Friday, December 3, 2010

EO Wilson on humans and mass extinction

EO Wilson is a biologist, conservationist, founder of sociobiology and a former southern Baptist. On the onearth website, he is interviewed about the threat of mass extinction due to human activities. It is already clear that the extinction rate due to human beings is some 1000 or more above the background rate. This qualifies it as a mass extinction along side the big 5 (which includes the Great Dying at the end of the Permian and the loss of the dinosaurs at the end of the Cretaceous).

One thing worth quoting (among many) relates to religion:

" We are ill equipped by instinct to control ourselves. Even with our tremendous intellect, we have a deep propensity for group conflict. Look at our defense expenditures, the way we glorify the constant expansion of human settlement and human growth, our archaic religions, which give us nothing but grief because they are essentially tribal. Our religions are ill equipped to handle our present problems, especially when they start trying to discredit what we can find out and prove with science."

How does this apply to Christianity? Insofar as it is often an us versus them he may be right, together with the obsession with human use and dominion to the exclusion of divine providence for creation. Yet to the extent Christianity is THE great missionary faith that includes every tribe and tongue it isn't tribal (despite the God on our side of a country unnamed) and there is a great biblical resource for care of creation. Further, a proper understanding of the relevant texts as ancient cosmology and not modern science dissolves much of the religion/science tension Wilson talks about. What of course he doesn't state in the article is his own totalising campaign to eliminate the idea of God as reality and religion as purely an evolutionary adaptation. The appearance of such an adaptation doesn't therefore discredit history, which is where we must turn to answer our religious questions. Indeed in his book The Creation, I think Wilson does nod in the direction that the answer to our plight must be religious as well as scientific.

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