IS NATURE EVER EVIL? ed. Willem B Drees Routledge 2003
Reviewed by Max Payne Max Payne is Chair of the Network Trustees
Traditionally religion has solved the problem by drawing blank cheques on the afterlife. Christianity has held that the sufferings and injustices of this life are compensated for in the life to come. The world was simply something to be renounced along with the flesh and the devil. Buddhism teaches that through enlightenment we reach a nirvana which ends the endless cycle of rebirth into suffering. The modern Vedantic mystic Aurobindo had a highly optimistic view of nature. The whole universe is the involution of Divinity into physical being, and the evolution of galaxies, life and human individuals is all a vast return of nature to its Divine source. Through rebirth, we all suffer, we all redeem, and we all triumph. None of the essayists make any mention of other religious alternatives than their own modernist Protestantism. There is no suggestion that "nature" might be something wider than the immediate 4 dimensions of space-time. The picture is rather bleak.
Perhaps biology can do better? We are part of nature; perhaps our core values are what comes naturally to us? Our nearest cousins are the apes; can we learn from them what we really are? Unfortunately chimpanzees rape, kill, and commit cannibalism and infanticide, while bonabo apes live in a peaceful, co-operative matriarchy. The lesson is whatever the sociobiologist wants to find. One wishes that someone from the school of Dawkins or Atkins had contributed to these essays. Perhaps they were invited, but declined fearing that the philosophical ground had already been cut from beneath their feet.