In an upcoming article, I will expound on actual and sanctifying grace, and why God made humans to receive that grace which can make us morally perfect in this life and brings us into right relationship with Him and into Heaven. In preparation, I wrote the below article to explain why God did not create nonhuman (nonrational) animals with immortal souls capable of receiving His grace.
Also, about three years ago, Gene Van Son explained why nonrational animals do not go to Heaven in his article Pets in Heaven? Don’t Bet on It. And I wrote an article titled Proving the Immortal Human Soul Exists, in which I provided extrabiblical reasons for the human soul’s continued existence after physical death.
As I just mentioned, the following article will explain why nonrational animals and other earthly creatures (plants and so forth) do not have immortal souls that survive physical death. Before turning to these explanations, however, I would like to define what a soul is and distinguish among the different types of souls. For this, I will turn to St. Thomas Aquinas.
Types of Souls
In his Summa Theologiae, Aquinas generally defines the soul as the unifying and vivifying principle (or form) of living organisms. The soul makes an organism a living thing and unifies the parts to make a whole. We can apply this definition to plants, insects, fish, reptiles, amphibians, and mammals, including humans. But this does not mean that all souls are the same.
Aquinas says vegetive souls inform their matter (e.g., flowers, trees, tomatoes, etc.) to grow and reproduce. Sensitive souls have these powers plus they inform their matter (e.g., dogs, cats, cows, horses, etc.) to use sense powers and to move.
Those species with sensitive souls can also recognize and remember material objects, but they cannot know things beyond the material. According to Aquinas, both vegetive and sensitive souls rely on matter and, therefore, do not survive after the organism’s death (ST I, q. 78).
However, a rational soul (human soul) survives after bodily death because it is spiritual. Rational souls have the aforementioned powers plus the ability to think rationally (i.e., think conceptually about things and their purposes) and to choose morally correct courses of action out of love for the eternal Good.
Human Vs. Animal Powers of Knowing
The human’s intellectual power includes knowing things beyond sense knowledge and imagination. Humans alone can understand themselves (introspection) and everything with which they come into contact (extrospection). We know and understand things beyond the concrete thing.
For instance, when I see a tree, I do not simply see something on which to urinate, like when a dog sees a tree. I understand the tree’s essence and conceptualize a great many purposes for which I can use the tree. I can examine one tree and understand the essence of all trees. Consequently, I can conceptualize the truth about trees and the truth itself. Truth is a concept we cannot detect with our senses. We can only understand it with our intellects.
I can also see a certain beauty in the tree that points to God’s beauty, the need for trees to oxygenate our planet and their uses for a nearly endless number of construction projects, and the need to replenish this natural resource lest I create problems for mankind by not properly caring for God’s creation.
Accordingly, I can reflect on my actions before I decide (prospection) what to do with the tree and even evaluate my actions afterward (retrospection). I may want to use trees for a near-endless number of things, but I can also reflect on the imprudence of doing such a thing, something nonrational animals cannot do. In other words, God designed me to understand truths that transcend material creation and to reflect on them.
Also, as God is eternal Truth, and He made me in His image and likeness, He designed me to reflect Him, to understand Him at some level, and to love Him with all my heart, mind, soul, and strength. By love, I simply mean willing what is good for oneself and for others. A thing cannot do this unless it first understands what good is and what is good.
But God did not create nonrational animals to function like this. They can recognize, remember, and even imagine material things, but they cannot understand the essence of things or concepts such as truth, love, beauty, justice, or even themselves. They simply have no ability to understand. And they cannot love what they cannot understand.
(Fact #1: Animals have no conceptual powers to understand things or ideas, and they have no volitional [of the will] powers to choose objects and actions they cannot understand.)
However, God designed humans to love, understand, and know which actions conform to or conflict with truth, love, goodness, reality, etc. Also, He made us understand not only material things but also spiritual realities, including Heaven. Therefore, our intellectual powers know things beyond the material and point to a spiritual soul that God designed for eternity.
What is Heaven?
Heaven is nothing other than the Beatific Vision, the moment we receive God directly into our souls and see Him as He is. St. Paul writes, “For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then, face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall understand fully, even as I have been fully understood” (1 Corinthians 13). So, Heaven is the clear, unimpeded understanding (or clear, spiritual vision) of God. He will give this vision to those whom He designed to understand Him and who die in a state of grace.
