The recent Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo is, of course, tragic. Many heroic doctors, nurses and medics are struggling to contain the virus but did you know that some hardened secularists would welcome this outbreak?

Consider the following story.

Dr. Eric Pianka is an American biologist. He is nicknamed “the Lizard Man” and has even had three species of lizard named after him. In a speech to the Texas Academy of Science in 2006 he challenged the belief that humans occupy a special position in the universe. He explained to the audience that one of his neighbours had questioned his interest in lizards by saying “what’s the point of studying lizards?” Pianka replied, “What good are you?” Pianka then outlined his faith by declaring: “We’re no better than bacteria!” Pianka argued that there are too many people in the world and that we are having a destructive impact on the environment. He believes that the human population must be reduced by 90%. War and famine are too slow. Something like an Ebola plague (Ebola is a flesh-dissolving virus) would be ideal.

We should notice that Dr Pianka is a committed materialist/secularist.

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. Materialists, like 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. Most 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 provocative. They force us to ‘discover’ the genius of biblical teaching. We are all created in the image and likeness of God. 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 10:31).

This story is very powerful for both mission and discipleship. I was speaking to my atheist cousin, Edward, a few years ago and I told him this story and asked him a simple question. “Where did Pianka go wrong?”

Edward is a very intelligent man but was completely unable to answer the question. He wanted to say that humans are special but recognised that this did not make sense from a secular perspective. I was then able to talk about biblical teaching about the sanctity of human life. We had a very good discussion.

Mark Roques

Mark Roques

For eleven years Mark taught Philosophy and Religious Studies at Prior Park College, Bath. As Director of RealityBites since 2005, he has developed a rich range of resources for teachers and is a popular speaker at educational conferences in the UK, Netherlands, South Korea, Spain, Australia and New Zealand. Mark is the author of three books, including the Religious Education textbook The Good, The Bad and The Misled, and his innovative approach has led him to appear on television (Channel 4) and radio.