Can Environmentalists Be Atheists?
Over the weekend, I went to the Atlantic coast and stayed on Chincoteague. On Saturday, I took a stroll to Assateague Island. On the entire trip, both the drive and the walk, the outstanding feature was the trees. Both along the highway and on the islands, there are trees in abundance. This had me thinking this morning about the central feature of the drive to save the rainforests and fight global warming, the fear that biodiversity will be lost as species of trees and animals go extinct.
What amuses me is the extent to which many of have these fears are atheists and/or are believers in the view that our current way of dealing with the world is entirely too human centric. Why is this amusing? You have to know a bit of epistemology to see why. The entire concept of the “species” is a product of human thought. Granted, there are physical realities that distinguish one such grouping from another, but their entire importance lies in the mind and language of man. What we consider a species is in reality a small variation in the genetic pattern of the organism in question. A few chemical sequences in the DNA, if you will. All of the importance attached to preserving this bit of variation lies in the conversation about it. The soon to be extinct species could care less (unless they are having trouble mating).
Notice the contradiction? If there is no “meta-reality” beyond the physical world, the entire conversation about extinction is rather silly. Also, if there is such a reality, then the normal cycle of species extinction also matters little in the grant scheme of things.
There are a few species, such as the American Bald Eagle, that have symbolic significance to us – but likely don’t to the people of other nations. There are also some species which are close enough to humanity to preserve as a point of familial honor, such as the Orangutan. I won’t lose much sleep about most of the rest, however. Species have been going extinct before man walked the earth and will do so long after we join them or evolve out of this universe.