endangered species

if you believe in evolution, ie survival of the fittest (adapt or die), why should we protect endangered species?

To preserve bio-diversity.

Why do you ask?

Simply put, we, as humans, to varying degrees depending on the person, don’t want the surface of the Earth, scoured and sterilized, until it looks like the surface of Coruscant – i.e. a planet-wide metropolitan city, with no other life except humans, our smallest pets, and our cattle.

Endangered species is simply a testing platform for “how far have we gone” and “how far we should go.” A good place to start understanding this broad concept is the Snail Darter Controversy in the 1970’s https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Snail_darter_controversy

Natural selection generally takes place over many generations, allowing the most fit of a population to adapt. If humans cut down all the trees a particular owl species lives in, it doesn’t give that species enough time to adapt to a new environment.

Also, there is nothing natural about that selection.

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I support protection of endangered species in large part because I’m a selfish and greedy H. sapiens.

It’d be bad to see extinction of the spotted whosis frog and then find out later that its skin secretions cure cancer.

This. The purely selfish reason is that science is far from complete, and there could be useful functions in nature that we have not discovered.

In addition, humanity, along with other primates and possibly other creatures, has evolved a sense of fairness due to living in a society. It seems plausible that this sense of fairness could be extended to wanting to not wipe out other species needlessly.

It seems that there has always been a tension in humanity between surplus killing/slash and burn agriculture and trying to preserve the world around us. It seems to have served us well so far.

“Natural selection” is the process that leads to speciation. It’s not a value system. We can - and, historically, always have - manipulated it to our advantage. You’re basically asking, “If you believe in gravity, why aren’t you trying to ban airplanes?”

Because once something’s lost, it’s lost for good.

The food web is also extremely complex and not well understood. If you randomly remove top predators it is hard to predict what the effects will be.

Here is one example of a graph showing how complicated these interactions are.


Often a singular “endangered species” are also a canary proxies for other species, indicating that artificial changes are happening to the ecosystem which may cause widespread collapse even if this impact isn’t felt by one species reaching the end of the line. While us humans like to think of ourselves as being outside of nature this is mainly just a view caused by our urban lifestyles hiding just how connected our food chain is to the *natural *world.

While there are many motivations to protect these animals, ignoring it a problem is a very dangerous game of russian roulette even for humans.

I don’t “believe in”–that is, to believe in something in the sense of making it a moral priority–“survival of the fittest.” I believe in conservation.

Does this gibe with the kind of natural history I have learned from the likes of Stephen Jay Gould? Yes, of course. Deep Time is really, really deep. I’m not destroying an entire category of life, that took umpteen eons to develop, has been around for ballpark 100 million years, and could easily be around another 100 million years; for the sake of whatever relatively short-term concerns I may have. That’s just a matter of making moral priorities.

I should share that “survival of the fittest.” is not what evolution is based on, sure it can be a factor but that whole claim is really based on a summary view of complex topics.

“survival of the fittest” is only one type of selection, and sometimes not the most important.

First off, nobody ‘believes’ in evolution. Evolution is a conclusion drawn from observation of evidence. It is not a ‘belief.’ Nor is evolution a moral question. The idea of ‘survival of the fittest’ is a pithy aphorism used to describe the process by which advantageous traits allow an animal to reproduce. No rational person would confuse it for an actual moral philosophy that should govern our decision-making.


Okay, deep breath…

Having discarded the wildly misinformed first half of your question, I will focus on the second half: Why should we protect endangered species?

Animals in our environment are adapted in ways that support each other. When the balance is altered, the entire ecosystem can change in ways that are wildly unpredictable. Eradicating a certain species or introducing new ones are ways in which we can induce huge changes in the environment.

Let me provide an example: In 1995 wolves were re-introduced into Yellowstone National Park. The place was pretty much overrun with deer, and the wolves set about reducing the deer population. So now there aren’t so many deer in Yellowstone. * But that’s not the only thing that happened.** When the deer population decreased, the plants they fed on were allowed to grow in abundance. New animals began moving into the area, who were previously rare or entire absent. The new plant life also began to counter soil erosion on riverbanks. The presence of wolves didn’t just change the ecology of the park. It actually changed the geography.

So what does this mean for us? First, it means that the presence of just one animal species can have unpredictable effects throughout the entire ecosystem. But so what, right? I mean, you change things a bit and it’s not like the planet cares? It doesn’t really matter how much we screw up the planet, because over millions of years new species will adapt to the new circumstances. It’s not like life was ever static or balanced to begin with, right?

That brings me to the second point. We like our planet the way it is. Humans don’t appreciate unexpected changes. We especially don’t appreciate changes that impact our living space or our way of life. If we carelessly eradicate whole species, sooner or later we will find that certain aspects of our lifestyle (like the food we eat) might depend on the presence or absence of those animals. Even though nature as a whole doesn’t care one way or the other, human beings care a lot.

Or bees. If bees go extinct, we’re screwed. Sure, other insects will probably evolve to occupy the same niche the bees do now (i.e., pollinating an awful lot of humanity’s food plants), but by the time they do, it’s not going to do humanity much good. We’ll have been extinct for a LONG time…

The vast majority of endangered species are not endangered because of any “natural” processes, including natural selection. They are endangered because of threats produced by humans, not by the original natural environment: Hunting, collecting, harvest, habitat loss, introduction of predators, introduction of disease, pollution, and climate change. Selection will indeed eliminate these species, but it is selection imposed by humans, not by nature. And that selection will result in a vastly impoverished biosphere, dominated by species that can survive in the presence of humans: rats instead of lions, starlings instead of eagles, cockroaches instead of butterflies, jellyfish instead of great whales. Is that something you consider desirable from a human perspective?

Some of the utilitarian reasons to protect endangered species have already been given. But there is an ethical reason to conserve them. We produced the conditions that threaten their survival; we therefore have the obligation to try to mitigate the ungodly mess we have created.

There are many practical reasons to conserve biodiversity. But for me the esthetic reason is one of the most important. Biodiversity is part of the beauty and richness of the world we inhabit. When we cause a species to become extinct, we impoverish our own home.

I don’t recall where I read it, but consider this analogy. Imagine we could obtain all the energy we needed to run the world by draining it from the stars we see in the sky. How many stars would you consider we could sacrifice for this at the cost of the beauty of the night sky? 100? 1000? 10000? Right now we are threatened with the loss of many thousands if not millions of species sacrificed for economic reasons. How many are you comfortable losing?

evolution is a belief system vis-à-vis creation

…Is this thread supposed to be a creationist “gotcha”? Ew.

No it’s not. There is ample factual evidence for evolution and none at all for creationism.
Creationism is a belief. Evolution is a scientific fact.

Seemed pretty obvious from the original question.

OK, but I think I can defend my radical conservationism from either a “creationist” perspective or an “evolutionist” perspective.

Either way, species are still categories of life, they still come from whatever process or force we do, and they* matter *in the same way as our own existence.

If the natural world is the physical manifestation of God’s will, then irrevocably destroying categories of life–which is what species are–is attacking aspects of God’s will and sinning against God’s will.

If the natural world arose without the teleology of a singular divine intelligence, well, then, there is no expectation of divine intervention undoing our damage or even acting as a “guardrail;” we could easily cause unintentional cataclysm.

Evolution without divine intervention is incredibly slow and unpredictable. But we can make things dead very fast. We have a responsibility to be cautious.