First there was the anti-Western Westerner, the hate-America-first crowd, and the self-loathing white person. Now we have the anti-human human, who, like General Ursus in Beneath the Planet of the Apes, seems to think that “the only good human is a dead human!” Of course, the Kum-Gaia-singing misanthropes don’t actually say that; rather, as David Attenborough recently opined, they assert that man is a “plague” whose burgeoning population threatens to do to the planet’s resources what the feds do to the treasury. Now, I already pointed out in a recent piece that Attenborough is factually wrong: The world will in the foreseeable future likely face a population implosion, not an explosion. But he is philosophically wrong as well.
There is no doubt that we should be good shepherds of the Earth. We have a responsibility to conserve resources when possible and should cherish God’s creation. And while we can acknowledge that we all too often fail in that regard, it is quite another thing to call man a “plague,” which clearly implies that he is a troublesome life form deleterious to something more important. Yet the issue here isn’t just that some ascribe greater value to the Earth than to man, or at best equal value. It is the larger questions of why they believe the Earth has any intrinsic value at all and the basis on which that value is assessed.
If you were a Christian, you’d presumably believe that the world had value because it was a gift from God; you would also likely believe that man had greater value and had been given a mandate to subdue the Earth. This is clearly not the position of the man-as-plague (MAP) crowd, however, which tends to operate under a worldview of atheism, either stated or implied. A corollary of this is that “man is the measure of all things,” which, of course, means that man is the only agency around to ascribe value. What follows from this is that the Earth, that curious arrangement of atoms, has no intrinsic value; it is only that man happens to value it. This is precisely, by the way, why some philosophers explicitly say that absolute intrinsic value doesn’t exist.
Of course, some think man-as-measure judgments carry weight; many will go so far as to say that man’s preferences for behavior are significant, and they even will sometimes label these tastes writ philosophically large as “morality.” So, okay, let us accept for argument’s sake that the Earth has “value” because man says it does. A logical extension of this is that if man didn’t exist, the Earth would have no value; thus, it derives its value from man to begin with. And this brings us to a relevant question: How can what is valued be more valuable than what can, with credibility, value it?
After all, if we can rightly be a yardstick that can determine the value of the Earth, we must be above it. And then it is ridiculous to subordinate man to it and describe him as a “plague” upon it.
This leaves the MAP crowd with little room to maneuver.