Our Failure to Understand the Conditions of Life

There are two sources of evil in the world in which we live: one is human, which includes crimes such as war, murder, rape, theft, torture, arson, invasion, slavery, and the wilful destruction of property, while the other is natural, consisting of events such as predation, disease, famine, injury, and natural disasters. In this essay, I will only consider the second of these two sources of evil, as the first has been discussed in various parts of The Theory of Imitation.

It is curious how unwilling are some human beings, including those who are religious, to take complete responsibility for each and every one of the actions they commit. Some people, when they are caught performing a bad action, declare, “The devil made me do it!” Historically, the devil, or some other evil spirit, has been the feared or despised culprit for much of the harm that human beings have committed, along with the cause of the many harms and injustices to which we are subject in this occasional vale of tears that is earthly existence.

Such simplistic attributions demonstrate a failure to understand what I will call the Conditions of Human Existence and of Life in General: because all Life is finite and mortal, it depends on, and therefore must consume, other life forms in order to survive. Moreover, because no living organism is invincible or immortal, it is subject to injury, disease, and sickness – and may die – at any time. Provided it lives long enough, every living creature will grow old, while suffering a decline in its physical capabilities, and it will eventually die so that other creatures, and not just human beings, can have the chance to experience this marvelous thing called Life. Without exception, these are the stringent unwritten conditions that apply to every single organism that has been, is, and will be born on this planet.

What this means for humans is that, although you may consume other organisms, both plant and animal, in order to survive and beget children, other organisms may also consume you so that they too can survive and beget offspring or multiply their kind. We call it evil when another animal or microbe manages to kill and consume some of our kind, and yet, we do not consider it evil when we kill and consume other animals or eradicate disease-causing microbes. But seen from the non-human perspective of the Creator, what is the difference? Diseases were created by God for a good reason: to keep the populations of all species in check and thereby prevent any one of them from becoming too numerous, as humans have become in recent times, when they have become the greatest living scourge that this planet has witnessed during its very long history. Hence, to call diseases evil, and thus an indictment of God, shows just how limited and faulty is our understanding of God’s ways.

Seen from the Creator’s perspective, which is very different from our limited and narrow human perspective, one would want all kinds of life to flourish and continue to exist; and the only way this can happen is if they periodically consume the members of other species. This is the harmonious situation that existed prior to our recent disastrous rise to global dominance. Although all predators consume their prey, apart from humans, there are no predators that threaten the survival of the species they consume or cause their extinction. The lion, wolf, shark, eagle, bear, seal, crocodile, tuna, snake, and whale only take from the various species they consume what they need in order to survive and perpetuate their kind. It is only we humans who, caring only about our own kind, seek to exempt ourselves from these fundamental Conditions of Life. What is more, we foolishly believe that, by doing so, we have demonstrated our manifest superiority over all other life forms, when in fact the opposite is true.

If human beings were to design the ideal planet, they would almost certainly eliminate violent natural events like earthquakes, tsunamis, hurricanes, tornadoes, volcanic eruptions, and the like, all of which have caused, and will continue to cause, the deaths of many organisms, including humans.[1] They would probably eliminate all those creatures that occasionally attack or feed on human beings, including wolves, sharks, mosquitoes, spiders, and the unjustly maligned snakes,[2] along with the many different creatures which they find annoying or repulsive, such as cockroaches, rats, mice, ants, mites, flies, lice, worms, centipedes, millipedes, and fleas. Moreover, they would also eliminate war, famine, and all human diseases, thinking that the elimination of these methods of human population control would be an unmitigated boon to our kind. Although we have not been able to do much about the first kind of “evils” that afflict human beings, meaning natural disasters, we have made significant “progress” against the second and third kinds. It is not at all surprising that the elimination or mitigation of these biological methods of population control – predation, war, famine, and disease – has produced a human population explosion that increasingly threatens all life forms on Earth. What is remarkable about this threat is how quickly it has become a catastrophic problem for all of the world’s inhabitants, both human and non-human, for this change from the very ancient balance that existed prior to the present alarming and ever-greater imbalance produced by humanity’s collective dominance has occurred in the period of only a few centuries.

