Do Animals Have Wisdom?
WISDOM is the ability to use acquired knowledge to solve problems and avoid dangers. For humans, wisdom involves the use of reasoning powers. Is this also true of animals?
Cats, for example, have been known to open doors by moving a latch. Is this an evidence of their reasoning out the solution to a problem? Consider the results of some scientific experiments.
A scientist placed a cat in a cage equipped with a door that could be opened by moving a latch. He reached through the bars of the cage and pressed one of the cat’s paws against the latch, thereby opening the door. When the door opened he gave the animal a piece of fish. Despite the scientist’s repeated efforts to teach the cat to open the door in this manner, the animal never did learn how to do it.
Thereafter the researcher put a number of cats into the cage. The animals tried everything to get out. They pawed, scratched and chewed all around the cage. In time, by trial and error, they succeeded in moving the latch. But when returned to the cage, the cats again resorted to the trial-and-error method. While they eventually became quite adept in escaping confinement, manifestly they had not been able to reason out the solution.
What about such animals as chimpanzees? They can be trained to sit at a table, eat with knives, spoons and forks, ride bicycles and engage in various other human activities. Does this not indicate that they have reasoning faculties as do humans? To answer this question, we might examine the results of a number of experiments conducted with chimpanzees.
A banana was placed outside the cage beyond reach of a female chimpanzee. Inside the cage there were sticks that could be used to gain access to the fruit. Did the chimpanzee recognize the hopelessness of getting the banana without employing one of the sticks? No. She tried in vain to reach the fruit with her arms. Finally she did use a stick to bring the fruit toward her. But when faced with the same situation later on, the chimpanzee again ignored the stick.
Another chimpanzee acted similarly when he saw a banana hanging high above him. Even though a box was available to stand on, the chimpanzee vainly tried to reach the fruit by jumping. Then the box caught his attention. Despite earlier experiences with boxes, however, he did not move it directly underneath the banana. He merely shoved the box in the direction of the banana and then jumped from it to seize the fruit.
In another experiment, a chimpanzee used two boxes, placing one on top of the other to reach the banana. When this still did not bring the banana within reach, he pulled out the bottom box and attempted to place it on top of the second box.
These and similar experiments have demonstrated that chimpanzees vary considerably in their ability to solve problems and that they cannot reason as do humans. Observes the book Animals Are Quite Different: “The monkeys realized, at least some of them did, though even those only occasionally, that a purpose can be achieved by the use of auxiliary appliances, when the arms prove too short for the end in view. But while a human being, even quite a small child, deduces general laws from his experiences and always draws valid conclusions, the monkeys did not show in any way that they grasped the meaning of anything as a whole. . . . All performances by monkeys subjected to intelligence tests invariably proceeded with a view to perfectly material ends. Unless a banana or some other bait were available they utterly declined to concern themselves . . . Their behaviour was invariably directed purely by the eye. If the stick happened to be in sight, well and good, they seized it and started fishing for the banana lying outside the cage. But if the stick was behind them they never noticed it.”—Pp. 68, 69.
Evidently animals learn by trial and error rather than by drawing logical conclusions from experience. This is well illustrated by what can happen to a dog. The animal may pass a certain corner. Suddenly he may be pounced upon by a larger dog and seriously injured. From then on, the animal may do everything possible to avoid passing the corner where he had the bad experience, even though the large dog may not live in that area at all. Though having learned something from what happened, the dog is unable to reason out that the corner itself had no relation to the unpleasant incident.
Evidence of Logical Thinking?
Yet it may be asked, Have there not been horses and other animals that were able to solve mathematical problems? Appearances are at times very deceptive. Take the case of the horse known as “Clever Hans.” This horse could seemingly add, subtract, multiply and even spell according to a system worked out by his trainer. For example, if asked, ‘How much is one-third plus one-fourth?’ the horse would stamp seven times and then twelve times, indicating that the answer was seven-twelfths. How would this be possible for an unreasoning horse? In his book Animal Behavior, J. P. Scott writes:
“A committee of zoologists and psychologists studied Hans and found that the horse could indeed do the sort of thing which had been reported. One of the first hints of how Hans got his results came when they found that he always failed when no one present knew the answer to a problem. This suggested that the master, who apparently was standing perfectly still and waiting for the answer, was in some way giving Hans an unconscious signal when he got the right answer. Sure enough, when a screen was put between master and horse, Hans lost his powers entirely. All that really happened in the case of this wonder horse was that he had been taught to paw the ground, and if he pawed long enough, he would inevitably come to the right answer. At this point his master would feel relieved and relax slightly, and Hans saw that this was the time to stop. Hans was a highly trainable and observant horse, but he could not do arithmetic.”—P. 161.
Instinctive Wisdom and Acquired Experience
While animals are incapable of reasoning like humans, they have all the faculties needed for the preservation of their kind. This is built into them as instinct. Often their instinctive wisdom is amazing.
An interesting example is the emperor penguin, which mates during the bleakest time of the year in the coldest parts on earth. Once the female lays the egg, she turns it over to her mate. The egg then comes to rest on his webbed feet, which are richly supplied with blood vessels and therefore can keep it warm from below. A fold of skin or pouch fits snugly over the egg, keeping it warm from above. After a “ritualistic” parting ceremony, the female leaves. By this time the male already has not eaten anything for about a month or so and must endure another two months without food in temperatures plunging to 85° below zero Fahrenheit (65° below zero Celsius), accompanied by great blizzards. How do the male penguins survive? Whenever a storm breaks loose, some five to six hundred of them bunch together to form a solid moving circle. The penguins affected most by the wind move toward the protected side and those that were shielded submit themselves temporarily to the worst of the blizzard. Thus, by mutual cooperation, stemming from instinctive wisdom, the male penguins keep themselves alive.
Besides the benefit of instinct, many animals have the ability to learn a great deal from experience. As a result, they may seem to reflect reason, logic and very human emotions when viewed through the eyes of men and women. Because of looking at the behavior of animals as they do upon the actions of humans under similar circumstances, many people mistakenly attribute human feelings to animals.
Of course, animals do have feelings. The Creator took this into consideration when setting forth specific laws for man’s guidance. For instance, the Israelites were commanded: “You must not muzzle a bull while it is threshing.” (Deut. 25:4) The animal was not to be tormented with hunger while grain was so near and he was exerting energy to thresh it.
Though pointing out that animals have feelings, the Bible definitely shows that man alone is made in the Creator’s image. Man, therefore, possesses qualities lacking in the animal creation. (Gen. 1:27) That is why gratitude, sympathy and similar human traits cannot be found among animals. Animals at a zoo may roughly snatch food from hands extended toward them. Their manner shows that they know no gratitude or appreciation. The alarming squawks of a chicken have no meaning to the wolf that starts devouring the bird from the tail end. He never reasons that it would be more merciful to bite off its head first, thereby putting it out of its misery. To the wolf, the chicken is only food. No matter how affectionate an animal may seem to be, it cannot understand what the loss of a dear friend or relative can mean to a human.
Truly, the Bible is very realistic in speaking of animals as “unreasoning.” (2 Pet. 2:12) They have instinctive wisdom, and many possess surprising learning ability. But humans alone have the reasoning faculties and moral capacity to display unselfish love and intelligent compassion. That is why the person who tries to find among animals what he failed to find among humans—understanding and heartfelt sympathy—will in time be woefully disappointed. Animals simply are not endowed with the capacity to express the feelings and concerns that rightly motivated humans can.