The Great extinction
L: I just read that the 6th great extinction might be underway as we speak!
C: What do you mean?
L: Well, they said that for example the African elephant population has been cut basically in half since the early part of the 1900’s.
C: Should we be worried?
L: They said a lot of it is caused by humans. I think we should work really hard to stop it.
C: What should we do?
L: I think we need to cut back on carbon emissions, stop clearing so many forests, cut back on the number of kids we have, and so on.
C: And you think that would stop this extinction from taking place?
L: I think it would help.
C: Let me ask you a question. What caused the first five extinctions to take place?
L: I don’t know. It just happens. That’s the way evolution works. The earth changes, species come and go.
C: So why should we worry about this one?
L: Because if our species disappears, we’re doomed!
C: Yea… and what would happen then?
L: I guess new species would develop and…
C: Life would go on. What’s to worry about?
L: But part of this is our fault and we have the responsibility to take steps to slow it down, so that future generations will be able to live the kind of life we live.
C: Future generations of humans or just future generations of something?
L: Future generations of humans.
C: You don’t believe in God, right? You believe in evolution through totally natural causes.
L: That’s right. There is no God planning or guiding or directing what is happening. It just happens because of the laws of science.
C: So evolution of the planet and of life just goes on without any supervision or oversight. There is no ‘ought’ to any of it. Atoms bounce around in certain ways and come together according to nature and over enough billions of years we have the earth as we know it today. Right?
L: That’s right.
C: So my first observation is that the way the earth is today, then, is not necessarily the ideal. It just happens to be the way it is today. Over the course of evolution, let’s say when the dinosaurs were here, they went wherever they wanted and ate what they wanted and there was no God and no people to say, “You shouldn’t go there or do that.”
C: Eventually evolution got to human beings. Humans decide to build houses and so they cut down trees. All of a sudden that is a bad thing. Beavers are never accused of destroying trees. It’s just what happens.
L: But we have intelligence.
C: So we chop down trees. We clear land so we can grow crops and we have extended our life span. We’ve invented products to make our work easier. It’s what we do.
L: But we need to do those things carefully and with thought and care for the environment.
C: Who says so?
L: We sort of agree to do that.
C: Not everyone.
L: I know but some people waste things and pollute the environment and it hurts other people.
C: Who says that is bad. Some animals do things that hurt other animals or other species and we never accuse them of ruining the environment.
L: That’s because they can’t think.
C: Thinking about things is an ability we have, but as soon as you suggest that there is an ought, I get nervous because that makes me think that you think that there are rules out there somewhere that we are all obligated to obey.
L: Well there are.
C: Who says so?
L: We just know it. We know that we shouldn’t harm the environment so that other people suffer now or at a later time.
C: Apparently not everyone knows that because if they did, they wouldn’t be doing things that you don’t like.
L: They might not know it, that’s why we need to educate them.
C: But who says your way of thinking is right, just because you believe it or say it.
C: Here’s the thing: If evolution is true, humans are currently the product. The earth is the way it is now, but that is not the ideal. It just is the way it is. So if humans bring a species of plants from China to the U.S., that shouldn’t cause everyone to freak out. It’s just what happens in the course of evolution. Evolution created us and evolution gets to deal with the results of our behavior.
C: There are no “oughts.” Any oughts are preferences of one group seeking to subjugate another group. Right now it seems like those of your point of view are trying to create oughts that people like me are required to agree to and follow just because you have more numbers or power. But that doesn’t make your preferences right.
C: Humans inherently have the notion that what I have just described can’t be right. We believe that people really ought to live in a certain way even if we’re not always sure what that way is. I maintain that the moral sense we have and the conscience we have is evidence that we are not really alone in the universe. We haven’t really just evolved from organic soup by chemical laws. There really is a creator God out there who has the list of oughts and has the right to tell us what to do. We need to find the list.
C: The reality of a creator God is a better foundation for environmental care than evolution. If there is a God who made all this, then we have the responsibility of handling his creation with care and treating all of it with respect.