There are very good reasons – reasons that we stupid humans fail to understand – why a survival rate of close to 100% does not exist anywhere in Nature. The harmonious balance that existed prior to our disastrous period of dominance is predicated on individual survival rates of less than 50%, and in most cases survival rates that are much, much lower than this. Regardless of which species you consider, if close to 100% of all individuals that are born were to survive long enough to produce offspring, while they live longer and longer lives, both of which conditions are true of humans presently, this would have disastrous effects on the ecosystem in which that species lives.

In 1991 and 1994, there were two attempts made to create a completely enclosed, self-sustaining natural environment that could support human life, with an adequate and varied diet, clean water, and sufficient oxygen, for indefinite periods of time. This project was pompously called Biosphere 2, Biosphere 1 being the Earth. I suppose that its creators and funders considered it as an important step in the eventual colonization of other planets in the Universe, beginning with Mars or the Moon. It is instructive to study the results of this experiment, which was by and large a failure. During the first trial, which lasted exactly two years, oxygen levels declined precipitately, so that oxygen had to be pumped in to bring the level back to normal atmospheric levels; and many of the introduced plants and animals died off completely, while some grew unchecked, threatening the viability of this artificial miniature ecosystem.

What this shows is that the natural processes, both living and non-living, that support life on Earth and keep its many different systems in balance are far more complex than was previously believed. It is not enough simply to add fertile soil, water, air, plants to produce oxygen, organisms that we humans like to eat, and microorganisms to decompose the dead remains of plants and animals in order to produce a viable system that will remain in balance indefinitely, as the Earth’s many different systems have remained in balance for millions or billions of years.

Lying somewhere between these two extremes – the unimaginable complexity of real life, and the insufficiently complex and varied environment of Biosphere 2 – each individual’s “ideal world” would be less likely to succeed the fewer organisms it contains. By eliminating all those creatures that repel us or pose a threat to us, we would unwittingly endanger the long-term health and stability of this hypothetical “ideal” world of our creating.

In addition, there is a very large number of physical conditions that must be maintained within narrow bounds in order for Life to continue to exist. Contrary to the generally-accepted scientific view that Life appeared and evolved on Earth entirely by accident, the numerous conditions that are needed for Life to exist and thrive on the Earth cannot result, and furthermore, be maintained for a period of billions of years, by chance. These conditions must be preserved at all times, since otherwise there would develop greater and greater imbalances, which would result in the extinction of all Life on the planet.

We humans have a very peculiar Jekyll-and-Hyde attitude towards both other creatures and other human beings that is unique in the entire realm of living creatures. There is no other species of organisms that seeks to eradicate other life forms, merely because they displease them, the way we do. Similarly, until recently, it was considered entirely justified for the members of one group of people to seek to eradicate the members of another group, an attitude that has been the cause of the many wars that have occurred during our species’ bloody history. These contrasting attitudes, and the diametrically opposed behaviours that accompany them, are due entirely to admiration and contempt, the first of which seeks to preserve at all costs the things, people, and organisms that are dear to us, while the second seeks to destroy the things, people, and organisms that offend us.

Many of us fervently wish, and some of us even believe, that life could be designed so that those creatures, both human and non-human, that we cherish, which select group naturally includes ourselves, would never have to grow old, become sick, or die. As a result, many of these people are perplexed by or become angry with God because they fail to see the necessity for, or they simply refuse to accept, the Conditions of Life. My belief, however, is that any deviation from these Conditions, on a finite planet like the Earth, would either reduce the tremendous variety of life that exists or imperil its long-term survival.[3] It is the height of presumption to imagine that we stupid and selfish human beings – who, in the course of a few short centuries, have made a catastrophic mess of the planet with our many artificial inventions and discoveries, exploding population, and our constant efforts to exempt our species from the Conditions that formerly governed all forms of Life – could do a better job than the Creator.

The blunt truth that most of us fail to realize is that the more we seek to liberate ourselves from Nature and, more specifically, from the Conditions of Life, the lower and lower become our species’ prospects of survival in the long term. For only an adherence to these Conditions can ensure the long-term survival of any species. I suspect that, in the very long history of our planet, we are the first species whose members have been clever enough to liberate themselves from these Conditions. However, if we continue on our present disastrous course, a course that is born of our extreme arrogance, myopia, selfishness, and widespread indifference to the plight of most other living creatures, then it is highly probable that we will also be the last such species to inhabit the Earth.

