Climate Change and Extinction: What Is Natural?

 Guest opinion by Dr. Tim Ball |

Proponents of the anthropogenic global warming (AGW) hypothesis successfully, but inaccurately, present natural events as unnatural. It works, because most don’t know what is natural. They also exploit the public belief that change is gradual over long periods of time. Use of the word “belief” is deliberate, because it represents the philosophical, pseudo-religious basis for western science – Uniformitarianism. It applies both to climate change and extinction of species, creating the false understanding that they are not supposed to happen. If they do then, by default, it is unnatural and due to humans, who they consider unnatural. The 1990 Greenpeace Report on global warming says, CO2 is added to the atmosphere naturally and unnaturally. As Goethe said, “The unnatural – that too is natural.”

Most people are unaware that their view of the world is predetermined by where they were born, raised and educated. They are effectively indoctrinated and that makes it extremely difficult for them to see the world differently. They can’t imagine how anybody can have a different view of the world. As A.N. Whitehead said,

“It takes a very unusual mind to undertake analysis of the obvious.”

However, the philosophical view must be transitory because the science is never settled. New evidence forces new opinion.

Challenges to Uniformitarianism And Extinction; The Philosophical Debate

At the end of the 18th century, Bernard Kuhn and James Hutton recorded evidence of a recent ice age in the European Alps. Louis Agassiz, observed similar evidence in North America. A paper he gave to an 1837 conference began the overthrow of established geology. Agassiz was derided at the conference and responded by taking delegates out to the mountains and showing them the evidence. Even today, most can’t imagine and therefore accept, that a glacier, larger than the current Antarctic glacier in area, covered over half of North America just 18,000 years ago. After Agassiz, the philosophy of geology and overall western view of the world changed. Neptunism, the belief that the landscape was shaped by the biblical flood, changed to Uniformitarianism, the result of slow processes over long periods.

A debate, including in the climate community, raged in the late 1980s and early 1990s involving the replacement of Uniformitarianism by Chaos Theory and Cyclic Theory. Communist block scientists said climate was the result of the interaction of multiple cycles creating a net climate. The west, particularly the US, was pushing chaos theory. Western media interpreted this as a political divide of the Cold War. It wasn’t. It was an intellectual divide within climate science, that continues today. Stephen Jay Gould introduced another option he called Punctuated Equilibrium. This was Uniformitarianism with periodic interruptions by catastrophic events. There was discussion at the time about equilibrium and whether the global system is a transitory or a non-transitory system. That is, if pushed from equilibrium, would the global system return to it or establish a new equilibrium. This implies there are tipping points.

Gould, in his book, “It’s a Wonderful Life”, surreptitiously implied that Darwin’s claim of evolutionary expansion with ever-increasing speciation, the familiar tree of life (Figure 1), was incorrect. The book argues that this is contradicted by the multitude of creatures found in the Burgess Shales. It suggested there was an “explosion of life”, followed by a gradually reduction of species through extinction, in other words a decreasing speciation.

The Burgess Shales is described as evidence of the “Cambrian Explosion”. It is a remarkable deposit because, almost uniquely, creatures without skeletons were preserved. The fossil record is problematic because, apart from soft-bodied creatures not surviving, it is estimated that a few million in a species is required for one to appear in the fossil record.


Figure 1: Darwin’s “Tree of Life”

Then there is the Coelacanth believed, from the fossil record, to have gone extinct 65 million years ago, yet found alive in 1938. Gould’s implication is that extinction is natural. A large initial number of species is reduced, \over time.

Extinction: The Environmental View

Environmentalism assumes extinction and climate change are unnatural. They claim both are occurring at unnatural rates because of human activities. But to determine the human impact, you must first know the natural condition. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was charged with measuring human causes of climate change, but that is impossible unless you know the natural situation.

We don’t know how many plant or animals species exist. A 2011 estimate says approximately 8.7 million, 6.5 on land and 2.2 in the ocean. The problem is, this is ± 1.3 million. Over the last 10 years over a million new species were discovered and that’s only part of what remains. According to PLoS Biology, a staggering 86% of all species on land and 91% of those in the seas have yet to be discovered, described and catalogued.Here is one example. Ironically, it was an expedition to “find out about climate change. Led by Dr. Chris Bowler it created the headline, “One million New Plankton Species Found.Leader Dr Bowler said, “It’s the first time that anyone’s done this expedition looking specifically for plankton life, and that’s why we found so many”.


Some say these are minuscule creatures and therefore the number is not impressive or consequential, however, many large animals are regularly discovered.


Pseudoryx nghetinhensis


Cercopithecus lomamiensis


2005 report, Scientists have discovered a new monkey species in the mountains of East Africa.

2007 report the headline, New Animal And Plant Species Found In Vietnam

2010 report said, “30 unknown species found in Ecuador’s highland forests by a team of U.S. and Ecuadorian researchers,”

• 2010 report said, Over 200 New Species Found In Papua New Guinea. The lead scientist said, there are, “large areas of New Guinea that are pretty much unexplored biologically.

2012 report New species of monkey identified in Africa

It is also estimated that of those claimed extinct, one-third are found later. WUWT recently related the story from the Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF) of how the Royal Society used a false extinction claim, in its zeal to link it to human caused climate change.

One of the major links of numbers and rate of extinction to human caused climate change claims, originate from the work of E.O Wilson, an honorary Board member of the Suzuki Foundation, according to the 2003 Annual Report.

Wilson’s idea of extinction is based on false assumptions and simplistic mathematical estimates.

“A good proxy for the rate of extinction is the rate of growth in energy used by the human population. In other words, extinction rates are increasing in step with the product of population growth times the growth in affluence.”

The trouble is it isn’t happening. Wilson began with a false reconstruction of species extinction linking it to human population as Figure 1 illustrates.


Figure 1: Graph based on Wilson’s mathematical model.

Wilson claims 27,000 species go extinct every year, or 3 per hour. David Suzuki toured Canada visiting schools and presenting this number as real. I challenged him to name even one of them. I also suggested a daily obituary on his web page listing the 72 per day. Not one name was forthcoming.

Wilson came up with these figures by assuming the number of species in one square mile of rainforest and then estimating how much rainforest was lost each year. Incorrectly, he applied this tropical species loss to the entire world and then predicted 22 percent of all species will be extinct by 2022. If you don’t know how many there are, you can’t prove or disprove this claim. Regardless, threat of extinction is a powerful emotional weapon in the environmentalists arsenal.

There are mass extinctions, some apparently random, like the demise of the dinosaurs related to the asteroid event 65 million years ago. This discovery seemed to support Gould’s hypothesis. Others appear more cyclical, such as those associated with polar reversals. Then there are those caused by climate change. The most recent example is the post Pleistocene glaciation extinction. Some blame humans for this extinction. There are two major problems with this claim. First, there were very few people surviving as hunter-gatherers. Second, pressure on wild animal stocks was reduced as humans switched to sedentary agriculture and domestication of animals.

