Darwin’s Polar Bears

Written by Drew on May 30th, 2008

I can’t get my mind off polar bears this morning. Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne announced in May that he would list the polar bear as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act. His reasoning is that 1) the polar bears depend on sea ice; 2) the sea ice at the polar caps has been melting significantly for the last several decades; and 3) computer models project that this trend will continue in the future. This decision is yet another victory for those who advance the sketchy science of global warming, although many are saying Kempthorne’s move did not go far enough.

The listing of polar bears as a threatened species sets a precedent, as the decision was not based on concrete evidence that the bears are, in fact, threatened. According to Kempthorne, the population of bears has grown from a low of about 12,000 in the late 1960s to approximately 25,000 today. For the first time, we are using speculative data from questionable computer models to foresee the future of Mother Earth.

It is comical to me that the same scientists responsible for this decision are the ones who champion Charles Darwin’s evolutionary theory. Darwin would have never made a fuss over a struggling species. In fact, because 0f his convictions on natural selection, he even frowned on efforts to help the weaker members of the human race. In The Descent of Man he wrote,

With savages, the weak in body or mind are soon eliminated; and those that survive commonly exhibit a vigorous state of health. We civilized men, on the other hand, do our utmost to check the process of elimination; we build asylums for the imbecile, the maimed, and the sick; we institute poor-laws; and our medical men exert their utmost skills to save the life of everyone to the last moment. There is reason to believe that vaccination has preserved thousands, who from a weak constitution would formerly have succumbed to small-pox. Thus the weak members of civilized societies propagate their kind. No one who has attended to the breeding of domestic animals will doubt that this must be highly injurious to the race of man. It is surprising how soon a want of care, or care wrongly directed, leads to the degeneration of a domestic race; but excepting in the case of man himself, hardly any one is so ignorant as to allow his worst animals to breed (emphasis added).

If Darwin were in charge, there wouldn’t be any polar bears. Let ’em drown. Survival of the fittest.

Sooner or later, our scientists are going to have to decide whether human beings are the crowning jewels of evolution, the fittest creatures at the top of the heap of natural selection, or the benevolent saviors of Planet Earth trying to preserve the globe in its present form.

As a Christian, I believe humans have a responsibility to be good stewards of the natural world God has blessed us with. That has been our charge from the first (Gen. 1:28-31). But environmentalism goes beyond this, positioning our nation in a set of inconsistencies that will amount to economic disaster and wasted resources.

 

17 Comments so far ↓

  1. Dale's Spot says:

    Just one word – excellent!

  2. Ashley says:

    Darwin’s Descent of Man has been digitized by Google and can be downloaded at http://books.google.com/books?id=ZvsHAAAAIAAJ&printsec=frontcover&dq=Darwin+Descent+of+Man&ei=f7VASIPHMp_2iwGp1NiIBQ#PPR3,M1

    Drew has written an excellent article that I certainly agree with. The quote he cited is also read by Ben Stein in the recent movie Expelled. Rebuttals from the science community will say that the quote was taken out of context.

  3. Drew Kizer says:

    I didn’t realize Stein used the quote in “Expelled.” I’m looking forward to watching it, but I’ll have to wait for it to come out on DVD, since it was only in the theaters for a couple of weeks.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Your comments were well written, but I have some concerns and thoughts.

    First, the standard for listing a species as “threatened” is that the species is likely to become “in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of their range” in the foreseeable future (endangered). So, making the determination to list a species under the Endangered Species Act always requires some degree of prediction, whether the threats to the species are land development or melting ice. With the recent example of the polar bears, it is quite clear that the sea ice that they rely on to hunt, reproduce and survive has decreased substantially in extent over the past 40 years (http://www.doi.gov/issues/polar_bears/seaice.html); and there is no reason to believe that this trend will halt, based on the known causes of the melting, and computer modeling of future scenarios (notice on the above page that all of the models – which include and exclude different parameters – show a decrease in sea ice extent). The bears are, in fact, threatened with endangerment due to the decreasing sea ice that can be seen with the naked eye and also modeled using available data.

    Regarding the quote from Darwin you mention, he continues on to say:
    “The aid which we feel impelled to give to the helpless is mainly an incidental result of the instinct of sympathy, which was originally acquired as part of the social instincts, but subsequently rendered, in the manner previously indicated, more tender and more widely diffused. Nor could we check our sympathy, even at the urging of hard reason, without deterioration in the noblest part of our nature. The surgeon may harden himself whilst performing an operation, for he knows that he is acting for the good of his patient; but if we were intentionally to neglect the weak and helpless, it could only be for a contingent benefit, with an overwhelming present evil.”
    He is obviously not suggesting we kill off the “helpless” or let them die, but simply using an aspect of society as an illustration of his ideas of natural selection.
    As you point out, we, as Christians, have a responsibility of stewardship of the earth God has given us, since it is not ours, but the Father’s, created through and for Christ (Col. 1:16). In the same way that we have the responsiblity to further Christ’s mission to redeem humanity, taking his message and love to others, we should reflect Christ’s mission to redeem and “unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth” (Eph. 1:10). John 3:16 says that “God so loved the cosmos (which includes all creation) that he gave his only Son…”
    Evolution and Genesis both tell us we are a part of creation and dependent on the other “pieces” in the ecosystems of the world. Scripture tells that, beyond that, we were made “in the image of God,” and thus we have a responsibility to reflect God in all that we do, including how we treat nature. Dare I say this includes polar bears as well?

