and that in addition to being justly, lavishly rewarded for it, they will embrace their role in creation. In this embrace, evil is defeated.” (p. 3)
A few years ago I was driving my daughter to school when we drove past a bloody rabbit that was thrashing about on a front lawn. A man was holding back his barking Rottweiler a few feet away. It wasn’t hard to figure out that the Rottweiler had captured the rabbit and managed to inflict a mortal wound before the owner got it back on leash and under control. Now the rabbit was dying in agony on the front lawn. The barest glimpse of the vast suffering of animal creation had entered suburbia.
According to Dougherty’s thesis, we can analyze this problematic instance of suffering by concluding that God will resurrect the rabbit in the future with changes in its cognitive ability that render it fit to understand the value of that past suffering and to accept that role.
Tuggy expresses some skepticism toward this proposal in the interview. One of the objections he raises is that the kind of adaptations required to appreciate one’s suffering would not be possible for some creatures to remain what they are. Here’s the relevant exchange (occurring around 22 minutes into the podcast):
Tuggy: “Most of us believe that there have to be something like essences, that just simply for the fact that not anything can change into anything else. So I could turn into a taller guy or a shorter guy, maybe I could be transformed into a woman. But anyway, It seems like those things are possible but you know most of us would want to say that even God couldn’t turn a potato into, I don’t know, an angel or a human. I mean, he could annihilate a potato and then create a human right on the same spot, but … the human that came into existence wouldn’t be a former potato.”
Dougherty: “Mr. Potato-head is a possible counterexample to your theory there Dale.”
Tuggy: “He’s not a potato either. He only looks like one.”
After this initial humorous rejoinder, Dougherty offers a serious reply. If an angel’s only experience with human beings were limited to the embryonic stage, the angel might well consider it impossible that God should resurrect human beings that are capable of reason and imagination.
If we accept Dougherty’s view of animal resurrection then our current experience with non-human animals could be at something akin to an embryonic state of existence in which case a resurrected rabbit could come to accept his past role in a broken creation — including his untimely demise on that front lawn — even as he enjoys a resurrected life of rational existence like the anthropomorphized creatures of Richard Adams’ Watership Down.