These are some thoughts I’ve been considering.
- We do not have direct access into spiritual experiences or awarenesses of God that animals may possibly have. For example, if humans evolved from lower forms of animals (given the theory of common ancestry), we ought not to assume that consciousness of a complex kind is wholly and radically unique and idiosyncratic from all other forms of organic life. Perhaps certain other kinds of “consciousness” or “awareness” are found in other animals which allow for a kind of “spiritual” sensitivity.
- Humans, undoubtably, have a certain religious nature imbued into us by our evolutionary origins. Perhaps animals also have some kind of religious nature or awareness of the love of God, and this unique experience is something we do not have access to observe.
- Consider this analogy: martyrs and persecuted Christians believe they have been commanded to do a specific action, which they believe is necessary and good to do. When they experience the inevitable persecution, religious persons often report experiencing a profound religious comfort beyond what they have previously known, and this experience comes in their moments of suffering. Additionally, they believe that future glories or rewards will far surpass the suffering they endured and will make their suffering well worth it. We do not have direct access to their experience. We are only aware of their experience because they can communicate it to us.
- Perhaps animals suffering throughout evolutionary history experience something similar. However, we would be unaware of such experiences because they cannot communicate it to us.
I think the history of theology and philosophy of religion is characterized by an unjustified anthropocentrism. The majority of our theological efforts are focused on humans as God’s creation. And yet, humans occupy a fraction of the Earth’s population now and throughout evolutionary history. I believe we must learn to engage with the whole of creation as belonging to God and the implication of the Christian faith on ecology and the animal kingdom.
Jesus taught of a God who cares and knows about every fallen sparrow, and our Christian faith must be sure encapsulate such teaching. If your theology lacks the conception of a God who cares about animal death or deforestation, then there is still work left to be done.