    In Christ,

    -Micah B

  5. Kevin W. Rhodes says:

    Micah, in John 3:16, cosmos does not include animals. The fact that the word itself is general does not mean that the context cannot limit it. It simply means organized system. The organized system under discussion in John 3:16 is human society. God did not send Christ to die on the cross for polar bears.

    Second, macro-evolution does NOT tell us we are part of creation. Isn’t that obvious? And theistic-evolution is inherently contradictory.

    The responsibility given to mankind by God is to use this creation with stewardship with the purpose of man AND man’s primacy in creation as basic principles. That could very well at some point include EATING polar bears.

    As to your reliance on governmental studies, I would suggest you first research the people doing the studies, research their methods, and then research their funding. The whole point of Drew’s article is that the modeling was based on a flawed assumption. Your reiterating that assumption as if it is fact does not counter Drew’s article; it illustrates why it is needed.

  6. Anonymous says:

    Kevin,

    Thanks for your comments.

    I would suggest, based on what Paul says in Col. 1:20 (“reconciling all things” through Christ)(see also Eph. 1:9-10), in conjunction with Rom. 8:18-25, where he speaks of “all creation” “groaning” in expectation of being “set free from bondage to decay,” that God sent Christ to redeem all creation from the effects of sin, including humans, polar bears, and all nature. In this context, Jn. 3:16’s use of “cosmos” makes sense to me as “the created order,” including nature.

    I’m certainly not suggesting that we’re not to use natural resources. God clearly gave parameters for our stewardship that included food resources (Gen.1:29;9:3) but also protection (Gen.2:15). While the Inuits do hunt polar bears for food, they’re not exactly the most abundant, available or useful food resource, and probably less likely to be so in the future.

    There is of course room for improvement in all of our understanding of science and methodology. My understanding is that the polar bear listing decision was based on 1) population observation data, which revealed declines in populations throughout the range of the polar bear, 2) observable decline the the area of sea ice available, and 3) models predicting sea ice area that show continued decline. This comes from looking at the Final Rule which can be accessed at http://www.doi.gov/issues/polar_bears.html . As I understand it, these data are from multiple investigations conducted by government scientists (U.S. Geological Survey, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service) – who do this as part of their job – and academic researchers (e.g. U. of Illinois). Population surveys showed increases in 2 populations, 6 stable populations, 5 declining populations and 6 populations with deficient data. Interestingly, the two populations with the most extensive datasets showed decline. Sea ice area has declined since the 1970s, the rate of decline has increased, and it decreased to its lowest extent in 2007. These are not “flawed assumptions” but observable trends. Even disregarding modeling approaches which, for some reason, you seem to distrust, there is good evidence for threatened status.

    The polar bear issue points to a deeper problem of profligate and flippant use and abuse of natural resources that does not take into account the needs of future generations, the effects on “the least of these” (Matt.25), and does not honor God.

    “Whatever one sows, that will he also reap” (Gal. 6:7).
    If we sow environmental degradation and pollution, our children and grandchildren are going to reap misery and hardship. This attitude does not fit Christ’s mission and the mission of his church.

    -Micah

  7. Uncle Rick says:

    I will preface my comments by saying; I am a conservationist and an environmentalist. I own an environmental consulting company.

    My comment is this;

    The world will continue as long as God decides. While man certainly has a responsibility to be good stewards of our God given natural resources, man has not the ability nor authority to destroy the earth. That power resides with God alone.

  8. Anonymous says:

    Free will is a powerful thing too, though. God gave humans the ability to destroy a “perfect” relationship with Him in Eden. And even if we don’t have the ability to destroy earth, if we make stupid decisions, including destruction and abuse of God-given natural systems that we rely on, I don’t think God is going to magically protect us from the consequences of those decisions. We me have forgiveness, but we will still have to live (or die) with the results of bad choices.

    -Micah

  9. Kevin W. Rhodes says:

    Micah,

    Your use of scripture fails to appreciate the context of the passages cited. Paul clarifies what is included in “all things,” and he certainly did not include anything about the environment. Also, in Romans 8:18-25, the context is completely about humanity. The wording chosen (i.e. creation) is designed to highlight that we are the product of creation rather than the instigators of it. Read it carefully. This passage further explains that this will be overcome in the resurrection, which is for humanity–not the entire universe.

    Our views toward the environment should be shaped by scripture–not vice versa.

