Life Plays the Lottery
One obvious argument against the existence of a balance of nature, at least as such a balance implies purpose and teleology, is the reality of just plain luck. Good or bad, it doesn't matter. Especially when luck changes the world.
Luck is not a very scientific term but it comes close to one that is, the word “stochastic,” meaning nondeterministic. If evolutionaltering events are stochastic in nature, then patterns of extinction and speciation (at least some of them, maybe many) may have little to do with anything other than “dumb luck.” This reality does not reduce the importance of natural selection. Indeed, natural selection is stimulated in such situations, as it is in such situations that new species evolve.
While I was writing this chapter the local television news reported that a convicted multiple sex offender had just won 15 million dollars in the Massachusetts State Lottery. The story, not surprisingly, focused on how intrinsically “unfair” it is for someone who has committed vile acts against society to now reap an immense reward merely by purchasing a scratch ticket. That's luck for you. Think of all the decent, deserving, law-abiding folks who bought lottery tickets in that game. And who won? The sex offender. There is, of course, no connection between one's social history, one's criminal record, and one's probability of winning a state lottery. Thanks to a small act, purchasing a lottery ticket, and unusually good luck in a fully stochastic game, Massachusetts now has a multimillionaire multiple sex offender.
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Publication information: Book title: The Balance of Nature: Ecology's Enduring Myth. Contributors: John Kricher - Author. Publisher: Princeton University Press. Place of publication: Princeton, NJ. Publication year: 2009. Page number: 128.
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