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Would Human Extinction Be Immoral?

Michael Egnor

Extinction

As a barometer of the depravity of atheistic modernism and of the Gaia cult it has spawned, this New York Times essay by Clemson University philosophy professor Todd May is hard to beat. May asks the question: Given the hypothetical “increasing predations of climate change,” would human extinction be a tragedy?

To get a bead on this question, let me distinguish it from a couple of other related questions. I’m not asking whether the experience of humans coming to an end would be a bad thing. (In these pages, Samuel Scheffler has given us an important reason to think that it would be.) I am also not asking whether human beings as a species deserve to die out. That is an important question, but would involve different considerations. Those questions, and others like them, need to be addressed if we are to come to a full moral assessment of the prospect of our demise. Yet what I am asking here is simply whether it would be a tragedy if the planet no longer contained human beings. And the answer I am going to give might seem puzzling at first. I want to suggest, at least tentatively, both that it would be a tragedy and that it might just be a good thing.

How could human extinction be a “good thing”? May bemoans the suffering that man has inflicted on Gaia:

Human beings are destroying large parts of the inhabitable earth and causing unimaginable suffering to many of the animals that inhabit it. This is happening through at least three means. First, human contribution to climate change is devastating ecosystems, as the recent article on Yellowstone Park in The Times exemplifies. Second, increasing human population is encroaching on ecosystems that would otherwise be intact. Third, factory farming fosters the creation of millions upon millions of animals for whom it offers nothing but suffering and misery before slaughtering them in often barbaric ways. There is no reason to think that those practices are going to diminish any time soon. Quite the opposite… Humanity, then, is the source of devastation of the lives of conscious animals on a scale that is difficult to comprehend.

A Litany of Science Scares 

The reality and danger of global “climate change” and of overpopulation are matters of contention. It’s noteworthy that May links the two, given the horrendous record of overpopulation hysteria in the later 20th century. If indeed the “science” of climate change and overpopulation are linked, that discredits climate science. The Population Bomb was an architype of junk-science hysteria, and any historically informed consideration of the current “climate change” panic must note the parallels. Science apocalypticism hews to type, and after a few “The science is settled and the world is ending” scares, it doesn’t impress. For completeness, May should have included eugenic deterioration of human stock, DDT frenzy, and global cooling. Fraudulent junk science has given us a litany of science scares, and it doesn’t seem about to stop anytime soon. 

May does raise important questions about the way that human beings treat animals. There is, no doubt, much cruelty, but extermination of humanity as a solution to animal cruelty seems merely more of the same. We are after all, on some level, animals as well, and we should take with a grain of salt any philosopher who looks approvingly on human extermination as a remedy for animal extermination. Surely there are better ways to protect animals than the elimination of the only species that contemplates morality. 

May’s invocation of junk science and a final solution to the “problem” of humanity is unconvincing, albeit chilling. That such ideas are promulgated by anyone outside of a locked mental ward and given space in major media should give us pause. 

A Logical Question

But May is a philosopher, and his final solution for human folly raises a logical question as well. In what way would human extinction be moral or immoral? If humanity were wiped from the earth, either by our foolishness or by a Green Führer convinced by May’s diagnosis of the threat to Gaia, whence would come moral values of any kind? After all, if there were no men, who would judge moral outcomes? Surely not animals, who lack the capacity for abstraction inherent to moral reasoning, and surely not inanimate objects, which lack any sort of mental capacity. The oceans might be cleaner without man, but they would neither know nor care nor judge. 

It seems pointless to contemplate the morality of a world without moral actors. Of course, if God exists, He could judge the morality of the post-human world envisioned so fondly by Professor May. One suspects that while He would prefer that we treat nature as gift of great value entrusted to our stewardship, His judgment would not be sympathetic to a crank philosopher wistfully invoking a human holocaust. 

Photo credit: Mathew Waters via Unsplash.