Environmentalists assume that humans are causing extinctions, either directly, by over hunting, indirectly through habitat destruction. They never consider the number of species that benefit from changed habitat, or species created, directly or indirectly, by human actions. They consider those humans create unnatural. Extension of the idea that humans are destroying their habitat raises the fascinating question of whether a species has ever brought about its own extinction. What happens if the Dutch Elm Beetle kills off all the Elm trees?

Facts And Opinions

People’s view of the world is created by the time, culture, and beliefs existing when they were born and educated. To them, it is the real world and the truth, based on the facts they have at the time. The current western view is still Uniformitarianism. Evidence accumulates that this is not the case but people are unaware of the evidence, choose to ignore it, or attack those who entertain its impact on their belief.

I admonished a student for failing to form an opinion in an essay. I didn’t think I had enough evidence, was the reply. I explained, reductio ad absurdum, that if true, nobody should ever have an opinion. What happens is that you form an opinion based on good research and available evidence. However, if further evidence is obtained, you must be prepared to assess its impact on your opinion. This, effectively, describes the unadulterated scientific method. If you simply ignore the evidence, then you are opinionated. Unfortunately, all this is complicated by politics that selects facts to confirm an opinion, the antithesis of science. Sadly, climate change and extinction are now fundamental parts of political agendas. The deceptive political agenda works because western societies are educated to believe that current climate change and extinctions are unnatural.

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September 28, 2014 1:01 am

“Essentially the tastes and preferences of the intellectual elite, derived from learning, are false, doctrinaire, artificial, shrill, shallow, uncertain, eclectic jejune, and insincere.”
— Jack Vance as Unspiek, Baron Bodissey

September 28, 2014 1:01 am

“Communist block scientists said climate was the result of the interaction of multiple cycles creating a net climate. The west, particularly the US, was pushing chaos theory. ”
Climate is simply a pattern of thermal energy distribution which is the result of the establishment of the necessary negative system response to a flow of radiative energy through mass (in solid, liquid or gaseous form) to ensure that energy in equals energy out.
Variations in the the movement of energy within the mass result in variations in the climate pattern but no change in total system energy content.
Changes in radiative fluxes within the mass do not affect the extent to which the mass affects the average rate of radiative throughput but rather are consequences of thermodynamic variations within the mass which do affect the average rate of radiative throughput.
When thermodynamic changes within the mass try to alter the average rate of radiative throughput the climate pattern simply changes to effect an equal and opposite change in the rate of radiative throughput.

Reply to  Stephen Wilde
September 28, 2014 9:55 pm

I like your comment.
I think that the problem regarding climate change is that may people agree with the thermodynamics (basically will a given reaction occur), but forget about the kinetics (how fast does the reaction occur).

M Courtney
September 28, 2014 1:03 am

Perhaps the question is wrongly defined – are species a product of genes or are they a life form that fills an ecological niche?
If the latter then you would expect lots of “species” to blossom when the environment changes and then to diminish as the new niches are filled and the fittest dominates.
After all, parallel evolution does seem to happen where the environments are similar.

Reply to  M Courtney
September 28, 2014 5:56 am

” … are species a product of genes or are they a life form that fills an ecological niche?”
Both. However, the same ecological niche may be occupied by more than one species – the competition between such species is an important driver of species extinction.
A group of individuals comprise a species if they are able to produce fertile offspring with each other, but not with individuals outside this group. This definition works for most sexually reproducing species, although there are some intriguing exceptions: Bacterial species are defined more or less arbitrarily.

James Strom
Reply to  M Courtney
September 29, 2014 12:58 pm

” are species a product of genes or are they a life form that fills an ecological niche?”
In the latter case, recall that the extinction of a species can create a new–or at least unfilled–niche.

September 28, 2014 1:06 am

Interesting post. Thank you for sharing.

Dudley Horscroft
September 28, 2014 1:13 am

Undoubtedly we have caused the extinction of a species. One can readily name the dodo, the passenger pigeon, there was a man who brought his cat to an isolated island, and it ate every member of a species of bird which had no natural fear of cats, and possibly moas and rheas, possibly the large animals of Australia, possibly the large mammoths of Russia (dwarf mammoths remained living in Siberian islands until comparatively recently). A botanist dug up every subterranean orchid he could find on Hampstead Heath, hoping to be able to preserve the species – unfortunately this killed them all. After that, what? Smallpox virus – plausible though it still ‘lives’ in captivity just in case it is needed to produce antigen if there are still wild viruses and an epidemic breaks out.
Very difficult to exterminate a species unless it just sits there waiting to be killed! Actually the opposite of Uniformitarianism is Catastrophism. Punctuated Equilibrium is more related to species and genera changes. Catastrophism is related to those disasters that occasionally strike the earth. Extinction of dinosaurs is now possibly related to the outpouring of lava that created the Deccan Trap (with a massive out flow of CO2 and H2S) rather than the asteroid strike – no doubt the argument will continue!

Reply to  Dudley Horscroft
September 28, 2014 2:11 am

I’m sure we have caused the extinction of SOME species. At least they had nothing to do with man-made global warming.

Biological extinction in earth history
Virtually all plant and animal species that have ever lived on the earth are extinct. For this reason alone, extinction must play an important role in the evolution of life. The five largest mass extinctions of the past 600 million years are of greatest interest, but there is also a spectrum of smaller events, many of which indicate biological systems in profound stress. Extinction may be episodic at all scales, with relatively long periods of stability alternating with short-lived extinction events. Most extinction episodes are biologically selective, and further analysis of the victims and survivors offers the greatest chance of deducing the proximal causes of extinction. A drop in sea level and climatic change are most frequently invoked to explain mass extinctions, but new theories of collisions with extraterrestrial bodies are gaining favor. Extinction may be constructive in a Darwinian sense or it may only perturb the system by eliminating those organisms that happen to be susceptible to geologically rare stresses.

Here is an Essay in Nature

Concept Extinction: past and present
The fossil record, together with modern data, can provide a deeper understanding of biological extinction and its consequences.
Extinction is a fundamental part of nature — more than 99% of all species that ever lived are now extinct. Whereas the loss of ‘redundant’ species may be barely perceptible, more extensive losses of whole populations, groups of related species (clades) or those that share particular morphologies (for example, large body sizes) or functional attributes such as feeding mechanisms, can have profound effects, leading to the collapse of entire ecosystems and the extermination of great evolutionary dynasties.

Reply to  Jimbo
September 28, 2014 2:21 am

For those interested in new species found the Guardian has an updated series.
A species that was thought to be extinct but found later is called Lazarus Taxon.

