Issue Date: October 30, 2006
Earth's biosphere is under assault from human activities. Species are going extinct at a rate about 100 times that prevailing before humans appeared on Earth, and the rate is expected to rise to at least 1,000 times greater in the next few decades. If we continue along the path we are on, half the species of plants and animals on Earth could be gone or fated for early extinction by the end of this century.
These dire observations are from a powerful little book I just finished reading—"The Creation: An Appeal to Save Life on Earth" by renowned Harvard biologist E. O. Wilson. Wilson is one of the world's towering scientific intellects, an authority on ants who has changed the way we view all of biology, including that of human society. He is also an amazingly graceful writer who has won two Pulitzer Prizes.
"The Creation" is an interesting departure for the decidedly secular humanist Wilson. It is written in the form of an extended "Letter to a Southern Baptist Pastor" that recognizes their profound differences in worldviews. "Does this difference in worldview separate us in all things?" Wilson asks. "It does not. You and I and every other human being strive for the same imperatives of security, freedom of choice, personal dignity, and a cause to believe in that is larger than ourselves.
"Let us see, then, if we can, and you are willing, to meet on the near side of metaphysics in order to deal with the real world we share. I put it this way because you have the power to help solve a great problem about which I care deeply. I hope you have the same concern. I suggest that we set aside our differences in order to save the Creation. The defense of living Nature is a universal value. It doesn't rise from, nor does it promote, any religious or ideological dogma. Rather, it serves without discrimination the interests of all humanity."
Wilson seeks the pastor's support "Because religion and science are the two most powerful forces in the world today, including especially the United States. If religion and science could be united on the common ground of biological conservation, the problem would soon be solved."
Much of "The Creation" is about the wonders of the biological world, to which Wilson is a gifted and eloquent guide. It is also about how essential the human connection to nature is for our well-being. He describes what is happening on Earth today as "the sixth mass extinction" and if it is not abated, "We will then enter what poets and scientists alike may choose to call the Eremozic Era—the Age of Loneliness."
"Humanity must make a decision," Wilson writes, "and make it right now: conserve Earth's natural heritage, or let future generations adjust to a biologically impoverished world. There is no way to weasel out of this choice."
Wilson believes passionately in the fundamental effort to unite the sciences and humanities. In an earlier book, "Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge," he argued forcefully that science ultimately would explain all of human existence, and that there is no real separation between science and art and religion.
In "The Creation," he is frank in describing the differences that separate the Baptist pastor and the Harvard entomologist, especially focusing on the role of evolution in biology and the inability of a biologist to compromise on the idea of Intelligent Design as an alternative to evolution. However, he is also eloquent in outlining a common ground between science and religion in defending and preserving the biological richness of life on Earth.
Publication of "The Creation" comes at a time when the chemical enterprise is increasingly embracing the ideals of sustainability, energy efficiency, averting climate change, and green chemistry. The book is a clarion call for sanity in our relationship to nature.
Thanks for reading.
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