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What Good Are Lizards?


One of Eric Pianka’s favorite sayings is “What good are lizards? What good are YOU?”.

Well Eric, I’m a contributing member of the species that is developing the ability for the earth’s ecosystem to get off the third rock from the sun and secure a foothold on other worlds in other solar systems so that when this rock gets baked it won’t be the end of the line for life.

The big picture, Eric, is that if life is confined to this planet it is a goner. Planets you see are things that are born, exist for a while, then die. If the life that’s on them doesn’t relocate itself then it dies too.

If you look at the core activities of living things it doesn’t take a PhD in biology to note that they are born and consume whatever resources are necessary to reproduce and continue their kind. Looking at the earth’s ecosystem as a whole, how is it going to reproduce and continue its kind beyond the time that the earth/sun system is friendly to life? Simply put, it acts like all life acts and finds a way to get to greener pastures and it will consume whatever local resources are necessary to achieve that goal.

That’s where we come in, Eric. A lizard doesn’t build scientific instruments that can detect habitable planets around other stars and a lizard doesn’t build spacecraft that transport earthlife to habitable planets around other stars. Life on this planet can spread through the galaxy through my species and if lizards largely disappear from this planet it won’t effect the big picture. If we use up all the resources on this planet but manage to get the seeds of life moved to another planet in the process then we’ve done our job and the earth did its job. That’s all that matters. This planet is doomed one way or the other. The important thing is that life doesn’t die when the planet dies. That’s what good I am and that’s why lizards are not important in comparison.

Your narrow minded view, Eric Pianka, isn’t fit for survival.

Ha ha ha,,, fair enough ftrp11


Quite right, people can obsess about such things. Actually, my perspective is this:

The Christian is instructed to ponder the state of the world and the polarization of truth from lies in civilization in general, and how current and past events may relate to predictive prophecy.

However, each one of us is living in their own personal "last days" ergo - 'Is Jesus coming back in the next 50 years?' I don't know, but I'm sure going to Him in that time frame (maybe a little longer if I can stay out of Cinnabon when I'm at the mall).

kvwells We may be at the end of days, but I wouldn't hold my breath. People have been seeing the prophecies fullfilled in world events for centuries. There is a long line of disappointed millenialists through history. You and many others may find compelling evidence in today's world, but let me assure you that people have felt equally confident many times in the past. Some felt so sure that they were willing to bet their lives on it. I for one have a difficult time imagining events capable of eradicating the entire human race. The obvious causes would be an impact by a large asteroid or total nuclear war. The later is reasonably unlikely, but the uncomfortable fact remains that we will always have to live with the ability to destroy ourselves. As far as a massive impact goes, well that is a bit tougher to predict. It is likely, and grows more likely every year that we will be able to see the big one coming many decades out. This would give us time to find a way to at least mitigate the disaster if not prevent it. At any rate I fail to see how waiting for such horror is a good expenditure of our ever so brief time here. ftrp11
There is such a thing as an empirically testable religion, and science isn't it. We aren't alone. jaredl
What is good? (An Ode to Pianka) The reptilian mind says: "Bask on a rock, eat locusts" The human mind says: "Get off this rock, become interstellar locusts" The Spirit mind has said: "Build on the rock, survive the plagues of locusts" Pianka is the voice of an intellectual elite that sees humanity as locusts. Humanity is the voice of a dreamer that sees locusts as miracles. Love is the voice of a father that doesn't like seeing his children consumed by locusts. Collin DuCrâne
We may be alone and that really wouldn't bother me too much. I just find it extremely improbable that out of the trillions of planets out there we are the only one that has life. The common illustration is that there are many times more planets then there are grains of sand on Earth. I have trouble imagining either a universe where God created life on Earth and created the rest of the universe for our amusement or a universe programmed to create life and Earth being the only place where it succeeded. ftrp11
to Jeffery Keown concerning the "end-time prophecy" question. I answer this as a courtesy, not to get off the thread, or to start another one. Perhaps JK wanted more detail. The context of relevant passages in Daniel and Revelation is clearly within the current (Nation/State dominated) general geopolitical structure. Many who study Escatology see most if not all of the main predictive prophecies regarding the world events and political structures of the end-time era as having occurred already. This tells us (per to those views)that according to scripture, the creator plans to cycle out the current universe long before the sun leaves it's current stable burning cycle. BTW the sun's relatively stable energy output is only one of the Anthropic factors of our solar system and planet which is on the wane. kvwells

Sure it is disappointing. It would be tremendously exciting to be alive should such a discovery be made. I just don't find it likely that I will be so fortunate in my blink of an eye on this planet. I think it is fairly likely that we will find Earth like planets in "the goldilocks zone" within the next decade or two. Potentially we could find some evidence of inteligent life on those worlds but I doubt it. We are still technological infants in this particular quest.

