The Benevolence of the Apex Predator

I watched a video the other day that stayed with me. It describes the process by which the reintroduction of wolves into Yellowstone in 1995, after a 70 year absence, radically impacted the eco-system, even changing the path of rivers. Wildlife, including the prey of the wolfpack, are actually thriving now. You may have seen the video. If not, I invite you to click the link and watch it.

It’s counterintuitive. You would think that they would decimate populations of the deer and small mammals that constitute their prey, contributing to a greater paucity of wildlife. The opposite is true. I don’t think it’s hard to imagine that a similar dynamic occurs in every environment. For example, here is a video that explains how the presence of whales may lead to a greater abundance of marine life. While whales are not really apex predators, it’s safe to say that they are prey to no other sea creatures. Their great mass and behavior patterns actually churn nutrients from depths that build the populations of krill and other tiny marine life near the surface. These in turn become an important base of a complicated food chain. The extent of the effects of this phenomenon are perhaps speculative, but it isn’t hard to imagine that there are indeed some and that they are important in that environment over time.

When I learn these things, I marvel at the majesty of creation. It looks to me like the mind of God. It is stunning and humbling. I wonder how human behavior fits into this picture. It’s common in our popular parlance to focus on the damage we humans cause. Just look at some of the comments in the above referenced videos. Many have come to view man as a plague on the earth. Pollution, deforestation, species extinction, soil depletion, strip mining, fracking, ozone layer dissolution, and acid rain are some of our transgressions. Many believe that man’s activity is actually altering the long-term climate of the globe (a belief that I do not share, as the claim is provably based in politics, not conclusive science.) But no matter your view of the destructive nature of mankind, it is certainly more emphasized than man’s potential benevolence. It’s high time we shine some light on this side of the ledger.

A little groundwork is needed. Our worldview is inextricably tied with our fundamental beliefs about the nature of reality. Those who see mankind as a scourge, in general, hold a naturalist viewpoint. Their beliefs, if they are congruent, stem from a materialist, reductionist view of the Universe. I do not subscribe to that view. I believe there is purpose and order to everything. Chaos and randomness are illusions that come from our limited perceptive powers. Albert Einstein famously quipped: “God does not play dice.” That guy was pretty smart.

The concept of an innate order places the concept of mistakes in extreme jeopardy. If there is a reason for everything, a “mistake” only has meaning in a limited context, such as the interests of a person or a group of people. In the bigger picture, mistakes are not really possible. Everything that happened or will happen had to happen. This statement can be supported by scientific concepts such as the Laws of Entropy and Conservation of Energy/Matter.  It can also be supported by faith. You might believe that God knows what He’s doing.

So if there are no real mistakes, what are the productive effects that might come from the proclivities of human beings?

Environment: People have a picture that as population grows, the earth becomes dirtier and less hospitable. This is not necessarily true. It used to be way worse. The more advanced a society, the less it pollutes. The more we advance, the more command over matter we will wield. Futurist Ray Kurzweil has spent a lot of time analyzing the trajectory of various technologies and their theoretical limits. Within a few decades, it is likely that we will harness nanotechnology that will transform dangerous compounds into beneficial ones. Current difficulties with pollutants will be obsolete.

Species Extinction: We are cataloguing and manipulating genomes at accelerating rates. Jurassic Park was far-fetched, but less so than we might think. Our capabilities in the future will be to recreate and repopulate currently extinct species. As the movie explored, there are practical and moral problems to this effort. But it may very well be part of God’s plan that mankind will function as a sort of Noah’s Ark for all creatures.

Mass Suffering: Some suffering is required. (The argument in this article is that all suffering is required, but let’s stick to the point.) Pain is actually an ally – without it, we don’t get valuable feedback telling us that something needs to change. But much suffering is systemic – especially that which comes from material lacks of food and medical resources. In the future, we may possess technologies that make these problems easier to handle if not completely conquered.

Resource Depletion: The technologies mentioned tackle this problem head-on. But other technologies, such as the emergence of virtual reality, self-driving cars, hydrogen-based fuels, 3-D printing, and many others will create efficiencies and possibilities we can scarcely imagine. One thing that has been true all along – the future is always different that we can currently picture. (Growing up I thought I would have a jetpack or at least a Jetsons car by now, jeez!)

I suspect that the most significant byproducts of mankind are not material, but spiritual. I have no idea how to quantify or communicate that further, so I will let that thought marinate.

If we don’t get in our own way, granted a big if considering our propensity to lord power over one another and seek distraction over productive pursuits, the future is bright. I deem it so with acknowledgement of the limitations of my feeble abilities to judge the merits of one future over another. My deeper belief is that it will be what it must be. What we can do is choose our views and attitudes along the way.

Categories: Communication Skills

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