THIS year marks the bicentenary of the birth of the naturalist Charles Darwin and the passing of Norwegian philosopher and founder of deep ecology – Arne Næss.
In his seminal work, ‘On the Origin of Species’ Darwin challenged the Judeao-Christian tradition that humans were created in the image of God: “Then God said, Let us make man in our image … in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.”
Darwin explained that all species of life have evolved over time from common ancestors. This occurred through the process of natural selection whereby organisms most suited to their environment survive and reproduce and pass their advantages to their offspring.
“As many more individuals of each species are born than can possibly survive; and as, consequently, there is a frequently recurring struggle for existence, it follows that any being, if it vary however slightly in any manner profitable to itself, under the complex and sometimes varying conditions of life, will have a better chance of surviving, and thus be naturally selected. From the strong principle of inheritance, any selected variety will tend to propagate its new and modified form.”
Darwin’s theory of universal common descent based on evolutionary principles placed humankind as part of the tree of life rather than separate to it.
“There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.”
Arne Næss’s work also challenged the Judeao-Christian tradition and the anthropocentric (human-centred) view of the planet. In the book Genesis the first words God is alleged to have make to humankind were:
“Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”
Since then nature has been used commodity to be traded to meet human needs which has resulted in our current global ecological crisis. Næss believed that humans have no right to reduce the richness and diversity of nature except to meet vital needs.
He argued that every being, whether human, animal or vegetable has an equal right to live and to blossom. The well-being and flourishing of human and non-human life on Earth have value in themselves. These values are independent of the usefulness of the non-human world for human purposes. We should not see the world from the narrow viewpoint of ourselves but should see ourselves as part of an ecospheric whole. We should move from anthropocentric to an ecocentric view of the world.
Both Darwin and Næss show we are part of the diversity of life and cannot be separated from it. If we took a more ecocentric approach to policy making then perhaps we could appreciate the inherent value in life itself rather striving for an increasingly higher standard of living.
© Gary Haq 2009