The Fermi Paradox just keeps getting stronger every day. We might be alone. Get used to it. I did. If we are then it makes it even more important to get off this rock before we get creamed by an asteroid or something. Perhaps needless to say I'm pretty damn disappointed in the space program too. When I was child the whole nation was swept up in it then as soon as we beat the Russians to the moon everyone lost interest. -ds


I haven't been waiting 40 years, but I would be surprised if I lived to see the day.

And it wouldn't disappoint you? 40 years is getting disappointing for me. That's a long time to search for something and still not be any closer to finding it. -ds

That's a fair point, Greyhame... Dave did hoist him on his own petard. Dave's point is unanswerable in the terms of Pianka's philosophy. DT taciturnus
David T., you do a very good job of broadening the question. But I say DaveScot has done a fantastic job of answering Pianka's question: he stepped into the constraints of Pianka's world view, and detonated it from within. Gandalf

Davescot, I am wondering about your leanings toward panspermia. I have often thought about this concept, and it seems that it pushes the question of the origin of life back but doesn't offer any real insight. if the life on earth came from somewhere else, then that life had to have developed someplace and in some way. How? Why would the mechanisms which brought it about "over there" be different from here? would they? How did intelligence evolve or come about at all? We know the universe itself is not eternal/ageless, so ultimately you confront a point at which you can no longer say 'it came from another planet'. What do you do at that point?

Pushing something back is of no concern. If that's what the evidence points to that's what the evidence points to. Personal desires for specific answers don't make them come true. We don't know the universe is not ageless. We don't even know what 95% of it is made of and we don't know what lies beyond the observable bounds. Neither do we know what if anything was here before it. We don't even know if there's one or an infinite number of universes. But that's neither here nor there. If the evidence leads to a brick wall them's the breaks and the evidence does lead to a brick wall if you follow it far enough back in time. The brick wall is a singularity and we have no way even in principle of looking beyond, inside, or around that event. Get used to it. I did. -ds

Dave, I'm not sure that saying what we are good for is to spread life to other planets actually resolves the question. I'm not denying your technical points about whether and how it might happen, and I hold no brief for Pianka. But I think it just displaces the question "What is life good for" from here to the next planet, and we merely end up asking the question there instead of here. But the displacement hasn't made it any easier to answer. If the life here on Earth is not good in its own right, that is, as something desirable in itself rather than as a means to generating other life, what makes the life on the next planet a good such that we should desire to jumpstart it? Does it have something we don't? If it doesn't, then at best it is desirable only as a means to jumpstart yet further life on another planet, etc., etc. At some point we've got to reach life that is desirable for its own sake, not merely as a means to other life, or there is no point in starting the whole chain. My point as that an answer to the question "What are you good for?" can't be purely instrumental, because an instrumental good only has value insofar as it is a means to an end... and that end needs to be good for its own sake or we've just pushed the question back another step. We've got to find a reason that life as it exists here and now on Earth is a good for its own sake. Cheers and keep up the good work for ID, David T. taciturnus

Why has SETI been such a disappointment? We have only been able to search a statistically miniscule number of stars. Furthermore we have only searched for a civilization that decides to broadcast their presence using a fantastically powerful radio beacon. The radio signals we leak into space would not be picked up by a comparable SETI program in another system. A species would almost have to be purposefully broadcasting its presence using radio waves for the SETI program to find them. SETI can also only detect species that were least as advanced as our own perhaps thousands of years ago as many star systems in our galaxy are that far away. At any rate I am not disappointed by SETI's lack of success, and I would be very surprised by a success anytime soon. I for one put little stock in the priviliged planet idea. There are some many billions of systems that are apparently similar to ours and we have found so many planets in the meager amount of time that we have been looking that any idist should recognize the statistical improbability of us being alone. That position of course takes for granted that life is capable of being generated through chemical processes.

I've been waiting 40 years. You? -ds ftrp11
DaveScott, "I don’t have faith in revelation." Dave, you are a posterchild for why the ID = Christianity view is full of it. bFast

I recall Behe saying that ID is not a "mechanistic theory" or words to that effect. Right now, I see ID as two things:

1. Davescot's Front-loaded concept (which may prove detectable, but does not take into effect rafting, continental drift, HERV's and natural selection (Oh... unless the HERV's are the programming!)

