6.29.2011

"the concealed war of nature"

From a discussion about the widespread suffering of animals in nature, and what this might say about God:

I may be misunderstanding Darwin, but he seems to suggest that some good has come as a result of the "death, famine, rapine, and the concealed war of nature." And isn't that one of the tenets of evolutionary theory, that attacks and stresses on a species causes it to either become stronger or die out, with the result being "survival of the fittest," or a more highly evolved collection of species?

Your line about the "flourishing of the individual" makes me wonder. We humans think in terms of the individual and try to understand suffering in terms of the potential good of the individual sufferer. But doesn't this come from our beliefs about human beings, the eternal soul perhaps, the enduring identity and value of each individual? It seems to me that the rest of the natural world seems to operate more in terms of the value and preservation of the species, more like the flourishing of the whole rather than the flourishing of the individual. Isn't that what we have seen in our study of the natural world?

From that perspective, "bad things" happening in nature provide stresses on species that cause them to strengthen, evolve, or be displaced from ecosystems. Isn't this a good, for the whole?

As a parallel, I see it somewhat similarly to suffering in humans that is potentially a refining process. The stress or attack offers the opportunity for our strengthening or growth or purification, and of course we know of many people who claim that their endurance of great suffering contributed to their exemplary character and virtues. This isn't always the outcome of suffering, but doesn't it at least admit the possibility that suffering provides the occasion (perhaps even the necessary occasion) for our evolving into "higher animals"?


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