Sunday, April 25, 2004

Darwinists to Pandas: Drop Dead! Not really, of course. But according to this breathtakingly silly column from former Watergate conspirator Charles Colson, that's exactly what evolutionists would say if they were consistent in their beliefs:

In other words, if the giant panda survives, it will only be because human beings made its survival a priority. Human beings will refrain from activities that hurt the panda?s chances of survival and will take active measures, like breeding programs, to perpetuate the species.

This is the right thing to do, but it?s not the Darwinian thing. It wouldn?t be happening if human beings were, as Darwinists like Richard Dawkins tell us, ?just another animal.? If we took Dawkins?s worldview seriously, the giant panda would merely be another species that was out-competed into extinction by a more adaptable contender. There would be no more reason to regret the panda?s demise than there is to lament that there are no wooly mammoths in downtown Denver.

Among the millions of species on Earth, only humans ponder their obligations to other species. As Leon Kass of the University of Chicago has written, this fact is the obvious reply to people who insist that we are ?just another animal.? We intervene for animals like the panda because we instinctively know that man has a moral obligation to act as a steward of nature?an obligation that arises from a biblical, not a Darwinian, understanding of man and our place in the world.

Apparently Colson does not understand the distinction between “is” and “ought”. Scientific theories allow us to render the natural world predictable and controllable. They provide information about what is. By themselves they tell us nothing about morality or proper behavior. Evolution by natural selection is something that happens in the world. There's nothing in modern biology that says we need to take pleasure in that observation.

You've got to admire a clueless, self-contradictory sentence like &ldquoWe intervene for animals like the panda because we instinctively know that man has a moral obligation to act as a steward of nature?an obligation that arises from a biblical, not a Darwinian, understanding of man and our place in the world.” Things you know instinctively are also things you don't learn from studying the Bible. But even taken on its own terms, the sentence is ridiculous.

Taking evolution seriously implies that we are the descendants of a long line of animal ancestors. It tells us that there was no specific moment in history before which humans did not exist, and after which humans did exist. Consequently, any attempt to draw moral lines between humans and animals based on differences in biology is doomed to failure.

By contrast, the biblical view is that animals were created for the purpose of serving man. There is nothing in the Bible to suggest that animals have intrinsic value. On the other hand, the Bible does suggest that the Earth is little more than a temporary receptacle for souls awaiting their judgment. It's not clear to me where animal protection fits into this view.

There is nothing in either the Bible or evolution to tell us what measures we should take in saving the giant panda. But it seems to me that evolutionary science provides a far sounder basis for defending animal rights than the sort of biblical worldview Colson envisions.

If you're curious to know what Dawkins actually thinks on the subject of animal rights, read this fine essay on the subject. Here's an excerpt:

The speciesist assumption that lurks here is very simple. Humans are humans and gorillas are animals. There is such an unquestioned yawning gulf between them that the life of a single human child is worth more than the lives of all the gorillas in the world. The worth of an animal's life is just its replacement cost to its owner - or, in the case of a rare species, to humanity. But tie the label Homo sapiens even to a tiny piece of insensible, embryonic tissue, and its life suddenly leaps to infinite uncomputable value.

This way of thinking characterises what I want to call the discontinuous mind. We would all agree that a six-foot woman is tall, and a five-foot woman is not. Words like "tall" and "short" tempt us to force the world into qualitative classes, but this doesn't mean that the world really is discontinuously distributed. Were you to tell me that a woman is five feet nine inches tall, and ask me to decide whether she should therefore be called tall or not, I'd shrug and say: "She's five foot nine, doesn't that tell you what you need to know?" But the discontinuous mind, to caricature it a little, would go to court (probably at great expense) to decide whether the woman was tall or short. Indeed, I hardly need to say caricature. For years, South African courts have done a brisk trade adjudicating whether particular individuals of mixed parentage count as white, black, or coloured.


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