Concept Of Extinction?

There’s evidence that Homo sapiens sapiens might have absorbed Homo neandertals through interbreeding, a quite pleasant extermination.

It’s pretty much an accepted fact of biology at this point. And it’s Homo neanderthalensis. :wink:

Until 500 years ago, humans never really understood more than the concept of local extinction. They did not have a good concept of how large the planet was, or all of the types of animals that lived on it. They often believed that animals that never existed had not yet gone extinct, but only lived far away. From that time forward as science developed, step by step people came to understand the nature of life, and realize that true extinction was possible. That God would not restore the species, that there weren’t more of the animals in some distant land, that there was no magical balance of nature that preserved all species, that species did not evolve based on lifetime experiences, and that DNA defines species, and once a species has been exterminated, it does not naturally revive.

So while humans have had the concept at least as far back as the first time they found a species depleted in a locality, and probably had a very abstract concept of extinction as far back as the first time a human was bitten by a mosquito, we also have a modern concept based on the knowledge of DNA.

And then the modern concept of extinction is in flux also. We now look at reviving once extinct species through genetic engineering. It might even become an archaic concept one day, something that only applied to a past where we didn’t map an animal’s genetic structure before we killed them all.

As long as we’re nitpicking: When you use Homo sapiens sapiens, you use Homo sapiens neanderthalensis, indicating subgroups of the same species. Homo neanderthalensis refers to them as a separate species from Homo sapiens, and is typically used by people who don’t think that the two groups interbred.

These assertions bear almost no relation to the history of biology and ideas about extinction before Darwin’s work. If you think, as you appear to, that the views that informed Christians in the 18th and early 19th centuries (which group would include the young Darwin, and effectively all the scientists of the time) held about these issues bore any significant resemblance to 21st century creationism, you are quite mistaken. Their creationism, such as it was, had nothing of the anti-rational, anti-scientific animus of modern creationism.

The notion that no-one knew about extinction before Darwin is manifestly false. On the contrary, it had been a major issue in the sciences for years, and was widely recognized as raising problems for conventional theism. Furthermore, local extinction (on one continent, say) was recognized to be almost equally as problematic for theism as global extinction. people were puzzled, for instance, about why there were no living elephants in Europe or North America, after mastodon remains had shown that elephant-like creatures had once lived there.

Well, this has been very interesting. Thanks for the information!

Not really. I don’t use H. sapiens sapiens, but even if I didn’t, I still wouldn’t use H. sapiens neanderthalensis. There is no reason you can’t recognize us as a subspecies and Neanderthals a separate species.

A thousand times this. Haven’t any of you heard the story of Noah? (I’ve heard that the absence of unicorns was once explained by, “they didn’t get on the boat”) Or any of the other flood and disaster stories in ancient cultures? I suspect the concept of extinction is too old to track down.

Much as I appreciate the ringing endorsement, it is rather at odds with the spirit and intent of my post, which was intended to point out that the people who concerned themselves with the issue of extinction before (and during, and following) Darwin’s time were not dumbass Biblical literalists like modern day creationists.

So far as I am aware (I admit, I do not spend much time reading the Bible), the Noah story in Genesis says nothing about extinction. There is no reason to think extinction was an issue when it was written. In the 18th century, however, with advances in geology and with various paleontological discoveries, extinction did become an issue, and, in the earlier discussions, the Noah story was sometimes suggested as providing the framework for an explanation of the extinction of certain creatures. Maybe they got left off the ark! However, this does not actually provide a very satisfying explanation either scientifically or theologically. (God punishing wicked humans with a flood is one thing, but why would a just, merciful God visit destruction on animals, who are, by their nature, innocent? He should, surely, have had Noah build an ark that was big enough.) The discussion pretty quickly moved on, and, by Darwin’s time, even those paleontologists who continued to reference Noah’s flood in this context (an example would be William Buckland), regarded it as only the last in an indefinitely long series of similar catastrophic events (with long periods of calm in between) that had occurred in the history of the Earth, and had each caused multiple extinctions long before humans appeared, and thus before the events recorded in the Bible (with the exception of the first two chapters of Genesis, which were not usually taken literally). Other geologists of the time (notably Adam Sedgwick, an excellent geologist, and one of Darwin’s most important teachers and influences), although they thought that the geological record and the evidence of periodic mass extinctions pointed to such a history of global catastrophes, scrupulously avoided drawing any parallels between these geological theories and any Bible stories (and this, despite the fact that Sedgwick was an ordained Church of England minister).

To repeat, despite the fact that they were effectively all Christians, and despite the fact that, if pressed on the matter of where species originally came from many might have said (for want of a better answer) that God must have created them, the many scientists and other intellectuals who discussed extinction and related issues before Darwin’s time were nothing like the followers of the modern creationist, Biblical-literalist movement. The latter has its origins in early twentieth century America, it relies on the deliberate rejection and denial of science, on the shutting of ears to evidence and rationality, and it owes its popularity almost entirely to its appeal to those who hate and fear ongoing social change and the ideology of social “progress” that they associate (rightly or wrongly) with both science in general and evolution in particular.

Present day creationists are creationists precisely because they are against social “progress”, and, consequently, against science. By contrast, the pre-Darwinian “creationists” concerned with such issues as extinction were, in general, themselves actively and positively involved in the scientific enterprise (often making important contributions), and were generally in favor of the social changes that they, also, associated with the progress of science. (Of course, there were reactionaries and irrationalists back then too, but they did not generally concern themselves with biological theory.)
Where did Noah keep the bees?

In the archives.

I disagree. While that might be true of some creationists, for most it simply boils down to thinking that evolution contradicts their religious beliefs. They may be perfectly happy with science in other areas, but not in evolution, and especially not in human evolution. To say they are against social progress is painting with a broad brush, and not defining what you mean by “social progress”. Would you say they are against civil rights laws or suffrage for women? All of them? Most of them?

Systematic Biblical literalism arose in 20th century America, in response to the social changes then taking place and the progressivist ideology then associated (in the popular mind) with evolutionary theory. It has not been part of the mainstream Christian tradition since at least the time of St Augustine (4th century). The relevant religious beliefs arise out of reactionary socio-political attitudes, not vice versa.

It may be true, by now, that some people are creationists because they have been brought up in or influenced by this new religious tradition, rather than because they were antecedently deeply socially conservative - the are probably some literalists or creationists by now who are politically liberal - but I am talking about the roots and continuing mainstream of creationism, not such outliers. The movement as a whole is socially conservative first, then, as a consequence, anti-evolution, then, as a consequence of that, Biblical literalist. To think the causation goes the other way is to fundamentally misunderstand it. The fact that many people do think it goes the other way is a propaganda triumph for the creationists.

I mean social change in general, because I am talking about people with deeply and viscerally conservative social attitudes, but yes, particularly civil rights for non-whites and suffrage and other rights for women: the loss of the privileges of being a white Anglo Saxon male. (Full disclosure: I am a white, Anglo-Saxon male.)

If it wasn’t possible for a species to become extinct, why would you need an ark? IIRC, the Greeks even had several different versions of humans get wiped out. (The Golden Age, the Silver Age, …)

The concept of extinction has nothing so much to do with evolution. The concept that a species could be obliterated off the face of the earth exists in almost every mythos I can think of. In fact, I think one purpose of the flood was to wipe out some troublesome subspecies of humanoids (giants, IIRC?) who bred with angles, or something to that effect.

That’s an interesting opinion, but it’s not a fact. In fact, it’s rather laughable when one considers the number of female creationists, who are not about to give up their voting rights. And that’s all I’ll say in this forum. If you’d like to discuss it further, we can do so in GD or IMHO.