Explore
Online premiere of Dismantled: A Scientific Deconstruction of the Theory of Evolution
Watch for free here between 12 AM October 9th - 11:59 PM October 11th EDT!

Feedback archiveFeedback 2020

Do animals have spirits?

Published: 8 August 2020 (GMT+10)

Bruce A. wrote in response to a Creation magazine article, The majestic gorilla:

gorilla

Dear Lita and Robert,

Thanks for an informative and interesting article on gorillas.

However, I was deeply concerned by this statement in the last section of the article: “they (gorillas) are as spiritually alive as a box of rocks.” Please explain your Biblical basis for this statement. My Bible tells me that animals have spirits (Ecc 3:21). And Rev 5:13 tells us that ALL creatures on the earth and in the seas will praise God. In contrast, I know of no scriptures which say that rocks, in or out of a box, have a spirit.

Remember that when Jehovah God spoke to Noah after the Flood, He also addressed the animals, and promised both us and them that He would not send another world-wide Flood (Gen 9:8 to 17). Also notice that God has beasts with Him in Heaven (Rev 5:8, 15:7, etc) and there will be beasts living with us during the Millennium of Peace (Isa 11:1 to 9). Psalm 145:15-17 tells us that the animals call out to God and ask Him for food. It is but a small extrapolation to believe that when the birds and whales are singing, they are praising God for the world they live in and for giving them life. And like us, they are waiting for the Redemption (Rom 8:19 to 23).

Yes, they cannot become Children of God as we can. But who among us truly knows what a gorilla thinks, let alone if it is capable of worship? We are “infinitely above the gorilla”? Whose sin broke the Creation and caused the Flood, the gorilla’s sin or ours? The Bible does not teach us to denigrate animals so we can glorify ourselves.

Lita Cosner and Dr. Robert Carter, the authors of the article in question, respond:

Dear Bruce,

Thank you for writing in. We are always grateful when ‘pushback’ from a reader gives us the opportunity to further consider interesting questions.

We definitely agree that humans should not ‘denigrate’ animals. They are part of God’s creation, after all. We can think of awful practices like bear-baiting and bullfighting that involve humans deriving entertainment from an innocent animal’s torture. Our modern sensibilities make us cringe at the thought. But treating animals well is also a biblical principle. Proverbs 12:10 says, “Whoever is righteous has regard for the life of his beast, but the mercy of the wicked is cruel.”

Yet there is nothing in the Bible that indicates animals can be saved, can sin like a human, or have any concept of spiritual things. Yes, they play and sing and frolic and do all sorts of things that seem to relate to their Creator with joy. But this does not mean there is a spiritual connection to God or some deep intellectual understanding of what is happening in their lives.

Do animals praise God and ask Him to provide for them? No. These are poetic ways of speaking. God is glorified by birdsong and whale song, but the birds and whales are acting out of instinct. There is no finch equivalent of “A mighty fortress is our God”. God is also glorified by providing food and shelter for animals, but there is no equivalent to our asking “give us this day our daily bread” (Matthew 6:9–13) for them.

Animals may have a richer emotional experience than was traditionally ascribed to them. When a gorilla infant dies, its mother displays mourning behavior, guarding the corpse from predators while displaying all the hormonal changes a mourning human would experience. We are inclined to say the gorilla is mourning her dead infant without a bunch of qualifiers. But we cannot really know what the gorilla is thinking. We can assume she is suffering emotionally based on her behavior, we can assume she knows something is dreadfully wrong with the infant. But does she have an understanding of what death is or the concept of an eternal soul? Probably not, to put it mildly.

And to get to the heart of your message, can animals commune with God? No. They are spiritually not alive. That is, they are soul-like and spirit-like (see Nephesh chayyāh), but without the ability to relate directly to God they simply do not understand their position in the universe. This is why we’re permitted to kill and eat them, while murder is a heinous sin as well as a crime. Humans are more valuable than gorillas, because humans and not gorillas are made in the image of God. A human can worship God, place faith in Christ, and be indwelt by the Holy Spirit. An animal cannot.