Time – Jan. 25, 2012
Top 10 Not-So-Extinct Animals
In recent weeks, both the Miller’s Grizzled Langur and a giant tortoise species have returned from from presumed extinction. In their honor, TIME takes a look at other critters and creatures who have come back from the “dead”,28804,2105239_2105240_2105283,00.html

Reply to  Dudley Horscroft
September 28, 2014 2:22 am


Reply to  Brute
September 28, 2014 3:29 am

But I’ve repeatedly heard that Republican/Tea Party gun totin’ religious types are Neanderthals. Repeatedly. There seems to be a lot of those, so I’m doubting the claim of extinction there too.
Maybe Cro Magnon, or Australopithecus …

Reply to  Brute
September 28, 2014 5:37 am

Part of the H. sapiens genome are derived from Neanderthals, so they live on through you and me. Would be interesting to determine whether duh-niers or alarmists carry greater proportions of Neanderthal DNA.

Steve Keohane
Reply to  Brute
September 28, 2014 7:40 am

I’ve often wondered if ironically, intelligence came from the Neanderthals, they had to survive a rough climate, store food over winter and be clothed. Those near the equator had to do much less to survive.

Reply to  Brute
September 28, 2014 8:03 am

They were absorbed

Steve Garcia
Reply to  Dudley Horscroft
September 29, 2014 6:51 pm

I was just reading last week on the “dwarf” mammoths” in “the Siberian Islands” (Wrangle Island to be precise), and I discovered that, NO, those up there were NOT dwarf mammoths, just small ones. But at the SAME time there WERE true dwarf mammoths on the Channel Islands of California.
All of this was a surprise to me. As it may be for you, too.
On the Channel Islands, California, which includes Santa Rosa Island, real dwarfs coexisted with the mammoths of reduced and moderate sizes. Comparative analysis of Wrangel Holocene mammoth teeth with teeth of mammoths from the last populations on the mainland in Eurasia demonstrated that both sets were very close
to one another (Averianov et al. 1995).

oebele bruinsma
September 28, 2014 1:16 am

As we (humans) have only a very limited understanding of nature, nature continues to surprise us; including the climate of course which is only a statistical aggregate of chaotic weather over an agreed period of time. In other words we hold an accountancy opinion on very complex matters.

Reply to  oebele bruinsma
September 28, 2014 4:13 am

Perfect. I’ll use your logic and insight in my discussions with our warmist friends if that’s ok.

Stephen Richards
September 28, 2014 1:19 am

Stephen Wilde
I think the original is more accurate, personally

September 28, 2014 1:28 am

Hmm, old data. The difficulty we have in these kinds of extinction rates are best indicated looking, for example, at spiders ( in which minimally 500 new species (but from July 2013-July 2014 874) are being described each year. I’m sure the rate with all of insects is well above that…

David Riser
Reply to  Jimbo
September 28, 2014 6:48 am

Yall are being inexact and exact at the same time, confusing a simple piece of biology in the name of being right. Calling a spider in general an insect is correct by most dictionaries. Every Creature has its place within the “tree of life” which is actually an active area of biological research with upheavals all the time due to DNA sequencing and comparing living things at various levels of organization. Currently there are three different classification schemes that are used. If your going to get biologically technical then you should use one of those schemes to describe your living thing. Otherwise chill out.

Reply to  Jimbo
September 28, 2014 7:09 am

Don’t forget that the label placed on an organism is an artificial construct of man. I sincerely doubt that the platypus sits around worrying about whether it’s a mammal or not and a spider doesn’t spend time thinking that it might be an insect. An organism is a unique collection of living parts, that’s all. WE are the ones trying to shove different beasts into a bunch of little boxes based on some desire to organize them. The arguments about classification are bookkeeping problems, not biology problems. If we got the labels out of the way we could see Nature a bit more clearly.

Reply to  Jimbo
September 29, 2014 11:23 am

David Riser
…Calling a spider in general an insect is correct by most dictionaries….

Which dictionaries?

I sincerely doubt that the platypus sits around worrying about whether it’s a mammal or not and a spider doesn’t spend time thinking that it might be an insect.

I bet it would worry if it only had 6 legs. 😉

September 28, 2014 2:12 am

They believe it because it has the same ring of “truthiness” that Steven Colbert talks about…only they think they’re immune to that sort of thing.

September 28, 2014 2:28 am

It is quite a supportable position to suggest that the rise of man, through land use change and through hunting, has precipitated the extinction of a number of large species of mammal and perhaps birds, but it is also likely that the rate of such extinctions is declining because we can now CHOOSE to preserve certain species and the habitats which support them or – in the worst case – keep them in zoos.
The numbers game with regard to smaller species (insects and downwards) is entirely a different matter, but unfortunately has a great emotional pull on many of us – especially the impressionable young. The work of E O Wilson in this respect is, of course, nonsense of the first water, but influential none the less. The population dynamics of these creatures is so very different to that of an elephant that it is mostly impossible for man to bring about extinctions directly, even if he intends it. But he may do so indirectly by subtle changes that he brings about, and we may never understand even in hindsight what those changes were, and what effect they had: they will be lost in a myriad of ‘natural’ effects which will also mostly escape resolution.
The interesting philosophical point is, whether it is of any real significance if we lose species (when we raze a chunk of rainforest, for example) which we never identified in any case. I suggest that it is a loss to curiosity alone, because there is no fundamental steady-state ‘inventory’ of the creatures of the earth. All is always changing. Only those environmentalists who seem to see the world as some sort of cosmic zoo, for preservation as at 1957 or thereabouts, for ‘future generations’ to see, have any case. I discount the idea that losing yet-unknown species may deny us the gift of cures to human diseases in any practical sense, or that new and especially significant materials would emerge from those species..
Julian Simon’s foray in “The Ultimate Resource” into the question of extinctions puts a fair perspective on it all, I think, and he also explores some numbers in a down-to-earth fashion (for those who feel the need to count).

Reply to  mothcatcher
September 28, 2014 5:00 am

If a species goes extinct in a forest that you never counted, is it still a species?

Reply to  pochas
September 29, 2014 8:15 am

If we create a new species in a lab, then kill it off, do we get credit for both?
Similarly, in the name of biodiversity, shouldn’t we continuously create new species and turn them loose in the wild? Isn’t it cruel to the smallpox virus to keep it in jail?

Mike McMillan
September 28, 2014 2:31 am

So, like, when do we get to “peak species?”
iHeartRadio has a filler piece with Jeff Corwin repeating the one-species-every-twenty-minutes, “Sixth Extinction” theme. He seems to be selling a book, but I guess that’s how these things get spread around.

Paul in Sweden
September 28, 2014 2:46 am

While mythical CAGW is not responsible for the extinction of various species, the past well regarded reputations of various institutions, societies, journals and numerous scientists are ‘endangered’ in conservative estimates but ‘MAY’ be extinct within as few as FIVE years, possibly by 2020, and all together gone by the later part of the 21st century unless radical action is taken now by all world governments.

September 28, 2014 2:49 am

This article makes one flawed assumption, the same flawed assumption the “green” movement makes, that humans are not part of the natural process. Throughout geological time living things have, intentionally or otherwise, modified the environment as part of the process of survival and expansion. This is no different to what humans have done and are doing. If in the process humans wipe out many other species and ultimately themselves, this is still “natural”, to think otherwise is really to place humans in a supernatural position above other life forms, which is of course religion. If we have the power to control the environment around us it is logical we do so in such a way that ensures our survival.
By the way, whilst I have not read Stephen Goulds work, the idea of “punctuated equilibrium” is, as far as I know and speaking as a geologist, pretty standard geological understanding, and has been for many years.

