Larry Speight brings us his monthly column –
According to the Bible, Lucifer was God’s archangel who was cast out of Heaven at the beginning of time, which is before the creation of the material world, because he thought that he was equal to God if not better that Him. (Him as in the non-gender sense of the word.) Lucifer figures in the Bible in the form of the serpent in the Garden of Eden, Satan who tempts Jesus during his 40 days and nights of fasting in the Judaeo Desert and the dragon in the Book of Revelation. According to the Bible, Lucifer’s aim is to harm humankind by any means he can, including destroying the biosphere, the sustainer of every living thing which the Bible, the Quran and other religious texts say was created by God.
Given this the question we should reflect upon is whether in destroying the biosphere, in laying ruin to the handiwork of God, we are in fact doing exactly what Lucifer did which is think that we know better than God. One way it could be said we are doing this is through extinguishing species by the multitude and altering the very physicality of the Earth which the Bible on at least five occasions says God was pleased, if not delighted, with. Genesis: 12, for example, says:
“The earth brought forth vegetation: plants yielding seed of every kind, and trees of every kind, and the trees of every kind bearing fruit with the seed in it. And God said that it was good.”
We are systematically and intentionally extinguishing other species through trophy hunting; an example is the widespread practice in S.E. Asia of taking song birds from their natural habitat and confining them for life in cages for people’s gratification. Another way we exterminate species is through turning habitat into farm land or using it to extend the radius of towns and cities. In countries such as Brazil and Indonesia this is done through the burning and felling of forest. In Ireland it is done through planting acre after acre of Sitka Spruce on bio-rich peatlands, extracting the peat to burn in the form of turf, and until recently to be sold as compost for gardens.
Human induced extinction is also caused by over fishing, the pollution of rivers, lakes and the seas by industrial waste, release of untreated sewage and the run-off of toxic chemicals used on farms including insecticides, pesticides and herbicides. Plastic pollution, the causes and impact of which is well documented, leads to the death of a whole range of terrestrial and marine animals. And as is regularly reported in the news and expounded upon in documentaries, the demise of wildlife is caused by the warming of the planet through the burning of fossil fuels and the release of methane from various sources including landfill sites, paddy fields, farm animals and the extraction of oil and gas.
Human induced extinction is also caused by invasive species, an example is the extinction of 28 species of sea birds on Marion Island in the Indian Ocean brought about by mice devouring chicks of ground and burrow nesting birds. As reported in The Irish Times, Weekend Review, 25 March 2023, the mice were unintentionally brought to the island by seal hunters in the 19th century. Such in the extent and rapidity with which we our terminating nonhuman life we are now living through what is called the sixth mass extinction.
Scientists tell us that there were at least five mass extinctions during the last 540 million years. The last one occurred 66 million years ago and led to the demise of 76% of life forms. This was caused by the impact of an asteroid on the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico, which as most school children know led to the extinctions of the dinosaurs.
It should be borne in mind that extinctions are an integral part of evolution, with the demise of some species leading to the emergence of others. Scientists, such as those who work in the Natural History Museum in London, estimate that between 0.1% and 1% of species become extinct every ten thousand years. This is called the background rate, A mass extinction occurs when species go extinct faster than they are replaced, with at least 75% going extinct in a relatively short period of time, which in geological terms, is two million years.
Although we have extinguished species since the end of the last ice age we have over the past 500 years being doing so at an ever-increasing rate, turning whole areas of the planet, including parts of the Irish – UK archipelago, into dead zones. We were reminded of this in March when the Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland published Plant Atlas 2020, available online, which is based on 20 years of data collected by 2,500 botanists, scientists and trained volunteers, and shows that there has been a 56% decline of native plant species in Ireland since 1987 and that in both Ireland and Britain non-native species of plants now outnumber native ones.
Given the role we knowingly play in extinguishing life on Earth, which diminishes the chances of our survival, it is understandable that one might conclude that we are guilty of committing Lucifer’s sin. Are we, to borrow a common phrase, playing God, when we decide which species we want to continue to exist and which not, which mountains to level, which rivers to allow to flow freely and which habitat to remain intact or turn to ash?
The Biblical Lucifer must be very pleased with us as unless we change our attitude towards nonhuman nature there will soon be nothing left of God’s handiwork to destroy and the last human might well hear Lucifer declare checkmate with God.