Re: evolution and stewardship

From: Wesley R. Elsberry (
Date: Fri Jan 14 2000 - 11:22:42 EST

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    Art Chadwick forwarded a request for feedback on an argument.

    Unknown Student wrote:

    US>I am arguing that the logical endpoint for evolution
    US>(survival of the fittest) is extinction.

    From the rest of this post, I take it that the Unknown
    Student is not coming to this as a conclusion, but rather
    is utilizing it as a premise. It isn't a good premise,
    either. The logical endpoint of any particular
    *population* is extinction. But that hardly necessitates
    concluding that evolution as a process has the same
    "endpoint". Nor does "endpoint" as given above translate
    as "goal" or "desired goal".

    US>My premise is that humans are the apex of evolution and
    US>have the natural right to exploit our earth's resources
    US>however we see fit, as we are simply living out our genetic

    Another premise adopted without reference to whether it fits
    reality or not. There isn't any such concept as "apex of
    evolution". I think the Unknown Student is trying to simply
    repackage the concept of "crown of creation". However,
    biology need not (and does not) have parallel constructions
    for every theological construct.

    Any species, and particularly heterotrophs like humans,
    necessarily utilize resources in order to survive and
    propagate. Whether this can be described as a "right"
    is another debate entirely. Species do not have a
    "social contract" with the environment.

    US>Other population explosions and extinctions have occurred
    US>in the past (here i could use some examples) and humans are
    US>probably no different.

    The wording is confused in the above. Does the Unknown
    Student refer to an impending extinction of the human species,
    or to humans as a causal factor in the extinction of other
    species? By the rest of the message, I assume the latter is
    the intended sense. There are many examples of extinction
    events, in that species and higher groups disappear from the
    fossil record at various times. There are around five
    recognized mass extinctions in the past. The KT boundary
    event has as a putative cause a meteor strike. The Permian
    extinction has been chalked up to continental alignments such
    that much coastal habitat was destroyed. Raup's "Extinction"
    is an accessible read on the topic.

    Some researchers claim that we are in the midst of the next
    mass extinction, and that the causal impetus behind it are
    those changes wrought on the environment by humans. The
    important difference between mass extinction by meteor
    strike or by continental drift and mass extinction by human
    influence is that humans can choose whether to continue to
    push mass extinction as a policy or not.

    US>I would further argue that we are doing no harm in
    US>accelerating the destruction of the earth's habitats as we
    US>are simply creating new opportunities for evolution to
    US>further diversify and radiate into new niches.

    This depends greatly upon how one defines "harm". If "harm"
    is defined as the complete annihilation of all living
    populations, then humans are powerless to cause "harm". But
    if "harm" is constructed such that humans can consider
    negative effects upon the human species or other species, then
    humans in pushing for mass extinction do "harm".

    US>In fact if evolution is the sole driving force to create
    US>new species than I would further argue that we are actually
    US>doing harm to the gene pool of managed animals by
    US>protecting their environments and thus preventing fortunate
    US>mutations from having an opportunity to further diversify
    US>the species, thus preventing the species from progressing
    US>to its natural endpoint (which of course it has an
    US>inalienable right to achieve:).

    How does protecting an environment prevent fortunate mutations
    which might lead to diversity? The Unknown Student might do
    better to actually read some of the textbooks lying around.
    We know that not protecting environments will lead in short
    order to the extinction of particular populations; no further
    mutations of any kind will help diversify an extinct

    US>Please consider this argument and forward to me [via
    US>Chadwick] any comments, examples, or citations that you
    US>feel will be helpful. My goal is not to promote evolution,
    US>but to get my peers to recognize the end results of the
    US>evolution argument.

    Well, the Unknown Student has not actually addressed
    evolutionary considerations, but rather has produced an
    argument against certain "Wise Use" stances, which are based
    in part upon "end-times" theology. Again, there is not
    a biological construct to match every theological construct.

    US>Most ecologist religiously believe that they must preserve
    US>the environment. My objective is for the listeners and
    US>participants ask themselves why they have an innate desire
    US>to protect the creation around them rather than to live for
    US>selfish, self-centered gain. The natural conclusion is
    US>that we have a higher moral sense that guides us to protect
    US>our environment, not because we are all descended from
    US>mother earth ( that would lead to self interest), but
    US>because we are commissioned by our creator to preserve. I
    US>have about a month before I present. Thank you in advance
    US>for any ideas you may have.

    Theological approaches to the problem of mass extinction do
    not uniformly lead to protective impulses; much political
    action is undertaken by those whose theology condones or
    encourages exploitative use of the environment. "Wise Use"
    advocates pose a counter to the Unknown Student's simplistic
    alternative, as those people advance a "use it up" approach
    based upon belief in mankind as "crown of creation". Of
    course, conservation is not entirely divorced from issues of
    self-interest. Widespread ecological disruption is unlikely
    to be of long-term benefit to our own species. The innate
    desire to see our children put safely into an environment
    conducive to a good quality of life would seem entirely
    sufficient to explain concern over conservation issues,
    without reference to either sort of theology that Unknown
    Student ascribes as motivational above. As such, I find
    Unknown Student's conclusion to be founded upon false
    premises, to utilize unsound logic, and to be completely
    unconvincing. Your mileage may vary.

    I think that extinction is a theologically interesting topic.
    Why have 99%+ of all species gone extinct? If God allowed so
    many species to go extinct in the past before the advent of
    humans, is there some theological reason that humans should
    attempt to do better? Recall that the "Wise Use" people have
    already answered this in the negative.


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