Michael Daniel “Nonmoral Nature” by Stephen Jay Gould 11/20/2006 In “Nonmoral Nature”, Stephen Jay Gould explains that

nature has no ethical or moral lessons for us. He describes a group of wasps called ichneumon that lay their larva inside of a caterpillar, spider or other insect. When their larva hatches they eat the animal that they were laid inside of from the inside out in such a way that they keep their host alive for as long as possible. Theologians found that the existence of ichneumon caused problems for their theory that god is benevolent. If God was benevolent then why would he create such pain by creating creatures such as ichneumon? Theologians were never able to answer this directly, however some of them tried to say that the animals who host ichneumon larvae do not truly feel pain, and some tried to solve the problem by focusing on the love of the mother ichneumon for her offspring rather than focusing on the pain of the host creature. Gould states, “The ichneumonoidea are a group of wasps…”. That statement is false because the word, “group,” is misused. According to wikipedia, ichneumonoidea is a superfamily, not a group. Further, ichneumon is a part of the parasitica group. It is no surprise that Gould wrote in such a manner, since later on in the text he writes, “In using inappropriate anthropocentric language for this romp through the natural history of ichneumons, I have tried to emphasize just why these wasps became a preeminent challenge to natural theology.” I see how his use of inappropriate language helped to convey the message in other parts of the text, but I fail to see how his misuse of the word ‘group’ did anything but create confusion in this particular case.

I think that Gould is incorrect when he says that nature has nothing to teach us about ethics. The ichneumonoidea do what they have to do to survive. If brought to a human level I would say that humans should do what they have to do to survive. I believe that any action you take is ethical if it saves your life or the life of your child. That includes murder and torture. I am not advocating Darwinism by saying that, since Darwinism is a law that will take its course regardless of what we do as individuals. The reason why it is ethical to torture another animal in defense of your own life can be found in the function of ethics itself. Ethics exist in order to help us to work together. Working together ensures our survival. Therefore, ethics exists only because of our need to survive. If a situation arises where ethics gets in the way of our ability to survive then ethics needs to be thrown out because ethics is subservient to survival. This philosophy is practiced all the time. Even people who argue against this theory will practice it. For example, a priest or ethicist will tell us that all life is sacred but my doctor says that I need to eat from all of the major food groups or else I will die from starvation. Except for some small exceptions like table salt, all food comes from dead things. Vegetarians don’t eat meat but vegetables have just as much a claim on life as a cow does. This means that either all life is not sacred or it means that it ethical to destroy sacred things. Dictionary.com defines sacred as, “Hence, not to be profaned or violated; inviolable.”. By definition then it is impossible to destroy something that is sacred because it is impossible to destroy something that is inviolable. Therefore, life is not sacred when survival is in question.