05 / 06
birds birds birds

Insect Extinction and Natural Evil

April 21, 2019     Time: 12:28


Dr. Craig reviews an alarming report on insect extinction and draws some theological implications.

KEVIN HARRIS: Creepy, crawly bugs, Dr. Craig! Some people wonder why God created mosquitoes. Have you ever wondered that?

DR. CRAIG: Oh, you bet I have! I hate mosquitoes!

KEVIN HARRIS: It is like, Why did God make wasps? I often think, Why in the world did God make a scorpion? Nothing makes me jump higher than a scorpion in East Texas. If I see a scorpion I’ll jump ten feet.

This is a very alarming article that we are looking at. We are going to make some inferences as well theologically. “Plummeting insect numbers 'threaten collapse of nature'”[1] “Insects could vanish within a century at current rate of decline, says global review.” This is from Damian Carrington, the Environment editor on Sunday, February 10, 2019 when he wrote this. He begins by saying, “The rate of extinction is eight times faster than that of mammals, birds and reptiles.”

The world’s insects are hurtling down the path to extinction, threatening a “catastrophic collapse of nature’s ecosystems”, according to the first global scientific review.

More than 40% of insect species are declining and a third are endangered, the analysis found. The rate of extinction is eight times faster than that of mammals, birds and reptiles. The total mass of insects is falling by a precipitous 2.5% a year, according to the best data available, suggesting they could vanish within a century.

It gets worse: “The planet is at the start of a sixth mass extinction in its history, with huge losses already reported in larger animals . . .” It goes on to say that insects are kind of leading the pack on this as far as extinction.

DR. CRAIG: I was shocked to read this. I had no idea that the insect population of the Earth is under such threat. What's significant about this is that it turns out that these bugs are vital for our ecosystem – that if these insects go, the whole ecosystem that provides a basis for our existence will be upset. So the authors of this article say and I quote, “Unless we change our ways of producing food, insects as a whole will go down the path of extinction in a few decades . . . The repercussions this will have for the planet’s ecosystems are catastrophic to say the least. . . . If insect species losses cannot be halted, this will have catastrophic consequences for both the planet’s ecosystems and for the survival of mankind.” So these insects turn out to be essential not only for the existence of the animals and birds that feed upon them but for the entire ecosystem on which we depend for our existence.


One of the biggest impacts of insect loss is on the many birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish that eat insects. “If this food source is taken away, all these animals starve to death.”

People may be skeptical about global warming, and I know that there are debates back and forth, but this seems to be pretty cut-and-dry. We've heard for quite some time now that the decline of honeybees is a concern. In fact, if I can skip here to page two,

Bees have also been seriously affected, with only half of the bumblebee species found in Oklahoma in the US in 1949 being present in 2013. The number of honeybee colonies in the US was 6 million in 1947, but 3.5 million have been lost since.

DR. CRAIG: Whatever you might think of global warming and the sort of catastrophic predictions, this seems to be based upon pretty hard data about insect population decline.

KEVIN HARRIS: Yeah, it’s not as nebulous.

DR. CRAIG: And it's not a distant future. It's already going on now. I was very interested to see what the cause of this phenomenon is. According to one of the authors,

“The main cause of the decline is agricultural intensification. . . . That means the elimination of all trees and shrubs that normally surround the fields, so there are plain, bare fields that are treated with synthetic fertilisers and pesticides.” . . . The demise of insects appears to have started at the dawn of the 20th century, accelerated during the 1950s and 1960s and reached “alarming proportions” over the last two decades.

So it's really this kind of industrial agriculture and the use of pesticides and fertilizers that is having such a devastating impact upon the insect population. I found this personally ironic because vegetarians and vegans encourage us to just eat plant-based foods for the sake of the planet, but it is precisely the agriculture that grows these plant-based foods that is threatening the insect population and hence the global ecosystem.

KEVIN HARRIS: Heavy use of pesticide is another cause which would be related to what you just said. Urbanization – paving everything over, in other words. There is a move in the Dallas-Fort Worth area of Texas and also in Austin – many of the bedroom cities, the suburban areas, are using what they call smart-growth. People will move to these areas because of a certain quality of life but then so many people move there for the quality of life that they destroy the quality of life! They said, What can we do about this? Some guy came up with a plan that seems to be working called smart growth. One of the things that you do is that you don't pave everything over. You make room for animal life to flourish. You have parks. You have trees. You don't mow everything down. Austin has been pretty successful at this as well. Their City Council for the past several decades has said, You will not pave over these parks and these nature areas. And they have some twenty to twenty-five parks within the city limits alone.

DR. CRAIG: Yes. It's no part of this article to say that nothing can be done, that this is a doomsday scenario. It's simply a wake-up call to begin to take these sorts of initiatives to save the insect populations. The same author that I quoted says later, “We wanted to really wake people up. . . . When you consider 80% of biomass of insects has disappeared in 25-30 years, it is a big concern.”

KEVIN HARRIS: I've been trying to talk Kelly into having beehives, and she keeps saying, Look, we have dogs and cats. So I've actually been concerned about that for quite some time.

DR. CRAIG: Now, what struck me when I read this article was its relevance to the problem of natural evil. Because insects and the way they prey upon one another (spiders, praying mantises, other sorts of insect behaviors) are often touted as some of the most extreme examples of the problem of natural evil. And, as you said, mosquitoes themselves seem to be a natural evil that we would better do without. I think this article illustrates again how these easy judgments about natural evil are just too facile. We say, Oh, wouldn't it be better if there were no earthquakes, and thereby deny plate tectonics which would turn our planet into a Venus where life would be impossible. Or if there were no tornadoes where tornadoes are spin-offs of a weather system that allows us to thrive. Now, similarly here, all of these insects that seem so noxious to humanity may turn out to be essential parts of a viable ecosystem that are ultimately contributing to the flourishing of life here on Earth. So people who press the problem of natural evil, I think, need to be much more cautious in thinking that there can't be good reasons for why these examples of natural suffering or pests and things of that sort exist.

KEVIN HARRIS: You've talked about natural evil in contrast to what? Moral evil?

DR. CRAIG: Right, moral evil would be the suffering that results from the moral choices of human beings like theft, murder, rapacity, violence, and abuse. But here we're talking about the suffering that is occasioned in nature through natural forces such as diseases that are caused by microorganisms and some probably carried by insects, or tornadoes, typhoons, tsunamis, earthquakes, forest fires. There are all sorts of these so-called natural evils that people very facilely think we'd be better off without. I think this is a good reminder that those kinds of judgments may well be rash.

KEVIN HARRIS: Do you have anything to say about how, from a theological standpoint, that God has allowed certain extinctions and they've done no harm? It's no big deal that they're gone. It might be cool if they were still around, but there are some things we can't lose; we don't want to lose.

DR. CRAIG: Especially here, one isn't talking about just, say, honey bees. This is talking about the entirety of the insect population. Certainly that kind of mass extinction would be catastrophic even if we could lose species here and there. But, for example, take the great forests – the Carboniferous forests that existed in the primeval ages. Through the decay and the deposit and pressure on these primeval forests we now have our fossil fuels such as coal and oil that make civilization possible. Civilization would be impossible without these fossil fuels. We would still be living in the stone age, in effect. Those extinctions played a vital role in preparing the world, or the Earth, for our existence and for civilization itself, and the dinosaurs that have now gone extinct were part of that ecosystem in which these forests flourished and that existed at that time and prepared the stage for us.[2]


[2]           Total Running Time: 12:27 (Copyright © 2019 William Lane Craig)