The horrifying calculations of utilitarian ethics
Normally, when someone goes to college, we can assume they are competent in their specialization. But when someone claims to be an ethicist, what comes out of their mouth is so predictably absurd and satanic that it’s not even interesting anymore. So when philosopher and author of Secular Ethics in a Materialist Age Todd May wrote a New York Times piece entitled ‘Would human extinction be a tragedy?’,1 one hardly needs to read it to know that May thinks, on balance, it could be quite a good thing for the earth if humans were no longer on it. However, he is wrong in several key areas.
‘Nature’ is not benevolent
Of course, May does not ask his question from the point of view of the only thing in all of creation that has a category for ‘tragedy’, but of nature itself. Given that, from his point of view, human beings are causing climate change, turning habitats into farmland, and causing untold suffering through factory farming, might it be better if humans weren’t around?
Often, secularists think of ‘Nature’ as an overall benevolent force, and humans as an infestation, parasite, or disease—harming nature, draining the earth’s resources, and displacing far more valuable creatures. Only someone who has never seen one of the nature documentaries where a cute antelope gets disemboweled by a lion can have such a naïve view of ‘nature’.
Maybe the antelope would be momentarily better off if its grasslands weren’t turned into farms. But they would still have to deal with predators. So maybe we should remove them, too? But then the antelope would reproduce out of control and graze the grasslands bare. Then erosion would go out of control, devastating the whole ecosystem, killing the antelope.2 If we’re going to personify a non-sentient idea, Nature is a jerk. There’s no post-Fall solution that eliminates suffering entirely. If one cause of suffering is eliminated, another inevitably arises in its place.
When we come to the issue with a biblical view of creation, we recognize that God created the world good, and while it is now fallen, it retains much of its goodness. Humans were given the task of being the earth’s stewards; this entails maintaining and improving creation, fighting the effects of the Fall, while at the same time using creation for our own benefit.
Thinking both too much and too little of humans
Secularists give humanity too much power and value human life too little. They credit humans with the ability to single-handedly devastate the world, most often through climate change. But while they will fight tirelessly for whales and endangered beetles, and lobby for draconian penalties for damaging the eggs of an endangered bird, they encourage killing unborn, disabled, elderly, or other ‘inconvenient’ humans.
A biblical view of humanity recognizes that the image of God makes us more valuable than animals. It doesn’t justify us inflicting needless suffering on animals, or recklessly polluting the world. And most recognize that it is best for humans to conserve the resources we will continue to depend on for the foreseeable future.
The inconsistency of secular environmentalism
This environmental ethic is fundamentally inconsistent. Why should we care about nature, let alone contemplate our own extinction as a possible good for the world? If Darwinism is true, why should we care about the survival of endangered species? Whatever animals are not strong enough to withstand evolution’s scythe do not deserve to survive. If evolution is true, humans are just apes with overdeveloped prefrontal cortices, and have no more responsibility to the species we might threaten than the lion has to the antelope.
The Darwinist wants to value us as mere animals while giving us the moral responsibility of the image of God, but they cannot have it both ways.
Sadly, May is not the only example of this sort of misanthropic thinking being advanced. No less than the founder of CNN, Ted Turner, has said there are “too many people” on the planet and that’s why we have global warming. Turner wants a worldwide ‘pledge’ that one or two children is the maximum allowable amount.3 But close friend of Turner and famous environmentalist Jacques Cousteau4 went much further, saying that we must eliminate 350,000 people per day in order to stabilize the world population, and that even if we could eliminate disease we should not do so.5 Did Hitler ever achieve this efficiency? And would Turner privately agree with his late friend on this more direct course of action?
If the only thing distinctive about humans is the prefrontal cortex, opposable thumbs, and abstract reasoning, there’s no reason not to attempt the perverse calculus that might result in the conclusion that the world would be better off if humans went extinct. But if humans are the unique creations of God in His image, proposing our extinction is actually an attack on the Creator Himself. When we realize this, we can see the murderous satanic undertones of secular ethics.
References and notes
- May, T., Would human extinction be a tragedy? New York Times, 17 December 2018. Return to text.
- For a real-world example, see the Yellowstone wolves: Wolf reintroduction changes ecosystem in Yellowstone, 15 January 2019, yellowstonepark.com. Return to text.
- Morris, M., Ted Turner: Global warming can lead to cannibalism, ajc.com, 3 April 2008. Return to text.
- Wilkinson, T., A Time To Rally: When Ted Turner Gave Jacques Cousteau An End-Of-Life Pep Talk, mountainjournal.org, 21 September 2017. Return to text.
- Elnadi, B., and Rifaat, A., Interview: Jacques-Yves Cousteau,The Unesco Courier,Pg.13, November 1991; accessible online at joseywales1965.files.wordpress.com/2014/06/0003_jacques_couteau.pdf Return to text.