If one accepts the theological doctrine of the Fall of Creation, then one is led to ask: “is it a universal fall or just a local one?” I’ve been thinking about this as a result of the discussion around the Theology of Alien Life post last week. In that discussion the question of whether or not alien species (if discovered) would need redemption or not was suggested.
Someone quipped (on the Facebook feed I think) that if that need was true, the Fall of Creation through the actions of humankind was the biggest example of theological Exceptionalism ever posited.
So, with all that rattling around in the back of my head, when I came across this bit of news about plant’s preferences for their own kin and their instinctive desire to harm others, I guess I started thinking about Harmitology:
“The research, which appears in the current issue of the American Journal of Botany, suggests non-kin plants will not only compete underground for soil nutrients, but will attempt to muscle out the competition above ground in the ongoing struggle for light.
It follows previous research from McMaster University which found that plants can recognize their kin through root systems and will compete more strongly for soil nutrients and water with non-sibling plants.
‘This is the first study that shows plants are responding to kin at the above ground level,’ explains Guillermo Murphy, lead author of the study and a graduate student in the Department of Biology at McMaster University. ‘When they recognize their kin, they grow differently in shape, taller, with more branches and fewer resources into leaves, therefore allowing their siblings to access precious sunlight.'”
There’s nothing terribly surprising here biologically speaking. Seems to me that it’s basically an example of the Selfish Gene principle a la Dawkins except at the plant level rather than the genetic.
But why should Nature have this inherent “selfish” quality? If we believe that God is Agape (Love) and Agape can be described at one level as altruism (the polar opposite of selfishness) than the natural world would seem to be organized around a radically different principle than the divine world.
Now to be clear, this is all totally speculative musing on my part, and it’s not self-coherent. And there’s the problem of God’s describing Creation as Very Good on the sixth day according to the Genesis account. And it’s possible to make an argument, I think, that individual greedy actions leads to a systematic equitable distribution of resources (ala Adam Smith)…
But, those caveats granted, does this research from the plant world indicate that at least in the biological sphere, selfishness and not altruism is more common. And if that’s the case, might we argue that Life is in a fallen state? (I’m not sure where one would go with ethics in non-living forms.)
James Hogan, in his book “The Gentle Giants of Ganymede” had the alien races in the Solar System describing the Earth as the “Nightmare Planet”. The altruistic “giant” species couldn’t imagine what it would be like to live in a world that was ruled by selfishness and greed. In the book, they felt sorry for us as humans because we had been forced to endure that experience.
If the fall is real, might the sinful nature of our human experience need to be extended to other parts of creation (like this plant research evocatively suggests)? If the Fall is limited to Terrestrial experience, might other races thinks something like that of us?
Interesting speculative questions. At least they are to me. Today. Who knows what tomorrow will bring. Grin.