FWD: Extinction and education

Kenelm Philip fnkwp at aurora.alaska.edu
Sun Sep 20 22:09:40 EDT 1998

	Chuck Vaughn had two objections to the wording of the recent
posting about the current extinction event. The first was having it
called the fastest, even compared with the Cretaceous event 65 million
years BP.

	I found that surprising myself--but there has been a lot of
discussion about whether the presumed asteroid impact was the sole cause
of the extinction, or merely the coup de grace to an already ongoing
event. The detailed time scale of the Cretaceous event appears to still
be somewhat uncertain. The projected time scale of the current event
is frighteningly short--should present trends continue. It's probably
more productive to admit that we are facing a real problem than to worry
about whether one of the 5 major preceding extinctions was or was not
somewhat more rapid. Certainly the other 4 appear to have been much

	The second objection was to calling human activities 'not
natural'. In one sense, Vaughn is perfectly correct--everything we are
and do is 'natural' if you believe that humans are also the product of
evolution. (A Creationist might be able to claim that beings made in the
image of God are not 'natural' in the same sense as other animals are.)
However, the word 'nature' has many meanings. No one plans a 'back-to-
nature' vacation camping in Times Square. There is a long-established
sense of 'nature' meaning nature unaffected by human activities, or con-
trasted to human-designed landscapes. Clearly the authors of the posting
had that second sense in mind. Had they said 'other natural phenomena'
rather than 'not natural phenomena' they would have been correct for the
first meaning of 'natural'.

							Ken Philip
fnkwp at uaf.edu

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