Nonrational animals clearly do not fit this description, which is why we describe them as nonrational. Animals may, and in my opinion, will, live on the new earth described in Revelation 21, but this does not mean that animals in this life will be there. In fact, nothing philosophically or scripturally supports the notion of resurrected animals in the next life.
(Fact #2: God did not make animals to understand Him or to seek the Beatific Vision.)
Humans Know God
Regarding our relationship with God, we have the capacity to know God, to love Him, to understand His purposes for us, and to execute our dominion freely and lovingly over the rest of the world in accordance with His will (ST I, q.96, a. 1, 2). This is something no nonrational animal could ever do.
God did not design animals to understand His purposes for creation or to seek an eternal relationship with Him based on grace, love, and truth. Animals do not even understand, nor will they ever understand, what grace, love, and truth are, not to mention justice, mercy, temperance, fortitude, prudence, and morality.
Like other living organisms (e.g., reptiles, insects, trees, grass, etc.) God created, He created animals to serve man, and He gave them temporal purposes. Even though God loves all His creation, His love does not necessitate that everything He creates will survive physical death.
(Fact #3: God eternally loves all creatures, but He did not create all creatures to eternally love Him.)
Genesis and Nonrational Creatures
Genesis 1 provides insight into the animals’ purposes. At the end of each day, God looks at his creation and declares that it is “good.” This includes the fifth and sixth days (v. 1:25) after God created “every living creature” in the sea and on earth but before he created humans. He gave them a natural goodness.
Thus, every living creature up to this point enjoys the same status as those things created on the previous days. However, when God creates man, He says something different. He declares everything is “very good.”
Everything was good prior to man, but after man, the pinnacle of creation, everything was very good. Thus, God lifted the status of all material creation when He created man. Other creatures did not lift man’s status. God gave man the power to understand His will and to love Him; powers that go beyond material powers. This points to a soul designed for supernatural goodness (i.e., grace and the Beatific Vision).
Additionally, God gave man alone the authority to subdue the earth and to have dominion over everything that fills it. Thus, God designed all nonrational creatures (any creature God did not order toward reason) to serve man because God gave man dominion over them.
This is crucial. God made nonrational creatures for man. Thus, they have temporal (not eternal) purposes. God did not make man to serve nonrational creatures because man has an eternal purpose, to serve God and then those He made in His image and likeness. However, man must care for God’s creation with the intellect, will, and laws that God has given to him alone.
(Fact #4: “Very good” in Genesis 1 means that God made man for supernatural life, but God made whatever is merely “good” for natural life only.)
More From Genesis
In Genesis 1:26-27, God says, “‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and the cattle, and all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.’ So, God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.”
In observing the first creation account, we should notice a buildup to man. God makes everything and then says, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness,” and then He gives man dominion. God is Existence, Eternity, Love, and Truth. Only man (and angels) reflect this image. This is clear from Scripture, introspection, and extrospection.
The evidence in Genesis 1 and 2 implies one unambiguous conclusion – God did not make animals to have eternal souls, because He did not make them in his image and likeness. He did not give them dominion because He did not give them the ability to know His will and to exercise it.
(Fact #5: God did not make nonrational animals in His image and likeness.)
Image and Likeness
Image communicates a similarity in substance, whereas likeness communicates how a substance behaves. For instance, I could have a son who closely resembles me, and we could properly say he is my image. Colloquially, some would say he is my “spitting image.” This language expresses his physical resemblance to me.
However, my son and I may be polar opposites in personality, such that someone might exclaim, I can’t believe he is your son! This language points to likeness (or lack thereof). In other words, my son bears my physical image, but he is not like me at all.
Returning to God and man, when God says that He made us in His image and likeness, He reveals that He made us of a similar spiritual substance (image) and have similar, though finite, spiritual powers (i.e., reason and free will directed toward truth and love, which are likeness). For more detail, please read Summa Theologiae I, Q. 93, a. 1, 2, & 9, which references St. Augustine’s De Genesi.