But just as humans have great privileges compared to the animals, we face much greater judgment apart from Christ. It doesn’t matter how many of its rival gorillas a silverback kills, he is not guilty of murder and will not go to Hell. There is no category for animal ‘sin’. Under Old Testament law, if an animal kills a human it must die (Exodus 21:28), but that is simply killing a dangerous animal, not imposing the death penalty.

You say that the Bible does not teach us to denigrate animals so that we can glorify ourselves. But I don’t believe that stating the truth about an animal—namely, that the gorilla, while it is a magnificent creature, has no spiritual life—is denigrating it at all.

I hope these further thoughts on the matter are helpful.

Helpful Resources

Evolution's Achilles' Heels
by Nine Ph.D. scientists
US $17.00
Soft Cover
From Creation to Salvation
by Lita Cosner
US $14.00
Soft Cover

Readers’ comments

Eric T.
Rev 5:13  And every creature which is in heaven, and on the earth, and under the earth, and such as are in the sea, and all that are in them, heard I saying, Blessing, and honour, and glory, and power, be unto him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb for ever and ever. 
Lita Cosner
Eric, that chapter in Revelation is magnificent. It also contains imagery that is not intended to be taken literally.
Elizabeth F.
God has never erased anything he created, but he will make all things new (restored) (2 Peter 3:12-13, Isaiah 11:6). Animals do have a spirit (Ecclesiastes 3:21), but a vastly different one to that of mankind who, from Genesis to Revelations, have a unique relationship with God. As adopted sons (Romans 8:23) believers, alongside God's own son Jesus (2John 1:3), are the only ones with the right to call God Father (Luke 11:2) through the salvation from our sins by the Lord Jesus Christ (Acts 4:8-12). May God be praised.
Richard A.
Having worked as a Veterinary Surgeon all my working life and also managed a small farm I think I know a little about animals. Animals have spirits, there is the high spirited horse, the lazy dog that lies on the settee all day, the friendly cow who likes to have her ears scratched whenever I go to check up on the cows. What none of the animals have is an eternal soul for which Christ died. Sometimes we refer to our animals as kindred spirits and how interesting it is to see pets resemble their owners in some ways. However, let me emphasize again, they do not have eternal souls for which Christ died. There is no mention of any animals appearing before the Judgement Seat of Christ or at the Great White Throne.
Lita Cosner
Hi Richard, it seems like we agree; animals which are described as nephesh chayyah ('living souls') in Scripture have many elements of personality but no eternal soul.
Tim N.
Animals have souls (the invisible part of a creature that is alive and animates the body). Animals do not have spirits (the invisible part of a being that relates to God). They live, but they don’t have a sin nature or the ability to receive a regenerate nature in Christ.
Steve B.
Isn't self preservation recognition of death. If an animal flees a predator or hesitates to make a risky move shows they are frightened of injury or death and in yje animal kingdom an injury often leads to death.
Lita Cosner
Self preservation can be a programmed response that natural selection enhances over time. The animals that have better self preservation have more babies than others. It doesn't mean that they have an awareness of their own death.
Joel L.
Lita: Given that even Ants have recently been shown to pass the mirror test, your point is well taken! And perhaps we are discussing a false dichotomy after all: The difference in kind between the moral culpability of a child of two years and a woman of twenty arises entirely from differences in degree in their awareness and character and development. When it touches on the exact meaning of Scripture's statements on the unique nature of man vs. the animal kingdom, I do think we must exercise a measure of 'eschatological parsimony'. I would say that when an animal shows an ability process complex questions and requests, express it's wishes, exchange words in conversationally appropriate ways, to creatively enjoy, engage with( extreme 'head bobbing' and 'dance') and express preferences in music, and possibly( it would be reasonable given the above) to spontaneously choose to offer aid to a conspecific with no expectation of present or future reward( though the slight possibility of some genetic relationship was not ruled out) as well as indicate answers to 'yes/no' questions involving assessment of their own emotional state and incidents displaced in time from when the questions are asked, the converging lines of evidence would argue that we should assume God intends for us to understand it exactly as it appears. Otherwise the appeal that we cannot know 'what it's like to be a bird' starts to sound like starlight created in transit, in my opinion. I would not put a bird on trial or expect it to compose a hymn, but that does not rule out to me an 'innocent' embryo of our humanity. I would also note that a human is considered a human before it's first spark of awareness, so God's sovereignty and free choice towards us must also play a role. :-)
Lita Cosner
As AI becomes more advanced, it has the ability to do all the things your bird example can. Should we similarly assume that God intends for us to understand it exactly as it appears? AI shows us that something can appear other than it is. Siri is just doing what it was programmed to do. Perhaps the bird is similarly just doing what it was programmed to do. We don't know, hence why I keep pointing back to the biblical statements.
Daniel T.
Sorry that this question has nothing to do with the article itself. But I need help: did Jesus Christ believe in the literal narrative of Genesis?

