Monday Morning Theological Poll: Animal Agency Assessment Edition

For some people, it is important to suss out the following so they can eat some ribs.

Justify your vote in the comments below. Remember that the Lord relies on you to be a good steward for this environment.


  1. Follow up question- Dependent on your answer, can an Animal have more agency that a person? What about a person with limited cognitive ability due to disabilities/handicaps etc.

  2. wow, types galore, sorry about that.

  3. Sorry. Couldn’t resist the fava beans. One of my favorite movies ever.

  4. perhaps you can’t have a bad shark, but you can certainly have a bad dog. Trust me, my in-laws had the worst dog ever. The best thing that ever happened was when they decided to go on a mission and had to put the dog down. In my estimate the world became a better place when that dog died. I’m sure a lot of the responsibility falls on the owner of the dog as well, but certainly there has to be an accounting for the dog’s decision to take a hunk of meat out of countless people’s legs. There is no way I ever want to see that dog again, not even in the next life. Mine is for the 2nd choice in the poll.

  5. The Other Brother Jones says:

    I love my Fava beans. This question does not pertain to my eternal salvation

  6. It can pertain to eternal salvation in the following senses:
    God has made people stewards over animals. How we handle that stewardship may have relevance to eternal salvation.

    Also, if animals have moral agency, or a degree thereof, then our treatment of them affects their ability to fulfill the measure of their creation, which will have moral affects on us (much as it does when we affect the ability of people to do the same).

    Steve G,
    If it was such a bad dog, why did your in-laws keep it around? It’s not like there aren’t more dogs out there.

  7. 6,. That’s a question I asked over and over. I even offered to trade dogs with them once so they could take my good dog and I could get rid of their bad dog. It was the mission that finally forced their hand, when they couldn’t find anybody willing to take him.

    I also agree with you on the stewardship of animals.

  8. I hope animals will not follow us to heaven…eat them all!

  9. I hope there are cows in heaven. No cholesterol worries there. But I have wondered about poop.

  10. The Other Brother Jones says:

    John C. Re: #5 and #6
    I still don’t think it pertains to my salvation. True we need to be aware of our actions towards animals, and the earth in general. But if our actions affected animals salvation to any extent, and we are to be responsible for that, then we would be taught that doctrine more clearly. I have not seen that yet, but Gen Conf is coming!

  11. observer fka eric s says:

    WVS – hilarious. I really don’t want to thread jack here. But the poop question is relevant . . . maybe for another day. My question has always been: the Savior ate post-resurrection, so does that mean a resurrected being’s phisiology requires a seat on the ole porcelain? Animals are cool and teach us to love.

  12. this discussion is uncomfortable… if animals have moral agency – no matter how much – one can argue that we will be held to account for our actions in this life which have affected an animals ability to exercise their agency… if we chose to have a cat put down, we have assumed on ourselves the further progression of that cat that is not now possible… maybe they were days away from perfecting their hairballs, or laying down the perfect poop in the litter box… that is a risk i am not comfortable taking upon myself and having to answer for on the other side of this life.

  13. It was a nice surprise to see I voted in the majority.

  14. The D&C describes the beasts in Revelations as being real animals, so if animals can achieve glory, I think it’s safe to assume animals can have some degree of moral agency.

    My boss says heaven is where you get to keep eating animals and that hell is where all the animals you’ve ever eaten get to eat you back. Thus, he recommends covering your bets by eating larger animals like cows and pigs. Getting eaten by a chicken or fish is a much longer, more drawn-out process.

  15. One might consider how an animal can have a first person perspective if it has no free will. And if it doesn’t have a first person perspective, does it really feel anything, or is that just an illusion?

  16. I always thought that the fact that Adam and Eve ate the fruit of knowledge of good and evil was symbolic of them obtaining moral agency through their higher knowledge, and thus would be one of the major separators of them and other animals.

  17. I think that animals have agency based on how intelligent they are, but there is nothing moral about it.

  18. I hope it’s not just an old husband’s tale that Joseph Smith taught that the animals would one day testify against if if we had mis-treated them. I have always believed this was written down some place. Anyone know?

    I like Jeff’s distinction that animals have agency but there is nothing moral about there choices AT THIS TIME. Surely anyone with much experience of connecting with animals knows that there ARE good animals and “bad” ones, even though of course the concept of “bad” is a human one. But some animals are selfish, others less so; some are long-suffering, and others snap if you look cross-eyed at them. Some are loyal, others pretty much out for themselves. And the “bad” creatures are, I think, “bad” in the eyes of their fellow creatures (fellows of the same species, of course).

    PBS interviewed the author of a great new book, the title of which is, I think, THE HUMAN ANIMAL, but this is not the older book of the same title. The author writes of his spiritual surprise when coming face to face with an orangutan, who look at him with a response he could only call conscious and

    Yes, yes, I know most of you will smile gently and bring out the “anthropomorphic” label for me. Or less kind labels. That’s okay. I love it that this question was raised at all. One day we’ll know a lot more than we do now.
    (Remember when white men claimed that women didn’t have souls, or people of color?)

    Now, shall we talked about trees? ;-)

  19. Sorry: “against us,” “their” not “there,” and
    “looked at him.” I cannot find any way to edit comments on replies now. Can anyone offer a clue for this crone?

