Beyond Malthus and Darwin

Anthony Zimmerman
Population Research Institute Review
May/June 1991
Reproduced with Permission

Charles Darwin (1809-1882) applied to plants and animals the pessimistic theory which Thomas Malthus (1766-1834) had formulated about human population. Malthus assumed that human numbers increase, if uninhibited, by geometric progression; whereas sustenance increases by the slower arithmetic addition. In consequence, nature checks excessive human growth by famine and ill-health; humans also curb increases by war and vice (including contraception which he did not approve), by misery, and/or self control. Skeptical about self-control, he theorized pessimistically about the future, implying that demographic growth forever pushes humans to the edge of famine, makes them jittery to start wars, and inclines them to wallow in vice and misery.

Darwin then applied the pessimistic Malthusian formula (geometric demography vs. arithmetic economics) to plant and animal life. Their growth, he theorized, is checked by a cutthroat, ruthless and deadly struggle among plants and animals against each other, in which only winners survive. The advantages of survivors are the engine of evolution, he thought.

In a later article I hope to come to grips with the Malthusian artifact; in what follows here I will try to show that Darwin distorted nature to fit his ideology, transforming her smiling face to resemble that of a twisted ogre. Real nature, viewed without Darwin's glasses, has ingenious ways to make room for multitudes, to minimize fighting, to operate our ecology successfully, and to do this elegantly, while flowers bloom, birds sing, bees make honey, animals bray and play; the joy of life is evident all around. (And among humans, as we shall see later, the very increase of population since Malthus has been paralleled by an increase of food on our tables, by improved roads, cars, trains, jet travel, by heated and air-conditioned housing, by bustling supermarkets, by schools, hospitals, banks, life insurance, elegant clothes, baseball and football. Famines, ill-health, war, vice and misery CAN be our self-made lot, but they are by no means a necessary consequence of population growth.)

Darwin, to support his theory of evolution by natural selection and survival of the fittest, theorized that nature is a battlefield in which individuals and species engage in a never-ending struggle for survival. The quotations which follow are found in THE NEW BIOLOGY by Robert Augros and George Stanciu1, who refute Darwin: "All nature is at war, one organism with another, or with external nature" wrote Darwin.2 "Animals and plants are locked in a "struggle for existence, in which the weakest and least perfectly organized must always succumb" wrote Darwinist Wallace.3 "The animal world is on about the same level as a gladiator's show. The strongest, the swiftest and the cunningest live to fight another day ... no quarter is given"4 writes Sir Thomas Huxley; Darwin's friend and defender. Tennyson coined the phrase "Nature, red in tooth and claw with ravine [violence]."5

In the Origin of the Species Darwin maintains that "all organic beings are exposed to severe competition" and to "the universal struggle for life." He argues that the tension between limited resources and unlimited population growth leads to this situation inevitably. 6 As we can see, Darwinists paint nature as they have obliged themselves to see it: through ideological spectacles.


In what follows, to refute the above, I borrow heavily from The New Biology of Augros and Stanciu, a book which brings to light the wisdom and beauty of nature in a compelling manner. The two authors supply massive evidence of the many strategies which nature employs precisely to prevent competition and struggle. The evidence points away from Darwin: nature arranges mutual cooperation, harmony, peace, beauty; nature designs mechanics of dispersion, makes detours, and invents rituals or mock struggles to avoid the real thing. Nature devises multitudinous ways for animals and plants to live and thrive en masse.

Two species of clover can use the same ground for growth: Trifolium repens gets an early start and covers the field with its dense leaves; in the meantime it passes its peak, and T. Fragiferum, with its longer petioles and higher leaves, then overtops the earlier growth. Grasses and herbs have shallow roots to absorb moisture from light rains, and fare well with oaks which tap water from deeper down, In a deciduous forest many plants complete their spring growth and cycle before the leaves of the trees shade out the sun. Other plants thrive in the shade and higher humidity that the forest canopy provides. There is no war between plants, but a mutual development on a share-and-share basis. There is more cooperation than competition. Seedlings growing thick together do not kill each other. They simply share the available water, nutrients and sunlight and do not grow to full capacity.7

Animals live in their niche where competition with other species is at a minimum. There are day shifts and night shifts, each with different strategies and food chains. There are also adaptations to winter, to summer, to desert, to rain forest, to lofty mountains, to Death Valley. Adaptation is usually not only successful, but also ingenuous from the human viewpoint, and beautiful.