2. The Wedge Personified. (Which is not detectable, and Davescot and those in his camp should run away from as fast as their little legs can handle.)

Frankly, I hope Davescot is right, as it would show we are not alone in this universe. Evidence, however, is still lacking, so somebody get to work.

Why should I run away? They might be right and we agree that the universe and living things are best explained as a work of an intelligent agency. We diverge when the exact nature of the agency is examined. I don't have faith in revelation. I think if the creator reveals himself to us the revelation is found through science, logic, and reason not through holy scriptures. Color me a deist with some doubts about the deity. But of course I could be wrong. SETI has been a huge disappointment that caused me to reorder my suspicions. But you know, you go where the evidence leads. The privileged planet scenario has thus moved to a higher perch and the Copernican mediocrity view to a lower one. ID is a big tent. The only people that don't fall in it are those who categorically deny that intelligent design is detectable in anything not of human origin. That seems an extreme position to take with no positive support whatsoever. -ds

Jeffery Keown

"I think it most likely that life on earth was placed here purposefully with a genome preprogrammed (front loaded) to evolve in a prescribed sequence with the changing environment serving as no more than a trigger to proceed to the next state."

So 'evolution', in a sense, DID happen, but the mechanisms guiding this process are NOT Darwinian? Am I right here?

That's the best explanation. Unwitnessed, unrepeatable events in the far distant past are not exactly the kind of things that you can be certain about. As to evoluton (absent mechanisms) I think the evidence is compelling in support of descent with modification from one or several common ancestors over the course of billions of years. I'm skeptical of RM+NS as the mechanism behind it. -ds shalini

Then, Dave, are you an "adherent" of panspermia? Where, in your opinion, did life on Earth originate?

Not an adherent. I'm an agnostic so I don't adhere to anything. But I lean that way. Panspermia fits the evidence in a more complete and coherent manner than anything else. That doesn't make it right but it makes it the default position until a better fitting explanation is proposed. I think it most likely that life on earth was placed here purposefully with a genome preprogrammed (front loaded) to evolve in a prescribed sequence with the changing environment serving as no more than a trigger to proceed to the next state. Phylogenesis is thus more or less the same process as ontogenesis only writ large over a much longer time scale and greater diversity in the end products. -ds Jeffery Keown

Davescot, I do beleive this makes you the first Deep Time Conservationist/ID Proponent. Tell me, how does the eventual death of Earth (at the hands of our aged and bloated sun) jive with the Bible End-Time Prophecy? Note that I am being entirely serious.

Also, if we continue to power the largest mass extinction since the K/T Event, by the time we figure out how to leave Earth, we won't be travelling with anything but DNA samples.

I suppose that will lighten the load.

Can you reconcile these details?

how does the eventual death of Earth (at the hands of our aged and bloated sun) jive with the Bible End-Time Prophecy -ds It doesn't as far as I can tell. we won't be travelling with anything but DNA samples Probably. How much room do you figure it takes to store 10 million DNA samples with nanotechnology? A few micrograms in a space the size of a mustard seed. Can you reconcile these details? Nope. Why would I want to? I'm not sure you can call me a deep time "conservationist". I just think life is a book and earth is just one chapter in it. Not the first or the last chapter either - it originated elsewhere and if it's successful here on earth it'll start over again on a younger planet and so on and so on. This is the pattern of birth, growth, reproduction, and geographic movement in search of resources to continue is a pattern that all life follows. Why should that pattern either have started here or end here on this speck of dust we call the earth? -ds Jeffery Keown

"Life on this planet can spread through the galaxy through my species..."

Reminded me of the following:

"The Earth is the cradle of mankind, but one does not live in the cradle forever." -- Konstantin E. Tsiolkovsky

"There can be no thought of finishing, for 'aiming at the stars', both literally and figuratively, is a problem to occupy generations, so that no matter how much progress one makes, there is always the thrill of just beginning." -- Robert H. Goddard

Admirable men both. They just don't seem to make 'em like that anymore. -ds j
"Good to whom? And how does he define 'good'?" I suspect he would answer the first question with "the biosphere". He would probably respond to the second question by saying "good" means pertaining to the holistic benifit thereof. The next questions to ask would be, "Is the wellbeing of the biosphere intrinsically good? Why or why not?" crandaddy
Good to whom? And how does he define "good"? russ

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