The short answer is, we don't know. The long answer is that scientists, religious scholars and pet owners all have opinions on the subject. Since nobody has proven that souls truly exist, it comes down to what you believe -- and how much you can trust those sweet, loving eyes.
What is a Soul?
Whether animals have a soul or not might depend on your interpretation of what a soul is. If you're referring to the capacity to love and experience other emotions, many experts believe pets are capable of this. Even Darwin, in his book "The Descent of Man," said animals are capable of feeling "pleasure and pain, happiness and misery." Since the soul is usually identified as the place where your feelings originate and reside, this would mean animals do have a soul.
What the Experts Say
Research has shown that some animals have a sense of morality, which would certainly indicate the presence of a soul. Dr. Marc Bekoff -- co-founder, with Jane Goodall, of Ethologists for the Ethical Treatment of Animals -- believes animal have a sense of moral intelligence, which means they show sympathy for weaker animals in their group, express love for family members and experience sadness and mourning when a loved one dies.
What Religion Says
Different religions have different ideas of what the soul is and whether animals have one. Take, for example, Christianity. In 1990, then Pope John Paul II claimed that animals, just like humans, have a God-given soul. Buddhism, on the other hand, doesn't believe in the concept of souls at all. So animals, just like humans, don't have one. What both have is a form of consciousness -- higher or lower, depending on your actions in a previous life, which determine who you are, human or animal, in the current life.
The Evidence -- Or Lack of It
In his book, "Wild Justice: The Moral Lives of Animals," Berkoff says he spent countless hours researching the behavior of animals, especially dogs, to understand their code of ethics and moral system. His opinion, after much research, is that animals have the same moral system and emotional lives than humans do. They can understand right and wrong, they have expectations and they work towards goals just as much as humans do -- even if those goals are very different. And while Berkoff agrees there's no definite proof that our pets have souls, he thinks they should at least be given the benefit of the doubt.
- Happiness: A History: Darrin M. McMahon
- Dreamshore: The Pope Has Said: "Animals Too Have Souls, Just Like Men"
- The Guardian: Souls Are Overrated
- Psychology Today: Wild Justice and Moral Intelligence in Animals
- Psychology Today: Marc Bekoff, Ph.D.
- The Seattle Times: Dogs Have Souls, But You Already Knew That
- Jupiterimages/Photos.com/Getty Images
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