Evolution and Environmentalism

Kermit Duncan jodunca2 at vt.edu
Tue Sep 2 16:31:49 EST 1997


Some parts of this post are very true, but I have a few problems with some...

Dylan Nicholson wrote:

<Snipped the stories>

> Mankind is indeed ruthlessly destroying its competitors in an
> effort to survive best, just as its genes are programmed to do, and just as
> those in other species are.

As far as I know, no evidence has been found to suggest that the intentional
destruction of another species is natural.  Our genes are not programmed to
destroy anything.  No animal's genes are programmed to destroy anything,
especially other species.  I think you may not understand how and why natural
selection works.  It weeds out the particularly weak/poorly-adapted species, it
doesn't destroy all but the most powerful, in other words, it contributes to
biodiversity.

> It is almost unquestionable that if this does
> continue, this perfectly natural process, then the ultimate outcome will be
> the complete extinction of all other species, mankind being the final
> victor in the survival race.

This is not a "natural" process.  Among other things, it is a result of
"civilized" man's delusion that he owns the world and *must* do with it what he
wishes.  Do so-called "primitive" cultures, untouched by the "modern world" run
into these environmental problems?  Do they contribute to the extinction of
species in a comparable scale as we do?  As far as I know, environmental
destruction (not manipulation, as in beavers, etc.) is a behavior restricted to
modern human society.  If I am mistaken, would someone please inform me?  I
also disagree with your calling survival a race, it is not a competition in the
usual sense.  Yes animals compete against each other for food and other
resources, but they do not hunt or attack their competitors just to get them
out of the way.

> So why it is that so many of us are unhappy with this prospect, and indeed
> the current move down this path? No answer is obvious, but it seems likely
> that it is a mixture of reaction to the mistakes we have made that have
> rebounded on us horribly, and the fact that many, if not most people are
> capable of being moved by nature, appreciating its intrinsic beauty, even
> parts of it that make no, or even negative contributions to our survival
> chances.

Nature and its beauty do not have a negative effect on our survival.  If they
do have a negative effect, it is on our expansion, an unnecessary and
destructive process in itself.

> These are both selfish reasons not to destroy other species, but
> they should be sufficient, provided we are prepared to interrupt nature.

They are good reasons.  Living that way promotes diversity and mental health,
both good for survival.  Many people I have known/met do not fully understand
the importance of diversity.  In any system, the more species (or sources of
food) available to an animal, the better.  We do not live this way because we
simply think, "the more food, the better."  Which is better: an army of 10000
identical foot soldiers or an army of 10000 soldiers, each specialized to their
own fields?  A variety of meals or the same thing, every day?  My point is that
a variety of food sources is a very good thing.  It doesn't harm our survival,
it helps insure it against almost any kind of disaster because it would take a
very devastating event to destroy the entire food chain (such an event has
never happened on this planet.  Proof: we're here).  Biodiversity is a very
good thing for the entire ecosystem.

> Because this is what it will take to stop the process which evolution is
> all about, and mankind is only another species trying to survive the best
> it can. But it is a special species, capable of uncountable things no other
> species comes close to, and the ability to appreciate other lifeforms for
> their own sake is quite possibly the sole thing that will help us go
> against natural law.

Though I might have implied it earlier, I'll say it more clearly now:  Our
problem isn't that nature's laws are destructive, it's that we ignore nature's
laws because we think that we are above all other animals and the laws they
MUST live by.  If you think about it, I find it apparent that as a society we
are boldly/stupidly ignoring the goals and rules of evolution.  We use medicine
and technology to make people with genetic diseases, defects, or deficiencies
as capable as anyone of living a "normal" life, having kids, and passing their
genes on to more generations.  We also treat almost every little cold and
infection with chemicals that take care of what our immune system is supposed
to do.  As a society we believe that man is the greatest species possible and
evolution has no where to go, so we don't try to give it a chance.

> Evolution has no morals, no rightness to it, not
> really even any inevitably. If people are happier when they have the beauty
> of other species to appreciate, even if it slightly lessens our survival
> prospects, then perhaps there is a good reason to halt the destruction of
> other species. At the present moment, there still is another definite
> reason, which is simply that we cannot quite afford to live without them 
> although it is perfectly chemically viable to manufacture food from raw
> non-living materials, we cannot do it has efficiently and effectively as
> other species (especially plants), and will still need other species to
> provide materials for shelter and to help hold together the soil that we
> stand on. Incidents of crop die-out, timber shortages and soil erosion even
> in urban areas are sufficient evidence for this.
>

Just to make it clear, evolution/nature does not promote the active destruction
of other species, it passively removes or changes the species who do not work
well.

> But in accepting this, environmentalists must accept that environmentalism
> is not natural, and that preserving other species for their own sake is a
> contradiction of any species' natural behaviour.
>

Not at all.  For one thing, we aren't preserving other species for their own
sake, we do it because it greatly improves the entire ecosystem's chance of
survival.  You might as well say that the environment is not natural and that
the variety of species on earth is some tragic freak of natural law.  This is
obviously not true.  Diversity exists because it is supposed to.  Why would it
take billions of years of evolution to finally come up with one species (us)
that is natural (using your definition of natural: destroy other species to
survive)?  According to your arguement, Nature isn't natural.

> I have tried to write this objectively without giving away too much on what
> I believe myself, but, for the reader's interest, I will outline my own
> feelings on the matter:
>
> Mankind has evolved by natural selection, and therefore is basically
> programmed to do what it can to survive. At this point of course most
> creationists will part with me, and probably see little point in my whole
> argument.
> Evolution is not morally right or wrong, and there is nothing wrong with
> going against it, given that we have been gifted with the ability to make
> that choice, but provided we don't make ourselves extinct in the process,
> which would be pointless (contrary to the beliefs of some radical
> ecologists, who perhaps constitute a strong form of evidence against
> evolution, but also against creationists!).

There is much more to the theory of evolution than natural selection, and most
creationist-biologists agree that natural selection does occur.  Saying that
evolution is not good or bad is like saying that it has no point and has not
helped any species at all throughout the history of life.  I doubt that you
agree with what you are saying when it's viewed in this light.  Also, saying
that it is okay to "go against" evolution is a poor idea all around.  You seem
to believe that evolution put us here the way we are.  Why should we turn on it
now?

> I would not like to live in a world with no forests, no bushland, no birds,
> no animals, even with no annoying insects or disease, and even if we as
> humans needed none of these things to survive.

We do.

> Furthermore, I would not
> like to think my children might live in such a world.
> Mankind would be better off in potentially smaller numbers but each member
> happier. Evolution does not encourage happiness of individual species. If
> we want it, we must achieve it for ourselves.
>

Evolution has nothing to do with happiness.  Nature as a whole, of which
evolution is a part, does contribute heavily to happiness and a sense of
meaning and worth, just learn about the lack of mental illness and depression
in primitive cultures.

> I hope something in the above makes you think about your own position, and
> I'd certainly love to hear any opinions you have. All of the above was
> really little more than a flash of inspiration while riding home from uni
> (my little bit towards preserving other species) and I'm not even sure how
> I really feel about it myself yet!
>
> Happy thinking,
> Dylan

I enjoyed it immensely.  I'd like to keep this discussion going and I invite
anyone with something to say to write.

Kermit Duncan




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