Do Animals Believe in God?

Whenever we humans have been wrong about animals, it has been because we have underestimated them. As a schoolboy, I was taught that animals could not reason, solve problems, or use tools. False, false, and false. Earlier than that, scientists believed animals even as advanced as other primates could not feel pain. Way false.

Any dog-owner knows that animals can anticipate and even manipulate the thoughts of members of other species (their human companions).

Animals adopt children, display altruistic behavior, and wage organized war. Elephants, dolphins and chimpanzees have all been observed to take special care of their dead. All of this was unthinkable a hundred years ago.

If you are a religious person, you have your own reasons for believing in God. But think for a moment about people in general, especially primitive people. Why do they pray for rain? Why do they sacrifice their daughters to volcano gods? Why do they believe every tree and rock has a spirit? Surely humans’ hyper-developed sense of agency has something to do with it. We believe there are personal forces behind events, even when there are not.

It’s easy to see why we have evolved to go overboard in this way. If one of your great-great-…-great grandparents had seen the grass rustling on the savanna and mistakenly thought a lion lurked there, he might waste a few calories running away from nothing, but otherwise no harm done. The opposite error, believing there was no lion when it was right there stalking its dinner, would have been fatal and you would not be here. In that environment, it would not take long to evolve a bias for seeing animate forces behind events.

That environment was also the one that shaped the forbears of our animal cousins. Why wouldn’t the more cognitively endowed among them evolve a belief in some sort of god exactly as we have?

Maybe animals are smarter than we are, in a way: they know when to stop. After all, they have never been observed sacrificing their daughters to volcano gods, or doing rain dances. But why wouldn’t animals have an animistic view of nature? And isn’t animism a form of polytheism? And mightn’t that polytheism have developed into a proto-theology in some of the more advanced animals? Maybe they can’t talk about it with each other (or maybe they can), but who knows what’s going on in their heads?

What do you think?

2 responses to “Do Animals Believe in God?

  1. Humanity, especially civilized humanity, has a way of making animals human-like and humans animal-like. Honestly, is there really any comparison between animals and humans? Do birds sing for rain, do they sing because they know it’s going to rain, or do they sing for an all together different reason? Who taught people to dance for rain? If dancing for rain is primitive, why do scientists still dance for rain? Or perhaps dancing for rain wasn’t simply a primitive practice but a scientific experiment to figure out if one could manipulate the weather and if so how. Nothing has changed but the medium by which sacrifices are made and the god(s) they are made to. If anything it has become worse because civilized humanity doesn’t even recognize it.

  2. “We believe there are personal forces behind events, even when there are not.” And that in itself is a belief.
    I have met atheists and religious people who can give great justified reasons for their beliefs. And then I have met atheists and religious people who cannot even begin to articulate why they believe and what they believe.
    Belief is a feeling, and we humans just spend our lives collecting ideas that support our beliefs. Whether there is a God or not is beside the point. We all just find things that help explain those feelings we have.

    So just because animals behave in ways that we interpret as having human qualities does not make them equal to us humans, or make humans like animals. We can speculate all we want and find all the arguments that support our ideas one way or the other, but in truth it’s belief that motivates humans.

    We believe this or that. We believe that there is no God. We believe that there is a God. We believe we are different to animals. We believe that we are just more complex animals.

    Belief is centred round the idea of truth. And any statement of truth is merely an attempt to trump other people’s ideas and beliefs about truth.
    One person believes that they should be allowed to discuss ideas about there being a God. Someone else believes that these conversations about God should be kept personal.
    It’s all just a belief. An act of faith. And shouting louder, or stuffing one’s fingers in one’s ears does not remove the facts. It just removes the individual from the conversation, AND any chance of understanding the other side, and siding with dogma, no matter which side of the fence one happens to enjoy.

    People will believe what they want about animals. But how much research must be done in order to determine, one way or the other, what animals can appreciate about truth, morals and ideas about a deity?
    How much of everything in this universe must be known in order to say that there is a deity, or not? To say that there is or is not a God, requires faith, because until we know for a fact(upon knowing enough about everything that there is know), we have to remain creatures of belief.

    And that folks, is my belief.

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