Because there are still some who object that Genesis is non-literal poetry.
Lita Cosner
Please see Did Jesus believe Genesis? for evidence that Jesus did take Genesis as historical narrative.
Joel L.
You reply to a commenter: "We can talk all we like about how animals are sweet and loving and form bonds with us when we keep them as pets, but there is a qualitative difference between the spiritual life of a human and the life of an animal." I once would have agreed with this statement, but every one of those qualitative lines I would have drawn have been challenged by( sound) research over the last twenty years, with parrots in particular. If one accepts that an animal - any animal - can under any conditions understand and use referential labels, voice their desires and understand that they are not the only conscious being in the universe, what qualitative difference remains? Of course we would still remain the only beings created to walk with and worship God( in fact our creation 'in His image' is not complete without His 'breath of life'; man and woman cannot fully reflect a triune God alone) and the only being to possess full moral culpability. But must that be born of a qualitative difference in those temporal things we would measure with our earthly sciences?
Lita Cosner
A computer can be programmed to recognize far more objects than a parrot can. It does not follow that a computer are conscious beings in the universe. We don't know enough to infer what a parrot's inner life is like. But Scripture clearly indicates that regardless of the parrot's vocabulary, it enjoys a qualitatively different experience because as image-bearers, we have an awareness of spiritual reality that the parrot simply can't fathom.
Mark P.
In the question and answer section above, not one mention it is made of the fact that evolution and atheism cannot explain any of these feelings that animals or humans have, or instincts, or sympathy, or mourning, or what is clear that there is some spiritual world involved in running biological life forms beyond the physical. We may argue back-and-forth and the responses to this article above in large part because we as created humans do not understand fully this spiritual aspect - at least here on earth. But this article and the Q and A is exactly why creation ministries exists: to show the implausibility of evolution by random mutation. May God be praised and humans be humbled!
John C.
The statement 'The lion shall lie down with the lamb' is actually a misquotation (albeit a non-intentional conflation) of Isaiah 11:6. There is nowhere in scripture where that actual phrase is used. There may, indeed, be many places where the scripture is referred to on creation.com. I hope it is in proper reference. You were kind not to correct this, when it was not the subject of the discussion. But what does Isaiah 11:6 have to do with animals having spirits, anyway?
Lita Cosner
I didn't correct the questioner because the lion eating straw like an ox is as clear an indication of vegetarianism as the wolf lying down with the lamb, and really everyone knows what he was referencing. I can only guess what the questioner thinks the relevance is, but I would say that the significance is that animals will be part of the restored creation.
J G.
Folks, That was an enlightening back and forth. I once had a young woman that during a bible study relay to the audience that her beloved cat had died and that she took solace in the fact that she would see her cat again when she reached heaven. I must have been giving her an odd look because she asked me If I thought that animals go to heaven. I told her that scripture old or new does not talk about the salvation of animals but only that of believers. I told her I think there will be animals in heaven but by them being there does not that animal was saved as they have no sin to account for.
Lita Cosner
See our take in the article Can bunny rabbits be saved?
Steve B.
One point I would disagree with animals do understand death, just by watching prey flee predator we can see the fear of the animal loosing it's life. Do they see death as we do, no we have one of two destinations after death they have no destination. For them it's over, though that could be considered a blessing when one considers the choice of hell. In this instance no choice is better than one of the two choices we have.
Lita Cosner
Animals have various instincts for self-preservation and avoiding pain. Fleeing predators is one of them.
Debby C.
I think I agree with Bruce. I believe when we are finally before the Lord we might surprised about much. I know my God loves all His creation and He knows when even a sparrow dies. Who are we to put limitations on anything of His.
Lita Cosner
