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 this photo taken Wednesday, May 3, 2017, a ranger takes care of Sudan, the world's last male northern white rhino, at the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Laikipia county in Kenya. Sudan has died after "age-related complications" researchers announced Tuesday, saying he "stole the heart of many with his dignity and strength."

By J. Warner Wallace Published on April 22, 2018

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?

Unconvincing Arguments

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.

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.

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.

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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.

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  • Louise C

    It’s disappointing when it seems that the majority of christians that I speak to don’t seem to hold to this view. They seem to think that animals do not have a soul (I don’t know where they get this idea) and I guess therefore are insignificant. Non christians on the other hand, seem to value animals and God’s creation much better.

    • Fang

      Nonsense. Christians love their pets just like all people do.

      • Louise C

        I didn’t say christians don’t love their pets. I said that the majority of christians that I speak to don’t seem to hold to the beliefs in this article. To be fair, I have spoken to some who do value animals but it seems rare.

    • NellieIrene

      I understand what you are saying about some considering animals insignificant. I run across a similar mindset. Although most Christian I meet believe that animals have souls. They just don’t believe they possess eternal souls. I work with my local animal shelter, fostering and caring for sick and stressed animals. When I tell Christians that I believe God has called me to do this they look at me like I’m crazy. Like God would not call someone for such a thing. Like he only calls people to care for humans.

    • I could be wrong but I think traditional Christian thought considers animals to have souls but that the souls are are not eternal, and so don’t go to heaven. They don’t have the capability to worship or understand God.

    • Ken Abbott

      It might depend on what you mean by “souls.” Scripture does not speak of animals having souls in the sense that humans do. Only humans are created in the image of God. However, this certainly does not undermine the significance of animal life and, as others have stated, humans have a divine mandate to take care of the rest of creation (a mandate concerning which we have been enormously irresponsible).

  • Ken Abbott

    Good article, sir. Thank you.

  • Devieg72

    The question is why did the Northern White Rhino become pretty much extinct? Was it a natural extinction? Or was it because hunters killed the animals to feed the Chinese thirst for the aphrodisiacal “qualities” of rhino horn? If the first, it couldn’t be helped. If the second, you can blame man. Specifically, non-Christian men placing value on something that is really no more value than fingernails….The Northern White Rhino, as well as the Black Rhino and the Java Rhino are targets because of pagan attitudes from men who are holding onto pre-Christian attitudes and beliefs.

    • Ken Abbott

      According to the linked article from NPR, “Northern white rhinos used to be found in an area spanning Uganda, Chad, southwestern Sudan, the Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Some 2,000 existed in 1960, according to the World Wildlife Fund, but war and the poaching that funded the fighting drove them to extinction in the wild.” So not a natural extinction; the rhinos were viewed as a resource that was tapped to exhaustion. You are probably correct as to the motive for the poaching.

  • Ray

    There was a man who came to talk about his experience of dying and being taken to heaven, and the Lord sending him back, so I thought I should check him out. I asked him if he saw any dogs or cats in heaven. Without hesitation he said, “They are coming in all the time.” He was for real. How do I know? It’s a long story.

  • Dena

    I agree with this article. As Christians we are stewards of the earth. It’s wise to take care of it.

  • I too agree. It is my Christianity that brings me to care for all of God’s creatures. It is our duty and our privilege to work with God’s handiwork.

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