One of the most important realizations the scientific giant Charles Robert Darwin made whilst exploring the natural world is that nature is in many ways a harsh and brutal place. At first glance, it looks peaceful and harmonious, with birds singing, insects buzzing, and rodents running about; however, upon closer inspection, it becomes clear that there’s a war going on beneath the surface. As part of this war, organisms fight for limited resources, kill and eat one another, and compete for potential mates. Basically, they struggle to survive and reproduce. It’s this struggle, often referred to as the struggle for existence, that forms the basis for natural selection.
Evolution is essentially a game of survival
If it weren’t for the struggle described above, evolution would be a very different game than the one we’re familiar with. The fact that there is a bloody battle going on means that there’s a constant pressure to adapt, so as to remain viable in the face of evolving competition. At every point in time, there’ll be some creatures that possess biological weaponry and defense systems that work better under the existing conditions of life than the arsenal that certain other life forms are equipped with.
These organisms are at an advantage in the struggle for existence, in the sense that they are more likely to survive and reproduce than organisms that score poorer on the chart depicting the current standings in the evolutionary arms race. Given that they are more likely to be successful at reproducing, perhaps getting many offspring, they are also more likely to pass on whatever heritable features they are equipped with. As a result, features that have proven to work well under the existing conditions of life perpetuate, whereas features that don’t work as well are weeded out. This is evolution via natural selection in a nutshell.
Ultimately, these features are produced by genes. Seeing as the biological instructions that organisms pass on to their offspring come in the form of genetic information, it’s these genes that survive (or fail to survive) through time. In other words, one could argue that evolution is a survival competition, in which elements of genetic information are stacked up against one another. Those genes that contribute to producing fit organisms are more likely to remain in existence over time than those genes that somehow undermine organismal fitness under the current conditions of life.
There’s beauty in the struggle
The fact that a somewhat brutal struggle is at the root of evolution has led some people, including many creationists, to perceive the evolutionary, Darwinian view of life as cold and bleak, inviting little love, compassion, or warmth. It’s easy to see where these people are coming from. With that being said, there’s arguably a kind of beauty in the struggle for existence. At the very least, the outcome of the struggle – a sense of natural equilibrium and a pleasing, bordering on divine, integration of organism and environment featuring magnificent biological adaptations of all colors, shapes, and sizes – can be said to be beautiful.
Furthermore, it’s important to recognize that evolution is as much about cooperation and kinship as it is about conflict. Many organisms maintain tight, friendly bonds with other life forms in which there is exchange of services. Both parties benefit from such mutually beneficial agreements; hence, this aspect of life by no means conflict with the idea that evolution is a game of survival in which it pays to look after one’s own interests; however, it certainly shows a different, less hostile side to evolution.
- The beauty of nature disguises its brutality
- When viewed under Darwinian light, the true nature of nature is revealed
- The struggle for existence engenders natural selection
- There’s a sort of elegance and balance to Darwinian evolution