  20. I think animals have agency, even moral agency, dependent upon their level of intelligence and the guidance of the Spirit in their lives. I’ve seen dogs cower in the corner, knowing they are in trouble for chewing up _______ (insert chewed item here).
    If apes and chimpanzees can communicate with us through sign language and other methods, and express understanding of good and bad, then they must have some form of moral agency. They are discovering the same from dolphins, as well. When a pod of dolphins rescue humans from a shark, knowing they are putting themselves in danger, they are using moral agency. And it has been seen on a variety of occasions.

  21. Steve Evans says:

    I believe animals have moral agency and I treat them accordingly.

  22. Cats know how not to lethally bite and seriously scratch their friends. Porpoises will sometimes save humans and other animals in trouble. Dogs, definitely, know right from wrong. From what I have read of the great apes, they have a definite moral code.

    We are on a continuum with other animals.

    So, is there a grand integrator of pain and pleasure in this life? When a life is full of pain does the pain stop at the end of the life or is it stored up and must it be paid for? This last seems to be the Christian bedrock: Must someone pay for the pain we inflict unrighteously? And does this include animals?

  23. The book “Stumbling on Happiness” talks about the brain developing the prefrontal cortex in the blink of evolutionary time. The brain as it got bigger gained new abilities. One of the most important ones housed in the prefrontal cortex is what Gilbert, a harvard professor and psychologist, termed a future simulator. The brain has the ability to simulate different futures and make choices accordingly to which future is desirable. He states that while some animals may look like they are planning for the future like a squirrel putting away nuts it is mainly instinct that is driving it as the sun reaches a certain position in the sky and not really a squirrel “making the decision to do so”. I’m also not so sure that an animal showing emotions like guilt or pleasure is proof of agency either as I’ve seen robots which are programmed to simulate such emotions well also emotions may well be things which have evolved with animals through instinct and carried on to humans. Like I said above I think that moral agency is a uniquely human thing that has to do with the level of development we’ve reached.

  24. natebergin says:

    I agree with JTB that animals still live in a Garden of Eden state. They were never cast out of the garden, unlike us. They are our connection to our past, our first parents, our innocence, our paradise.

  25. The most popular one (animals have no moral agency) is justified somewhat. A hungry shark attacking a swimmer, and then gets killed itself, is the victim not the culprit.

    OTOH, the more intelligent animals can be quite calculating, and they clearly develop some moral judgment, however rudimentary. I am not sure that us humans are so special. But I’m sure we’ll answer for all the blood we spilled needlessly (we have the right to eat, too, but killing for fun, torturing animals for fun in slaughterhouses, and some transport and permanent facilities are gruesome).

    Seeing someone torment a fly made me squirm in grade shcool.

  26. How has no one referenced Eddie Izzard at this point?

    “What is an ‘evil’ giraffe? ‘I will eat all the leaves on this tree. I will eat more leaves than I should, and then other giraffes may die. Hahaha! I am an evil herbivore.”

  27. Oh hey didn’t know it was going to post the video link itself. Fail.

  28. All Dogs Go to Heaven?

    My personal feeling is that animals have a mission, that we might describe as their “nature” and they have a limited ability based on intelligence that allows them to either fulfill that mission or not. When our cats play with us, they bite, but not hard enough to hurt. That seems like a choice to me. (And then they gouge deep scratches when they get startled. Not intentionally hurting.)

    The greatest among you shall be your servant. Dogs are loyal servants. Therefore, Dogs are the Greatest! =)

  29. FHL, as much as I love dogs myself, I’m afraid the scriptures are against you.

    Psalms 22:16 – For dogs have compassed me: the assembly of the wicked have inclosed me: they pierced my hands and my feet

    Matt 15:26 – he (Jesus) answered and said, It is not meet to take the children’s bread, and to cast it to dogs.

    Phil 3:2 – Beware of dogs, beware of evil workers

    Is 56:10 – His watchmen are blind: they are all ignorant, they are all dumb dogs, they cannot bark; sleeping, lying down, loving to slumber

    Rev 22:15 – For without (the holy city) are dogs, and sorcerers, and whoremongers, and murderers, and idolaters, and whosoever loveth and maketh a lie.

    Prov 26:11 – As a dog returneth to his vomit, so a fool returneth to his folly.

  30. And it is worse for those who have named their dogs:

    Job 11:15 – For then shalt thou lift up thy face without Spot; yea, thou shalt be stedfast, and shalt not fear

    D&C 38:31 – And that ye might escape the power of the enemy, and be gathered unto me a righteous people, without Spot

    Ephesians 5:27 – That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having Spot

    And Moroni even ends the Book of Mormon with this statement:

    Moro 10:33 – that ye become holy, without Spot.

  31. People should stop conflating the capacity to make choices with the concept of accountability. Even an infant makes choices but it is not accountable for their consequences morally.

    Animals are creatures with individual intelligences and personalities, they think and make choices within the confines of their faculties but that’s clearly different from moral accountability.

    If they did have agency they would also require a savior and an opportunity to accept or reject that savior, wouldn’t they? Yes. Duh.

  32. Not necessarily. It may be that their requirements of morality are different than ours. And it may be that Jesus as our Savior could be their Savior, also. Will animals resurrect? Is it because of Jesus’ resurrection, or not?

    We see in this instance that at least a portion of the atonement of Christ applies to animals. And if a part, why not all of it?

  33. To add to this, Mormon taught his son that little children are “saved” in Christ. No, they are not accountable for sins, but that is because Christ has rescued them from sin. So it may very well be with animals. That said, what if some animals are smart enough to be somewhat accountable? We see chimps and apes that are able to sign language to humans, and they recognize right from wrong. So, perhaps the “Yes. Duh.” was a little premature in the discussion?