Have you ever been questioned by the police for alleged terrorist activity? Here is a story about a man who was. Dr. Eric Pianka was born in 1939. He is an American biologist and one of the world’s most accomplished field ecologists. He is nicknamed “the Lizard Man” and has even had three species of lizard named after him. His other nickname is Dr Doom.
In his speech to the Texas Academy of Science on 3rd March 2006, The Vanishing Book of Life on Earth, he questioned the belief that humans occupy a privileged position in the universe. He explained to the audience that one of his neighbours had challenged his interest in lizards by saying “what’s the point of studying lizards?” Pianka answered, “What good are you?”
Pianka rammed home his point by declaring, “We’re no better than bacteria!”
Pianka went on to argue that there are too many people in the world and that we are having a very destructive impact on the environment. He believes that the human population must be reduced by 90%. War and famine may do it, but are too slow; something like an Ebola plague (Ebola is a flesh-dissolving virus) would be ideal. (On his desk the Lizard Man keeps a stuffed likeness of the Ebola virus that was sent to him by his adoring students.)
Pianka’s lecture stirred up a hornet’s nest of controversy. Some people asserted that he was goading people into terrorist activity; others have argued that he was doing no such thing.
In April of the same year the professor was interviewed by FBI agents who were responding to allegations that Pianka was fomenting terrorist activity. This is what Dr. Doom said about the incident.
“Someone has reported me as a terrorist,” he said. “They think I’m forming a cadre of people to release the airborne Ebola virus into the air. That I’m the leader and my students are the followers.”
No charges were pressed.
What was it about Pianka’s perspective that got him a grilling from the FBI? He wasn’t a Muslim. He wasn’t a Christian. What’s going on?
Dr Pianka, a Professor of Zoology at the University of Texas, USA, is a committed, practising materialist. As a materialist, he believes that people have no more value than bacteria, or any other living organism. They are all equal in that they are all random, unplanned products of the evolutionary process. This perspective is sometimes referred to as ‘species egalitarianism’.
Materialists like Professor Pianka reason that all organisms begin as cells; that cells are only complex chemistry; and that any particular chemical complex is essentially the same as any other. In other words, we have the Darwinian assumption that humans have no special value. Murdering 90% of the human population is akin to wiping out the smallpox virus!
Now that we have told the story and explained the worldview background we can ask these two subversive questions. Do you agree with Pianka’s assertion that we are “no better than bacteria” And, if not, where has the professor gone wrong?
The vast majority of people do not want to agree with Pianka that human life is on a par with the smallpox virus. Instinctively we know that human life is much more valuable than germs and mosquitoes. These questions are explosive. They force us to ‘discover’ the genius of biblical teaching. We are all created in God’s image. Of course humans are supposed to look after the earth and its many non-human creatures but we are worth more than many sparrows (Matthew 12:7).
I have told this story, exposed the worldview and asked these subversive questions while talking to a materialist friend of mine who has a first class degree in Philosophy. He was utterly stumped by the question and told me he hadn’t a clue how to respond. He did say, however, that it was a very good question. Following this discussion I was able to explain very basic biblical teaching about the unique status of human-beings. That cold contempt had vanished. My friend was open to the biblical message.
RealityBites will equip you to do these three things. Tell stories. Expose worldviews. Ask subversive questions. It takes some training – yes – it requires some effort, discipline and ‘sweat’. But are you up for it? Do you want to become a disciple who can really make a difference? Do you want to get young people asking questions that will open their hearts and minds to the kingdom of God?
The RealityBites Subversive Questions course can help you and your school or church group learn this way of critical thinking to engage secularist ideology.