Animals are conscious and have a soul.
These are the claims of science: http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg21528836.200-animals-are-conscious-and-should-be-treated-as-such.html ; and also the claims of millions of people being in touch with animals whom understand that the connection and relation they have with them is not the connection/relation with a non-conscious 'fur-robot'. Without any soul that is exactly what the animals would be.
Man and animals didn't miraculously pop up on earth. What you observe here today is the result of billion individual’s decision throughout hundreds of millions of years (and the resulting evolution of certain instincts, etc., based on choices made by animals); and it is not logical to blame the Creator of choices that His creations have made. The Creator created the universe, but didn’t control everything that occurred afterwards. Animals have a choice of what actions to make.
I don’t believe that the Creator sees any satisfaction or joy at all when a fox kills a rabbit; causing fear, suffering and death to the rabbit; and suffering to her family and potential human companions. I don’t think He approves of it.
You wrote: “As for empathy and cruelty, don't get me wrong, it is important for man to treat animals humanely, and in all honesty, we don't always do so.”
Good that you state so!!!!!
However, your meat eating states the opposite. You are preaching by your actions.
There is no secret that anyone’s meat eating is causing severe pain and suffering for animals: See e.g. this documentation: http://www.peta.org/issues/animals-used-for-food/factory-farming.aspx
Your lifestyle gives your silent approval of this.
You state: “Animals are not described as being created in God's image.”
And this is according to a book, which is written by human animals, and based on their misunderstanding.
Yet many animals are showing far more love and compassion to their fellow beings and humans compared to men themselves.
I believe that sentient beings all have attributes that resemble the nature of our Creator. However, most sentient beings are not showing love and compassion to all animals and are thus not living according to the image of our Creator.
I haven’t found any evidence that humans are ‘ABOVE’ animals. Surely man has attributes and brain capacities that other animals don’t have. However, a less complex brain/brain not using all of its potential functions in a human or another animal doesn’t make an individual of any less worth.