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February 19, 2013

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While it can be said that "self-awareness" is a divine attribute that we have inherited as part of the package deal for Image-bearers, we don't really know how much other animals are self-aware. We have some indications from observation but little emperical evidence. Certainly there is some of this going on in the higher primates and perhaps in whales and the higher-brain functioning non-humans that populate our planet. That, of course, does not mean that this article is wrong in any way. What it could mean, I suppose, is that God can reveal Himself through other creatures and to other creatures. It does not take away my enjoyment of a steak every now and then.

"In my entire career as a detective, I’ve never arrested (nor prosecuted) an animal for causing a death."

I find this interesting, since our friend J. was not a dog catcher, nor has he worked to put to death pit bulls. But then, he wasn't the pet detective. We do put pit bulls to death if they attack and injure children or adults and if have shown a patter of aggressive behavior along with that. The question here is, are we just putting them to sleep in order to protect the public at large, or are we actually holding the vicious dogs accountable for their actions and behavior.

Ok guys, chew on that bone for a while and I will be interested in hearing your responses. :)

Louis, good points, but I believe the difference between a dog and a human is the thought behind the action that counts. If a human hurts another person on purpose, then there is some pre-meditation involved. There's emotions and evil involved. When an animal hurts or maims another animal or human, it's instincts and self-preservation that are the impetus for said actions.

I would have to side with protecting the public at large in response to your question. One could justify an argument that we are holding the dog accountable as well, but only to the effect that this particular dog and humans living together are incompatible. People don't live with tigers or bears because those animals aren't tame and want to eat us. If a dog isn't tame and is a danger, I don't see the difference between that particular dog or any other untamed beast. Cheers!

Louis, stirring the pot, huh!

It goes back to the idea of moral responsibility. Pit bulls put to death as remedy for attack [which very rarely resulted in death in the first place] were not put to death for a moral failing. Let's say that a person trains a dog to kill, sets into action a plan where his dog is successful in the owners plan and the dog kills a human. It is then proven by witness testimony and other obvioius proofs that this dog owner set the table for this end result.

Who do you think is morally responsible? I think this proves J.Warner's point.

Hi Louis, I just read my post, wanted to add a few observations. Dogs, although most are sufficiently domesticated to be no threat to mankind, are still only a short step from going wild in some measure. I've seen it. I have relatives who have used dogs to help in ranching and when on occasion they get the taste of blood of some of the animals that they are supposed to protect/herd, it is nearly impossible to train this taste back out of them. This is why animals who attack people are usually killed. This kind of aggressiveness has already been killed out of the genes [or at least made low in traits] of most dog breeds. It is still in their nature. I think dogs are killed for their actions precisely because they dont know that they did wrong.

Brad B
"
Louis, stirring the pot, huh!"

:) Yep. But more than that. Greg has always challenged us to be skeptical even when it comes to our own skepticism. So, let's question some assumptions and notions we hold.

You make some good points about the owner using a dog maybe like a weapon. But since pit bulls, in my example, have been shown to be a vicious breed to start with, it would seem that in some cases of attacks the only thing you could charge the owner with is not having proper control over his dog. Since in many places there are leash laws, though they are rarely enforced, it would seem that the owner would be held responsible for misbehavior of his dog if it could be proven that the owner did not exercise good sense in how he went about that. Of course, You do seem to be siding with the public safety over moral accountability of the dog. I understand your points and don't see reason to fault them.

"Who do you think is morally responsible? I think this proves J.Warner's point."

It would seem to me that we have a couple problems here. It is not possible to communicate with the animal at a level that would make it possible to determine their understanding of right and wrong(i.e. moral categories). So, we are left with the behavior of our pet to draw conclusions from. Is there anything in their behavior that we can point to that shows without ambiguity of alternate explanation that they are actually capable of distinguishing moral categories? I actually see none. If anyone out there is a better observer than me in this area, I am quite willing to entertain any theories you might have regarding this. For the moment and provisionally, I would say that the vicious dog is in fact not responsible, to answer your question.

John M

"
Louis, good points, but I believe the difference between a dog and a human is the thought behind the action that counts."

I understand where you are coming from, but this might be a bit problematic. We cannot know what is going through the mind of a dog. It might be possible that the dog simply gets angry at the person he attacks. If they are capable of crimes of passion, then it kind of is quite similar to what humans do in similar situations.

"If a human hurts another person on purpose, then there is some pre-meditation involved.
There's emotions and evil involved. "

I have to take a bit of exception on your pre-meditatioin angle here if I may. Not all crimes are pre-meditated and it is hard to know just how much planing a dog might actually go through before an attack. I've seen some dogs growl prior to an attack, is that a sign he is planning to pounce? Hmmm...

"When an animal hurts or maims another animal or human, it's instincts and self-preservation that are the impetus for said actions."

Actually, this is not always the case. He might be defending his turf or his meal ticket due to a perceived threat. So, there are a couple of motives that we can ascribe to a dog attacking. So, we see that a dog has motives and of course opportunity, which are necessary for a commission of a crime. But is that enough to say that your pet can commit a crime for which he can be held accountable from a moral perspective?

"I would have to side with protecting the public at large in response to your question."

I am actually on your side on this, but we need to come up with good arguments to support that position. Do I hear Greg whispering "Columbo Questions" in my ear about now? ;)

"One could justify an argument that we are holding the dog accountable as well, but only to the effect that this particular dog and humans living together are incompatible. People don't live with tigers or bears because those animals aren't tame and want to eat us."

