Sunday, January 13, 2008
Taxonomist Gerd Heinrich, whose life's work was the classification of ichneumon wasps, wrote in a letter to his son on Easter morning, 1975, "Homo sapiens is certainly the greatest pest the earth has ever borne." See Bernd Heinrich, The Snoring Bird: My Family's Journey Through a Century of Biology (New York: Ecco, 2007), p. 419.
Ichneumon wasps, Gerd Heinrich's specialty, are parasites, and their habits greatly troubled theologians who wanted to see the hand of a benevolent God in the workings of nature. Stephen Jay Gould, Nonmoral Nature, quotes from a letter of Charles Darwin to Asa Gray written in 1860:
I own that I cannot see as plainly as others do, and as I should wish to do, evidence of design and beneficence on all sides of us. There seems to me too much misery in the world. I cannot persuade myself that a beneficent and omnipotent God would have designedly created the Ichneumonidae with the express intention of their feeding within the living bodies of Caterpillars, or that a cat should play with mice.One could combine phrases from Gerd Heinrich and Charles Darwin and say, "I own that I cannot see as plainly as others do, and as I should wish to do, evidence of design and beneficence in God's creation of Homo sapiens, the greatest pest the earth has ever borne."
Another entomologist, Edward O. Wilson, in his book The Future of Life (New York: Vintage Books, 2002), p. 94, called Homo sapiens "the serial killer of the biosphere."
To the poet Robinson Jeffers, mankind was a "sick microbe" (De Rerum Virtute, V). Jeffers advised his sons to "be in nothing so moderate as in love of man" (Shine, Perishing Republic). Jeffers went on to say that love of man "is the trap that catches noblest spirits, that caughtthey sayGod, when he walked on earth."