This View of Life
The Significance of Evolutionary Theory for Environmental Ethics
Nothing is easier to admit in words than the truth of the universal struggle for
life, or more difficult—at least I have found it so—than constantly to bear this
conclusion in mind. Yet unless it be thoroughly engrained in the mind, the whole
economy of nature, with every fact on distribution, rarity, abundance, extinc-
tion, and variation, will be dimly seen or quite misunderstood.
—Charles Darwin, The Origin of Species
Evolutionary biologist Stephen Jay Gould has written that the "stumbling block" to widespread acceptance of Darwinism lies less in comprehending the scientific details of the theory than it does in the radical message of Darwinian science, namely, "its challenge to a set of entrenched Western attitudes that we are not yet ready to abandon."1 What exactly is this message? A significant part of it consists in the revelation that humans are not the center of creation—a message that is as simple as it is difficult to grasp. Another disturbing feature of the Darwinian message is that nature operates according to processes that seem wasteful and cruel, mechanisms that cannot easily be attributed to a benevolent creator, that defy explanation in terms of intelligent design.2 Struggle and suffering are integral to evolution by natural selection—a point that even Darwin found difficult to keep firmly in mind.
The lack of design in nature is a favorite theme of some evolutionary biologists: the best evidence for evolution is not the perfecdy formed eye or wing but the parts that are useless, odd, clumsy, and incongruous, such as rudimentary organs that serve no present function. Perfect adaptation is a better argument for creationism than evolution, which takes the circuitous route to adaptation, imperfectly modifying the existing parts and leaving in its path the "senseless signs of history" that are the hallmark of natural selection.3