6 Mar 2008, 4:13pm
Federal forest policy
by admin

A Digression on Darwin, Wilderness, and the Balance of Nature

Note: much of this essay is cribbed from an earlier one that appeared on SOS Forests last Equinox, September 21st, 2007.

The debate between evolutionists and creationists has been going on ever since Charles Darwin published his 1859 tome, On the Origin of Species. It has been a rancorous debate, with Monkey Trials, walking fish bumper stickers, and irreconcilable differences that have been erupting for nearly 150 years.

The evolution/creationism debate is often characterized as one with scientists on one side and religious fundamentalists, or Fundies, on the other. The insulting appellation reflects the animosity in the dialog.

There is another, similar debate going on that pits Fundies against Darwinists. It is the debate about Wilderness and the Balance of Nature. The Fundies in this case often describe themselves as Pagan or Atheist Fundamentalists. And many scientists (so-called) have planted themselves squarely in the Pagan Fundie garden.

The Pagan Fundies maintains that Wilderness is the historical and appropriate condition of Nature in Harmony and Balance. This is a matter of religious faith, although modern Paganism is mostly an unofficial religion these days. Modern Pagans believe that God, in the personage of Mother Nature, created and desires a natural world where human beings are absent or a minor, irrelevant species at most, and that Mother Nature seeks balance.

The best science, on the other hand, has revealed that our terrestrial landscapes have been profoundly altered by humanity since our species first evolved in Africa approximately 150,000 years ago. Human beings created vast savannas in Africa via anthropogenic fire. Then about 50,000 year ago humanity migrated eastward through the Indian sub-continent to Southeast Asia and Australia, again altering the vegetation and animal populations along the way.

At some point during the Wisconsin glaciation, no less than 13,500 years ago and possibly before then, human beings migrated to the Americas. The first arrivals swept across the New World (and it really was new then, to people) in a matter of a few centuries. They brought tamed fire with them, and burned landscapes from the sub-Arctic to Tierra del Fuego. They hunted the easy-prey megafauna and drove a few dozen mammalian species to extinction.

Then humanity took up permanent residence. For the last 10,000 years at least, people have been residing everywhere in North and South America. And those tribes and nations, without exception, changed the plant and animal assemblages to suit human survival.

Or so the empirical evidence strongly suggests. The Pagan Fundies believe that humanity had no impact of consequence on the natural world. They believe in and espouse the pristine, untrammeled, human-absent viewpoint. They celebrate great Wildernesses, like the Amazon and the North American West, which are in fact NOT wildernesses nor have they been for 10,000 years or more.

The Wilderness Fundies even got their dogma written into law. The Wilderness Act of 1964 (Public Law 88-577) decrees that wilderness is an area of land “untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain… retaining its primeval character and influence… and which… generally appears to have been affected primarily by the forces of nature, with the imprint of man’s work substantially unnoticeable.”

By Government decree, the history of our landscapes has been mythologized. Those scientists who notice the imprint of man are perforce criminals, and the Fundie Wilderness Religion rules over and displaces rational empiricism.

Pagan Fundie “scientists” also ascribe and adhere to the myth of the Balance of Nature and various deterministic processes, such as forest succession, that do not actually occur in the real world. For instance, a recent discussion of jackrabbits in Yellowstone proffered the notion that if there were more jackrabbits, the coyotes wouldn’t eat antelope fawns, and that would be good for the antelopes, although the wolves might eat them, especially if the wolves ate all the elk and bison. The implied notion is that there is some sort of balance to be struck between all those predators and prey, and if we left Mother Nature alone, then She would achieve “blessed” equilibrium.

At this point I must backtrack and state that Pagan Fundies sometimes profess themselves to be Christians. As a Christian myself, I must also confess that it is a wide open mega-religion, and all kinds of odd and conflicting theologies have arisen within that Big Tent. I have no problem reconciling Darwinism with Christianity, but many do.

But the truth is the truth, regardless of dogma, myth, and/or religious fundamentalism. Our landscapes are artifacts of human stewardship, from seashore to mountain tops. Nature is a struggle for survival, not a clockwork mega-organism. The Wilderness Fundies are wrong. The Natural Balance Fundies are wrong. The US Congress, insofar as it has incorporated religious myth into law, is wrong. The few courageous scientists with a grasp of reality are right.

The loud evolution/creationism conflict creates a lively debate, but little of consequence results. On the other hand, the intended and unintended consequences of the (nearly silent) human influences/wilderness debate has engendered massive megafires, millions of acres of smoking wastelands, and trillions of dollars worth of resource damages, as well as loss of lives.

The blame for this huge destruction can be laid squarely at the feet of the Wilderness/Balance/Eco Fundies. Their twisted, a-scientific (nescient) dogma of No Touch, Let It Burn, Watch It Rot is wiping out human history as well as entire ecosystems. Their promotion of killer predators is decimating wildlife populations and threatening human inhabitants. The W/B/E Fundies are swimming in denial, and nowadays celebrate forest holocaust as “healthful” and wolves in schoolyards as “balance.”

The time has come (indeed the hour is late) for rational, empirical, science-minded, responsible people to throw out the dogma of the W/B/E Fundies. Their Dark Ages superstitions are destroying our landscapes and doing irredeemable harm to plants, animals, and people.

Religious fundamentalism is wrecking our country. I speak not of fundamentalists of established religions, but of the fanatics who adhere to false gods and myths about the workings of nature.

The light must come on. Rational people must stand up and be heard. Reject the destructive myths. Adhere to the scientific truths instead.

It is the Truth, after all, which sets us free.

6 Mar 2008, 9:54pm
by Mike

For a real world example of the clash between empirical environmental science using historical ecological evidence and the pre-Darwinian myths of W/B/E fundamentalism, see:




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