I Will Consider My Cat Butter | Peter J. Leithart

sAs I drove out onto the aft deck on an unseasonably warm winter’s day, I was distracted by our outdoor cat, Butter, as he skated, jumped, swooped and slid through the dead leaves strewn on the boards. I can’t see what he’s looking for, but I think it’s a moth or your knife, both of which are part of the butter’s diet. We feed the butter well, it does not need to add insects, reptiles or rodents. He seems to enjoy stalking it for her, as a welcome relief to the boredom that creeps up on feline on sultry afternoons. It sounds fun, and on purpose it is.

Some would say “fantasy holographic projection”. Ask your average biologist, and he will tell you that the theory of evolution has eliminated every atom of purpose and every little bit of teleology from the natural sciences. Living organisms are machines run by chemical and physical processes, which arose from the purposeless mechanism of natural selection. Animals have no purposes. They do not play or experience joy. At best, butter’s behavior expresses the hunting instinct inherited in the species.

in 2017 New Atlantis An essay titled “Evolution and the Purposes of Life,” Stephen Talbot begs to differ, lengthy and destructively. Talbot notes that we see living things behaving for business all the time. Robin pulls a worm out of the ground and swallows it, because, as we say, it has a survival instinct. But sometimes she does not swallow it, and instead takes it to the nest to feed its chicks. Robins does not make decisions with the same freedom of self-realization that humans have, yet Robin chooses her goals and decides how best to achieve them. Evolutionary dogmatists such as Richard Dawkins admit that organisms appear “as if” to act with a purpose, but no one probes for them “as if”: “How,” Talbot asks, “Can we distinguish between an organism capable of expressing wise intention and a capable organism? on conjuring an overwhelming illusion of wise intent?” Evolutionary theory has become a black box that gives us easy permission to ignore the evidence of our eyes. We can’t tell Robin’s story without talking about purpose.

At the end of his essay, Talbot suggests that we need to revive all those ancient Aristotelian notions of ends and purposes, not out of metaphysical necessity, but to account for the things we see living beings do every day. He concludes that “without an interpretive activity—an activity by which meanings are comprehended,” “there is no story to be told, versus a set of physical causes and consequences. Without a story, there is no living being.” More succinctly: “A living being is not something that has a physical and causal origin so much as a force of genesis – or a power of storytelling.”

This initiating force is what the Bible calls a “living spirit.” Christians often believe that soul possession is a hallmark of human beings. But this is not how the Bible speaks. By the time Adam became Nfeesh Chaya (“living spirit”), the world is already teeming with spirits – cattle, fish, and birds (Genesis 1:20, 24). puff It is used about 170 times with reference to animals. The Lord’s declaration, “the soul of the flesh in the blood” (Leviticus 17:10-14), supports his prohibition of eating the blood of animals.

In the Bible, “the soul” is a complex fact. The Hebrew word has an etymological association with respiration and respiration. all puff Breathing creature. Spirits are self-propelled, have the ability to reproduce (“bear fruit and multiply”) and need external sources of food (Genesis 1:29-30). The soul is the queen of desire and disgust. Spirits are hungry and thirsty, and are satiated with food, drink, and sex (Proverbs 27:7; Isaiah 55:2; Jeremiah 24:2). Souls grieve, rejoice, fear, love and hate. Souls are sometimes associated with “higher” powers as a source of speech and an apparatus of knowledge, wisdom, and thought. “Soul” is sometimes associated with “will” and choice. The soul is the focus of identity. “My soul” is equivalent to “I,” and beings with spirits are capable of self-awareness. Souls respond to the voice of the Creator.

Each of these powers pertains to animals to some extent. While maintaining the distinction between animal souls and human souls, the Bible also highlights what they have in common. Man and animal consist of soul and flesh, and both share the Sabbath, and both die. By naming the animals, Adam not only exercises authority over them, but establishes the possibility of addressing and reciprocal relationship. Animals do not name names, but learn their names and respond to our commands and temptations. Animals are punished for acts of violence in the Torah, and in response to Jonah’s warnings, the cattle of Nineveh repent with their owners. God’s covenant with Noah includes “every living soul with all flesh” (Genesis 9:16). Animal sacrifice confirms this kinship. As Joshua Moretz said, “As our silent stooges and loyal friends, animals set us free and save us as they pay with their lives for the vows we break.” As small members of the fellowship of living souls, animals, along with humans, are called to worship God (Ps. 148:10; 150:6).

Who would have guessed that Christopher Smart’s seemingly eccentric view of his cat Joffrey – “the servant of a living God who duly serves him daily”, who “worships in his way”, who greets other cats with a kiss of kindness, and with whom he plays his prey “to give it a chance” , who “knows that God is his Savior” – did you write with biological, theological precision?

Peter J. Lethart is president of the Theopolis Institute.

first things Depends on subscribers and supporters. Join the conversation and make a contribution today.

Click here to make a donation.

click here To subscribe to first things.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *