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on January 6, 2012
Originally published in 2008 by Oxford University Press, Michael Murray's "Nature Red in Tooth & Claw" examines the relationship between animal pain and theism. The following comments pertain to the 2011 paperback edition.

The issue of animal pain is an important and increasingly popular topic within the so-called evidential problem of evil. The evidential argument contends that while evil is not logically incompatible with theism, certain types of evil make the existence of God unlikely. The argument can be formulated as:

Premise A. Gratuitous evil is inconsistent with God
Premise B. An all powerful God could and would eliminate gratuitous evil
Premise C. Gratuitous evil exists
Conclusion. It is unlikely that God exists

Within the evidential argument animal pain is often used as a paradigm example of gratuitous evil (evil which does not serve any greater good). This is particularly seen to be the case with animal pain and suffering that occurred prior to man's arrival on the scene and thus not clearly amenable to certain theistic arguments such as `The Fall'.

In the text, Murray provides a detailed discussion of the relationship between animal pain and theism looking at many of the different challenges and responses it has triggered. From my perspective the most interesting aspect of the book is the chapter that discusses the relationship between cognition and pain (based on a 2006 article co-authored with Glenn Ross `Neo-Cartesianism and the Problem of animal suffering'). In considering the relevant contemporary philosophical and scientific thought, Murray suggests that animal pain and suffering is linked to neurological complexity - greater the complexity greater pain awareness. While this is not a particularly new idea, Murray's discussion does highlight the question as to whether or not the problem of animal pain is as significant as many of us are initially inclined to think. That is to say, that while all creatures appear to exhibit pain behaviour when exposed to the appropriate pain inducing stimuli, many simple life forms such as (protozoa, invertebrates etc.) are unlikely to be sentient to the degree that they `experience' pain. And, while more neurologically complex creatures experience first order pain (the feel) only humans, and perhaps other primates to lesser degree, are likely to experience second order pain awareness (suffering), i.e. knowing, anticipating and reflecting on their pain experience. This question of the continuity/discontinuity between animal pain and human pain in an important issue that warrants further research and reflection.

While the book is a worthwhile addition to the literature on this important issue I found it to be slightly disappointing. Murray's prose while not terrible are plodding at times, and, despite some excellent parts the book is somewhat unfocused and in need of editing, occasionally getting lost in weeds of some rather specious side arguments (e.g. the intellectual argument for an Old Earth deception). Some of this material while not uninteresting came across as filler.

Overall, this is a solid work on an interesting subject that may be worth a look for those interested in the evidential argument from evil. That said, arguably the strongest part of the book (article co-authored with Ross) is available on-line at no cost.
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on November 3, 2013
I initially had my reservations with this book as I heard some say he goes on with one topic after another changing to topics which are irrelevant after reading the book however I I find this to be a false assertion. The book is extremely well written even the type is beautiful (though may be small for those with really bad sight).

1. In Chapter one he explains about both Moral and Natural Evil and the arguments usually mounted by non-Christians for an argument from evil against the existence of God. Michael Murray displays the arguments from the Christian side which shows that this simply holds no water against Christian Theism. What I found amazing is that he treated this separately as it is inccredibly important before he discussed about animals so is a great read on the problem of moral and natural evil in general.

2. Chapter two explains both the Cartesian position that animals don't feel pain to two Neo-Cartesian views one which shows that animals feel pain but are not aware that they themselves are in pain (except higher primates) it is likened to the phenomenom known as blindpain this mainly has to do with animals lacking the second neural pathway. A second view he considers possible is Higher Order Theories (HOT) according to which they feel pain but are not undesirable to them similar to lobotomy pain.

3. This section is awesome it explains Animal Suffering in connection with 'the Fall', he looks at different views even Young Earth Creationism and their view though he certainly shows himself to be an Old Earth Theorist he gives great defenses for both sides and what he considers to be their weakness as he did in the second chapter even pseudopigraphic texts are quoted in support. So even if one disagees one can choose one of the alternatives.

4. This Chapter assumes Chapter 2 is false and therefore defends moral and natural evils done to animals treating them as persons. Thus gives another type of Christian defense for those who hold such a view.

5. This Chapter mainly focuses on natural evil and arguments from the Nomic Regularity of the Universe in connection with animal pain and suffering.

