25 thoughts on “Scopes of Evolution”

  1. Are you just teasing? If not, I don’t understand. Asteroid strikes and industrial revolutions are both sudden events that can cause mass extinctions. Surviving creatures will evolve to fill newly empty niches, but by then it’ll be millions of years too late for us to enjoy the novelty.

    In the preaching to the choir department: obviously we should learn to alter asteroid orbit (or at least survey the threats to the best of our ability). Why it isn’t often preaching to the choir to say that we should also preserve this era’s biological diversity is beyond me.

  2. Oh, wait, I think I just got it. Yes, that looks great in print. And I suppose you got it exactly right — Democrats really don’t endorse that particular evolutionary path.

    I’m almost sorry I commented in the first place, but I really have seen people claim, in all seriousness, that since new creatures will evolve, a mass extinction caused by humans is no big deal.

  3. One of the driving forces of evolution is extinction, yet you’ve got all sorts of worshippers at the First Church of Darwin (Scientist) who think every species is sacred when all Gaia wants to do is make room for “the fittest” by weeding out the “unfit.”

    And I still think that the most likely explanation for the dinosaur disappearance is that over the space of a few thousand years one species developed intelligence and hunted the rest to extinction before doing themselves in. Sort of like what some claim happened in Pleistocene America when the Indians arrived. And it all happened so fast that they didn’t even leave a fossil record, at least one that survived 65 million years. (See Gary Larson for another, similar explanation. (scroll down) )

  4. Raoul,

    Read up on the K-T event — it would be a lot of fun (for you, if you’re kidding, and for me, if you’re serious) to explain how all the physical evidence associated with the K-T boundary squares with your theory of an intelligent hunter.

    As for “every species is sacred” — try substituting “every species is useful” to understand why we might want to intervene in favor of preservation. (We’re going to intervene one way or another, so Gaia’s “wants” aren’t very important.)

    But never mind that. I want to hear more about the (semi)intelligent hunter that caused nearly all the world’s shallow water coral and most of the world’s mollusks to go extinct at the same time as the dinosaurs! I can imagine a really entertaining just-so story. But don’t forget the iridium. The story just won’t be the same without the iridium.

  5. I think Rand is talking about the paradox of Right-wing Creationists who oppose Evolution yet somehow indirectly accept its implications (EX: armed self defense and military defense) and Lefty Pacifists who accept Evolution on the surface yet oppose the acceptance of its politically incorrect implications.

    Raoul, the Dinos and others (EX: Ammonites) were wiped out by the K-T event and other factors. But the Giant Brained Hunter did defeat and wipeout the Mega-Mammals. Thus the Giant Brained Hunter and its domesticated vassals reign supreme over the defeated and dying wildlife species. Survival of the Fittest indeed.

  6. Here’s my take. A lot of large animals have been hunted to or near extinction. In the absence of humans, these species would have been a lot more numerous, much greater range, and not in danger of extinction. I see that as meaning we probably should try to preserve those species. OTOH, a number of species are near or become extinct because they have always had a small number and very limited ecological range overrun by humans. Removing humans won’t help these species thrive.

    I think what’s worth noting here is that humans right now are mostly killing off marginal species, that never were very numerous. We can speak of the “value” of these species, but to be honest, the average species just doesn’t have that much economic value. It’s only what we attach to it beyond that. A weak species that was already on the edge of dying? It doesn’t have that much value to us.

    So for example, the passenger pidgeon probably should have been preserved. They existed in great numbers and probably would thrive in the absence of industrial scale hunting by humans. The condor on the other hand, doesn’t have such a compelling reason for us to support its survival. Having said that, current efforts have grown the number of condor to about 150 living in the wild (and more in captivity). If the numbers continue to rise, that will indicate to me that the species is viable and worthy of protection.

  7. Karl, I think the conventional conservationalist wisdom is that any marginal species might have, lurking within its genome (or within the greater cellular environment), the key to fighting cancer, or the key to making shoes that let you walk on walls (geckos), or the key to whatever puzzles we might be working on now or in the future. The notion is that each species is a repository of information that is already being used to solve the hard problem of keeping the animal or plant or microbe alive, so the information might have other uses as well. Since the information is effectively underivable, we need to preserve the species to preserve the information.

