Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Darwin's helpers

Tibor R. Machan

My familiarity with Charles Darwin's theory of natural selection as the driving force of biological evolution on earth comes mainly from some colleges courses I took many moons ago and my reading of certain recent books focusing on the controversy about whether Darwin's work is theoretically adequate for its purpose. In short, I am no expert. However, I do not doubt that creationism is no substitute since that view accounts for the same phenomena by way of a first big cause--God or some other creator--which then would need to be explained by some other creator, ad infinitum. And that has its own theoretical difficulties.

There are some matters, though, that Darwinians seem not to have dealt with satisfactorily, no doubt--theories like these which have so many aspects and cover so much territory, can always use updating, modification, improvement, etc., in light of new discoveries. Indeed, no such theory is ever complete, not until the end of the world arrives and nothing new will be forthcoming that will need to be integrated with it. That will be, as the saying goes, the end of the day when we can close the book for good. But until then it needs to be kept open.

I am curious, however, about how Darwinian evolutionary theory, even its most up to date version, squares with the efforts of many people to interfere with what they consider the natural world or, what I call, the wilds. If evolutionary theory is sound and natural selection drives all the living world, how would it work for people to interfere--say, by preserving endangered species or refurbishing meadows in the Scottish Highlands (where periodically old grass is replaced by people with new grass that's been cultivated by human beings for that purpose) or conservation or finding cures for maladies caused by viruses? Would such measures taken by people themselves amount to features of natural selection? But then wouldn't zoos and wildlife parks and keeping pets and, indeed, whatever happens by dint of what people do in the world count, also, as aspects of natural selection? Wouldn't it also mean that anything that happens is a feature of that process, be it untouched by people or a function of their intervention? People being part of the world interact with the rest of the world and by Darwin's account would need to be included in the evolutionary process whatever the result. If people wipe out whales, for example, well then that's natural selection. If they preserve the bald eagle, that too fits. Natural selection is what drives it all, so complaining about the loss of this species or another or cheering the recovery of another is like complaining about or rooting for some planetary motion or the shape of a galaxy.

I have asked around among friends who champion a strong Darwinian position, one that's supposed to take care of all the nooks and crannies of how the living world works, and I never find their answers very satisfactory. It is especially odd, for my money, that environmentalists fret and fuss about what happens, stuff they dislike, stuff they want to improve upon. What is going on here? Sure, whether the sun shines or not can be pleasing or not but certainly it has to be what it is, no one can be blamed, no laments make any sense, none that imply that things ought to go some other way.

Indeed, is criticism of human interference, the kind that supposedly causes global warming or climate change--or whatever the last term is that is used, by which human beings are roundly indicted for mishandling the wilds--even intelligible? Can one meaningfully criticize what has to be and cannot be otherwise?

Just thought I'd ask because some of this simply fails to hang together coherently and folks might like to think about that, especially when certain people, say Al Gore, tear into them--including into their businesses and corporations--so vehemently for doing what they shouldn't--or not doing what they should--be doing. But if it is all que sera, sera, as strong Darwinians argue, how could this kind of chiding make any sense at all--like chiding folks for how tall they are, their skin color or where they were born.

Go figure.

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