In his 1858 letter to Darwin, Alfred Russel Wallace outlined a theory of evolution in which it was principally those organisms which were best able to procure a supply of food that would survive and flourish.
...that those which are best adapted to obtain a regular supply of food, and to defend themselves against the attacks of their enemies and the vicissitudes of the seasons must necessarily obtain and preserve a superiority in population; while those species which from some defect of power or organization are the least capable of counteracting the vicissitudes of food supply, &c., must diminish in numbers, and, in extreme cases, become altogether extinct.
The Idle Theory of Evolution is best described as a new expression of Wallace's account of evolution. Idle life forms are essentially those which are able to easily acquire food, while busy life forms are those which have difficulty. Idle Theory also follows Wallace in denying that high reproductive rates act to increase populations.
Entirely absent from Wallace's 1858 description of evolution, and from Idle Theory, is any notion of the competitive and exterminatory 'war of nature' with which Darwin opened his 1858 joint paper with Wallace, and which subsequently re-appeared in Darwin's 1859 Origin of Species. In Idle Theory, the natural world is not engaged in warfare, but is simply either relatively busy or idle as it works to acquire food energy. Indeed, instead of being at war, in idle times the natural world is at play. And a playful natural world is also one in which entirely altruistic behaviour becomes possible.
Thus Idle Theory completely rejects Darwin's 'war of nature' - a war for which Darwin offered no rational explanation, but only dogmatic assertions. If the natural world is regularly portrayed as a combat zone, it is entirely due to Darwin. And if Darwin's exterminatory war of nature subsequently spilled into human life, it is again in large measure due to Darwin's enduring influence.
It is to be hoped that one day that Darwin will be dethroned from his present pre-eminent tole as founder of the Theory of Evolution, and be reduced to the role of being one of the contributors to its development, or, more accurately, one of the principal causes of its rejection. The Theory of Evolution does not need Darwin's war of nature, and neither does it need Darwin. If 'Darwinism' is to continue to mean anything, it should mean Darwin's unfounded and imaginary 'war of nature'.
The various links in the margin of this essay are to a variety of essays exploring Darwin's 'war of nature', and his relation to Thomas Malthus and Alfred Russel Wallace.
Author: Chris Davis
First created: August 2006