Perhaps you've never heard of The Voluntary Human Extinction Movement but unlike what people might initially assume from their name, they claim not to be a suicide cult. Well, they don't exactly deny it, rather they skirt the question as asked on their website. (The website certainly seems serious, and even if it is actually intended as parody or less-than-serious, which I doubt, it will still be useful to analyze.)

Essentially, the group espouses that because they say that human beings have overpopulated the earth and are causing it irreparable harm, the human race should voluntarily stop breeding, and eventually end its own existence, ostensibly for the well-being of our planet.

While I am committed to environmentally sound living principles, nonetheless I would ordinarily dismiss such a site as some sort of crackpot environmentalist nonsense. However, since the site makes an attempt to be intelligently written (although quite patronizing in tone) I thought I'd offer a few questions regarding the basis for their argument.

Most notably, on what basis are they concluding that the environmental viability of the Earth is more important than the continued existence of human beings? This seems to be a moral conclusion: The environmental health of the Earth is more important than the human race. This is not stated as a subjective opinion, like the authors happen to like the Earth better than human beings, rather it is (implicitly) claimed as being an objective fact but never proved or explained why we should accept it. Certain facts are stated (such as that 40,000 people die every day from starvation, or that many animal species are becoming extinct) however while I would agree that these are disturbing truths, how do we move from the fact that many are dying to the assertion that all should die?

That word "should" is important: It implies moral responsibility. Why SHOULD we (that is, why do we have a moral responsibility to) care if, for example, the endangered wizzletit moth [fictitious creature for the sake of example] becomes extinct? In the FAQ area of their site, someone poses a similar question:

"I read through your stuff and I realize that you are an intelligent person and not just some internet crackpot so this is surprising. Why should I care about the environment and animal concerns over human needs and wants?"
My perspective is more Earth-centered, so the answer to this question is obvious to me. However, even with a human-centered perspective, we should care about other life because, whether we realize it or not, we are dependent on them for our survival. By reducing biodiversity as we are doing, we are sawing off the limb we stand on.

This response skirts the question by merely restating their particular stance. It is not, to me at least, "obvious" why an Earth-centered perspective would be superior to a human-centered perspective. On what basis could we come to this conclusion?

If the Argument from Morality is correct, objective morality is grounded in God. (Link is to some writing on the subject by Christian philosopher John DePoe.) The argument goes something like this:

  1. There is a universal moral law.
  2. If there is a universal moral law, then there must be a universal moral lawgiver.
  3. Therefore,

  4. There must be God.

Conversely, if there is no God, then it would seem that there is no universal moral law. Michael Onfray, an atheist author with whom I have much disagreement, nevertheless agrees that without God we are free to replace current moral values with our own, whatever those morals may be. Arguments to the effect that evolution explains morality are flawed.

What has compelled the author of VHEMT to create their website and propagate their beliefs? Unlike a certain page on that site (which lists reasons people claim to want to have children and then purports to give you the "real" reason they do so) I won't speculate, and will simply assume that they believe their ideas to be true. But if there is an element of guilt to what is happening to the planet, perhaps people feel guilty because we ARE guilty? The proper response, it seems to me, to the fact that a particular thing causes a problem is not necessarily to attempt to destroy (whether immediately or by a painful suffocation process) that thing, but rather to redeem that thing and have it be used for good, rather than evil. Of course, I base my opinion not by standing in mid-air on what is "obvious" but rather on the firm foundation that God exists and by the moral precepts that follow from that.

Further reading:

  • Animals Are Only Human – "These ideas are the product of a sick human being, ladies and gentlemen. I don't mean mentally sick. I mean morally sick, socially sick, spiritually diseased."
  • Relativists & Sociopaths – What if there are no moral absolutes?