Wednesday, December 7, 2016
E O Wilson, ecology and Christian hope
I recently received out of the blue a Facebook message from a concerned Christian mother about her daughter having to watch a video by Harvard Emeritus Professor E O Wilson. Her concern was that Wilson's views don't line up with a Christian value of hope in preserving our environment. It's question worth pursuing for a blog post.
Anyone who has read The Creation knows that Wilson grew up a Southern Baptist, but abandoned that faith. The book is an attempt to draw common ground between Christians of this tradition and related and non-Christian scientists like Wilson. I think it is an admirable aspiration. We share one planet regardless of what we believe about its origins on future fate. It is full of a biological richness which exists for both its own sake, but also of which we are a part.
Christians of course believe more than this, and we can bring more to the table than a narrative of random processes (see more below). E O Wilson is an evolutionary biologist and the founder of sociobiology, the evolution of values, ethics, etc from simpler origins, based on his work with ants. Now while I don't share his world view, when someone of his importance speaks of the need say to set aside half the planet to save biodiversity, I'm going to listen to him because of his expertise, not his world views. The same goes for when I visit the doctor; thanks to our public health care system I don't mind which doctor I see so long as they have a medical degree and a track record of not misdiagnosing, etc.
So what is a Christian hope of preserving the creation? It is articulated in Romans 8, where using the language of the Exodus, where our bodies will be redeemed (from slavery to sin as Paul talks about in Romans 7) and the creation will be set free from bondage to decay (again, slavery/redemption language). I've written elsewhere about how this is best understood as a response to the claims by Rome that "Thine age, O Caesar has brought back fertile crops to the fields".
So a Christian hope is that Christ will return, the dead will be raised and (I infer) because humans will be redeemed in their natures, so the rest of creation will not be misruled by us. This provides us with an incentive. Just as our natures are being renewed so we do not go on sinning (Romans 6:1), so given the future is one of harmonious relationships with the rest of creation, we should be getting on with this now. And if our wisdom comes from a non-Christian scientist, so be it and thank God for their knowledge as he is the source of common grace.
Now given the state of the world, the Christian hope is both a) it will all be sorted out when Christ returns and b) at least in part that people of all faiths will be faithful to our creation care task (see Genesis 1-2), but does not exclude things becoming really bad in the mean time. As Paul points out in Romans 1, idolatry, be it of idols of stone or wood, of money, success, nation etc mean we are given over to our sins. This is no less clear in the current extinction or climate change crises, to name but two.
So my own 2 cents is that regardless of what Wilson thinks about "creation vs evolution" (and this is a topic for another time, but does call us to listen critically), I think he is worth listening to on a variety of issues, cooperating with where needed on the important task of "saving the planet" (more on this another time). We share one planet, and we're called to live in love with one another on it.