Tuesday, August 5, 2008

They Were Just Hiding

In the early days of his popular Dilbert comic strip, Scott Adams introduced some side characters: a family of dinosaurs, living in Dilbert's house. One of them explained that dinosaurs hadn't actually been extinct--they were only hiding.

I thought of that when I saw this article this morning. Excerpt:
An estimated 125,000 Western lowland gorillas are living in a swamp in equatorial Africa, researchers reported Tuesday, double the number of the endangered primates thought to survive worldwide.

"It's pretty astonishing," Hugo Rainey, one of the researchers who conducted the survey for the U.S.-based Wildlife Conservation Society, told CNN Tuesday.

The last census on the species, carried out during the 1980s, estimated that there were only 100,000 of the gorillas left worldwide. Since then, the researchers estimated, the numbers had been cut in half.

So researchers have been estimating that there were only about 50,000 of these gorillas left in the world--and there are probably more than twice as many in this particular swamp alone.

We approach the natural world with a lot of pride. We think, we moderns, that we've got it all figured out, or nearly all. We know the average rainfall of the Amazon basin, the life cycle of the monarch butterfly, the migratory patterns of Canada Geese, the preferred diet of the kinkaju, and the mating habits of any number of creatures, which we can read about or watch on those nature shows or otherwise document and record. We talk about ecology and environmental issues as if they are static and predictable instead of complex and highly iterative, and we rely on our tools and toys as if Nature no longer had any power over us at all.

But sometimes, Nature has a way of reminding us just Who is her author and master. Whether it's the somber reminder that death can sweep down the face of an icy and rarely-conquered peak without warning or the more joyful surprise that there are way more Western lowland gorillas than anybody thought there were, Nature points back to God to remind us to cultivate humility and remember that we are not the masters of the material universe--we have never been, and we never will be.

So when we take as Gospel truth the various dire predictions of science as to our ultimate earthly doom and how we should act at once to take control of the situation, it would be as well for us if we remembered that any control we seem to have over this planet and its resources is completely illusory. There is nothing wrong, and much that is commendable, about practicing responsible stewardship, about taking common-sense methods to reduce our consumerist impulses and live with less recourse to resources that can't be renewed. But when climate-change alarmists follow the path of so many before and start to claim that the only thing that will save the planet is for us to reduce the number of people they are not only not respecting God and Nature, but seeking to deny Him and control it.

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