Reply to  Grahame
September 28, 2014 7:27 am

“This article makes one flawed assumption, the same flawed assumption the “green” movement makes, that humans are not part of the natural process.”
Is the article making that assumption or is it making the assumption that others make that assumption?
Either way, we are part of the natural process, whether we decide to dam a river creating a new lake or we decide not to, meaning a new lake is no longer created.
The ultimate question is whether as part of the natural process, we “extinct” ourselves; perhaps through a Nuclear war or the accidental release of a biological weapon or…?
Even the worst CAGW by CO2 scenario would not be a human extinction event. Some of us are currently living in worse conditions than CAGW predicts.
Just some observations.

September 28, 2014 2:50 am

“We look at our world and the universe with human eyes and more importantly, with a human lifespan. In terms of the latter, we see an apparently ageless and unchanging view but it’s a false impression. When looked at through the eyes of “deep” time, it is dynamic, violent and forever changing. There is no ideal static harmonious state which must be maintained. There never was and there never will be either.”

September 28, 2014 2:50 am

Use of the word “belief” is deliberate, because it represents the philosophical, pseudo-religious basis for western science – Uniformitarianism.

So true: Pictorial Essay: Your Life

September 28, 2014 3:21 am

I didn’t realize that this sight is a rightwing extremist site. Tim Ball, climate change denier extraordinaire? What a joke!

Reply to  pfgetty2013
September 28, 2014 3:34 am

Very interesting post. Filled with facts — unlike pfgetty’s comment above.
‘Species extinction’ is just another false alarm, intended to play on the public’s emotions for self-serving reasons. As Willis has repeatedly asked: where are the bodies??

Reply to  pfgetty2013
September 28, 2014 3:50 am

@pfgetty2013. Please elaborate.

Tom in Florida
Reply to  Brute
September 28, 2014 5:31 am

don’t feed the troll.

Bernd Palmer
Reply to  pfgetty2013
September 28, 2014 5:31 am

You don’t want to extinct the Rightwings species, do you?

Reply to  Bernd Palmer
September 28, 2014 7:20 am

Who would do all the real work if they did? I don’t think mankind would survive for more than three or four days if the only ones left are actors, reality “stars,” activists, pop singers and Internet CEOs.

Reply to  Bernd Palmer
September 28, 2014 8:49 am

A bird or an insect, and perhaps humans, need both a left wing and a right wing to fly else they will be unbalanced …(many puns)

Reply to  pfgetty2013
September 28, 2014 1:13 pm

Site, not sight, you mindless leftwing moron.

September 28, 2014 3:26 am

Many thanks for an interesting post.
99.9% of all species that ever existed— are extinct.

Kelvin Vaughan
September 28, 2014 3:32 am

Thought I would amuse myself today.
I took the CET Max. Converted it to K.
I then produced a10 year running average.
Next I took the CO2 level at 10 year intervals since 1900.
I added the % of CO2 to % atmospheric water vapour which I assumed to be 3% in England.
I then divided the water vapour + CO2 % every 10 years by the % value for 1900.
I then multiplied the temperature in 1900 by the increase for each 10 year period.
The result was within 0.2 degress of the actual max temperature.
I then listed the amount of error at each 10 year period and plotted it.
The error plot was a 60 year +/-0.2K cycle.
And the forcing was 0.9K per 100ppm rise in CO2.
Probably all a coincidence. Not really enough data to prove anything.

Joel O'Bryan
Reply to  Kelvin Vaughan
September 28, 2014 1:34 pm

Recognize your assumptions in that final statement.
The planet has been coming out of a LIA since ~1850, so temperatures were bound to increase overall, even with dips several multi-decade periods of dips.
pCO2 only has an accurate record since 1959, before that its a proxy reconstructions. But
CO2 undoubtedly has been increasing because of man’s burning of carbon fuels. But how much is also Henry’s Law ocean outgassing. Common calculations assume about 20ppm, but is that really correct? The deep benthic waters are higher in dissolved CO2 than closer to the surface where the air-water interface allows equilibration. That 20 ppm could be a lot higher.
Finally,you assume a causality arrow direction. There is not one in the data.

Tim Groves
September 28, 2014 4:33 am

Around 20 years ago, Stephen Jay Gould and Richard Dawkins had a very public dispute over some of the details of biological evolution. At the time, Gould punctuated Dawkins’ equilibrium, and the latter has been unable to regain it since.

C.M. Carmichael
September 28, 2014 4:44 am

If you ask some one about an extinct animal the Dodo always is the first mentioned. It was a turkey sized bird 600 kms from competition and predators, it walked up to men, didnt require hunting or bullets, could not fly and laid one egg a year. It was destined to go extinct, the question was how did it live so long in the first place. I have used Tim’s line ” name one” several times and it is a show stopper to the panic stricken.

September 28, 2014 4:56 am

I have been trying to form the extinction of ants in my backyard. It has been a most unsuccessful venture, and so have settled for equlibrium, where the ants remain but not enough to invade my home.
Nature is a wonderful thing, how Wilson gets away with idiotic assumptions and simplistic mathematical estimates of its workings, is a wonder of a different sort.

Joel O'Bryan
Reply to  Alx
September 28, 2014 1:58 pm

Ants probably outnumber man 10^7 to 1 (or more). The total weight of all the Earth’s ants outweighs mankind by at least a factor of 10.

September 28, 2014 4:58 am

Extinctions from the global warming hoax?
Well the Green Beaked Red Lyre Bird and the Spittle Flecked Doom Screecher certainly.
Every activist, journalist and politician of the left are just on the endangered list along with the UN, WMO and the IPCC. Extra help from DDT may be needed with these pests.

Reply to  Konrad
September 28, 2014 6:36 am

Konrad, you do know there are some things even DDT won’t kill?

Reply to  DocWat
September 28, 2014 7:26 am

Did you try it I.V.? Tell them it’s “organic” and “carbon neutral” (true) and they’ll stick the needle in themselves and you don’t have to deal with those pesky homicide charges.

Alberta Slim
Reply to  Konrad
September 28, 2014 9:50 am

Great….. I luv it..

Rhys Read
September 28, 2014 5:22 am

As an avid Stephen Gould reader, including Wonderful Life, Tim Ball’s interpretation is incorrect. Gould said the number of phyla and classes decrease over time but the number of species constantly increase. The Burgess shale had many phyla, design types, that no longer exist. No new phyla have been found to be created in ~100 million years (flowering plants are the most recent). However, the number of species constantly increases as life adapts to new niches.

