Thursday, October 01, 2009

Divine Plan, Divine Play or Natural Selection?

The birds out here in the Arizona desert are suicidal. There's a huge expanse of desert to fly in unobstructed and lots of room to maneuver and move but when the birds here get startled along the side of the road it seems like they invariably fly right in front of the car instead of the other way around. We usually don't hit them -- maybe they're just daredevils -- but the other day we did. The bird hit the windshield dead in the center while we were going 50 miles an hour. Splat! Feathers everywhere. We were quite upset and a much earlier me would have wailed about the insensitivity of the modern world and that such thing.

Not anymore. When you live somewhere with tarantulas and tarantula hawks you start to wonder about man's insensitivity to nature and whether nature has any true human-like sensitivity to itself. I can't bear to report on what tarantula hawks do to tarantulas. You will have to satisfy your own curiosity but, suffice it to say, that Stephen King could not have invented a more horrifying scenario.

Last night we watched an especially funny version of "The Colbert Report" and got a kick out of Stephen Colbert challenging a well-known Darwinian scientist in a duel of brain and wit. Colbert was making the case for God and a divine plan while the scientist, understandably, was arguing for Darwin's theory of evolution of random traits and the survival of the fittest.

Paul and I think it could be both. As Paul puts it, a zebra is essentially a horse with stripes. Why stripes? And don't say it's better camouflage. Why don't horses have stripes? They have predators like mountain lions in their natural habitats, too. And why have so much diversity in animal and plant life? What is the purpose of a parrot's brightly colored plumage? Camouflage? Why do hummingbirds have red throats? Why do tigers have stripes and leopards spots? Why do lions who live in similar environments have few such distinctive markings at all? To Paul it looks like some divine being is having fun!

It may not all be divinely planned. Some of nature's experiments don't appear to work out very long. Survival of the fittest does appear to play a part. And I'd have a hard time saying that evolution doesn't exist. And yet it reminds me of the old nature vs nurture debate that has raged on for years within behavioral psychology circles. Who says it can't or shouldn't be both?


Bunnyslippers said...

The diversity of animal and plant species makes a stronger argument for random creation than it does for the existence of divine creation. If you believe we were formed by a random combining of elements, it's easy to imagine that the randomness would result in many, many different lifeforms. Some would die out because they were not compatible with the others, others would live because they were.

The theory that we were created by a divine being holds that God had some purpose for us. If there was a purpose, why not just make one lifeform that was self-sustainable and leave it at that? Why bother to create so many species? Unless, of course, he was doodling out of boredom. But boredom and purposelessness doesn't fit with religious notions of God, so the theory is that all lifeforms serve a purpose. Yet many are not sentient beings that can worship God or make choices, so the only purpose they seem to serve is to sustain other lifeforms. Again, why bother? Why not make the beings who have volition self-sustainable?

So, to my mind, the vast variety of species seems to make a better case for randomness.

Sheryl Karas said...

Nihilists unite?


Bunnyslippers said...

I'm much too worshipful of nature and beauty to identify with nihilism.