Atheism and Animal Suffering

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at
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God lets animals suffer because he has a plan for them as well as us, and wants them to grow and develop.

I look forward to hearing you speak at the conference! I most often think that suffering exists simply because there is no way we could exist without. Entropy is part of the fabric of the universe as created by God, and there could be no creation without it.
I look at my children, and know that there cannot be growth and maturity without risking pain.


It’s unfortunate IMO that the post, and this thread, give the impression of being about atheism. The quote used as a springboard, "I don’t believe in God because of animal suffering,” looks like a strawman and seems (to me) to be using an unnamed atheist as a foil to discuss the problem of evil.

There is, of course, no particular position of “atheism” on animal suffering or on any other question of its ilk. I’m not sure how reasonable it is to even postulate that the problem of evil is a common justification for unbelief. What I do know is this: the problem of evil is a huge problem, indeed a simple refutation, for some gods; it’s a problem that can be solved with varying degrees of effort for other gods; and it’s flat irrelevant for plenty of other gods. A person who finds the problem of evil to be insurmountable for their god has numerous options other than atheism.

I guess what I’m saying is that it feels inappropriate to me to be using “atheism” in this way.


Dear Stephen,
I am surprised, and sorry if I have offended. I did not at all intend this to be a strawman–I assure you that while the gentleman spoke about his reasons for unbelief, I did not take it lightly. Nor did I mean any disrespect by using him as an example. I don’t have statistics on the question at hand, but I have heard many times in conversation that this has been people’s primary reason for disbelief in a (good) God. I did not mean by it that I think all atheists are atheists for this reason: I know of many others. Only that this was one man’s experience and reason, and that it touched me deeply.

Dear Phil,

I do think physical pain does indeed exist because it serves a useful purpose. But most of the years life has been on this planet, it has been too simple to suffer. So, life and the universe are possible (entropy itself does not entail suffering), but it does seem that to have advanced consciousness does make suffering inevitable. However, if we say it is a logical necessity, wouldn’t we back ourselves into the corner of saying the new heaven and the new earth are impossible?

Oh gosh, no I didn’t think the post was offensive or disrespectful. I just didn’t think it was about atheism, and that’s the first word of the title, so a reader understandably should wonder why atheism is so prominently featured. I assume you will agree with the point I made above: the problem of evil can be solved in various ways, only one of which is to conclude that god is a fiction.

Or perhaps that is why it must be “new” rather than just recycled. My thoughts are fluid on this, but one might ask, “if it could have been done another way, why did God do it this way?”
A world in which nothing bad happened would mean brakes don’t fail, ice is not slick, and drivers are perfect in their judgement and performance. Either that or God would be busy with miraculously intervening a million times an hour to prevent pain and injury, even working on the atomic level to repair mutations that would turn our cells cancerous. Perhaps he does to some extent, but a creation dependent on constant fixes seems to somehow lessen God. Perhaps God is “I am” and creation is what it is, until it becomes what it will be.


That’s fair. My first title was “The Comment from the Back of the Room”, but was told this was too abstract for anyone to know what I was talking about!
Yes, there are various approaches to the problem of evil.


I think your question is the key one: if the new creation can have advanced consciousness and no suffering, is that because what you suggest in the second paragraph is happening there?
I’m a fan of saying something along the lines of “this world has values that the next does not, and vice versa.” This world produces individuals through reproduction. I haven’t heard of anyone ever teaching we can have babies in the New Creation. That world will have no suffering, but I’m not sure it can generate individuals. (I ponder this a little farther in my Zygon issue from September).
All speculation of course, but I feel that there is some leeway for it in thinking about mysteries!


Hi Bethany, (@Bethany.Sollereder)

Thank you for your well written article.

I was very interested to hear your opinion on the question of animal suffering, and though your article was engaging and intelligent, my only disappointment was that I reached the end with the surprise that I had apparently still not read an answer the question.

You appear to offer the explanation to be “because God loves the creation”, but I can see no obvious logical connection between that and the question of animal suffering, nor did I notice any attempt on the part of your article to connect the two.

Or did I just miss the point? Or did my PC cut off your article half-way through? My apologies if so.

By way of constructive feedback, I’d like to respectfully advise you to adopt a more direct approach to addressing the issue at hand, and if you have written a more complete essay on the topic elsewhere, I would be grateful for your sharing it with me, as I would genuinely like to learn from you (



Aha! Fear no longer, I have found it!

Your article pasted here on Lewis and animal suffering is excellent, and indeed within it you appear to provide a logical answer to the dilemma of animal suffering: “animal suffering and death exist because they are prerequisites for the creation of creatures [humans] who could have a relationship with God”.

That is a very interesting argument and one I had not before thought of. Thank you for providing this insight. It is a gift.

Might I suggest that you use this argument for the above piece on atheism and animal suffering (the purpose of which I presume is to indicate how the presence of animal suffering could be compatible with world views other than atheism [i.e., Christianity]?)

Thanks a lot,


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I have to wonder if this ties into the whole concept of sacrifice to atone for sin. I actually still have difficulty with the idea of all the animal sacrifices in the O.T. and even the necessity of Christ’s death.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t deny it. I just don’t understand it.

I know that what we are talking about here is the means by which we get our energy, a necessity for any living thing. The sacrifice is also a necessity for life, how exactly that works though is a very deep mystery, it seems to me.


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