Banner: 2 angels gazing in wonder at an atom

Do Animals Have Souls?

Do animals have souls? Just what is a soul, and can some animals have a soul while others do not?

What Do We Mean By "Soul"

When we talk about a person's soul, we generally mean that immaterial essence that makes that person "that person." It's the person's consciousness, his or her self-awareness. Theology expands the definition to mean a real "thing" that continues to live after the body dies.

Philosophical Zombies

Wikipedia defines philosophical zombies as a hypothetical being that is indistinguishable from a normal human being except in that it lacks conscious experience, qualia, or sentience. It would act as any other human being but would not itself be conscious. How do you know that every human being except you is not merely a philosophical zombie? In fact you can't know for sure. But what you can know is that every physical thing you can observe about yourself, you can also observe in other human beings. We all express similar things when we communicate, we exhibit similar physical features like DNA and brainwaves. Given that our own conciousness arrises from our own physical being (in fact we never observe conciousness that's not embodied in a physical being), and given how physically similar all himans are, we have good reason to accept that other humans are probably conscious too.

Are Animals Conscious?

This question isn't much different than the previous question about human consciousness. Consider Koko. Koko is a gorilla that learned to communicate with humans using sign language. Koko has DNA and brainwaves that are similar to humans. Are the similarities enough for us to assume that Koko has conciousness? Koko's brain function is closer to normal human brain function than is the brain function of humans with sever brain defects. Based on the similarities, we have good reason to accept that Koko is probably conscious.

Are we on a slippery slope? If Koko is conscious, then maybe a lesser primate is conscious too since Koko and the lesser primate are similar. If we continue, we get to lesser mammals, and non-mammals, all the way down to single-celled organisms.

There are degrees of conciousness. We are less concious when we sleep than we are when we are awake. We were less conscious as a fetus than we are as adults. Decreased brain complexity and function means a less conscious brain. A simpler brain, like that of a housefly, is less conscious than a more highly complex brain like that of a human.

Do Animals Have A Soul?

From a secular view, consciousness and a soul are synonymous. Even if we can't mark the exact point at which an organism is too simple to have a soul, we can generalize that animals have souls.

Are animals souls eternal? Qur'an says:

And there is no creature on [or within] the earth or bird that flies with its wings except [that they are] communities like you. We have not neglected in the Register a thing. Then unto their Lord they will be gathered. Qur'an 6:38

Various Asian religions that believe in reincarnation, like Buddhism and some forms of Hinduism, believe that a soul is incarnated sometimes as an animal and sometimes as a human. So those religions do believe in an eternal soul for animals. Nothing in the Jewish Bible (the Hebrew Bible) or the Christian Bibles (the various Christian canons) speak of animals having eternal life.