Minnie © PJ Croft

As I write this, Minnie’s making doggie noises as she dreams, a very regular occurrence. She’s barking and yipping in a very muted way, so she’s obviously in a dream scenario.

She also has emotions: happiness, sadness, loneliness, wistfulness, joy, friendliness, fear, and so on.

She also observes, predicts, draws conclusions, reacts, makes decisions based on observations, recognises situations and people, makes decisions on how to behave and so forth. In other words, although she might not be self aware in the way humans are, she has a mind. She dreams, therefore she thinks.

So if she thinks, does she have a soul?

Humans are deemed to have a soul, which, according to religion, if we’re not good, won’t go to heaven when we die. What about dogs? Dogs have no malice in them, unlike humans. Dogs can be vicious, but it’s because they’re reacting to fear and reverting to pure animal behaviour: defence, aggression when challenged etc.

So given that dogs are innately ‘good’ and don’t naturally make plans out of malice or revenge or dishonesty as humans do, where do dogs go when they die? Do they have a soul? Is there a dog heaven? Does the loving God make a special place for these wonderful animals? Or do they just cease to exist?

If so, what about cats? Many people ascribe emotions to cats and love them just as much. Do cats go to heaven when they die?

If so, what about rats, those tireless workers sacrificing themselves in the search for cures for human disease? No-one suggests rats are malicious, not like some Wall Street or Macquarie St financial people. Do rats go to heaven when they die? Or bats, or gnats?

Oh, what about dolphins? We all know they’re intelligent, lovable, capable of forming bonds with humans. Surely dolphins wouldn’t just cease to exist when they die? I saw a program years ago about a performing horse and its owner. The love that horse showed for its human owner was just blindingly and emotionally evident. Did it go to heaven when it died?

You may recognise a reductio ad absurdum, an argument or proposition taken to extremes to prove a point. Why is it that religion believes there’s a Heaven where we go when we die? If there is a Heaven, is it reserved for humans? We share 97% of our DNA with mice and rats, let alone monkeys, chimps, baboons. Is there a God watching every living thing that dies and operating the gate depending on that 3% difference? Sorry Minnie, you can’t come in even though you’ve loved Pete, your owner, without reservation throughout your life.

I respect people who believe in God and Heaven, provided they live up to their principles and don’t try to convince me. But I can’t summon the uncritical acceptance to believe that there’s a soul that will somehow rise out of me when I die and somehow submit itself to the Heavenly gatekeeper, who is simultaneously admitting or rejecting all the millions/billions of dolphins, cats, earthworms and oysters that die each day.

I believe we have evolved to have self awareness, and that makes us aware that we have choices about our time on earth to do good or not, but when we die, that’s it. Our life force was sustained by well known biological processes, but when they stop, that’s it for us as individuals. That’s all there is. I’d be delighted to be proved wrong, but I don’t think I will be.

Pete

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