Monkeys and Self-Doubt – are there Theological Implications?

Posted: February 21, 2011 in Animal Theology

Source – http://www.freedigitalphotos.net/images/view_photog.php?photogid=1556

A strange subject for a blog posting you might think! But read on….. 

Victoria Gill, Science and Nature Reporter for BBC has posted the following on the BBC News Website today (http://news.bbc.co.uk/earth/hi/earth_news/newsid_9401000/9401945.stm):

Monkeys trained to play computer games have helped to show that it is not just humans that feel self-doubt and uncertainty, a study says.

US-based scientists found that macaques will “pass” rather than risk choosing the wrong answer in a brainteaser task.

Awareness of our own thinking was believed to be a uniquely human trait.

But the study, presented at the AAAS meeting in Washington DC, suggests that our more primitive primate relatives are capable of such self-awareness.

Interesting stuff.  In fact there are research papers published every week that are casting light on the fascinating, and often controversial subject of cognitive ethology. 

A book that I’m reading at the moment – The Emotional Lives of Animals, by Prof. Marc Bekoff – examines animal joy, sorrow and empathy and why they matter.  I’ve only had a cursory glance at the first couple of chapters, but it strikes me that there are theological implications raised by Bekoff’s research and that of other investigators, including the paper referred to by the BBC.

Animal theology is still in its infancy as a discipline, but it’s gaining in importance as we discover just how nuanced and sophisticated non-human animal behaviour can be.  As such it provides fertile ground for building links between science and theology and may well lead Christians to think in different ways about the rest of creation.  Not before time some may add!

I hope to post a reflection on Prof. Bekoff’s book, and the potential theological ramifications, in the not-too-distant future.  In the meantime, here’s a video clip (courtesy of youtube) in which Bekoff outlines his approach to animal behaviour studies and their importance in how we think about human-animal interactions:

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