Could I Exist as a Nonhuman?
Animals: Tradition - Philosophy - Religion Article from


Stephen Kaufman, M.D., Christian Vegetarian Association (CVA)

Could I Exist as a Nonhuman?

Darwinian evolutionary theory, for which I think there is very compelling evidence, leads to the conclusion that our species (which our scientists have given the self-aggrandizing name Homo sapiens) is one among millions of species of animals. The Bible similarly describes continuity between humans and nonhumans when it refers to nephesh chayah to describe both humans (Genesis 2:7) and nonhumans (Genesis 2:19). However, many people who read the Bible in translation don’t know this, because translators have imposed their own ideology on the text. For example, nephesh chayah is “living soul” in the King James Version and “living being” in the Revised Standard Version when describing humans in 2:7, and “living creature” in both versions in 2:19.
The author of Ecclesiastes, recognizing the similar essence of humans and nonhumans, expressed the common fate of all living beings: “All go to one place; all are from dust, and all turn to dust again. Who knows whether the spirit of many goes upward and the spirit of the beast goes down to the earth?” (3:20-21)
Indeed, who knows? The great mystery of how our own, unique consciousness came into being opens up possibilities that are both exciting and frightening. Could our sense of self have had prior lives, and are future lives possible? Next essay, I will explore evidence for and against these hypotheses and relate my thoughts to animal issues.
Why am I a human living at this point of time? It does not seem that my unique identity and sense of being derives from genetics, since identical twins have essentially the same genetic code yet exist as two separate individuals. So, could I have had two different parents, or been born at a different point in time? If my parents had decided to be childless, would I have existed? I don’t know, but since there doesn’t appear to be anything distinctive about my parents or my era that could answer this question, I suggest that the answer to these might be yes.
If the answer is yes, I could have existed at other times, then there seems to be no good reason to believe that I could not have been a nonhumans. I find the biological evidence that humans are animals overwhelming. Even among those who deny Darwinian theory, I think is no good biblical or empirical reason to deny that nonhumans have a soul.
If we could be a nonhuman, this should give us pause. Is it possible that individual, subjective experience could someday find itself in the mind of a nonhuman? If so, then humanity’s massive abuse of nonhumans could someday come to haunt us.
To be clear, I’m not arguing for a widely believed notion of reincarnation, which suggests a degree of continuity between lives in terms of memories or (in the notion of karma) influences from one life to the next. I find no good evidence to support this theory. I am simply saying that I, as a subjective being who feels, among other things, pleasure and pain, might exist in other times,  places, and bodies, and I find no good reason to exclude animal bodies among those I might inhabit. 

Go on to: Thoughts on Reincarnation
Return to: Reflection on the Lectionary, Table of Contents 

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