Re: evolution and stewardship

Date: Fri Jan 14 2000 - 18:00:42 EST

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    One of Art's old students wrote him as follows:

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

    I'll adopt the position of a hardcore naturalist:

    I wouldn't argue that the endpoint of evolution is extinction. I would merely
    point out that extinction is simply a natural happening that is commonly part
    of evolution. It ought to raise no eyebrows. There's nothing "wrong"
    about it.

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

    I wouldn't base the position on a special place for humans or natural
    rights. I would simply argue that humans have been shaped by evolution
    to be environment modifiers. Thus, it's in our *nature* to change and
    exploit our environment. Clear-cutting and bulldozing a rain forest are
    bit as *natural* as it catching fire (is there something non-natural about
    actvity or choice?) A bunch of men cutting down a forest is no different
    from a bunch of wolves chasing down a deer. Humans do what humans do
    and wolves do what wolves do. What's the fuss? (personally, I don't believe
    this stuff, but I am not a naturalistic monist).

    What I find interesting is that I toyed with the same sentiments
    on another list about a year ago. Here's what I posted then:

    So-and-so quotes:

    "This was nothing more than the age-old question of nature versus nurture,
    and Boag knew how to test it. If he took some eggs from a pair of big
    finches and put them in the nest of a pair of small finches, would the
    young grow up looking like their true parents or their foster parents?
    Boag never did have a chance to perform this experiment during his
    watch on Daphne. And in retrospect, the finch watchers are glad he didn't,
    because their study is now so sensitive that the large number of egg
    switchings that Boag planned would have caused unnatural disruptions
    from that day to this. In fact, locally, Boag might have changed the
    course of evolution." (Weiner J., "The Beak of the Finch," 1994, p67)

    I must confess that I am not all that interested in beaks and finches,
    but what caught my eye was the last sentence, where an appeal is
    made to "the course of evolution." Here we can see that even
    the Darwinists haven't come completely to terms with their own
    beliefs, as there would be no one course. If Boag had done these
    experiments, he might have changed the course of evolution, but
    so what? Is there One True Course of evolution? And when
    humans change the environment, why is this any different from
    any other species changing the environment? Why is human
    activity any less a "valid" form of evolutionary change? Why is
    human activity an "unnatural disruption?"

    I think this one sentence from Weiner captures a tension between
    environmentalism and evolution. Environmentalism is about
    preserving the environment. But since when has evolution ever
    been about preserving the environment? Evolution has always
    been about changing environments and the adaptations that follow.
    Boag's activity would have just translated as one of many
    evolutionary courses where no one is "supposed to be."

    Environmentalism is premised on the notion that there is
    something special about our environment and something
    special about humans. But naturalistic evolution denies both points.
    Our current environment is just one among many and humans
    are no more special than any other animal. One could
    argue that if we destroy the environment, many animals
    will go extinct. So? Isn't this common in evolutionary
    history? Will not other life forms simply adapt to fill
    the new niches? One could argue that if we destroy the
    environment, we will destroy ourselves. Well, since
    there is nothing special about humans, this is hardly
    any more tragic than the extinction of the mammoth.
    Instead, we would have to simply appeal to raw
    self-interest. But ironically, it is this same raw
    self-interest that is harming the environment.


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