One of our regular readers has raised a good point about our discussion of why predators are essential to the survival of life on Earth. He said, “Your article reasoned why there must be predators: ‘to keep nature in balance.’ But that doesn’t answer the question. It was ‘why must animals undergo such cruel deaths?’”
The question of “cruel deaths” raises many issues and assumptions. We tend to assign human values to animals and assume they have the same feelings and emotions we have. This complicates the question and causes responses that are not consistent with the evidence.
The phrase “cruel deaths” is the real issue in this discussion. Has God designed anything in animals that reduces the pain animals perceive in being killed? First, we need to understand that there is a difference in the physiology of different kinds of animals. All animals have a nociception response to pain. You have a quick response when you touch something hot. It is essentially a reflex response to pain. It is obvious that to avoid a negative sensation, animals must know when something is injuring them.
The real issue is pain that comes about by some other means. Only primates, including humans, have a neocortex area in their brain in which we can realize the sensation of pain. The neocortex receives signals from group C nerve fibers, allowing pain sensations to travel from an affected area to the brain. In humans, nerve fibers connect 83% of the body’s extremities to the neocortex area. On the other hand, fish have only 5% of the group C nerve fibers, and they are smaller in diameter, meaning that there is a low nerve conduction velocity. The bottom line is that animals do not feel pain as humans do. Another interesting fact is that animals have an instinctive drive to eat food containing analgesics (pain-killing substances).
We have to understand that it is a delicate balance to design an animal with the necessary nociception response to pain required for survival without having a neocortex response to pain. We can’t imagine the pain of having our stomach torn open by a predator, but even for humans losing a lot of blood, leading to death may not be a painful experience.
It is easy for humans to criticize the Creator’s design of an animal until we try to design one ourselves. What God has done is to build living things, so they do not suffer in the way humans do. We must be careful to avoid anthropomorphizing animals—thinking of them in human terms—suggesting cruel deaths.
— John N. Clayton © 2021
Data for the above came from a variety of websites in a search for “animals and pain.”