Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Species Extinction - Evil to Who?

A few years ago, I heard John Lennox on a radio program, talking with what I assume was an agnostic about his religious beliefs. At one point the interviewer asked, basically, why are only humans saved? What about fish? Trout for instance? Lennox's reply was that trout don't really seem to care about salvation. The host quickly shot back, "If I were a trout I'd want to be saved!"

All I could think is, well, if you had thoughts like that you damn well wouldn't be a trout, now would you?

Now, I'm actually not too decided on the question of animal salvation. For all I know, every blessed thing in the universe is going to be somehow saved and redeemed, living or non. Man's salvation seems clear by Christian teaching, but everything else - aside from God calling it "good" in Genesis - is up in the air. And between Job and the task of us trying to save ourselves even individually, I think we have our hands full. If you believe God exists, it seems entirely proper to at least sometimes say "That's not for me to worry about."

I bring this up because recently I've seen this claim resurface: The idea that the extinction of past species on earth indicates that God doesn't exist, or is evil. What I find odd about this is that it's not a complaint about the individual deaths of the animals, but the collective death - as if the individual death would be A-OK, but the species death is somehow intolerable. But if you accept that the deaths of individual animals is okay, what exactly is the complaint about the deaths of species?

Do the animals (to say nothing of the plants!) themselves care if they go extinct? Contra Lennox's interviewer the answer seems to be no, they really don't. In fact, they seem unable to comprehend the idea of species, much less extinction. Death, perhaps in some cases (and even there, arguable), but again - individual death isn't the issue here.

So who is species extinction a wrong against, if not the constituent members of the species? Some objective moral standard? Possible, but the only ones who could conceivably be making such a claim that ultimately stands, other than the theists themselves, would be the platonists. And I more and more have trouble seeing how platonism, particularly platonism about morality, doesn't land you right back in the theistic court anyway.

Oddly enough, the one answer I've gotten is that species extinction is an evil against humanity. These species no longer exist for us to see and enjoy, therefore an evil has been committed.

First, I wonder how such people would react to the idea that God intends to resurrect animals as well, ultimately. In which case the species are all coming back. Second, I wonder how they'd react to such species evolving again in the future (perhaps evolution is even more convergent than we think), or for humanity to bring them back via DNA cloning or outright design based on their study and remains.

But third, and most importantly, I have to wonder - why is the assumption that every damn species that ever existed somehow was made not only for our sake, but our sake alone? In Genesis, God doesn't wait until humanity is on the scene before saying that what He created is good - it's all good then and there. We're given stewardship over the earth, but it's hard to see everything as being made for man and man alone even biblically. Nor do I see why any species would have to last forever, without temporal interruption, to avoid being 'evil' - much less to positively be 'good'.

In the end all I can ask is, what kind of crazy-ass God are these people imagining when they come up with this stuff? Some kind of strange cross between Willy Wonka and Hitler is all I can come up with.

5 comments:

Ilíon said...

The host quickly shot back, "If I were a trout I'd want to be saved!"

All I could think is, well, if you had thoughts like that you damn well wouldn't be a trout, now would you?


*grin*

Ilíon said...

"Oddly enough, the one answer I've gotten is that species extinction is an evil against humanity. These species no longer exist for us to see and enjoy, therefore an evil has been committed."

And I fully expect that just moments before (or moments after) that same persons did (or will) fault Christianity for the apparently supreme sins of fostering "speciesism" and human exceptionalism.

Codgitator (Cadgertator) said...

Meanwhile, of course, smuggling in talk of "species" (essences) and biological goods (ends). It is bad that "the water buffalo" ceases to exist-- it is against its essential nature not to perpetuate its kind.

Crude said...

Ilion,

Well, that usually comes around in time. Then again, usually these are the very people who scream about how YECs are 'harming science!', but when some PETA-linked group busts up an animal research lab, they don't care. The arguments are usually proxy arguments.

Codg,

Yep, there's that too. I -have-, if I recall right, seen one person argue that a good God would not allow any species to go extinct, then turn around later and say that there is no such thing as 'other species' (That there's just one species, and we're all variants of it or such.)

As I said, I think most of the time these guys aren't even thinking through what they're saying. It's just some vague grasp in the direction of an objection, but stated with emotion and determination, which apparently substitutes fine for reason.

Ilíon said...

Oh, look: in this UD thread, your topis has broadly arisen.