[this content has been adapted and expanded upon from my extremely long blog post/Christian manifesto, Why I Believe In God]
“Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” Genesis 1:26
Our love for animals is a particularly persuasive reason for why I believe in the God of the Bible. I love animals, I mean I really, really love them. I love dogs and frogs and turtles and snakes and toads and fish and bugs and weasels and alligators and… cats are alright, I guess.
Animals are so amazing!
I don’t understand how people make sense of our love for animals from other worldviews. Let’s take a look at one of the most prominent worldviews in the west today, Naturalism. If you’re a naturalist, you believe that this whole show is an accident. There was nothing, somehow that nothing was unstable and gave rise to something, there was a Big Bang and blam, the universe happened. Then a bunch of stuff happened and macro evolution gave rise to everything we experience today. Sorry for the rough summary, I’m not trying to debate the process you believe, I’m more interested in the practical implications.
If you believe that everything is a result of a cosmic accident, why should you care for animals, let alone love them? What is “care” or “love” in a world devoid of transcendent meaning? The emotions we feel towards animals have merely been programmed into our DNA through natural selection. You don’t really care for animals, you’re just doing what nature has programmed you to do. If that’s the case, how could you get indignant when you see someone mistreating animals? That’s just what nature has programmed them to do. Why should we adopt animals from the pound instead of supporting puppy mills? Ultimately, it makes no difference, there is no transcendent ethical ought in your worldview that compels you to treat animals with respect or dignity. There’s no explanation for the love you experience for your own pets.
To be consistent to the Naturalist’s worldview, we should most definitely exploit animals to our own benefit. I don’t just mean livestock; if survival of the fittest is the ultimate ethos, then there should be a metal bit in every animal’s mouth. We should only care about conservation as far as it serves us. We should work to eradicate our love for animals so it’s easier to use and abuse them in future generations. Maybe some of you do believe that, but I’m guessing most westerners will find those conclusions detestable. So let’s look at another option.
From the Christian perspective we love animals because God made us to. God made all of creation, He made animals and He made us to have dominion over them. I know that today the word “dominion” is a dirty word and it has a nasty rap, but it shouldn’t. Dominion doesn’t mean exploiting creation for our own benefit or raping the forests, skies, oceans and streams.
Dominion, in the biblical sense, is about being trustworthy arbiters of God’s will. We are made to care for nature, to help propagate species, to thin the heard when necessary, to have controlled forrest fires in order to get rid of the underbrush and replenish the soil. We are supposed to be faithful servants of God by representing Him to the rest of Creation.
The Bible presents mankind as God’s image bearers. As His image bearers we’ve been uniquely gifted to think logically, to step back from our present situation and engage in metacognition, to problem solve at a much different level than any other creature. We aren’t gifted in these ways just for our own benefit, but we’ve been blessed to be a blessing. We are made to use our powers of intellection to care for each other and the rest of the creatures that God made.
We’ve been blessed to be a blessing. God didn’t make us to selfishly consume the rest of the created order, but first and foremost we are to see our Creator’s fingerprints everywhere and give Him thanks and praise. Every day creation testifies to it’s Creator’s power, brilliance, and creativity. I’m constantly in awe when I look at the stars at night, and I’m blown away by volcanos and sunsets, but when I pet a happy dog my heart is full. I’m filled with gratitude to God for making animals and specifically such fluffy, happy living stuffed animals (yes, I know that we genetically modified them over centuries, but He made the wolves or wild dogs that we started with, and He also gave us the ingenuity to breed them and bring them into submission).
When I play with a doggo, I experience genuine joy. I forget about everything else in the room and just love on that pup. There are few things as enjoyable as caring for your pets and proverbs 12:10 backs that up, “whoever is righteous has regard for the life of his beast, but the mercy of the wicked is cruel”. It’s a righteous thing to love and care for your pets and it feels good because we’ve been made for it.
I guess not everyone is an animal lover but for those of you that are, you know what i’m talking about. Others might experience this joy when they garden and care for their plants but the theme is the same, exercising dominion in a godly way feels good and I believe it’s evidence for the validity of the biblical narrative.