Not long ago, Sudan, “the world’s last male northern white rhinoceros” died in Kenya. He was 45 years old and was euthanized by a veterinary team 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 a 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 emotionally or intellectually. That all changed when I became a Christian.
As an atheist for the first 35 years of my life, I believed that every species emerged from evolutionary processes involving natural selection and the “survival of the fittest.” Humans were simply another species in a long line of evolved animals of varying intelligence and physical capacity. As a committed atheist, I rejected the notion of a Divine Creator, and accepted the fact that the blind forces of evolution didn’t really care about any of us. Evolution is a merciless tyrant. As just another animal in this evolutionary struggle, I couldn’t understand why I (or anyone else, for that matter) should care about what happens to some remote species of caterpillar, milkweed, or rhinoceros. Some plants and animals won’t be able to 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 inextricably connected to a delicate ecosystem, and therefore, the elimination of any species was ultimately connected to our survival. I had difficulty finding sufficient evidence to support that claim, however. Thousands of species were eliminated over the course of evolutionary history long before we humans even began to pay attention. These plants and animals were apparently “unfit” to survive and were slowly replaced by stronger species. 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.
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 (Genesis 1:26-27) with special authority and attendant responsibilities. As a human, I have been given “dominion” over all creation (Genesis 1:26-28) but this leadership responsibility includes a duty to “work” and “keep” God’s creation (Genesis 2:15). Dominion is not reckless power; it is a calling to dutiful responsibility and stewardship. God has always provided guidelines to make sure His children understood the importance of our environment, so we will properly respect and steward other animals (see, for example, Leviticus 25: 1-12, Deuteronomy 25:4 and Deuteronomy 22:6). My concern for the environment is an act of obedience. God created the environment in which we live, and like every artist, He cares about His artwork. If it’s important to Him, it ought to be important to us.
My Christian worldview now compels me to engage the environment unselfishly. I am moved to care for the environment with the same sense of 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, evolutionary 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.
This article first appeared at The Stream.
J. Warner Wallace is a Cold-Case Detective, Christian Case Maker, Senior Fellow at the Colson Center for Christian Worldview, and the author of Cold-Case Christianity, Cold-Case Christianity for Kids, God’s Crime Scene, God’s Crime Scene for Kids, and Forensic Faith.