Three species of yellow weaver birds live side by side along the shore of Lake Mweru in Central Africa: one species eats only hard black seeds, another only soft green seeds, the third only insects. "Twenty different insects feed on the North American white pine without competition because five species eat only foliage, three species concentrate on buds, three on twigs, two on wood, two on roots, one on bark, and four on cambium."8 Examples, surprising and inspiring, are multiple.

Because each species has its own niche and its own task, fights between animals of different species are exceedingly rare, if they occur at all. Lorenz, after many years of studying fish remarks, "Never have I seen fish of two different species attacking each other, even if both are highly aggressive by nature".9 Lions often steal the kills of cheetah, but there is never a struggle. The cheetah, much too wise to take on an opponent more than double its weight, abandons its prey without a fight. The same prudent retreat occurs if a monarch eagle intrudes on a smaller eagle's meal of carrion, for instance. The smaller bird withdraws without protest and waits until the monarch eats its fill. As mentioned above, Allee and his collaborators did not know of any "direct mutual harm between species".10 Colinvaux puts it succinctly: "A fit animal is not one that fights well, but one that avoids fighting altogether.11


Darwin, as noted above, had based his theory of competitive struggle in nature on what he thought was a universal tendency to reproduce to the utmost limits of capacity. "A struggle for existence inevitably follows from the high rate at which all organic beings tend to increase," he wrote."12 "Every single organic being may be said to be striving to the utmost to increase its numbers" he adds13, and "There is no exception to the rule that every organic being naturally increases at so high a rate that, if not destroyed, the earth would soon be covered by the progeny of a single pair."14 He calculated that elephants, for example, would increase from one pair to nearly nineteen million in 740 to 750 years if their geometric growth were not checked. [My little calculator verified this.] But Darwin did not have the advantage of field studies of elephant reproductive behavior. A study of 3000 elephants by biologist Richard M. Laws revealed that the age of sexual maturity of females is plastic: under adverse conditions, the sexual maturity of females was delayed: "Thus the elephant population is regulated not by predation, starvation, or death, but by adjustments in the onset of maturity in the females, which lowers the birth rate whenever overcrowding occurs."15 Augros and Stanciu continue:

Nor are elephants unique in having an internal mechanism for regulating population growth. Evidence from other field studies indicate that the birth rate or the age of first reproduction depends on population density in many large mammals, including white-tailed deer, elk, bison, moose, bighorn sheep, Dail's sheep, ibex, wildebeest, Himalayan tahr, hippopotamus, lion, grizzly bear, dugong, harp seals, southern elephant seal, spotted porpoise, striped dolphin, blue whale, and sperm whale16 "In many animals, then, population growth is regulated by benign internal causes without any need for the periodic devastations Darwin supposed."17

The authors provide insights into the numerous ways by which nature manages, generally, to scatter living things insufficient numbers around the globe, in keeping the meadow under one unbroken green cover, and the forest canopy continuous, by plastic, adjustable, economical, and benign methods which avoid the waste of struggle and competition. Nature's back up options sometimes accrue to human advantage: for example, if a hen has layed a clutch of about 12 eggs for hatching, she stops and begins to brood. But remove the egg and she lays more - up to 360 a year. Alfalfa grows a second and third crop after cuttings. Nature swiftly replaces gaps, and usually prunes oversupplies.