That's right. Though people have tried to live with them and got eaten. So, we have an animal track record on this (the pun very much intended). :)

"If a dog isn't tame and is a danger, I don't see the difference between that particular dog or any other untamed beast. Cheers!"

Quite true. I think that there are two things we need to weigh and see which has the greater weight in this. As you pointed out, instinct is a factor in what a dog does. But is that the only thing that decides how a dog acts or does the dog make a decision to attack. It seems to me that an argument could be made that he does protect his territory and his meal ticket in a kind of self interest scenario. So, there is a level of intelligence involved in a dog's action. But does it rise above that of his instincts where he is able to parse out right and wrong and on the basis of that parsing make a decision on what to actually do and in fact be able to do the right thing in opposition to the wrong thing? But more importantly, do we actually have any unambiguous evidence to that effect that denies any other explanation?

I hope this conversation is not going to the dogs. :) If we could talk to the animals.... ;)

BradB

"Hi Louis, I just read my post, wanted to add a few observations. Dogs, although most are sufficiently domesticated to be no threat to mankind, are still only a short step from going wild in some measure. I've seen it. I have relatives who have used dogs to help in ranching and when on occasion they get the taste of blood of some of the animals that they are supposed to protect/herd, it is nearly impossible to train this taste back out of them."

That is true and a good observation.

"This is why animals who attack people are usually killed. This kind of aggressiveness has already been killed out of the genes [or at least made low in traits] of most dog breeds. It is still in their nature. I think dogs are killed for their actions precisely because they dont know that they did wrong. "

I agree with you I just think that we need to fines the argument a bit more. On my part, I just don't think that we have sufficient evidence from their behavior that would prove their ability to distinguish right from wrong. Something in their behavior would be such that we could not tie it to some other more selfish motive. Such as maybe actually protecting a perfect stranger from his own owner who attacked him for no good reason. Such a scenario would be clear evidence of a dog understanding right from wrong. I don't think we have that kind of evidence.

Hi Louis,[and others] topically for your amusement

Thanks Brad B. That was paw-sitively hilarious or as some may say dawg-gone funny. :)

Getting it wrong can be funny, getting wrong twice is funnier. Who said Brits don't have a sense of humor.

J. Warner Wallace said:

While the desire for food, pleasure and sex are still strong forces in our lives, we have the free-will ability to act in contradiction to these desires. This ability to choose is an important aspect of our nature in the image of God, because it is with this ability that we choose to seek, follow and trust God (Joshua 24:15).

The way Mr. Wallace phrased these two sentences is concerning. Our own ability to make choices that are against our own nature is an important aspect of our design in the image of God? God is usually characterized as being unable to act against His nature. It is, in fact, vital to the Christian narrative that God is always constant, unchanging. God is defined by his attributes, and always acts in accordance with them.

I suspect that the moral aspect is the vital difference. He is, by definition, moral, while we are not.

Thoughts?

Tobias

"I suspect that the moral aspect is the vital difference. He is, by definition, moral, while we are not.

Thoughts?"

Yep have some. I think that this whole thing has to deal with compatibalism and libertarianism, if we are to get anywhere with it. Both god and man are moral beings, if by what we mean is the ability to understand moral categories. The difference is in the way that we make our moral choices. God always chooses to be good because it is in accordance with his nature, sovereign will, and desire. It is the interplay of these three things that cause god to always choose good over evil. That is to say that god's choices are based on the compatibalist model. While man sometimes elects to exercise his libertarian free will and makes moral choices in favor of evil and sometimes in favor of good. Your suspicions are heading in the generally correct directions, but a good understanding of how libertarian and compatibalist models of free will work hand in hand with morality, would bring a sharper focus on the specific differences.

I have a daughter who has a dog that usually comes to greet her excitedly when she comes homes. Occasionally this dog it does not greet her so my daughter calls the dog which slinks on her belly toward her master. As my daughter says, "she (the dog) knows she did something wrong." Either a do-do on the floor or a ripped up item etc.
Does a dog know right from wrong? Maybe.

Also, what about a man (or woman) who acts worse than a vicious dog?

Peter

"As my daughter says, "she (the dog) knows she did something wrong." Either a do-do on the floor or a ripped up item etc.
Does a dog know right from wrong? Maybe."

I had a German shepherd when I was a kid, so I can understand how we might lean toward thinking that they might know right and wrong. But is it that, or is it just that they have come to know our reaction to their doing something wrong and respond accordingly? I don't think that your example is sufficiently unambiguous for it to give me sufficient confidence that they understand moral categories. The dog might be fond of you and your daughter and might not like doing something that would displease you. But if something is morally wrong, it is in itself morally wrong and it doesn't matter whom it pleases. So it might be that your dog's reaction has nothing to do with morality. Though I must admit that you present an interesting argument.


"Also, what about a man (or woman) who acts worse than a vicious dog?"

That might actually be evidence for an in-depth understanding of moral categories. We know that man is capable of great goodness and great evil. That an animal can't trump us on the level of those things just heaps more evidence of their moral limitations and, of course, moral culpability.

Thanks Louis, I don't think a dog has the capability to make a moral decision, nevertheless there has to be "something" to even they realize their master will be angry with them.

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