Reply to  Rhys Read
September 28, 2014 6:09 am

Re Burgess shale: Life in the Cambrian explosion may well have resembled Darwin’s finches – rapid morphological diversification without profound genetic separation as a single strain of life branched out to fill a plethora of new ecological niches in very short time. It seems fanciful to assign the categories phylum, class, family, or species with any level of confidence to life forms exclusively known from fossils that are a few hundred million years old, without any genetic information or knowledge of body physiology. It must be a “lumpers versus splitters” playground par excellence.

George Turner
Reply to  Rhys Read
September 28, 2014 10:38 am

Hallucigenia was recently identified as the ancestor of modern velvet worms. Nature paper.

September 28, 2014 5:24 am

I guess what I am trying to get at on Fig. 1 is that given there are only 5000-5500 mammal species in the world and probably a total of around 50,000 vertebrates, the group that dominates the graph is actually insects (and to much lesser extent spiders). There are around 44,000 species of spiders and that is growing by minimally 500 per year; on the other hand there are over 20 times that number of insects, I.e., 10000 new species of insects are being described each year. So the graph hoists itself on its own petards. And curiously as with the rediscovered Seychelles mollusc, proving extinction can be very difficult. I have been personally involved with threer vertebrates species that became extinct or putatively so. One was rediscovered because the original locality was wrong. One hasn’t been searched for in the same massive wet decade in which it was found. One was a turtle described as a fossil but later found alive and well.
As for the limited significance of invertebrates, data are being published from their changed distributions (over 40 years) that indicate that the climate has substantially cooled (if the model, things will contract up mountains with warming, is followed), or remained unchanged. The higher populations and shorter life cycle reflects changes quicker.

September 28, 2014 5:41 am

Wilson’s astonishing fraud, extrapolating from rain forest loss to global extinction with purely arbitrary numbers, puts him at the front rank of the fast growing “climate hustle” mob of AGW fraudsters.

Reply to  phlogiston
September 28, 2014 6:14 am

“Fraud” is the wrong term. Wilson is an armchair biologist – the kind of person who puts too much emphasis on reasoning and too little on observation and experiment.

September 28, 2014 5:57 am

Thanks, Dr. Ball. As always, your articles are thought-provoking.
I think humans are as natural as any other species, we would not be natural had we been imported into this world, not evolved out of it.
We share the same carbon-based nature.

September 28, 2014 5:57 am

I feel it insulting, frivolous and wrong in eqaul parts to call western scientists “religious”, where every poll ever conducted shows that 99% are not religious; and the only people in the western world who happen to be religious to the degree of insanity happen to sit on the US White House science comittee of all places, and of course the evangelical/conservative pitchfork wielding crowd they serve…

Alan Robertson
Reply to  Matt
September 28, 2014 7:26 am

What do you have against pitchforks?

Bob Boder
Reply to  Matt
September 28, 2014 12:10 pm

Do you consider socialism/communisism a religion? Your 99.9 percent would be reversed if you did.

September 28, 2014 6:05 am

In Scotland there are quite a number of insects which are now confined to higher elevations and in some glens in the central and eastern highlands that were likely widespread in UK as the last glacial retreated, but whilst the land bridge to the continent was still intact, and will likely go extinct with a moderate further warming. However I know of none that are endemic, all being much more widespread in Europe both at lower elevations and lower latitudes. These relict populations do not seem to occur so much in the western highlands, even in the extreme north, and it looks like this is due to the mild and wet atlantic winds that take the edge off necessary winter cold. All such influences are much more subtle than we generally suspect.

James Strom
Reply to  mothcatcher
September 29, 2014 1:05 pm

Do these separated populations tend to develop into subspecies?

September 28, 2014 6:21 am

Wonderful column, well thought out and beautifully written. Tim Ball is a true scientist — which of course puts him in a precarious position in today’s academia.

September 28, 2014 6:47 am

biggest problem…..definition of species keeps changing
We are calling too many things a new species…that are not really
September 28, 2014 6:50 am

[Snip. “beckleybud” sockpuppet. Banned. ~mod.]

September 28, 2014 6:53 am

The cycle of species formation and species extinction does bear some resemblance to the creation and extinction of enterprises in capitalism. New enterprises spring up when new, disruptive technologies have been invented, which results in large demand and business opportunity. At first, any start-up with a reasonable product will thrive, but in the long term, only the most efficient ones will prevail. Examples are car or computer manufacturers.
In evolution, the most striking example is the ‘Cambrian Explosion’. This was driven by Nature’s invention of nervous systems that produced larger organisms with more complex behaviors. This created novel ecological niches, which only increased in numbers as the ever-growing number of species created novel food chains. In the long term, however, more efficient predators displaced less efficient ones etc.
(Human evolution seems to have been a more recent explosion, followed by extinction, with the caveat that many human strains that are no longer extant may not have been true species but merely races that could have been merged back into the dominant H. sapiens strain, as has been shown for Neanderthals.)
The Cambrian Explosion shows us the sheer pace that evolution is capable of when opportunity permits. It seems that, during most periods, species evolve at a much slower pace, which is likely dictated by slow changes in the nature of their environment and ecological niche. Most of the time, therefore, selection mostly works to preserve the fitness of the well-adapted species, just as in a mature market good management is more important to a company’s survival than leadership in innovation.

Joel O’Bryan
Reply to  Michael Palmer
September 28, 2014 9:16 am

Uncoupling ancient climate change from biological evolution cannot be done. Only when Oxygen evolved to sufficient levels from photosynthetic organisms, was a more efficient means of energy production available to complex multicellular organisms.
September 28, 2014 6:59 am

[Snip. “beckleybud” sockpuppet. Banned. ~mod.]

Joel O’Bryan
Reply to
September 28, 2014 9:04 am

Thomas Jefferson clearly understood rigorous education leading to critical thought and freedom to think and speak were fundamental to preserving Democracy against the other forms of governance you mention.
Today’s Progressives have a cure for that, its called Common Core.

September 28, 2014 7:12 am

BTW since hunans are part of the natural world then AGW, if it were true is also natural.
So what’s the problem?

Joel O’Bryan
Reply to  LogosWrench
September 28, 2014 8:59 am

Reductio ad absurdum.

September 28, 2014 7:26 am

Given enough time, everything becomes extinct. Such is the nature of the eventual decay of the universes. Immortality, for any species, at least in physical form, is therefore impossible….I’m leaving the door open for afterlife…
And likewise, those who subscribe to a Goldilocks world scenario, where porridge should be just the right temperature, all the time, exhibit such a fundamental lack of understanding of Nature as to be be laughable…if they were not so tragically misinformed…

Reply to  Eric Booth
September 28, 2014 7:32 am

Entropy always wins.

Joel O’Bryan
Reply to  Eric Booth
September 28, 2014 8:57 am

given enough time, our sun balloons into red giant phase and turns this wonderous blue sphere waterworld into a sterile cinder block.

