A Biblical Perspective on Environmentalism: The Extinction of Species

Reprinted with permission from As I See It, which is available free by writing to the editor at dkutilek@juno.com. Read the series so far.

All species, or “kinds” (to use the term employed in the English Bible), of animals and plants are God’s deliberate creations, and as a consequence had in the past and do have in the present their niche in the complex “natural world,” though their originally harmonious contribution may have subsequently become decidedly warped and distorted by the fall of man. Even the most unremarkable species may be of particular value to mankind (though direct usefulness to man is not the ultimate standard of value). I think of the armadillo. This species is of no apparent direct economic value to man (though some folks in Texas are reported to hunt and eat them) and in fact is often a nuisance as it digs burrows in pastures and farm and garden fields. Yet, only in the past half-century was it discovered to be susceptible to Hansen’s disease—leprosy—as no other species is, except man. Armadillos immediately became recognized as valuable in lab research aimed at producing a vaccine or an antidote for leprosy. (And, by the way, yes, it is proper and right for man to use animals in laboratory research in pursuit of medical remedies for numerous human ailments. And of course, treating such research animals humanely is to be expected and insisted upon.)

Modern animal extinctions are nothing new. There have been numerous animal extinctions or near-extinctions in the past to most of which man has not directly contributed. Of course, the greatest near-extinction of animals occurred in the historic Flood of Genesis 6-8. Besides destroying and burying multiple billions, even trillions of sea-dwelling creatures of all classes, as well as numerous plant species, it also destroyed all air-breathing land creatures except those preserved on the ark. After the Flood, there were numerous varieties of the preserved kinds that appeared, multiplied, and then went extinct in subsequent centuries. The first to come to mind, of course, would be the dinosaurs, which indeed were part of the zoological cargo on the ark (no doubt juvenile pairs), but have become extinct since. Similarly with the woolly mammoths and mastodons (varieties of the original elephant “kind” rather than separate “species,” I suspect). Though once numbering in the millions, they died out in relatively short order (likely due to “climate change” in the post-ice age epoch) from factors all but entirely outside human control (evidence of human hunting of mammoths is very limited). Other examples of such post-Flood extinctions include giant sloths, saber-tooth cats, and more.

In the present, we often hear ominous matter-of-fact declarations by environmental extremists of a growing torrent of species extinctions at the hands of man—50 per day, according to some claims. What is not stated is that this is a totally fabricated number, based on estimates of undiscovered and unknown species that are “no doubt” being lost to decimation by logging of tropical rain forests (which used to be called “jungles”). Documented extinctions in modern times are a tiny fraction of these estimates. In North America, actual extinctions of animal species are very few—the passenger pigeon, possibly the ivory-billed woodpecker, and a very limited few others. (Of course, the extermination of any species, by neglect or design—“just because we can”—is an affront to the Creator, who made each kind for a purpose.)

One issue in all this is the definition of “species.” Very often what alarmist environmentalists identify as separate species are really only varieties within a species—a sub-species of sparrows or lizards or minnows that has distinctive coloring or plumage, or a shape slightly different from others of the same species (the same kinds of differences we see between, say, a Chihuahua and a Boston terrier, or a Siamese and a Persian cat). Varieties come and go repeatedly, without endangering a species or kind. The extremists scream bloody murder if some localized minor variety of snail or rat or pigeon is “threatened” by proposed development, when the species prospers elsewhere in the hundreds of thousands or millions.

Some months ago, I made a study of Kansas’ original native mammal species (other than the rodentia), and discovered that the only ones not still extant in Kansas are the grizzly bear, the black bear (though we have occasional incursions of individuals from Missouri, Oklahoma and Arkansas), and the gray wolf—all predators of domestic livestock, and incompatible with farming and livestock raising. It should be noted that though absent from Kansas, none of these species is totally extinct or even close. They persist, and even prosper in other areas. Mountain lions were long-declared extinct in the state, but in recent decades there have been numerous sightings. For a time, antelope were quite rare, and bison were very few in number, but both have greatly increased in population by direct human action.

Human habitation, and manipulation of the natural environment by farming, construction, paving, and more, has had minimal harmful impact on native Kansas’ mammal species, and has in fact enabled some original species to greatly increase their numbers in the 150 years since Kansas’ settlement began—squirrels (due to extensive tree planting), raccoons, possums, skunks and coyotes, to name just a few, which do remarkably well in close proximity to human habitation.

Likewise deer populations, small a half century ago, have expanded to the point of becoming a nuisance, even a real danger to man. There are some 10,000 deer-vehicle collisions each year in the state, causing multiplied millions of dollars in property damage and resulting in several human deaths. With virtually all their natural predators gone, the only reasonable approach to keeping deer population numbers within bounds is by regular annual harvests of the surplus animals (numbering in the hundreds of thousands) by hunting. Not only are those who hunt deer not “big meanies who kill Bambi’s mother,” they are doing a great service in suppressing an otherwise out of control population growth.

There are also numerous introduced species that were absent in 1850. Armadillos, at one time limited to places hundreds of miles south of Kansas, are now found throughout the state, in spite of their legendary vulnerability to vehicles on highways. We have wild pigs in counties near the Oklahoma border—an unwelcome, destructive intruder. There are of course numerous non-native species of domesticated animals—cattle, horses, sheep, goats, burros, dogs, cats and even llamas, vicunas, ostriches, emus and more.

I am not particularly well-versed in birds and reptiles, so cannot speak in detail about them, but I will note that there are a number of bird species here that were wholly absent in 1850—ring-necked pheasants, starlings, English sparrows, South African rock doves (pigeons), and cattle egrets among them. The only once-present bird species now extinct is the passenger pigeon. At present, there are regularly warnings issued about declines in prairie chicken populations (though the numbers are still large enough to support an annual hunting season in Kansas).

Beyond my immediate personal local observations, there is, among many that could be mentioned, the classic example of the polar bears (a variety of bear, actually, not a separate species; where their ranges overlap, polar bears and grizzlies readily inter-breed). We are “informed” by zealots that the polar bears are about to disappear with the polar ice cap, when in reality, the population of polar bears in the wild has expanded very substantially in recent decades, and continues to grow (from a reported 5,000 or so around 1970 to over 25,000 today).

Those who repeatedly cry “wolf” (or “manatee” or “elephant”) regarding animal extinctions are very long on bold claims and very short on actual evidence.

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JD Miller's picture

I especially appreciated his point about the definition of a species.  My theory about the mammoth is that it was a different breed of elephant and the saber toothed tiger a different breed of cat.  We should not assume that Noah had both a poodle and German Shepherd on the ark (both fairly recent breeds).  Instead, I figure he just had a wolf and our pet dogs descended from the pair he brought on board.  So much of the creation evolution debate is confused because of a misunderstanding between selection within a species/kind and huge changes into new unrelated species.  When I go to Cabellas and see the animal mounts from all over the world, I notice that there are a lot of animals that look like a different breed of cow.  Perhaps that is what they are.  That does not mean that we all came from monkeys or some single celled ameba. I know the scientific community has their definition of species, but I do not assume that it is the same definition that God has for the "kind" in the Genesis creation account.

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