    You speak of consequences as if you have some demonstrable proof that man’s behavior is responsible for everything mentioned in regard to polar bears. There is absolutely no proof whatsoever of this. Therefore, man is not culpable nor responsible. If these changes, then, are outside of man’s culpability, then they are occurring naturally. Therefore, man’s actions would thus be interference rather than assistance.

  10. Anonymous says:

    Kevin,

    Of course the larger context of any passage is going to pertain to humans – that’s who the authors were writing to. That doesn’t mean he isn’t also discussing more “cosmic” concerns. Paul certainly does “clarify” what he means by “all things” in Colossians 1. He says “whether things in heaven or things on earth” (v.20). That pretty much covers everything. Would you argue that Christ didn’t create “all things,” but only “thrones, or powers, or rulers, or authorities”? It is clear to me from these passages that Paul’s view of Christ’s redemptive power is much more all-encompassing than we have generally acknowledged in the past. It is a Christ-glorifying view, human-humbling view. I regret your condescending tone: I am not reading too much into this. I was (and am) a Christian before I was an “environmentalist.”

    My points about consequences were not specific to the polar bear example. Although I do believe, based on the science (http://www.grida.no/climate/ipcc_tar/wg1/index.htm), that our activities are largely responsible for recent climate change (that is further affecting polar bears), there are many other (less contentious) examples of our actions causing harm to creation and to our local and global “neighbors.” In an age in which our actions and choices have both local and global consequences, we can’t gut Christ’s parable of the good Samaritan of it’s core message.

    -Micah

  11. Anonymous says:

    Kevin,

    I want to apologize. I don’t think I’m doing this out of love (at least anymore), and I tend to get a little “riled up” sometimes about some of these issues. I hope that my responses have not been too harsh, and that we can agree to disagree, without animosity. That’s the great thing about what Paul said in Romans 14! (And I don’t want to argue about who is “the weaker” brother! Ha ha ha. 😉

    Thanks,

    -Micah

  12. J-Train says:

    Micah,

    As an observer, I would say you don’t really need to apologize for anything. Though I disagree with some of your points, you presented them well, and didn’t seem to have any emotional or rash responses.

    Just my two cents.

    -Joel

  13. Drew Kizer says:

    I’ve debated global warming before, but that isn’t really what this post was originally about. My point is that the attention that polar bears are getting from the scientific community doesn’t make sense in light of its views on evolution. On the one hand they want to save endangered animals, on the other they say natural selection has produced this wonderful planet we live on without the help of God. If man is the most highly evolved animal on the evolutionary chain, so what if his actions lead to the extinction of polar bears? According to evolution this is part of a process that makes our world better and better.

    I’m not in favor of destroying polar bears. I’m just pointing out an inconsistency.

    Micah, your defense of Darwin doesn’t change what he said about helping the weaker members of human society. He still said this practice was an “ignorant” and “highly injurious” one, suggesting that its destructive to our “breed.” Just because he tries to soften his position in the next paragraph by pointing to “an overwhelming present evil,” that doesn’t change the fact that the theory of evolution depends on survival of the fittest, yet the human race, which is the crowning jewel of creation, does not operate that way.

    Nobody took your comments the wrong way, Micah. We’re just discussing this, and you are arguing your case. We don’t have any softies on this blog.

  14. Anonymous says:

    Thanks, Drew (and thanks also to Joel).

    I think your initial point about the ethical dilemma of materialistic scientists/environmentalists is a good one. The arguments I’ve heard from them (E.O. Wilson, for example) emphasize our ability (unique among other forms of life) to recognize the importance of the diversity of life, from both a utilitarian and “spiritual” (although they don’t mean the same thing we mean when we say “spiritual”) standpoint. It is an interesting tight-rope that they’re forced onto when they eliminate God from the picture. For scientists like myself who don’t believe science has the ultimate answers, there’s no problem here.

    I honestly don’t know how Darwin felt about eugenics and such. The quote you provide doesn’t paint him in a good light. But from a purely naturalistic standpoint, he is correct. Our medical and technological advances have allowed people to reproduce who otherwise would not have survived to reproductive age, and this has increased the amount of hereditary disease, etc. in humans. Despite this, I’m thankful, too, that we don’t choose to operate in the way Darwin suggested, and that Christ showed us a better way of compassion and love.

    Good discussion-prompting post!

    -Micah

  15. Kevin W. Rhodes says:

    Micah,

    I did not take personal offense, though I do not believe I was being condescending in any way–just pointing out problems with your position. For example, in John 3:16 it says that “God so loved the world.” If we open up the context beyond humanity, then you would have to also say that God is the one who will save the polar bears if they will just believe on His Son.

  16. J-Train says:

    ahhhh…..update? Please??? I’m considering attacking Russell again if there is no update soon…Seriously, there won’t be any polar bears when the next article comes out at the rate it’s going.

    Love,

    Joel

  17. J-Train says:

    You’re really forcing my hand here. Russell is about to get blasted!!

    -Joel

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