Predators which depend upon smaller animals for their food chain are not enemies of their prey, are not angry with them they trim out the old and the weak:

Even the unavoidable struggle is minimized. Mech reports that the fifty-one moose kills he examined were composed of the very young, the old, and the diseased. None of the animals killed by the wolves was in its prime.18 A wolf pack sensibly seeks out prey that will offer the least fight. Murie found the same thing with wolf predation of Dail's sheep.19 Finally, predators do not practice wanton killing, and even the pain seems to be minimized. Rodents attacked by snakes commonly go into shock before being killed and devoured. A wilde beest surrounded by attacking lions does not even resist but falls in shock.20

All in all, the sounds and sights of nature are usually sweet and happy, giving glory to the Lord, showing forth His wisdom, goodness, splendor and beauty. The cries of distress are scattered and few. Darwin notwithstanding, nature continuous to be harmonious, balanced, beautiful, economical, favoring us with an abundant and continuously renewable food chain, with filtered air and purified water, with dew and rain to grow our crops, with filtered sunshine to protect us from harmful rays while it powers the ecosystem which keeps us alive. Nature is not all at war with itself, but is everywhere at peace and at our service.

When God gave nature to Adam and Eve as a wedding gift, He told them to "have many children, so that your descendants will live all over the earth and bring it under their control"(Gen 1:28). Malthus theorized that humans are trapped, their numbers forever oscillating against undersupplied resources; people are therefore forever on the edge of famine and jittery for war. Darwin forged the Malthusian lamentation into a closed circle lie about nature. Malthus had lost his way in the population vs. living conditions field.


1 Robert Augros and George Stanciu, THE NEW BIOLOGY, DISCOVERING THE WISDOM IN NATURE (Boston & London: New Science Library, Shambhala Publications, Inc. 1987), pp. 831f. [Back]

2 Charles Darwin, "The Linnean Society Papers," in DARWIN. A NORTIN CRITICAL EDITION, ad. Philip Appleman (New York: Norton, 1970), p. 83. [Back]

3 Alfred R. Wallace, "The Linnean Society Papers," p. 92. [Back]

4 Thomas H. Huxley, 'The Struggle for Existence In Human Society, in EVOLUTION AND ETHICS AND OTHER ESSAYS (New York: Appleton, 1896). p. 200. [Back]

5 Alfred, Lord Tennyson, IN MEMORIAM, ad. Robert Ross (New York: Norton, 1973) stanza 56, p. 36. [Back]

6 Charles Darwin, THE ORIGIN OF SPECIES. 6th ad. (London, 1872; rpt. Now York: Mentor, 1958), p. 74. [Back]

7 Augros; and Stanciu, THE NEW BIOLOGY. pp. 93 ff. [Back]

8 Ibid, p.94. [Back]

9 Konrad Lorens, ON AGGRESSION (New York: Harcourt & World, 1963), p. 11. [Back]

10 W.C. Alee, Alfred Emerson, Orlando Park, Thomas Park, and Karl Schmidt, PRINCIPLES OF ANIMAL ECOLOGY (Philadelphia: Saunders, 1959), p. 699. [Back]

11 Paul Colinvaux, WHY BIG FIERCE ANIMALS ARE RARE: AN ECOLOGISTS PERSPECTIVE (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1978), p. 144. [Back]

12 Darwin, THE ORIGIN OF SPECIES, p. 75. [Back]

13 Ibid., p. 77. [Back]

14 Ibid., p. 75. [Back]

15 Ibid., p. 125. [Back]

16 Charles Fowler, "Comparative Population Dynamics in Large Animals," in DYNAMICS OF LARGE MAMMAL POPULATIONS, ad, Fowler and Smith, pp, 444-445. [Back]

17 Augros and Stanciu, THE NEW BIOLOGY, p.1 25. [Back]

18 L. David Mach, THE WOLVES OF ISLE ROYALE. FAUNA OF THE NATIONAL PARKS OF THE UNITED STATES (Washington. D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1966). p. XXII. [Back]

19 Adolph Murie, THE WOLVES OF MOUNT McKINLEY: FAUNA OF THE NATIONAL PARKS OF THE UNITED STATES (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1944), p. xvii. [Back]

20 Augros and Stanciu, THE NEW BIOLOGY, p. 103. [Back]