Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Hanna On Irwin's Death

by Unknown

Steve Irwin, of Crocodile Hunter fame, was killed in an encounter with a sting ray's barb. The CNN coverage of his death includes this quote, from fellow "animal handler and conservationist" Jack Hanna:
People use the word dangerous and that sometimes is a word that's not fair to that animal because the animal has been given the defenses that God gave it, so you have to understand what all that is involved and if you understand that, hopefully nothing will happen.

I'm willing to chalk up the awkward sentence construction to the nature of the medium (spoken word) and the circumstances (death). But why does Hanna -- a self-described educator and conservationist -- evoke God to account for animals' defense mechanisms? Wouldn't a more plausible source be, say, evolution?
Why does the combination of spirituality and intelligence give rise to such hand-wringing? I know it's fashionable to believe that only stupid people who are worthy of no respect can believe in some mythical man in the clouds, but a great number of very intelligent people believe in God. And those who believe in God know enough not to limit His power. So, couldn't God give the stingray its sting?
G-d taketh Steve Irwin away by renaming the bounceray?

The first thing any diver near rays learns is that getting between them and food is Not A Good Idea.

In this case, Germaine Greer, with all respects to Waveflux, nailed it. For someone who Ran the Zoo, Irwin never showed much appreciation of the animals around him.
I'd almost be inclined to view "defenses that God gave it" as having the same theological content as the "God bless America" tagline for political speeches -- which is to say, none to speak of.

Certainly, Robert, an omnipotent God can by definition do whatever s/he likes. Implying the direct agency of an omnipotent God is troublesome, though, as it's hard to get around the implication that, as Ken says, God smote Steve Irwin for some inscrutable reason and left Osama bin Laden to roam the Afghan-Pakistani border region.

In the same way, I think Greer is wrong to imply that Irwin was the victim of "revenge" on the part of the animal world. The important agency seems to be Irwin's, and despite his experience, incidents like this one suggest he wasn't the world's most cautious naturalist:

"A 2004 controversy when he appeared on camera taking his one-month-old baby son with him to feed the crocodiles damaged his reputation for a while.

"'What I would do differently is I would make sure there were no cameras around,' he said later in a television interview. 'I will continue to educate my children and the children of the world so they don’t go into the water with crocs.'"

Riiight. Newborns take instruction so well.
I should have clarified my thoughts (and writing) better above. The reason Waveflux is so off base is that Germaine Greer is connotatively correct about the cause of Irwin's death: he treated the environment around him as if it were his, not something he was sharing with creatures who consider it their natural habitat—and have developed known defences accordingly.

That's why all the fuss strikes me as silly. Just before we went diving at Stingray City, I ran into an ex-roommate with a large welt on his forearm. "Stingray?" "Yep. Did something stupid."

You have to do something almost completely clueless to be attacked by a stingray through the chest: "shout[ing] in the ears of animals with hearing 10 times more acute than [his]" sums it up quite well.
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