September 28, 2014 7:38 am

Climate change is very real. For example, the average climate of the northern hemisphere is so cold as to cause the ground to be buried under a thousand feet of ice. The cycle of glacier on/glacier off takes place every several hundred thousand years and can be clearly seen in many ways. Even as the science is settled that glaciation has taken place, the causes are still undergoing vigorous debate.
With respect to the idea that humans are causing harmful changes to the climate at this very moment, I am waiting for some peer-reviewed papers that propose what the optimum climate is for our biosphere. The first question that would naturally flow would be where is our current climate and trend in relation to this finding.
Strangely, nobody seems interested in this vital comparison. Not so strangely, the solutions that are frequently demanded in the most urgent voice, all converge on a socialist worldview: statism, bigger government, higher taxes, less personal liberty. That bigger picture tells me all that I need to know about “climate science”.

Alberta Slim
Reply to  buckwheaton
September 28, 2014 10:36 am

It has always been about Socialism; NWO; Agenda 21 or whatever…
Some of the quotes of Maurice Strong that set up the UN IPCC:…
-It was never about the “environment”, it was and always has been about imposing global wealth redistribution and collapsing western industrial society.
“Our concepts of ballot-box democracy may need to be modified to produce strong governments capable of making difficult decisions.”
-”Facing Down Armageddon: Environment at a Crossroads,” essay by Maurice Strong in World Policy Journal, Summer, 2009
“If we don’t change, our species will not survive… Frankly, we may get to the point where the only way of saving the world will be for industrial civilization to collapse.
– Maurice Strong, September 1, 1997 edition of National Review magazine
“Population must be stabilized, and rapidly. ”
“Environment must be integrated into every aspect of our economic policy and decision-making as well as the culture and value systems which motivate economic behaviour.”
“We must act on the precautionary principle guided by the best evidence available.”
-Maurice Strong ,opening statement to: the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, 3 June 1992

M. Jeff
September 28, 2014 7:42 am

Summary: Back in the beginning a few little molecules stood hand in hand. Now the chemistry of life is more complex. All is natural.

September 28, 2014 7:58 am

I used to think that fire and tool making set humans apart from the rest of the animal kingdom. I was 10 years old.
Now, half a century later, I think that what really sets us apart is this capacity to store information outside of our genes. We have broken free of evolution by force of will power. But our natural origin as carbon-based beings remains despite our new silicon brains.

Reply to  Andres Valencia
September 28, 2014 8:02 am

Thanks in part to Carl Sagan and others that evolve scientific thought.

Joel O’Bryan
Reply to  Andres Valencia
September 28, 2014 8:37 am

we are never more than 1 generation away fro returning to our hunter-gatherer caveman roots.

Joel O’Bryan
Reply to  Andres Valencia
September 28, 2014 8:46 am

what makes you think homo sapien has stopped evolving? as we remake our environment to remove selection pressures (adversity), we alter the fitness landscape allowing genetic combinations to propagate that otherwise may have been selected against in a more brutish time.

Mike H.
Reply to  Joel O’Bryan
September 28, 2014 4:46 pm

And they vote.

September 28, 2014 8:09 am

George Carlin hit a home run on this topic stating: “Over 90%, way over 90% of all the species that have ever lived on this planet, ever lived, are gone. They’re extinct…..WE didn’t kill them all…”
September 28, 2014 8:10 am

[Snip. Banned. (beckleybud sockpuppet) ~mod.]

September 28, 2014 8:14 am

So this is what passes for credible opinion on this blog. New heights of stupidity being scaled here.

M Courtney
Reply to  Siberian_husky
September 28, 2014 8:23 am

Just saying “No it isn’t” is not a counter-argument.
It’s a Monty Python sketch.

Joel O'Bryan
September 28, 2014 8:35 am

So you know: The K-P (Cretaceous-Paleogene) boundary is now believed to be 66 Mya.

September 28, 2014 8:37 am

They say they are an endangered species, but I think that there are just too many penguins:
(and not enough port-a-potties)

Dr K.A. Rodgers
September 28, 2014 8:55 am

Elsewhere Gould demostrated that the flaw in uniformitarianism as proposed by Lyell concerned rate. Constancy of process is fine but constancy of rate is not. And that is where too many climate scientists come unstuck today.

September 28, 2014 9:29 am

Claims regarding species extinction numbers have routinely been wildly inflated beyond actual observations, whether we are talking about CAGW alarmism or ideas about our evolutionary past. Such claims are typically based on models and assumptions that fit the theory, rather than on actual observations. Could the models be true in some cases? Sure. But we should allow the actual observations to inform our assessment of how much stock to put into such models, not the other way around.

George Turner
September 28, 2014 10:57 am

As I’ve said before, the flaw in Wilson’s model is that just because you find a new species in every X hectares doesn’t mean the species can or does only exist in that particular plot.
Suppose that every time you go to a new Irish pub you run across an average of two new family surnames that you’ve never met before (a McMeetin and an O’Really), Under Wilson’s model, every time a pub burns down, two entire Irish family names go extinct. That this logical absurdity went unquestioned for so long is truly troubling, as it implies that the fear-mongering, apocalyptic world view has short-circuited rational thought in an entire field of science.
I think we’re going to have a large species explosion, not a collapse, for the simple reason that all our cities are becoming isolated habitats that can serve as “island” refuge for a bewildering array of species transported from around the globe, both intentionally and accidentally. We’re also constantly introducing species into alien environments, so non-indigenous plants and animals are ending up everywhere. Since these are effectively isolated from significant interbreeding with their relations on other continents, they will eventually speciate.

September 28, 2014 11:22 am

“it is estimated that a few million in a species is required for one to appear in the fossil record.”
How could they even come up with such an estimate? Have there been any empirical studies don on the conditions needed for fossilization? Empirical studies of how long the process takes? Without this information it’s just a SWAG (stupid wild assed guess) not an estimate.

Reply to  MattS
September 28, 2014 12:12 pm

It’s estimated from character, distribution, preservation, and discovery/recovery. An estimate of an estimate of an estimate of an estimate. I prefer to distinguish between science and other philosophies. That is to acknowledge what is known, unknown, and imperceptible. Preferably where science has a utilitarian emphasis. Unfortunately, I am in the minority. The pattern matchers control the mainstream. Concepts such as chaos and risk management are not well received by the general public and are therefore unprofitable or less profitable.

Joel O'Bryan
Reply to  n.n
September 28, 2014 1:41 pm

1:10^6 was simply pulled out the air. There is no way to validate that number.

Reply to  n.n
September 28, 2014 7:02 pm

“It’s estimated from character, distribution, preservation, and discovery/recovery.”
In order to estimate the “a few million in a species is required for one to appear in the fossil record” from those factors, you would need empirical evidence as to how the factors you mention affect fossil creation rates. Otherwise you just pulled a number out of your posterior sphincter.