Saints Augustine and Aquinas are adamant that beasts do not have intellectual and volitional powers, which are spiritual powers, and thus do not have spiritual or immortal souls that survive physical death. Again, God did not give animals the ability to know Him. He didn’t even give them the ability to know themselves or to understand their own purposes. They do not have powers of introspection, extrospection, prospection, or retrospection.
If animals were capable of understanding concepts, they would be capable of understanding the concept of communicating concepts. They would have formed schools that explain concepts and ultimately build animal societies that communicate and build upon all kinds of truths, including moral truths. They would have long ago lifted themselves out of their lowly state. As it is, however, they have not and cannot.
Despite these many species having a much longer earthly existence than man, they simply have not developed, nor will they ever develop, the ability to conceptualize purpose, truth, love, justice, and morality. Therefore, nonrational creatures do not have immortal, spiritual souls.
(Fact #6: Animals do not have the intellectual and volitional powers to lift themselves out of their perennially low state.)
If animals had immortal souls designed to be with God for eternity, would we not make ourselves guilty of murder when we kill them for any reason other than self-defence? But God made a covenant with Noah, saying, “Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you” (Genesis 9:3), and Jesus declared all foods, including animals, clean (Matthew 7:19).
Also, God approved of Noah offering animal sacrifices to Him (Genesis 8:20), and He approved of, and even commanded their sacrificial deaths repeatedly throughout the Old Testament. This necessarily means that God made animals lower than man and to serve man.
Whether they die as food, sacrifice, or by natural causes, God made them for temporal, not eternal purposes. Therefore, we do not incur the guilt of murder when we kill animals.
(Fact #7: God made animals to serve the temporary needs of man.)
One might argue that someday man will create, using science and technology, animals capable of reason. This might be true. However, if man were to accomplish this, man would merely have made something that is vaguely an image and likeness of himself and some animal, not God.
Whereas God gives man the capacity for His grace by virtue of making man in His image and likeness, man has no power to create an animal with this same capacity for grace because grace that leads to eternal life does not properly belong to man.
God gave humans intellects and wills ordered toward knowing, understanding, and loving Him, and being with Him for eternity. He has given us eternal purposes. But man cannot pass these purposes or the capacity for grace and eternity with God to nonrational animals. In other words, God alone is grace and only He can give a creature the capacity to receive Him and be with Him for eternity.
So, even if man somehow modified animals to understand concepts, including eternal ones, man cannot give them eternal purpose, grace, or eternal life because they are not his to give. Only God can do this. And given the evidence presented, we have no reason to believe that God will ever give nonrational animals, even those manmade animals, immortal souls.
(Fact #8: Man has no power to give nonrational animals immortal souls.)
One might argue that God will give all animals in this world, including those that have died, the Beatific Vision (Heaven). However, in order to do this, God would have to change the animals’ nature from one that He designed to understand nothing to one designed to understand itself, God, and their relationships to and with Him. In other words, the animals we know on earth, would be something different in Heaven due to God changing their nature. They would be more like humans and angels and nothing like the irrational animals that roam, or have roamed, the world.
(Fact #9: Even if God granted animals the Beatific Vision, He would have caused such a complete change in their nature that they would no longer be the animals that roamed this world.)
So, we have nine reasons to reject the idea that animals have immortal souls:
- Animals have no conceptual powers to understand things or ideas, and they have no volitional powers to choose objects and actions that they cannot understand;
- Similarly, God did not make animals to understand Him or to seek the Beatific Vision;
- God eternally loves all creatures, but He did not create all creatures to eternally love Him;
- “Very good” in Genesis 1 means that God made man for supernatural life, but God made that which is “good” for natural life only;
- God did not make nonrational animals in His image and likeness;
- Related to reasons 1 and 2, animals do not have the intellectual and volitional powers to lift themselves out of their perennially low state;
- God made animals to serve the temporary needs of man;
- Man has no power to give nonrational animals immortal souls; and
- Even if God granted animals the Beatific Vision, He would have caused such a complete change in their nature that they would no longer be the animals that roamed this world.
Given all this evidence, the rational being has no reason to believe that God made nonrational animals with immortal souls. Rather, we have every reason to believe the opposite. And we should celebrate our immortality by serving God and those made in His image and likeness (especially the destitute) rather than by wasting time feeding a misdirected desire for animals to have immortal souls.
This article originally appeared at Catholic Stand.