Eric Pianka: Disease “will control the scourge of humanity”

Jonathan Witt

The Texas Academy of Science honored University of Texas biologist Eric Pianka as its 2006 Distinguished Texas Scientist last month, despite the fact (or perhaps because of the fact) that Pianka, an ecologist, argues that what this planet really needs is a nasty virus to wipe out 90% of the population.
“[Disease] will control the scourge of humanity,” Pianka said, according to the Seguin Gazette. “We’re looking forward to a huge collapse.”
Another award winning scientist, Forrest Mims, Chairman of the Environmental Science Section of the Texas Academy of Science, told the Gazette that “he’s seen countless doomsday predictions come and go. But Pianka’s is different, Mims said. Pianka, he insists, exhibits genuine cause for alarm”:

“He recommended airborne Ebola as an ideal killing virus,” Mims said. “He showed slides of the Four Horsemen of the apocalypse and human skulls. He joked about requiring universal sterilization. It reminded me of a futuristic science fiction movie with a crazed scientist planning the death of humanity.”

It’s no coincidence that those who accept a materialistic/anti-design view of life’s origin (like Pianka) also typically buy into a zero-sum-game view of human activity and economic growth. These philosophical materialists have left out of their equation the role of creativity.

Our biosphere wasn’t the product of a creative intelligence but rather of atoms knocking about in the void, they insist. Having defined a Creative Intelligence out of the equation of human origins, they then seek out political, economic, and ecological models that minimize or ignore the role of human creativity–ideologies that view life as a zero-sum game and humans as mere animals or, worse, as an aggressive pestilence on the Earth.
Decade after decade has seen predictions about how mass starvation, plague, and apocalyptic, global ecological disaster, caused by population and consumption growth, are just around the corner. That these predictions have again and again proven false (as we’ve passed one population milestone after another) hasn’t deterred the doomsayers in the least. They keep returning to their zero-sum charts, showing the population curving upward, consumption rising even faster, and then extrapolating from that to ruin and disaster.
All of this leaves out of the equation creativity, the ability of intelligent agents to innovate, to create new and better ways to make and do things.
Have we made mistakes? Of course. Is there more we can do to clean up rivers and streams and oceans and cities around the world? Of course. But we won’t preserve the Earth by telling ourselves that we’re nothing more than a vicious pestilence, by pretending that we do not have dominion over the Earth. (Imagine such an approach transferred to the sphere of parenting.) We would do better to recognize the unique causal power of creative intelligence–both in origins science where it is routinely and perversely denied in the face of growing evidence, and in our models of human activity–even as we remind ourselves of the responsibility we have as stewards of planet Earth.
The Citizen Scientist has an extensive report on Pianka’s speech and award ceremony here.

Jonathan Witt

Executive Editor, Discovery Institute Press and Senior Fellow, Center for Science and Culture
Jonathan Witt, PhD, is Executive Editor of Discovery Institute Press and a senior fellow and senior project manager with Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture. His latest book is Heretic: One Scientist’s Journey from Darwin to Design (DI Press, 2018) written with Finnish bioengineer Matti Leisola. Witt has also authored co-authored Intelligent Design Uncensored, A Meaningful World: How the Arts and Sciences Reveal the Genius of Nature, and The Hobbit Party: The Vision of Freedom That Tolkien Got, and the West Forgot. Witt is the lead writer and associate producer for Poverty, Inc., winner of the $100,000 Templeton Freedom Award and recipient of over 50 international film festival honors.