The phrase ‘red in tooth and claw’ was coined in 1849 by Lord Tennyson, but quickly taken up to support the idea that evolution occurred by ‘natural selection’ in a very violent world.
Natural selection, it is claimed, is part and parcel of the living world where all organisms have to compete ruthlessly for food, those failing to do so being eliminated from the population and the ‘fit’ then surviving to breed further. The numbers of prey would, in the argument, fall to a critical mass so that the predators would also experience a very precarious existence.
But there is a serious misconception here in the way animals and plants actually behave in the wild. A new book by Lee Spetner’s, ‘The Evolution Revolution’, has the following information, under the title ‘Another failed Darwinist argument’:
“Darwin suggested that living things strongly compete when their numbers rise to exceed their resources. This competition, according to him, leads to a natural selection of the most fit. Darwin got this idea from Thomas Malthus (1798), who was concerned about the human population eventually outstripping the food supply. Darwin applied this to animals and derived from it his theory of natural selection. If the Malthusian speculation were true about animals, we should see animals living under miserable conditions and always on the verge of starvation. Under conditions such as these, only the hardiest individuals would survive and procreate. But here Darwin was wrong.”
Richard Dawkins tried to fashion this discussion into an argument for evolution. His argument was that a Creator would have planned the ecosystems “with the welfare of the whole community of wild animals at heart.” Under the Darwinian paradigm, however, the individual animals would have evolved through natural selection to be concerned only with themselves and their progeny. Predators would tend to overhunt their prey, rather than be “prudent predators the way humans try to preserve their resources for the future (although we are not entirely successful) by passing conservation laws and limiting hunting and fishing. He writes:
“… shouldn’t we expect wild predators, like wolves or lions, to be prudent predators too? The answer is no. No. No. No” (Dawkins, The Greatest Show On Earth: The Evidence For Evolution’)
His argument is that this is what a Creator would be expected to do, but evolution, he claims, works otherwise.
Living within their resources
Dawkins got his theology right, because that seems to be exactly what the Creator did! But this time Dawkins’s biology is wrong. Predators do not generally overexploit their resources.
In a restricted area such as an island, wolves limit their population size when the deer population goes down. In general, wolf and deer populations have an equilibrium toward which they tend. The wolves do not overexploit the deer population and drive it to extinction, but instead they limit their own population to ensure that the deer continue to serve as food for future wolf generations. They live, so to speak, only on the income from their resources and preserve the principal for posterity.
If animals behaved the way Dawkins tells it, they would be living a miserable existence. But the fact is that they usually live well. Animal populations are generally kept in check not by extrinsic forces such as mass starvation or disease, but by intrinsic controls built into the animals themselves. This phenomenon may be surprising and even amazing to most people, but biologists studying animals in the wild have reported this kind of control operating in a variety of populations.
Plants also do not proliferate in a field to the point where they become overcrowded. They do not engage in a “struggle for existence” for natural selection to preserve those that pass the survival test and destroy those that don’t. Plants tend to control their populations by sensing the density of the planting. When the growth is dense, plants produce less seeds; when growth is thin, they produce more seeds.
Both plants and animals have built-in programs for avoiding overexploitation of their resources – something we humans must do by legislation.
So ‘nature’ may seem to be violent at times – ‘red in tooth and claw’ – but not to the level required required by the theory of evolution. Population sizes of both animals and plants appear to be self-regulating, matching available resources. Evidence, surely, of intelligent design?