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Don't Bring Extinct Creatures Back to Life

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  • We Are As Gods

    Stewart Brand, environmentalist and founder of Whole Earth Catalog, updates his mantra about the most powerful species on the planet.

  • Species vs. Individual creatures

    Dr. Lynn Rothschild discusses whether the suffering of individual creatures is worth the benefit to the species.

  • George Church Is Partially Neanderthal

    Harvard geneticist George Church makes the case for hybrid animals.

  • What Justifies De-Extinction?

    The American Museum of Natural History’s Dr. Ross MacPhee says de-extincted animals won’t constitute a natural species.

  • Long-term Conservation

    Do we need to bring back extinct animals to fight climate change? Dr. Ross MacPhee and Stewart Brand debate.

  • Elephants As Surrogates

    Should elephants to serve as hosts for extinct creatures? Dr. Ross MacPhee and George Church discuss.

  • IVF & De-Extinction

    Stewart Brand discusses what IVF and de-extinction have in common.

Debate Details

Don't Bring Extinct Creatures Back to Life

De-extinction describes the process of creating an organism which is a member of, or closely resembles, an extinct species. While this process was once a sci-fi fantasy explored in films like “Jurassic Park,” recent biological and technological breakthroughs indicate that reviving extinct creatures, like the passenger pigeon and the woolly mammoth, could become a reality. De-extinction’s proponents argue that the benefits are many, including correcting mistakes of the past by bringing back extinct ecosystems and organisms and helping to curb climate change. They remind us that all scientific breakthroughs are initially met with skepticism and concern, most of which we now take for granted. But others aren’t so sure de-extinction is ethical, or even feasible, since each creature poses its own unique challenge: Recreating a bird is a very different process from recreating a mammal. And beyond that, some say that the resources and funds necessary for de-extinction would compete with current and vital conservation efforts. After all, they argue, with over 16,000 endangered species on Earth, shouldn’t humans focus on saving them from extinction rather than “playing God?”

 

The Debaters

For the motion

Ross MacPhee

Dr. Ross MacPhee

Curator, Department of Mammalogy, Division of Vertebrate Zoology, American Museum of Natural History

Dr. Ross MacPhee is the former chairman of the Department of Mammalogy at the American Museum of Natural History, where he has been curator since... Read More

Dr. Lynn J. Rothschild

Dr. Lynn J. Rothschild

Evolutionary Biologist & Astrobiologist

Dr. Lynn Rothschild is an evolutionary biologist and astrobiologist who focuses on the origin and evolution of life on Earth, while at the same time... Read More

Against the motion

Stewart Brand

Stewart Brand

Co-Founder, Revive & Restore & Founder, Whole Earth Catalog

Stewart Brand is a futurist, environmentalist, and proponent of de-extinction who promotes the use of science to preserve the planet. He is the co-founder... Read More

George Church

Dr. George Church

Professor of Genetics, Harvard and MIT & Founder, Personal Genome Project

Dr. George Church is a geneticist and molecular engineer who is working to revive the extinct woolly mammoth. He is the Robert Winthrop professor... Read More

Where Do You Stand?

For The Motion
  • The risks of reintroducing lost creatures –including unknown ancient pathogens, disruptions in ecosystems, and geopolitical conflict – outweigh the potential benefits to climate change.
  • The use of CRISPR gene-editing technology to recreate extinct creatures, or using live animals as surrogates, represents a radical departure from traditional conservation practices. 
  • It is unethical to bring back extinct animals when their ecosystem no longer exists. Further, skeptics allege de-extinction poses a moral hazard that trivializes death and allows humans to “play God.”
Against The Motion
  • Reintroducing megafauna, such as the woolly mammoth, could help reduce the impact of climate change in regions like the Arctic and rebuild the biodiversity that humans have destroyed.
  • De-extinction is the next logical step in conservation science; humans have been engaging in the evolutionary process for millennia. 
  • Humans are largely responsible for recent animal extinctions and, as stewards of the Earth, have a moral responsibility to bring back what was lost.

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The Research

The Research

25 animals that scientists want to bring back from extinction

Lindsay Dodgson
January 20, 2017

"Over the millennia, animals have gone extinct on Earth for many different reasons. Sometimes it’s because of a dramatic shift in the climate. Other times it was because of human intervention."

3 Reasons Why It’s a Good Idea to Resurrect a Species

Abby Norman
March 1, 2018
"Why should we spend time and resources to bring back species when so many are dying now?"

‘De-Extinction’ Is a Bad Idea Because We Can’t Even Take Care of What We’ve Got

Farnia Fekri
February 27, 2017
"Bringing extinct animals back from the dead could hurt existing species, says a new report."
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