Reply to  n.n
September 28, 2014 8:59 pm

Joel O’Bryan, MattS:
I have not suggested a number. Only a conceptual hypothesis, which is suitable for philosophical, not scientific, debate. Well, also for risk management purposes, if only by necessity of reasonable adaptation.
It has been my observation that people will readily conflate science and philosophy when it suits their purpose. I have no intention to corrupt scientific inquiry by shifting it to a universal domain in time and space, and subordinating deductive to inductive reasoning. My interests in science is utilitarian, which is distinguished from other philosophies principally by the former’s constrained frame of reference. The scientific method of observation and reproduction approaches a limit of an unambiguous interpretation. Otherwise, it is not scientific, but philosophic, which may one day change classifications. For example, the theoretical a-tom, which was later cited as the atom, which was later reduced to smaller particles yet.
Incidentally, I think the scientific method, specifically the constrained frame of reference, is not a coincidental development, but is a direct result of the limitations imposed by a semi-stable chaotic system. The only question is what is a suitable frame in time and space which will yield accurate outcomes. The accuracy of forecasting a chaotic process is proportional to its characterization and modeling, which necessarily limits human beings inside the system, with a finite perspective, to an increasingly limited frame. Everything else is theoretical or philosophical.
Anyway, no number, but rather a conceptual construct.

September 28, 2014 11:24 am

Current issue of Smithsonian magazine has an idiotic article about wild Pacific salmon, repeating the “dozens of species go extinct every day” nonsense.
Thanks to Dr. Ball for providing material for an informed rebuttal – though they won’t print it. Perhaps they will become more discriminating in their propaganda, though. This article was written by a “poet and science essayist.” Ugh!

September 28, 2014 12:01 pm

The system is chaotic by virtue that it is incompletely characterized and unwieldy. The significance of this is that semi-stable processes can accurately be estimated over indefinite intervals or frames (i.e. time and space). The feature of science which distinguishes it from other philosophies, including its predecessor “philosophy of nature”, is not a procedural advantage per se, but that the scientific method enforces a constraint in time and space (i.e. frame). Unfortunately, the uniformitarian principle, as well as consensus (i.e. social) science, and a related principle “faith”, shift the frame to a universal scope, with inductive reasoning and circumstantial evidence to support its conclusions, thereby conflating philosophy and science, and notably corrupting the latter. This has happened for three reasons: wealth, control, and fear. The same reasons it occurred with traditional faiths. Traditional faiths introduced a philosophy of morality established in a universal frame and later an extra-universal frame. Modern faiths produced a similar effect through statistics or models, and de-emphasis of natural variability as well as stability.

Bob Boder
September 28, 2014 12:13 pm

Interesting and another example of how messed up the scientific system is.

September 28, 2014 1:07 pm

Scientists recently discovered a new monkey species living in Washington DC.

September 28, 2014 1:09 pm

In the temperature zone, one can convert warming to miles a species must move north to remain in the center of the same climate zone. If I remember correctly, 1 degC of warming is equal to 100 miles (or 150 km of altitude). If all other factors were the same and global warming were uniform, one might expect the corn belt to have moved almost 80 miles north along with the line separating winter and summer wheat. This give one some idea of how fast a species needs to travel and find a new niche, after climate change makes a current location in tolerable. Clearly any change is stressful and more rapid change is more stressful. Compared with the end of an ice age, (perhaps 5 degC over at least 5 millennia), GHG mediated climate change has been roughly 10-fold faster.

Steve Reddish
Reply to  Frank
September 28, 2014 4:36 pm

That analysis is assuming that a particular species can only live in the exact climate zone where it was found. A few years ago I transplanted a subalpine fir from 5500′ elevation in nearby mountains to my yard at 2000′ elevation. Its rate of growth is greater now than before the transplant, even though rainfall is less in my yard. My point is that prediction of any outcome needs to be verified by observation in order to separate it from a conclusion jumped to.

September 28, 2014 1:16 pm

Reblogged this on gottadobetterthanthis and commented:
Documentation of data with explanation. It is so worth remembering that 999 of every 1000 species that have lived on earth have already gone extinct. Nothing we can do about. Nothing we could have done about it. Sure, we matter to a few here and there, especially on previously uninhabited islands, but we must keep perspective.
As an aside, I really don’t think 97% of all qualified evolutionary biologists and other experimenting scientists in relevant fields agree with the 99% (or my 99.9%) estimate, but it is the dominate view accepted. Still, the percentage of acceptance is probably less than 80%, and the level of commitment to the estimate is probably low. My point being, one never finds 97% agreement on anything by any qualified group of observers. The 97% claim is ludicrous on its face. Anyone who would trot out that claptrap is deserving of, even begging for, derision.

September 28, 2014 1:24 pm

What is natural is for humans to control what people believe in order to control them.
What is natural of for people to sacrifice honesty and consent in believing a lie for social advantage or convenience
What is natural is for a ruling elite to craft a fear-based belief system to control the population
What is natural is for the ruled people to try to out-do eachother in craven submission to the fear based belief system.
As Annie Lennox of Eurythmix put it
Some of them want to use you
Some of them want to be used by you
Some of them want to abuse you
Some of them want to be abused

“The heart of [humankind] is deceitful above all things and desperately sick – who can understand it?”

September 28, 2014 3:07 pm

What is a “species”? I haven’t seen a solid resolution of this question. Polar bears and grizzly bears are breeding successfully, what do we call the results.
[A bigger, nastier, hungrier bear who needs a dye job? .mod]

September 28, 2014 4:23 pm

They will never admit it but there is a lot of creationism in environmentalist thought.

September 28, 2014 4:40 pm

“GHG mediated climate change has been roughly 10-fold faster.”
Sez you…

September 28, 2014 6:21 pm

Please be cautious about citing Steven Jay Gould positively. He was a wonderful writer, but many of his ideas were deeply flawed. Punctuated Equilibrium is one of them. At many points in his very prolific writing career, he seemed to actually be claiming that Punctuated Equilibrium was inconsistent with Darwin’s natural selection, and that he (Gould) had therefore discovered an alternate theory of evolution. If we accept that there is an inconsistency (very few theorists do), it immediately provokes the question: what then is the mechanism of this proposed alternate theory.
The mechanism that made Darwin famous was natural selection: “survival of the fittest”. What was Gould’s mechanism? When asked that question, as he was many times, he would immediately set to work and pound out 50,000, or 200,000, or a million words. Even so, if there was ever an answer in there, no one could discern it.
This is quite apart from his multi-culti Marxist moral posturing, to which he was deeply prone. If he was alive today, I have no doubt that he would be an avid AGwarmer. Gould was a god of political correctness.
Here is evolutionary theorist John Maynard Smith on Gould: “Gould occupies a rather curious position, particularly on his side of the Atlantic. Because of the excellence of his essays, he has come to be seen by non-biologists as the preeminent evolutionary theorist. In contrast, the evolutionary biologists with whom I have discussed his work tend to see him as a man whose ideas are so confused as to be hardly worth bothering with, but as one who should not be publicly criticized because he is at least on our side against the creationists. All this would not matter, were it not that he is giving non-biologists a largely false picture of the state of evolutionary theory.”

