Why Should Anyone Care What Happens to the Northern White Rhino?
The animals we see around us are not the product of blind evolutionary forces. They are the delicate creation of a loving Craftsman.
In March Sudan, “the world’s last male northern white rhinoceros,” died in Kenya. He was 45 years old and was euthanized after he developed an infection in one of his legs. With Sudan’s passing, the world is at risk of forever losing this species of rhino unless researchers can develop some new reproductive technology.
According to a recent article in The Guardian, Sudan’s plight isn’t unusual. “The number of land animals worldwide has fallen by as much as half since 1970. … Some scientists believe that the sixth mass extinction in geological history is under way — and this time it is made by humanity.”
For most of my life, this kind of statement about alleged human abuse of the environment did little to move me. That all changed when I became a Christian.
Survival of the Fittest, Right?
As an atheist for the first 35 years of my life, I believed that every species emerged through evolution. Natural selection and the “survival of the fittest” were the driving forces. Humans were simply another species in a long line of evolved animals of varying mental and physical capacity. As a committed atheist I rejected the notion of a Divine Creator. I accepted the fact that the blind forces of evolution didn’t really care about any of us.
Darwinian evolution is a merciless tyrant. As just another animal in this fitness struggle, I couldn’t understand why I (or anyone else, for that matter) should care about what happens to some remote species of beetle, milkweed, or rhinoceros. Some plants and animals can’t compete in the epic struggle for survival. That’s just the way it works.
As evolutionary biologist (and outspoken atheist) Richard Dawkins wrote in River Out of Eden:
In a universe of electrons and selfish genes, blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky, and you won’t find any rhyme or reason in it, nor any justice. The universe that we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but pitiless indifference.
The “blind physical forces and genetic replication” of evolution express “nothing but pitiless indifference.” Why should we, as humans, care if the chief driving force of the universe — evolution — doesn’t care?
Some of my environmentalist atheist friends offered a reason. They argued that all life forms are connected to a delicate ecosystem. Therefore every species’ survival is connected to ours. I had a hard time finding good evidence to support that claim, however. Thousands of species were eliminated over the course of natural history long before we humans paid attention. These plants and animals were apparently “unfit” to survive. So they were slowly replaced by stronger species. And this destruction didn’t inhibit our human survival. In fact, it often increased our ability to survive and thrive.
From an atheistic worldview, fully submitted to the brutal, “pitiless” forces of evolution, none of this loss of life (whether plant or animal) concerned me.
Then I became a believer.
Caring for My Creator’s Creations
As a Christian, I began to re-think my position and my role in the world. Rather than just another unimportant mammal, I learned that I was created in the image of God (Gen. 1:26-27). As a human I have special authority and responsibilities to go with it. I have been given “dominion” over all creation (Gen. 1:26-28). This leadership responsibility includes a duty to “work” and “keep” God’s creation (Gen. 2:15).
Dominion is not reckless power; it is a calling to caring duty and stewardship. God has always provided guidelines to make sure His children understood the importance of the natural world, so we will properly respect and steward other animals. (See, for example, Lev. 25: 1-12, Deut. 25:4 and Deut. 22:6.) My concern for the environment is an act of obedience. God created the world in which we live. Like every artist, He cares about His artwork. If it’s important to Him, it ought to be important to us.
So my Christian worldview now compels me to engage the environment unselfishly. I am moved to care for the environment because of the awe and respect I have for its Creator. The animals we see around us are not the product of blind, pitiless evolutionary forces. They are the delicate creation of a loving Craftsman. My Christian worldview — unlike my prior atheistic, Darwinian view of the world — provides me with good reasons to mourn the loss of these special creations of God. That’s why I care about what happens to the northern white rhino.
Warner Wallace is a Cold-Case Detective, Senior Fellow at the Colson Center for Christian Worldview, Adj. Professor of Apologetics at Biola University, and the author of Cold-Case Christianity, God’s Crime Scene, and Forensic Faith.