Monday 22 June 2015

Does God Hate Vultures Too?

Lappet-Faced Vulture, Torgos tracheliotus
Another Continental Vulture Crisis: Africa's Vultures Collapsing toward Extinction | Conservation Letters - Wiley Online Library.

With so many species in serious decline and under threat of imminent extinction, creationists and Intelligent Design hoaxers have some explaining to do. They at least owe it to their followers to explain why their creator god either intended this to happen or is powerless to prevent it. Admittedly, they will need to face up to some unpleasant realities to do so, but at least they'll know they aren't living a lie.

What they need to grasp is that their notion, it it were any good, would be applicable across the entire range of biological science, not just the cherry-picked pieces that make their dupes feel important or to provide easy, default answers to the parts that are hard to understand without learning basic science, putting aside cherished superstitions or admitting for once that their ignorant intuition really isn't the best available means of determining reality.

It should, for example, be able to explain the problem African vultures are now facing.

Egyptian vulture Neophron percnopterus
Several species of African vulture are now endangered, with populations having fallen by up to 80% in just three generations. Amongst them is the Egyptian vulture (sometimes wrongly called the Egyptian eagle). This was one of the first non-human animals to be seen to use a tool, before even chimpanzees were seen to be doing it. Egyptian vultures use stones to break open ostrich eggs, which are too big for them to pick up.

I remember well the thrill of excitement as we stepped out of Hummer on the edge of a sheer drop at the top of Jebel Shams (Mountain of the Sun) in Oman just as a magnificent Egyptian vulture soared casually by about ten feet overhead, with not so much as a hint of a flap of its outstretched wings, and in total silence.

Writing in Science, staff writer Erik Stokstad, explained:

Despite their gloomy reputation, vultures provide valuable services. Egyptian vultures (Neophron percnopterus) have been found to remove up to 22% of the waste produced in towns along the Horn of Africa. And by picking clean the carcasses of dead animals, vultures indirectly keep the numbers of feral dogs in check; that, in turn, reduces transmission rates for diseases like rabies.

News of this decline was published a few days ago in Conservation Letters by members of the International Union for Conservation of Nature's (IUCN’s) vulture specialist group led by Darcy Ogada. It pulled together population data from several sources to give an estimate of a 30-year pan-African decline in vulture numbers:

Vultures provide critical ecosystem services, yet populations of many species have collapsed worldwide. We present the first estimates of a 30-year Pan-African vulture decline, confirming that declines have occurred on a scale broadly comparable with those seen in Asia, where the ecological, economic, and human costs are already documented. Populations of eight species we assessed had declined by an average of 62%; seven had declined at a rate of 80% or more over three generations. Of these, at least six appear to qualify for uplisting to Critically Endangered. Africa's vultures are facing a range of specific threats, the most significant of which are poisoning and trade in traditional medicines, which together accounted for 90% of reported deaths. We recommend that national governments urgently enact and enforce legislation to strictly regulate the sale and use of pesticides and poisons, to eliminate the illegal trade in vulture body parts, as food or medicine, and to minimize mortality caused by power lines and wind turbines.

© 2015 The Authors. Conservation Letters published by Wiley Periodicals, Inc.
Published under terms of the CC BY-NC licence.

There are several probable causes of this decline:
  1. Hunting for use in folk medicine and quack cures.
  2. Poisoning by eating baited carcasses intended to control species like, lions, hyenas, jackals and feral dogs.
  3. Deliberate poisoning by elephant and rhino poachers who don't want flocks of circling vultures giving their location away, so they poison the carcasses of their victims.
  4. Poisoning with agricultural pesticides and veterinary pharmaceuticals. In India the decline of vultures has been shown to be due to the veterinary medication, diclofenac, which is fatal to vultures.
  5. Electrocution by perching on power lines or collisions with the blades of wind turbines.

The problem creationists have is that they hold two different views of their imaginary creator simultaneously.
  1. It is all-powerful, all-knowing and all-loving and loves its creation, especially humans for whom this was all created.
  2. It hands out punishment to its creation for 'sin' such as disobedience or not worshipping it enough.

So what creationists need to do is to explain how the decline and impending extinction of these vultures which have taken millions of years to evolve, and whose loss would have a serious negative impact on humans, fits into this narrative. Did African vultures 'sin' in some way? Have they been disobedient or failed to worship properly? Or maybe this is the act of someone who doesn't know what love is? Or maybe it just hates vultures and created them so it could have them poisoned and exerminated.

It's no good arguing that it has nothing to do with this god because creationist also tell us that nothing happens unless their creator wills it, and everything that happens in the Universe is part of some divine plan. If their god doesn't know about it, it isn't all-knowing; if it knows about it but doesn't care, it isn't all-loving, and if it can't do anything about it, it isn't all-powerful.

It isn't any good either to argue that it's not for mere humans to understand or question this imaginary creator, because that means creationists' supposed superior explanation for everything needs a get-out-of-jail-free card to cope with the things it can't explain. What use is a theory which needs an escape clause for when it fails to explain what it's intended to explain?

Well, you see, we have this sacred theory to explain the observable facts which doesn't explain the observable facts, but we can't change it because our imaginary invisible friend will get upset...

Clearly, if you buy into this superstition, you buy into the belief that this creator god intends vultures to be on the verge of extinction and, unless we do something, to go over that verge to actual extinction in just a few years.

So, is there a creationist willing to explain how this disaster facing Africa's vulture populations fits into a creationist explanation for how biology works?

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