That's a lovely thought, but God Himself tells us about some limitations in Scripture. Humans clearly enjoy a spiritual relationship with God that animals do not as part of being made in His image.
Martyn M.
Great response to a previous article by Bruce A and a great response by Lita and Robert. I some times ponder what is life? Are ants just like robots, what is the difference between life and machinery? How about animals that express joy and affection, what's the added thing that machinery doesn't have? I remember C S Lewis mentioning in "Mere Christianity" that we don't know how dogs think but we do the way humans think. Although as your article points out there is this huge difference between humans and other animals.
Mark P.
Bruce and Lita, this is an interesting exchange for sure but I’m not sure the Bible provides a clear enough answer for us to fully understand. We know that we are for a little while created lower than the angels, who are themselves created beings, and we know that we are in dominion over the animals at least for now on earth, another form of created creature. We don’t fully comprehend the spirit realm that the angels live in or do we fully comprehend whatever spiritual, for lack of better word, “software” that runs or exists in animals. I find two of the most interesting passages on this matter are Baalam’s donkey and the fact that a talking serpent spoke to Eve and she felt that was perfectly normal! It was clear by inferrence in that exchange that our original created earth included talking animals that could freely communicate with humans so the animals must have a level of understanding at least slightly above instinct only. It is clear from Baalam’s donkey that after the fall talking animals and animals who have intellect was quite a shock to humans. Multiple references to animals and angels in heaven cannot be figurative in my opinion, they must be literal. True, Christ did not die to save animals or angels and that makes us very unique, not the least because we were created in God’s own image. But I don’t think saying animals are instinct creatures alone fully answers or captures God‘s intended purpose for them.
Michael T.
What is the implication, though, of the truth that "A righteous man regardeth the life of his beast" (Prov 12:10a) ?
Lita Cosner
God, being absolutely good, gives us an example of providing for beasts in that He provides them with food and shelter and everything they need, as expressed in many Psalms and other places. Animals are capable of suffering and pain, and so a godly person would do his best to ensure that his animals, which in the ancient world would provide value to him in the form of labor, milk, wool/skins, and meat, would experience pain-free lives with sufficient food.
Carmine E.
Psalm 148 1 Praise ye the Lord. Praise ye the Lord from the heavens: praise him in the heights. 2 Praise ye him, all his angels: praise ye him, all his hosts. 3 Praise ye him, sun and moon: praise him, all ye stars of light. 4 Praise him, ye heavens of heavens, and ye waters that be above the heavens 5 Let them praise the name of the Lord: for he commanded, and they were created. 6 He hath also stablished them for ever and ever: he hath made a decree which shall not pass. 7 Praise the Lord from the earth, ye dragons, and all deeps: 8 Fire, and hail; snow, and vapours; stormy wind fulfilling his word: 9 Mountains, and all hills; fruitful trees, and all cedars: 10 Beasts, and all cattle; creeping things, and flying fowl: 11 Kings of the earth, and all people; princes, and all judges of the earth: 12 Both young men, and maidens; old men, and children: 13 Let them praise the name of the Lord: for his name alone is excellent; his glory is above the earth and heaven.
Brandon L.
Think this was explained well. I believe scripture teaches that we (humans) are a soul that lives in a body that we use to communicate with the physical world, and we also have a spirit that we use to communicate with the spiritual world. Animals on the other hand are souls as well, live in a body but have no spirit to communicate with the spiritual world. But they do have a soul (mind, will, emotion). When they die their soul returns to God.
Lita Cosner
This fragments the human person far too much. Humans are a body-soul duality, which is why dead believers in the presence of Christ still look forward to the day they are resurrected and reunited with perfect bodies that will never suffer and die.
Norman P.