September 28, 2014 7:13 pm

“I admonished a student for failing to form an opinion in an essay. I didn’t think I had enough evidence, was the reply. ”
Good for him/her. Far too many people form worthless opinions based on popular ignorance.
“I explained, reductio ad absurdum, that if true, nobody should ever have an opinion. What happens is that you form an opinion based on good research and available evidence.”
But if you haven’t got the evidence, don’t form the opinion. The student’s opinion was that s/he didn’t have enough; yours was that s/he did. What evidence did the student need to form the opinion that s/he had enough evidence to form an opinion about the topic?

September 28, 2014 8:08 pm

From today’s Independent:
King Nose’ dinosaur discovered after being left in storage for two decades.
Dr Terry Gates and Dr Scheetz said it was only as they started to reconstruct the fossil that they realised they had found a new species.

September 29, 2014 4:21 am

It’s a miracle, it’s science stupefy so many people and, what is worse, and many scholars, arguing that the human factor can alter the climate on our planet. Many people are able to own your feet warm when they are cold, and that can automatically heat the whole globe. Such claims come from those people who do not know, absolutely nothing, which is related to their development, and how can I convince others with stupid and unnatural and illogical arguments such as these, it is the main cause of climate change in the human factor. For me they are the people who believe in it, dumber than those who want to convince them that CO2 is the main culprit. I do not regret those mindless people who believe in it, but I was sorry for those who are in it do not understand, and suffer the most inhumane working against the natural claims of which they want to have a profit. Such depravity with which individuals wish to command the whole of humanity, not only applies to climate change, but also to the new world order that, these people want to establish the Roman experience of “divide and conquer” the aspirations of the pharmaceutical industry that earns torment people who offered drugs to no avail, but those that man doomed, but should be as long suffering, or a new method of reducing the population of the planet, the introduction of genetically modified food. See you think this is all politics, not science. Climate change on the planets current in accordance with the laws of nature that are taking place at prescribed cycles. Everything else is nonsense.

September 29, 2014 8:03 am

[snip . . it appears you have more than one handle/email address, that is against site rules . . mod]

Robert W Turner
September 29, 2014 9:56 am

The claim that thousands of species are going extinct each year is absurd and easily dismissed with anecdotal evidence. We haven’t documented most species on this planet but the higher the species is in trophic level the more likely it is to have been documented and the more reliant that species is on the energy from lower trophic levels. If species at high trophic levels are doing fine (and we know about most of these species) then there is no way that thousands of species at lower trophic levels are going extinct.

September 29, 2014 11:01 am

nielszoo: “Entropy always wins.”
I don’t quite get this. Logically, we would not be enjoying our order-dependent lives if this were true. Entropy has had quite a long time to win – time line depending on how well you believe Clair Patterson discriminated the correct lead from the wrong lead.
The failure of the seemingly inevitable power of entropy is an argument for a universe created by design rather than a universe tyrannized by entropy.

Reply to  TheLastDemocrat
September 29, 2014 11:57 am

There is clearly an underlying, unspecified order, which at least temporarily overcomes a perceived entropy. However, the origin of that order is unknown, and likely unknowable, other than at incremental levels. It may have an extra (e.g. “divine”) or intra-universal (e.g. emergent or spontaneous) origin. With different articles of faith ascribed to each, including: God, “Big Bang”, etc.

Reply to  n.n
September 29, 2014 1:37 pm

Good point. I agree that the creator-God explanation works, but I am not sure about the unrecognized, unperceived naturalistic explanation, and I think a Big Bang explanation is such. It seems like a hand-waving non-answer to me. But I am still contemplating the idea…

September 29, 2014 11:05 am

joelobryan: “what makes you think homo sapien has stopped evolving? as we remake our environment to remove selection pressures (adversity), we alter the fitness landscape allowing genetic combinations to propagate that otherwise may have been selected against in a more brutish time.”
–This would be anti-evolution, wouldn’t it? This would be homogenization of the gene pool, and all kinds of gene profiles being replicated with all kinds of gene profiles, as reproductive success depends less and less on some beneficial gene profile.

September 29, 2014 11:07 am

Rhys Read: “As an avid Stephen Gould reader, including Wonderful Life, Tim Ball’s interpretation is incorrect. Gould said the number of phyla and classes decrease over time but the number of species constantly increase. The Burgess shale had many phyla, design types, that no longer exist. No new phyla have been found to be created in ~100 million years (flowering plants are the most recent). However, the number of species constantly increases as life adapts to new niches.”
Where are all of these new species? I continue to see the same trees in the field guides, and see the same selection at the seafood market.
Is this currently a prevailing belief in science, that new species are popping up all over?

September 29, 2014 1:39 pm

“There are two major problems with this claim [overkill]. First, there were very few people surviving as hunter-gatherers. Second, pressure on wild animal stocks was reduced as humans switched to sedentary agriculture and domestication of animals.”
I would describe those sentences as “the worst of Tim Ball”:
1) Nobody knows what the Clovis population was; how do you?
2) New World animal domestication occurred many thousands of years after the Late Pleistocene extinctions.
Blaming them on climate change is hopelessly unscientific:
1) What was unprecedented about this particular climate cycle?
2) Why were the extinctions restricted almost exclusively to big game?
3) How were the American extinctions different from those of Australia and numerous islands, which also were coincident with human arrival?
One thing is certain, humans hunted mammoths and other big game. What is probable is that they quickly specialized in big game to the point that they were dependent on it. Then their population was limited only by big game population. We might ask, which was easier, wiping out a few million mammoths or a few billion passenger pigeons? No theory other than overkill explains the extinction’s preference for big game. –AGF

Unladen Swallow
September 30, 2014 7:07 am

You are right that estimates of current extinction rates are nonsense, but prehistoric humans undoubtedly wiped out large numbers of species in the Pleistocene and later in the Holocene when they spread out across the world. The reason is simple, they were moving into new areas where the local wildlife had no prior experience with human hunters. You see this most obviously in large island(s) like Madagascar, New Zealand, and Hawaii as well the last three continents colonized: Australia, North America, and South America. The irony is that hunter gatherers are more deadly to other species than farmers are, despite their lower numbers, because they exhaust the local resources ( plants and animals ) and then move on to new territory where they repeat the process. This is particularly effective when the animals don’t have a natural fear of humans, which would have been the case in the last three continents settled by humans and the numerous islands settled in the Holocene.
There is no current extinction on a massive level going on at all, because it is based on an island bio-geographic model formulated to deal with extinctions on small islands where the land based animals can’t escape if they don’t swim or fly. This model is then applied to continents, wherein every little geographic section within a continent is treated like an “island” that if some trees are felled then the existing fauna can’t escape from. Obviously in the real world if humans knock down a bunch of trees in the forest, the animals simply move away, they for the most part are not being hunted like Mammoths and Rhinos of the prehistoric steppe. You are also making a mistake in conflating the great extinctions of the geological past with say the Pleistocene extinctions and island extinctions, in the former, you are talking large numbers of every kind of species, in the later, it’s just basically the large ones that are being wiped out, the medium sized and smaller animals are far less effected in the aggregate.

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