Evolution and Extinction (was Re: [asa] Response to Baylor meeting)

From: Murray Hogg <muzhogg@netspace.net.au>
Date: Sun Aug 30 2009 - 19:50:37 EDT

Randy Isaac wrote:
> -An answer to the question of why evolutionists are concerned with
> extinction when this is a vital part of the process. How does a
> Christian reconcile this necessity of species destruction with the
> stewardship mandate of man?

Hi Randy,

This is a curious question - one which doesn't make much sense to me unless I read into it certain assumptions about evolutionists, extinction and environmental stewardship.

Here let me offer a three part response based on my interpretation of your correspondent's position;

First, it seems to me that you correspondent misunderstands the place of extinction in evolution. In particular, he seems not to appreciate that (crudely put) extinctions are of two sorts: those in which a species leaves descendants, and those in which they do not.

It is the widespread occurrence of extinctions of the second sort which concerns evolutionists. Were it the case that (say) the Sumatran Tiger (to be specific Panthera tigris sumatrae) were going extinct because it was evolving into something else, then evolutionists may not (and I stress "may not") be concerned. However, this is not what we see happening. Rather, we see the entire evolutionary lineage being wiped out. It is an extinction with no descendants whatsoever (not even of a new "daughter" species) which is of primary concern.

Second, it seems to me that your correspondent is wondering why evolutionists would be concerned about the current loss of bio-diversity given that evolution is purportedly endued with such enormous creative power.

That is, I think he is asking, "if it will all just evolve again, then why care so much about extinctions?"

If this is, indeed, the question he is asking, then my response would be that the great concern is not so much the extinction of single species, but the destruction of entire ecosystems. And at a rate at which far outstrips the ability of evolutionary processes to cope.

Third, the suggestion that the necessary occurrence of extinctions in evolution somehow mitigates against the stewardship mandate seems to me a non-sequiter. The stewardship mandate is simply the claim that humans have both the right and the obligation to care for creation in a responsible way. Taking an evolutionary perspective might throw up a different set of problems than we had hitherto thought important, but why it should lead us to abandon a principle of stewardship is utterly beyond me.

I imagine that here your correspondent is struggling with the idea that death is a necessary part of God's creative strategy. He might (and I stress "might") even think that evolutionists display inconsistency whenever they intervene to stop nature "taking its course" regardless of the issue at hand. He might (and I stress "might") equally well ask "Why bother about extinctions? Why bother about diseases? Why bother about war? Why bother about political tyranny?" and a host of other questions. "Why bother exercising environmental/medical/political stewardship when it's all part of God's great (evolutionary) plan?"

From the perspective of the Christian evolutionist, the answer is simple: because the claim that God used evolution is NOT the claim that human existence is meaningless, nor that the creation is of no value, nor the claim that our humanity is defined by a purported evolutionary past. In short, we exercise the stewardship mandate because we believe this is the task that God has placed before us - any theory we might have regarding origins not withstanding.

Hope it helps,

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Received on Mon, 31 Aug 2009 09:50:37 +1000

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