God displays the vastness of his glory, love and wisdom in the Creation. Although all the animals were presented to Adam, there wasn't one that could be a soul-mate for him. And so God created woman out of his side, so that Adam was able to say: 'this is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh' (see Genesis 2:18-25). In his wisdom, Solomon wrote much on the natural creation, but without the light of Christ, he erred. It could not be fully fathomed until Christ was revealed, and in Colossians 2, the Holy Spirit inspires the apostle Paul to write that Christ (the last Adam) 'is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature: for by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him: and he is before all things, and by him all things consist.' And in Ephesians 5, Paul writes: 'This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church.' So we see from this perspective that Christ's creation is to be understood as spiritual in that it glorifies him - as Jesus said to the Pharisees (Luke 19:40): 'if these [disciples] should hold their peace, the stones would immediately cry out'. Given also Balaam's dumb ass that spoke, I see it that Jesus is Lord over all his creation, which is what is expressed in Revelation 5:13. This does not mean the other earthly creatures are spiritually alive and morally accountable as we who are 'made a little lower than the angels' are, but it does help us to understand the Lord's greatness, and to worship him: also to rejoice that the creation will one day soon be liberated from the bondage of corruption, and Christ will have his redeemed bride by his side!
Michael B.
We need to be making a big effort to not use the term spirit when we mean soul; the two are not interchangeable and when spirit is used in place of soul confusion arises. In the flood we see that everything "in whose nostrils was the breath of the spirit of life" was destroyed Genesis 7:21-23 clearly stating that the spirit of life was in every land creature. We see a clear distinction between sprit and soul spoken of in 1 Thessalonians 5:23 and Hebrews 4:12 that they are not considered the same thing. Jesus said that it is our souls that can be destroyed in hell ( Matthew 10:28 ) and many references to the soul being saved through out the Scriptures and in the book of Revelation is it the souls of those who have perished that we see making multiple appearances we do not see the word spirit use in the manner. The spirit is the life force the soul is unique to the being. God is Spirit and He has a Soul ( Isaiah 42:1 ). Animals merely have spirits that make them alive and as long as they have breath they glorify God because He is the giver of life. When the spirit departs they die and we remember that it is the sin of man that brought that death into the world. Thank you all for your continued ministry to the whole Truth of the Scriptures. Your Brother in Christ, Michael
Dennis A.
I believe that all non-sentient creatures possess what I call an instinctual awareness but nothing approaching the awareness or relational ability of an Image bearer! Dennis Angell, Bend, Oregon
Alf F.
It is interesting that once the Lord had opened the mouth of Balaam's donkey, it had something intelligent to say. The Bible specifically doesn't say that God put the words in the donkey's mouth which it must say, which I think the Bible would have done if that had been the case. When God made the animals, He made them living souls. If you are anything other than pure biology, I would say that the only other thing which can differentiate you in any way from pure biology is spirit. I don't think soul can exist without spirit. Man also is a living soul, but made in the image or likeness of God. I am not inclined to think we have the full definition of that spelled out for us in Scripture, perhaps it means more than just being a tripartite being. It has always been an interesting question. Animals that harm man can have blood guilt, says the Word. If they could not make choices to obey or disobey, they could not be held accountable. Also, in the OT man must not eat meat with the blood in it because the life is in the blood. Will biology make us unclean, or is there something more to it? And also, the serpent which spoke to Eve, was that literal? And if not, why were all snakes cursed, instead of the devil? Perhaps the serpent had some choice in the matter? Or perhaps, as you say, the serpent is no more alive than a bunch of rocks (which I think would make a mockery of the graded kingdoms of life classification scheme) and is little more on this earth than a symbol of evil. All in all, I tend to think there is necessarily something spiritual in anything that is not just a bunch of chemistry. A bunch of chemistry cannot bond with one and be loyal, innovative and discriminating as many pets can, surely?
Lita Cosner
When the Bible calls animals nephesh chayyah, it is acknowledging that they are more than a bunch of chemistry. But humans alone are in the image of God. We can talk all we like about how animals are sweet and loving and form bonds with us when we keep them as pets, but there is a qualitative difference between the spiritual life of a human and the life of an animal.
