Monday, February 01, 2010

Do dogs go to heaven?

I’m going to post some comments by Lydia McGrew on the possibility of postmortem survival for animals. Of course, this is speculative, but I think she gives some good reasons for that possibility.

At the same time I think she also raises some difficulties which I don’t regard a serious difficulties. If, for example, you equate heaven with the Beatific Vision, then that’s a problem for the postmortem survival of animals. However, the Beatific Vision is a Thomistic construct, and there’s no compelling or even plausible reason to use that model.

The answer to this question is also bound up with your philosophical and/or theological position on other issues, such as the conditions of personal identity, the nature of glorification, “fair” treatment of animals, &c.


[Quote] C. S. Lewis, however, conjectured that animals might participate in the resurrection through their relationship with human beings. In fact, he went so far as to conjecture that whole places--such as one's childhood home--might be similarly resurrected by means of the resurrection of human beings. His idea was that God would in some sense give reality to the ideas and memories of those human beings who are glorified.

Lewis has influenced me by these conjectures to be open to the possibility that dogs go to heaven, but there is at least one problem: Lewis was a Berkeleyan idealist. So when he talks about these things, one has to bear in mind that Lewis did not believe in mind-independent physical matter at all. This helps to explain his notion that your dog or your childhood home might be resurrected with you. God would give to your ideas that order of reality that currently is possessed by God's own ideas, which we call "physical existence." It is also useful to Lewis in that he does not have to say that it is of the intrinsic nature of animals, as it is of man, to be immortal, which I also want to avoid. But if one isn't a Berkleyan idealist, the metaphysics of all of this becomes much more problematic. God would have to choose really to create physical entities corresponding to the resurrected body of one's dog or one's childhood home.

Not that that is impossible. But it does raise the question of why it should be a human being's own dog that is resurrected rather than any and all dogs, including vicious ones, feral ones, and so forth. Lewis can explain this because all that exists is ideas. Hence, your ideas are resurrected along with you, and one may conjecture that the resurrection takes the form of giving some of those ideas an existence independent of you, though never independent of God, the Great Perceiver.

Obviously, if dogs are included in eternal and redeemed nature, their own natures must be compatible with the eternal bliss of the redeemed, unless we imagine them as having no interaction with the redeemed, which would seem to remove at least part of the point of having animals in heaven at all. So vicious dogs would have to be reformed, which raises the mind-boggling question of whether dogs have free will or whether God would reform the nature of bad dogs by force, an operation He would certainly never carry out on human beings.

Hold on a minute. I didn't raise this question because I couldn't be happy in heaven without a dog. To tell you the truth, I'm not really a dog person. I could be perfectly happy in heaven without dogs. (Though I'd be sad to think that when history and the world end, there will never again be any more horses.) Moreover, I never suggested that we could find out by pure reason whether dogs in heaven are required for our own perfect happiness, or for the perfect happiness of dog-lovers, or anything like that. I'm sure we can't discover that, and I didn't in any event raise the question, "Could we be happy in heaven without dogs?"

I raised the question because it is theoretically interesting in relation to the ontology of the mind and consciousness and in relation to the doctrine of the new heaven and the new earth and the resurrection of the body. Scripture says that the whole creation waits for the redemption of the body, and it promises a new heaven and a new earth. As one commentator said above, if we are permitted to imagine non-animate, non-human parts of creation in that new heaven and new earth (and the whole image of such a new creation urges us to do so, as do passages in Revelation concerning a river, trees, and a banquet), then it would seem a bit odd if the whole of animal nature were left out.

Lewis clearly raises the question because he is interested in the telos of animals, particularly those who are clearly in some sense conscious, who have what we would call personalities, and who have been ennobled by their communion with man. Here is this whole aspect of creation about which God has not revealed to us His ultimate plan. It is an aspect of creation, moreover, that includes creatures that have some of the qualities that lead us to love them and to have what we should be inclined to call friendship with them. With our human friends, we desire that they should live eternally in bliss, and we desire this as part of loving them. It seems sad that they should be nothing after death. And it seems similarly sad that beloved animals should be nothing after death, not even chiefly or only because we ourselves would "need" them for _our_ happiness in heaven but because we believe we have experienced something like their individuality, and it would be a loss in some larger sense if that individuality died forever. This love and experience of friendship and personality lead people to ask the question of whether dogs go to heaven. It is a small part of the larger question of what it will mean for the whole creation to be redeemed, for good things to be glorified rather than lost, for God to give back the years that the locusts have eaten. As such, it is not something that can simply be reduced to anything like pantheism much less to a gross or sensual desire that we ourselves should have eternally all the pleasures we have enjoyed here on earth.

All that being said, I don't know the answer to the question.

Zach, part of what I'm saying is that you can't make an _in principle_ argument along those lines (concerning indirect enjoyment of God), because such an argument would also apply to human love and friendship, which I believe we have quite strong reason to believe is completed and continued rather than replaced in the Beatific Vision.

Now, I'm certainly not saying that friendship with animals is on a par with human friendship. I'm just saying that one can't argue in principle against God's making an experience of animal creation one of the joys of heaven on the grounds that our enjoyment of animal creation here has been an indirect enjoyment of or proxy for our enjoyment of Him. Because you could say that even about things that we have every reason to believe will not disappear in heaven.

If I had to say more on the DIH side, MC, I'd be inclined to say that the nature of friendship with an animal is sui generis and cannot be represented in a glorified form by friendship with humans. Now, that cd. just as easily mean that that sui generis type of friendship is intrinsically mortal and won't be glorified. Which is why I don't know if there will be dogs (or horses, which I'm far more concerned about) in heaven. But it doesn't seem to me to be an argument against that to say that human friendship is of a higher order than human-animal friendship. To be sure, it is. But it doesn't follow that the thing of lower order could not be part of the glorified life. Just as we legitimately enjoy different musical genres, even though some musical genres are of a higher order than others, so we legitimately enjoy different types of friendships. Man's friendship with an animal--that master-animal relationship--cannot be replaced by a man to man relationship, because no man is another man's master in anything like that same sense.

For that matter, different human friendships are closer than others, and I should be sorry to think that all such distinctions will be necessarily abolished in heaven, so that all our relationships with other created beings in heaven must be in some egalitarian sense the same as one another.

Uniqueness and variety are things God glories in. The great chain of being and all that.


  1. Well, if dogs go to Heaven, their living at my Dad's pad.

    He loved dogs and I did not. I had to feed and water them and then clean up after they went do do!

    However, if I have to sleep with the dogs in Heaven, will I get up fleas?


    "However, if I have to sleep with the dogs in Heaven, will I get up fleas?"

    Glorified fleas.

  3. There are apparently lions, lambs and horses in heaven... why not the most loyal animals to man? Of course I say this from a very biased position.

  4. Lock,

    yes and I wonder, "will there be fish in the River"?

    What do you think:::>

    Rev 22:1 Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb
    Rev 22:2 through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.


    "There are apparently lions, lambs and horses in heaven... why not the most loyal animals to man? Of course I say this from a very biased position."

    I share your bias.

  6. You know what?

    You guys can just keep your glorified fleas then!