    The fact that a species is maladjusted for living in today’s world and might soon go extinct doesn’t indicate that the species might contain information humans could use. For example: imagine a creature that is adapted to a harsh climate. The climate gets better, the creature retreats to the margins, and is in danger of extinction. But humans are interested in exploiting harsh environments, including some environments rarely (or never) found on earth, and so humans might be very interested in learning from or even directly exploiting the creature’s adaptations.

  8. Bob wrote:
    “….the (semi)intelligent hunter that caused nearly all the world’s shallow water coral and most of the world’s mollusks to go extinct …..”

    Bob, you are committing a fallacy of a slippery slope. Just because some corral reefs are negatively effected by human activity means that (nearly) all corral reefs can be chalked up as lost. I might point out that liberals in general have no problem pointing out this fallacy to right-wing gun advocates when they say, “Today, they take our our assault weapons, tomorrow it will be our hunting rifles”.

    If humans divert an asteroid impact it would ultimately be for the benefit of our own survival. Many species are equipped with self defense mechanisms. No one advocates denial to or restraint from utilizing these assets.

    When it comes to species preservation things seem oddly reversed from democrat to republican. The party of change wants to fight to keep everything exactly the same.

  9. As for preserving some hidden value lurking in the genome of an endangered species (really reaching, aren’t you?), that is what gene banks are for. There are many reasons to try to preserve endangered species, but all of these reasons are arguable, i.e. they can be debated on both sides by people of good will. The notion that there is some sort of absolute imperative to preserve all species no matter what the cost is simply silly, and the basis of what discredits so many on the left.

    A lot of this worship of the endangered species can be tied to the Left’s love of victims, particularly those that cannot speak for themselves. Children, the ‘voiceless poor’, and yes, nature, all are perfect mouthpieces for the Left as they provide a wonderful way to push policies that would never be acceptable otherwise, all while ensuring that the putative beneficiaries of those policies never interrupt with uncomfortable objections or complaints. Just take a look at the Endangered Species Act, one of the most incredible pieces of legislation (not in a good way) ever to come out of DC…

  10. The Scopes trial defined the debate about evolution and creation. But those who favor evolution teaching are trying to hold back evolution. Instead they are for shielding all creatures from evolution even as those who oppose evolution teaching allow evolution to proceed. This is true for animals with the hunter/endangered species dichotomy. It’s also true for families with the Negative Population Growth/no contraception dichotomy. Well that last one actually is evolution from both sides despite protests from the NPG crowd that they are transcending evolution. That is, one group actively trying to make itself extinct as the other actively encourages growth.

  11. Scott, Google “Cancer” and”drugs” and “rain forest” to see the sort of non-partisan arguments that advocate preserving species so that they can be utilized later. (I’m sure you can find crazy partisan arguments too, but just ignore those.) I’m sorry I don’t have a specific link for you.

    As for gene banks, I’m sure that’s a good start. I’m not a biologist, but my understanding is that the genes alone are not enough. The example that gets cited a lot in the popular science news involves resurrecting mammoths and dinosaurs. If we ever definitely get the DNA of a dinosaur (recent claims are very dubious), we still could’t resurrect a dinosaur — we wouldn’t have the mitochondria (if I’m not mistaken), and we wouldn’t have a womb. Scientists think that mammoths might be resurrected, since we do have mammoth DNA, by using the womb of an elephant. No one knows how different the resulting creature, if it was viable, would be from a mammoth of yore, but there would have to be differences. If Elephants also go extinct, making a mammoth goes from very difficult to nearly impossible.

    But just suppose the genome was all we needed. In that case, couldn’t we just look at the genome directly? At the very least, it would be much much more difficult. We can learn from the feet of geckos, but it would be much harder to learn the same tricks if we only had the DNA of geckos.

    I might be wrong on the science, but I don’t see this as a partisan argument. Instead, I see it as a case where people’s political and cultural values influence what science they get interested in.

