Thursday, October 23, 2014

Why Did God Give Animals Better Bodies than He Gave Man?

If you are at all familiar with Catholic theology or even with proofs for the existence of God, you no doubt are at least passingly familiar with Thomas Aquinas' famous "Five Ways" of proving the existence of God. If you have a little more knowledge of Thomas, you might know these arguments by heart, know they come from the Summa Theologica (or, if your knowledge of Thomas is yet further advanced from the  Summa Theologiae). But, sadly, most Catholics familiarity with the greatest human mind to ever think (i.e. Thomas) tends to end there. I'd like to exhort you to take some time and read around the Summa (You can get yourself a hard back edition , but you can access the whole thing free online at, you might be surprised what you find. Not everything in Thomas is philosophical reflects on God.

Catholic Saints

Here, for example, Thomas deals with the question of whether the animals have superior bodies to man because they come equipped with clothing (fur, feathers, thick hides) and weapons (teeth, horns, claws) whereas man is born defenseless and naked. Man, according to the Holy Catholic Faith, is the supreme material creation, so why are we so disadvantaged when compared with the animals we share the Earth with? Thomas gives a simple answer saying,
Horns and claws, which are the weapons of some animals, and toughness of hide and quantity of hair or feathers, which are the clothing of animals, are signs of an abundance of the earthly element; which does not agree with the equability and softness of the human temperament. Therefore such things do not suit the nature of man. Instead of these, he has reason and hands whereby he can make himself arms and clothes, and other necessaries of life, of infinite variety. Wherefore the hand is called by Aristotle (De Anima iii, 8), "the organ of organs." Moreover this was more becoming to the rational nature, which is capable of conceiving an infinite number of things, so as to make for itself an infinite number of instruments. (S. Th. Prima Pars, Q 91, Art. 3, Reply to Objection 2)
That last sentence is particularly telling, in my view. Man wasn't given "clothing," in the form of homegrown feathers or fur, or "weapons," in the form of fearsome claws or teeth, not to be disadvantaged by God, but because he was given something so much greater - the ability to craft "an infinite number of things" to use as clothes and weapons. The lion seem better equipped than man, if the two are found together naked and alone, but give the man time and he can create power long range rifles that could drive lions to extinction (though, of course, we hope such will never happen). Again, an animal's natural coat may seem better protection than man's naked skin, until one realizes man can take the animals fur and make a coat of his own, for protection in the cold, or, in hot climes, decline to wear a coat at all. It is no accident man (and man alone) can survive on every continent, under the sea, and in outer space.

Such gems are to be found in Summa, which is well worth the time to read his answer to a "question" here or there.

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