Sunday, November 21, 2010

Alexander Pope and the Preservation of Nature

  The readings that we have been introduced to during the last few months provide perspectives on nature, science, religion and God in relation to Charles Darwin's theories of evolution. Whether these perspectives are considered independently, in harmony with each other, or in contradiction to each other, they have provoked much discussion and critical thought. The power of nature on both a physical and spiritual level is extremely significant, as is the role that nature plays in connecting our lives and our existence to a higher level. This is evident within the writings of Alexander Pope who provides a clear perspective on the principal position that nature occupies within our universe. Pope believes that nature is divine, and as such is to be respected and trusted; perhaps even worshipped. "An Essay on Criticism" is a reminder that our survival is dependent on the success of nature. We must appreciate nature's ability to take care of itself and to allow it to evolve as it sees fit. Man should not attempt to direct or redirect nature rather nature should be the one leading man.

  Pope is aware of the value of nature and he is also aware that nature does not always receive the respect it deserves. Due to this, he considers it necessary to provide warnings and justification for nature to be taken seriously. In "An Essay on Criticism" Pope uses examples to confirm that nature is the one who sets both the limits and the standards by which man and science are measured and judged: "Nature to all things, fix'd the Limits fit," and "First follow NATURE, and your judgment frame/by her just Standard, which is still the same." Although it may be supposed that man makes the rules, this is not the case. Rules, like limits and standards, are set by nature: "Those RULES of old discover'd, not devis'd,/Are Nature still, but Nature Methodiz'd;" and like man, nature is held to these same rules. There must be rules or laws within nature in order for it to be able to survive and it is important that we are reminded of this.

  While Pope and Darwin may disagree philosophically about the connection between God and nature they both agree on the important role that nature plays in our lives. Pope's advice and observations to leave nature alone; to let it lead the way; that it sets the standards and limits; and that it is "unerring" can be directly linked to Darwin's theory of evolution. These ideas of Pope's are not dissimilar to Chesterton's thoughts in Orthodoxy whereby he warns humanity not to interfere in nature. He recognizes that nature is going to do something some day, but we should not anticipate and act, rather nature should be left alone (102). The clarification of nature's role, along with the concerns and guidance surrounding man's role in the preservation of nature, are timeless. Pope's essay, at the very least, acts as a reminder to all of civilization as to how valuable nature is to the survival of our world.

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