Deon B.
Very interesting article. I just want to share my experience with our dogs. The one we had, a Maltese poodle, literally went into a state of mourning after my first wife passed away unexpectedly. The little thing just waiting on the stoep for my wife to return from work, did not eat and eventually I could not observe this any longer.I had her put down [ I myself, and my one son was also in mourning having lost our love one in such a tragic way]. Other dogs we had showed characters and moods. Joy, sulking, love, etc. Is all this instinct - I don't know? The behavior of elephants after one of the herd died, is well documented and communication skills of dolphins and wales are still puzzling biologists. Just an observation. Thanks for the good work done by the team at CMI . Highly appreciated.
Larry F.
Man is absolutely unique: Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness". Genesis 1:26 ...then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature. Genesis 2: 7 Yet these people slander whatever they do not understand, and the very things they do UNDERSTAND BY INSTINCT—AS IRRATIONAL ANIMALS DO—will destroy them. Jude 10 But these people blaspheme in matters they do not understand. They are like UNREASONING ANIMALS, CREATURES OF INSTINCT, born only to be caught and destroyed, and like animals they too will perish. 2 Peter 2:12
Graham W.
Well said Lita and Robert!
John C.
'A human can worship God, place faith in Christ, and be indwelt by the Holy Spirit. An animal cannot.' Since animals have no spirits--rather human-like traits we IMPOSE upon them--this would also indicate that humans cannot be 'possessed' or 'guided' by the spirits of animals. They can, however, be 'possessed' and 'misguided' by demons masquerading as animal spirits--and this has been going on for centuries in many cultures. Such is the cleverness of our enemy, the devil, who seeks constantly for ways to destroy the image-bearers of God in this world.
Stephanie V.
In psalm 148 the Bible also speaks of the moon, stars and the mountains and the hills and much more praising God, and they clearly don’t have a soul.
Robert W.
One thing that requires some explanation is why God creates animal suffering if they are amoral creatures. he could have made them biological machines instead to avoid this. Whilst our suffering can lead to salvation, if it cannot do that for animals, then some may say that their suffering if not only cruel, but pointless.
Lita Cosner
Animal suffering provokes compassion in humans, and causes humans to wonder why things are this way. So animal suffering is just one of the many things that indicate that the world is fallen, and that we need a Saviour.
Wayne O.
I have a problem with the following questions and answer "Do animals praise God and ask Him to provide for them? No." in the response of Lita and Robert. How do you reconcile the two questions and answer with Isaiah 43:20 and Matthew 6:26?
Lita Cosner
Our reasoning was contained in the article. This is a poetic way of speaking, just as when David longs to take shelter in God's wings, we shouldn't start wondering whether that means that God has literal wings with feathers. Obviously not, because God is spirit! Animals are dependent on God for their food, but are they aware of that dependence? No, they are dumb animals. God is glorified by the animal world, but are they aware of praising Him? No, they are dumb animals.
David S.
I think you are assuming a lot regarding animals as you have acknowledged we cannot read the minds of animals. You are also assuming that all creation praising God is merely a poetic expression. Is "the lion shall lie with the lamb" merely a poetic expression? Who is to say that the writer is being poetic or literal? I'd rather keep an open mind when there are so many examples of animal altruism in this world especially of dogs, and I have seen videos of animals saving the lives of other species.
Lita Cosner
I never claimed "the lion shall lie with the lamb" is a non-literal statement, and in fact we point to that verse in many places on creation.com to indicate that one day animals will no longer be carnivorous. But it is by definition a poetic statement, because it appears in prophecy delivered in a poetic form. Poetic statements can be literal or figurative; one must figure out which based on the context.

Animal altruism shows that instinct is truly remarkable, and that animals may have a richer 'emotional' life than we imagine. But the biblical data indicate that animals do not share the ability to commune with God that is unique to humans because we alone are created in God's image.

Comments are automatically closed 14 days after publication.