    PS: Josh, whatever caused the K-T Event killed nearly all of the world’s shallow water coral and nearly all of the mollusks. You misunderstood me, and thought I was talking about people, but I was referring to Raoul’s hypothetical intelligent dino-hunter.

  12. “A lot of this worship of the endangered species can be tied to the Left’s love of victims, particularly those that cannot speak for themselves.”

    I agree with you, and yet curiously a natural extension of the philosophy would clearly lead to a pro-life perspective. I wonder why it hasn’t.

  13. Sam, the idea of “holding back evolution” only makes sense if you consider human behavior to be somehow outside evolutionary processes.

    (I’m not complaining: people think of themselves as non-natural all the time, and it is a useful stance as long as you know you are taking it.)

    But there is certainly no contradiction between believing in evolution and trying to stop the loss of a species because you want to utilize it (or hope to utilize it later).

  14. D’oh! I referrred to dinosaur wombs. Of course, I meant eggs. And the big question is whether bird eggs or lizard eggs would work!

  15. I would certainly allow that once we can recreate a species accurately, letting it go extinct would be much more palatable. Of course, there is also the question of recreating an ecosystem, but in the end, it is all just a matter of information preservation.

    I think the political argument might just be over whether the information contained in a species or an ecosystem is all the valuable in the first place, but that should be a scientific argument, not a political one, and I bet non-partisan biologists are nearly unanimous in their belief that there is unique useful-to-humanity information in each species.

  16. Polar bears have only recently branched off from brown bears, so, strictly from a utilitarian species-uniqueness point of view, their loss would actually be less tragic than some of the other endangered species. Nevertheless, polar bears have some unique adaptations. Polar bears and brown bears both can attain a state akin to hibernation in which they stop excreting waste, they recyle nitrogen, etc. Spaceflight enthusiasts can easily imagine why this is worth studying. Brown bears take weeks to transition between full wakefulness and their quasi-hibernation state. Polar bears can snap into full wakefulness and ramp up their metabolism whenever they need it (I don’t know quite how fast, I’d have to go look whether it is nearly instant or just speedy, but I gather it is fast enough to catch a meal if one comes along.) Again, spaceflight enthusiasts can easily imagine why being able to quickly transition to full alertness would be useful.

    Each species is a set of solutions waiting for the human race to learn from and/or exploit.

  17. Hmmmmm.

    Well since we’ve got a whole boatload of brown bears that makes the polar bears a bit “excess to inventory”.

    I know I could use some fur socks this winter.

  18. Keep in mind that there are a lot of “solutions” and the ones that are dying out are the weaker, less valuable ones. Having said that, my take is that there is some value here and I would support multiple efforts to preserve that information.

  19. Not to try to create a disagreement if there isn’t one in the first place, but just to clarify:

    The solutions I’m thinking of about tend to be biochemical compounds rather than whole organism, and what’s valuable for us might not be valuable (enough) to the endangered organism. For example, a plant which isn’t well adapted for its environment and is now going extinct might still have a very valuable biochemical compond that can be turned into a drug for humans (but is of no value, or not enough value, to the planet, so the plant is dying out anyway). If you are looking for resources for humans, you can’t only judge the lifeform as a whole – you have to also look at its constituent parts.

  20. The life that goes extinct must be likely to be better than the life that would emerge if we do nothing in order for intervening to be valuable. The cure-for-cancer argument is a red herring. What would a cost benefit analysis say about the likely benefit vs. the cost of keeping the endangered species around? In the mean time, people are dying due to economic inefficiency that results from the value-destroying intervention.

    Improve the environment, but do so for people. How’s that for an environmental impact statement?

  21. Sam,

    First: the life that would emerge would emerge only after millions of years. Mass extinctions have happened before — the fossil record allows us to predict how long it take for life to bounce back to fill newly empty niches.

    Second: the cost of keeping endangered species around need not be more than properly setting up a network of zoos and conservatories. Ideally, it wouldn’t come to that, and most likely, uses of land which cause species to go extinct are not economically efficient (such as clear cutting rain forests), but I’m making an argument for preserving species, not for denying land usage. Talking about the environmental impact statements is the red herring.

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