The Idle Theory of Evolution
In some ways, the Idle Theory of evolution is an attack on Charles Darwin, and, to a lesser extent, Thomas Malthus.
My objection to Darwin was not to the idea of evolution, not even to Darwin's idea of natural selection, but rather to Darwin's "war of nature". As Darwin somehow managed to see the natural world of plants and animals, it appeared to him as an endless battle of everything against everything else. But, in Darwin's Origin, this doctrine of a Struggle for Existence is not developed by patient argument, but appears as a full blown doctrine, and furthermore the doctrine of Malthus.
So to understand Darwin, you must read Malthus' Essay on Population. It was from this essay that both Darwin and Wallace said that they took their inspiration. And this is not really very surprising, because the subsequent Darwinian theory of evolution is present in embryonic form in Malthus' essay, in its occasional observations on the natural world. Yet the "struggle for existence" is absent in Malthus. As human populations rise, Malthus said, men had to work harder, not compete in ferocious battles.
So Darwin's Struggle for Existence is a misrepresentation of Malthus. Darwin puts words into Malthus' mouth, and calls them "the doctrine of Malthus". Darwin's Origin is underpinned by a fraud. And much of the argument in Origin is framed in leading terms. Thus the creatures of Darwin's imagination "kill", "murder", "march", and "enslave". Origin would do well to have the incidence of such words counted and displayed graphically. [See Darwin's Use of Language]
Darwin is usually portrayed as a kindly old country gentleman with a passion for barnacles. But as I read Origin he came to seem to me to be a political philosopher. After all, implicit in Origin is the notion that mankind is also one of the creatures that has been subject to natural selection, and that the Struggle for Existence, the conflict of all against all, applied just as much in the human world as it did in nature. Darwin, therefore, was offering a justification of human war, human oppression, human murder, human slavery, and even human genocide. And he knew this quite well, as at least one letter of his testifies. But all this is left implied. It is for the reader of Origin to draw the implied conclusions. And they did. And Darwin is the godfather not just of Social Darwinism, but of Nazism.
The popularity of Origin, a book that ran through many editions, did not arise from a newly discovered interest in the natural world, but from an interest in the implicit political message.
Idle Theory, in many ways, is a Malthusian rather than Darwinian theory of evolution. In times of hardship, the creatures are obliged to work harder, not engage in some Darwinian struggle, one with the other. Working harder, in Idle Theory, means working longer. But there is a limit to how long a creature can work: it cannot work longer than all the time. Any creature that arrives at this point has reached the point of death. If living gets any harder, it must die. It follows from this that, given some population of creatures, some working hard to survive, others less so, it is the least hard-working, or the most idle, which will tend to survive periods of hardship.
Using this argument, Idle Theory proceeds to refute classical Darwinian dogmas. Fighting is hard work, and it is the creatures who avoid fighting that will tend to outlive their more pugnacious fellow creatures. It is the meek who inherit the earth.
And furthermore, since reproduction also entails work, it will tend to be the slowest reproducers who will gradually outnumber faster reproducers - in flat contradiction to the automatic assumption of most Darwinians that faster reproducing creatures will inevitably outnumber slower reproducing ones. And if slow reproduction is selected, the result will be stable populations.
And again, Idle Theory argues that it is through cooperation that the creatures largely increase their idleness, and that multicellular organisms are cooperatives of cells, and tribes are societies multicellular creatures.
Or again, Idle Theory points out that the most idle creatures, with time on their hands, are capable of behaving with perfect, disinterested altruism.
And so on. But although Idle Theory is a development of Malthus' ideas, it comes to conclusions that Malthus himself would probably have rejected. For Malthus thought that industry was much better than idleness, and saw the entire process of evolution (although he did not use this word) as one of making active and busy the inert clay. In this sense, Idle Theory uses Malthusian arguments to refute not only Darwin, but also Malthus himself.
Author: Chris Davis
Last edited: 17 Jan 2002