We have failed to understand the Conditions of Life, believing such misleading Darwinian declarations as “it is a basic Law of Nature, visible everywhere there is life, that the strong inevitably consume the weak,” because we have looked at Life from the very narrow perspective of the individual or species, rather than from the broad perspective, which yields a very different picture. Clearly it is the latter, and not the former, which is closer to God’s perspective of things; and it is this mistaken perspective that explains why we have failed to understand God’s greater purposes in designing Life the way It has.

Without exception, every living organism is subject to the Conditions of Life. In other words, there are no guarantees in life – that one will be born healthy, that one will be adequately fed by one’s parents or find enough to eat, that one will grow up healthy and not be eaten, suffer injury, or become sick, that one will find a mate and produce healthy children who, in turn, will also live to have healthy children of their own, or that one will live a long and mostly pain-free life before one dies a peaceful death, after which one will spend the rest of eternity with the angels and seraphim in Heaven, blessed by God with eternal life for having led a good life here on Earth.

It is not our efforts to cheat death, since this is impossible, but rather our efforts to cheat the Conditions of Life that have caused such immense planetary havoc and destruction. So what does this make us? It makes us a bunch of evolutionary cheaters. If there is any justice in the world, then this massive collective human cheating will eventually be punished, and punished in a manner that will not at all be to our liking. If we truly were wise, deserving the lofty epithet homo sapiens that we have pompously bestowed on our kind, then we would recognize the great folly of what we are doing and change our ways before it is too late. But so far, we have instead done exactly the opposite, which shows just how stupid we really are.

Once people understand the necessity of respecting the Conditions of Life, they will see that the many natural acts and occurrences that we presently regard as “evil” are in reality integral parts of the ebb and flow that enable the greatest amount, and the widest possible variety, of life to thrive on the Earth. And then the spurious “Problem of Evil” will dissolve away, just like many of the other intellectual cobwebs that we humans are so fond of spinning and beguiling and ensnaring ourselves with.

It is not at all true that the Creator does not exist, that It is impotent, or that It is indifferent to our plight, as so many myopic humans have mistakenly concluded from the spurious Problem of Evil. Rather, the truth is that, unlike us selfish human beings, God cares about all of Its many different living creations, but without favouring any one in particular; and so It has, in Its infinitely greater wisdom, created and maintained an extremely complex system that enables the greatest possible variety of living creatures to thrive on this one small planet – a truly miraculous feat that we poor, ignorant, vain, selfish, deluded, and finite human beings would never be able to achieve, no matter how long our species remains on the Earth.

[1] Recent geological research suggests that these violent natural occurrences play an important role in the maintenance of life in the long term, as counted in thousands or millions of years, even though they may temporarily kill off life forms and disturb ecosystems in the short term. For instance, by circulating and bringing up from below the Earth’s surface elements that otherwise would be inaccessible, the movement of the continental plates, which is the cause of earthquakes, tsunamis, and some volcanic eruptions, may help to rejuvenate life and thus prevent it from stagnating or dying off. Moreover, by gradually bringing different species into contact with each other over long periods of time, the movement of the continents may enable new kinds and combinations of life to develop that probably would not have developed on a planet whose surface remained fixed and unmoving. Such cataclysmic events can be regarded as another of the many variables with which the Creator can adjust, modify, refashion, rejuvenate, and, when necessary, rescue from extinction the teeming living tableau that It has created on Earth.

[2] Considering that snakes have no limbs – no arms, legs, hands, feet, or claws with which they can grasp their prey or defend themselves or flee from their enemies – that they lack the sense of hearing, and many snakes have poor vision, it is not surprising that, to compensate for all these significant deficiencies, they have had to develop other means both to capture and incapacitate their prey, as well as defend themselves from predators. Hence, whereas in other animals, their weaponry is not concentrated in only one part of their body, in the case of snakes, it is primarily concentrated in their mouths, which accounts for what could be called their concentrated nastiness, and which, along with their strange, limbless reptilian forms, is the reason why so many people fear and dislike them.

[3] I fully realize that this statement places me on Leibnitz’s side against Voltaire in the debate about the world we live in being the best of all possible worlds. For me, this was an astonishing result, all the more so because it was completely unexpected, as I have been for many years a great admirer of Voltaire’s Candide, in which Voltaire hilariously satirizes Leibniz’s claim that we live in the best of all possible worlds.