6. This deals with many other arguments one can use to defend against them from those who use natural or moral evils done to animals as proving God does not exist, it shows how God could have a Morally Sufficient Reason for allowing this but also many arguments used in combination to show that it is highly probable and not contradictory in the least.

7. This Final Chapter is about one creating their own integrated systematic approach to this by combining many different views to have a powerful defense that the reader finds especially powerful or appealing.

All in all this is the best book on this topic, the Premiere Book. It is produced by Oxford University Press and so is very well written by a Philosopher so is not naive when it comes to mind/body problems. A must read if interested in this topic with so many views in it how could one go wrong?
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on July 10, 2012
Wow, this is not really a book for the casual reader. This is at times a tough read, but in the end it is a very insightful study of pain and suffering in the earth. This book attempts a scientific look at the question "If God is so good and great, why is there so much animal and human suffering in the world?" Good question. In fact, this is really the only question that atheists have to stand on as they struggle to try and justify their position of hating God and denying the existence of a supreme intelligence acting in the world. This study does not shy away from the description of the amazing amount of pain that is going on all around us, and always has, as one creature lives a little longer by devouring another. Billions and billions of creatures have and are dying miserable deaths of pain and agony, and infact all creatures are doomed to a death in pain and agony. Man worst of all, because he alone can spend his life worrying about his death, and has the mental capacity to experience pain in way that the lower order animals do not. Man knows he is in pain, and is afraid he is in physical trouble and is dying! Wow, thanks God! Great life you gave us down here! However, do not dispair, all is not lost, in Nature Red in Tooth and Claw we come to realize that we can see a glimpse of God's great plan for His creation, and our role in that plan, the role of our free will, and the serious responsibility we have to our creator.
This is a book for Christians or religious people, but not for the casual reader. This book will hit you in the gut, and then exercise your mind, and you must take the ride to the end to find the meaning in all the pain. I recommend this book for the serious seeker of the truth.
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on February 18, 2015
Please do not take my rating wrong. I am looking at from the standpoint of an armchair theologian; the truth is I could not understand three quarters
of his arguments. If you are a philosphy student or someone that is a heck of a lot smarter (that is not a high hurdle to get over) than me you would probably give it a rating of 4 or 5 stars. There is no way that I could be sitting at a table in the local coffee shop and utilize this book as an apologetic
pertaining to theodicy.
I find that at least 2 classes of people live in a kind of nether world... that being computer wonks and philosphers. The battle is on the frontlines of common folks who look for answers pertaining to issues such as this one. If the author is going for a pure scholastic rendition to contribute for other scholars then say so on the book jacket. In conclusion, all you philosphers out there I would highly recommend this book; for the rest of you take the money and head over to Starbucks.
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on May 6, 2014
Carefully argued and thought provoking. Conversant with science and theology and philosophy of mind. Recommended to anyone interested in philosophy or theology as it related to animal suffering.
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on August 13, 2012
The biological homework of this theologian is dubious, often misleading, and based on false premises. A particularly egregious example:

"Furthermore, these cases confirm that in human beings the 'affective' pathway terminates in the prefrontal cortex, a region of the mammalian brain which was the last to evolve (and so occurs only in humanoid primates)." Michael Murray, 'Nature Red in Tooth and Claw', page 68, 1st paragraph

As any biologist could inform Murray, all mammals have a pre-frontal cortex - not just "humanoid primates". Murray has a lengthy discussion of the importance of pathways in the human pre-frontal cortex and the relation of these pathways to the human experience of pain. What he doesn't seem to realize is that in much of the laboratory research that determined these pre-frontal cortex pathways for pain experiences - the test subjects were rats.
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on November 12, 2012
Murray goes to great lengths to minimize the experience of pain in animals. The facts are simple: all evidence indicates that mammals, at least, experience pain directly much as we do. He goes on to claim that the "secondary experience" of pain is important, that is, the animal is not fully aware that it's in pain. Murray tries to move the obvious emotion of pain to a more intellectual level in the animal, but it doesn't work. Animals are not intellectual and it doesn't matter for the experience of pain. You can tell when a Christian is desperate by the fact that he finds it necessary to engage in fuzzy, complex, far-fetched, speculative philosophy when the problem is obvious. The existence of evil, including animal pain, thoroughly dumps the notion of a benign, powerful God into the trash can where it belongs.
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