Animals and Christianity

Authored by: Gregory R. Peterson

The Routledge Companion to Religion and Science

Print publication date:  October  2011
Online publication date:  March  2012

Print ISBN: 9780415492447
eBook ISBN: 9780203803516
Adobe ISBN: 9781136634178


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David Harnden-Warwick and Jesse Bering, in their review of primate cognition (Chapter 44 in this volume), throw down a gauntlet of sorts, daring the theologian to see significance in the gap between primate and human abilities to think about the thoughts of others, commonly rendered in the literature as possessing a “theory of mind.” This ability to theorize the contents of other minds, to mind-read, would seem to be one central component of the capacity to act morally. Further, they suggest, our propensity to mind-read and to attribute mentality and agency to even inanimate objects suggests a causal explanation of our religious beliefs as well – we believe because we have a biological propensity to do just that, to see spirits where none exist. Other animals, lacking such propensities, presumably live in a far different reality, one incapable of thinking of others as others, though having different intellectual gifts of their own. Intelligence, on their account, is not one thing, but a range of things, and while we have one species of intelligence, other animals have others. What should a theologian make of this?

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