Scientists Uncover a Good Purpose for Long-Lasting Pain in Animals

October 16, 2014
Guest Writer, Dr. Fazale Rana

Who trusted God was love indeed
And love Creation’s final law
Tho’ Nature, red in tooth and claw
With ravine, shriek’d against his creed

— Alfred, Lord Tennyson, In Memoriam A.H.H.

If God exists—and if He is all-powerful, -knowing, and -good—why is there so much pain and suffering in the world?

Perhaps nothing epitomizes the problem of pain and suffering more than the cruelty observed in nature. When asked about the elegant designs that characterize biological systems, Charles Darwin retorted, “What a book a devil’s chaplain might write on the clumsy, wasteful, blundering, low and horridly cruel work of nature!”

This enigma keeps many skeptics and seekers from the Christian faith and even troubles some believers. Yet, researchers from the US have recently uncovered an important function for long-lasting pain in animals, signifying that the suffering these creatures experience can have a purpose.1

In animals (and humans), injury can lead to long-lasting discomfort, whereby repeated exposure to pain-producing stimuli causes an increasingly amplified response well after the injury has healed. (This phenomenon is called nociceptive sensitization.) Biomedical researchers have long regarded nociceptive sensitization as maladaptive because, in humans, anxiety is associated with it. For a skeptic, the amplified response to pain in animals seems senseless, exacerbating the problem of pain and suffering. But is it so senseless after all?

A collaborative team of researchers (from the University of Texas, George Mason University, and the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, MA) recently studied nociceptive sensitization in squid and concluded that heightened sensitivity to pain helps these creatures avoid predation. Squid are an ideal laboratory model because they undertake a well-defined sequence of defensive behaviors when threatened by a predator.

When threatened, previously injured squid (that had fully recovered from their injury) reacted sooner than squid that had not been injured. However, the previously injured squid displayed a slower response to predatory threats when the scientists used anesthetic to block pain immediately after injury and, thus, prevent nociceptive sensitization from developing.

Because nociceptive sensitization is widespread, it likely serves a similar benefit among other animals, as well. These results indicate that pain (and the concomitant suffering) plays an important role in enhancing animals’ survivability following an injury and recovery. This insight (and others) indicates that the pain and suffering in the natural realm is not necessarily incompatible with God’s existence and His goodness. It can serve a good purpose.
Dr. Fazale Rana

In 1999, I left my position in R&D at a Fortune 500 company to join Reasons to Believe because I felt the most important thing I could do as a scientist is to communicate to skeptics and believers alike the powerful scientific evidence—evidence that is being uncovered day after day—for God’s existence and the reliability of Scripture. Read more about Dr. Fazale Rana


Robyn J. Crook et al., “Nociceptive Sensitization Reduces Predation Risk,” Current Biology 24 (May 19, 2014): 1121–25.

Related Articles

There is no related content.
Support Reasons to Believe

Reasons to Believe is a ministry devoted to integrating science and faith and to demonstrating how the latest science affirms our faith in the God of the Bible. Your donation helps our ministry take this life-changing message to skeptics around the world while encouraging and strengthening the faith of Christians. Donate

About Will Myers

I am an "Intelligent Design" writer who has the Christian faith. Part of my background is that I have a degree in physics, and have been inducted into the National Physics Honor Society. Sigma Pi Sigma, for life. My interest has lead me into metaphysics, farther into Christianity. Optimum metaphysics becomes religion.
This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.