Rachel Carson, who wrote Silent Spring, opened the door to a new scientific era that is commonly called the “environmental movement.” As a result, people in general are much more cognizant of the need to keep the environment free from litter, to pay attention to the inter-connectedness of the varieties of species in an ecosystem and to have more respect for all forms of life. With Silent Spring, Rachel Carson has done more than open a new door to greater appreciation for the environment, she also started to close the door on the extreme views of the neo-Darwinist movement that flourished since the 1970s.
In the 1970s, Richard Dawkins and others led a movement in the academic world that pushed the ideas of Darwin’s Theory of Natural Selection to an extreme. From this neo-Darwinist perspective, all organisms are just containers for genes that are trying to make new containers for genes so that their genes can be passed on to subsequent generations. There is no other meaning to life and no other natural force determining the course of evolution. Neo-Darwinists have pushed the idea that the only thing that determines what exists in life is individuals competing for reproductive success. Co-operation within a group serves no purpose from this perspective.
In Silent Spring, Rachel Carson not only presented herself as an environmentalist but she opened the door to other thought by showing the inter-relatedness among living organisms and the evolutionary advantages of co-dependence. The information that she brought forth showed that other natural forces besides natural selection must be at work as evolution roles along with speciation, extinctions and interactions among species. A “Theory of Harmony and Balance” is now in the making and it is just a matter of time for this new theory to be discussed along with the Theory of Natural Selection. Both cooperation and competition are at work in the maintenance and development of an ecosystem. Events producing equilibrium can be just as momentous and advantageous as events of competition. It is very interesting that one of the areas where the importance of cooperation is being illuminated is in cell biology. Scientists who study cells in dishes are identifying events of cooperation that mirror cooperative events in the larger environment.
The academic world often moves slowly when there is a “changing of the guard” regarding theories and ideas that are promoted in textbooks and classrooms. The old guard is defended while the new leader is either rebuffed or ignored for a while. The Theory of Harmony and Balance is in development and will likely be assigned to a biology professor that will become famous in the near future. It would be wonderful, however, if Rachel Carson and her words from Silent Spring would be identified by the historians as important in closing the door of extreme neo-Darwinism and courageously opening the door to new ideas about co-operation and community.
Google has chosen to honor Rachel Carson by creating a Google doodle for her 107th birthday. The book Silent Spring by Rachel Carson has influenced many and has certainly produced the “clean up” of many environmental problems, which has earned her the title of environmentalist. While she is receiving well-deserved credit for the positive influence she has had on the environment, respect for her as an influential scientist will not be complete until she is recognized as having provided the antidote to the extremes of the neo-Darwinists.
Opinion by Margaret Lutze
Silent Spring by Rachel Carson (print)