Thank you Edward O. Wilson for taking this burden on your shoulders; for making the plea to the religious among us to abandon the Dominionist principle that the Earth is here to be bent to humankind's will and save the biodiversity that makes our lives livable.
Wilson, who was brought up southern Baptist, addresses this book to a pastor of the same faith. The book starts out as an open letter to the pastor and a plea that the biosphere, or Creation for the pastor's purposes, is in grave danger and the humans have a lot to do with it...and, can take a hand in saving it. He spends the first part of the book trying to equate the Creation and the Biosphere as one in the same; and, that whether one has faith or not, it is the most important aspect about life on Earth.
After the first few chapters, Wilson really gets into the meat of the plea; he waxes eloquently about the marvels of the natural world only as Edward O. Wilson. Early on, he writes about ants, and his passion for even the smallest life forms is apparent and persuasive. As he progresses through the book, he highlights the remarkable nature of the biosphere and its biodiversity; and, he brings home why this is so important to the comfortable survival of humankind. One bit I learned: ants and termites are more responsible for turning the soil than earthworms.
This is an important book that really needs to reach its target audience. As a member of the secular among us, it only preaches to the choir (though, like I said, I still learned new things from this book!); this book really needs to be put in the hands of the faithful. Unlike Sam Harris' "Letter to a Christian Nation" - which I feel is important, but will be lost on the target audience - "The Creation" has the ability to reach its target audience as it is not trying to dissuade them from their faith, but appeal to their faith in the hope that it will open their eyes to the wonder that is the biospehere, or "creation".
A Guide to my Book Rating System:
1 star = The wood pulp would have been better utilized as toilet paper.
2 stars = Don't bother, clean your bathroom instead.
3 stars = Wasn't a waste of time, but it was time wasted.
4 stars = Good book, but not life altering.
5 stars = This book changed my world in at least some small way.
When Charles Darwin published "The Origin of Species" he declared it to be "one long argument". Today, less than 150 years later, Edward O. Wilson explains that the one species omitted [except for one sentence] from the "argument" is devastating the life of the planet. In one long appeal to a fictional Baptist pastor, Wilson describes what is clear to all but a few dedicated die-hards - life on this planet is in deep trouble. The die-hards are firmly identified in the opening passages; Christians in the US who regard themselves as "biblical literalists". Such folk expect the Apocalypse soon and saving the environment is of little concern.
Wilson clearly knows his potential audience and addresses it. He understands the opinions his readers hold and addresses them in language familiar to them. "Biology" he contends, "now leads in reconstructing the human self-image". That means that biology can explain what is happening to the life around us and how we are dealing with it. He carefully allows the potential for a deity to have a role, but it isn't one dealing with the current situation. Because it is humanity stripping the rainforests, causing the oceans to warm and destroying life in them, or filling the atmosphere with chemicals it cannot absorb, it is up to people to take the steps necessary to halt these degradations.
In showing his "pastor" the interconnectivity of all life, the author utilises clear, undemanding prose. Whether one believes a god plays a role in this network is immaterial. People and their actions are unweaving that network. Species extinction is forever, and whatever biology can explain, it hasn't had the time or opportunity to assess the impact of what is occurring. The job, he says, is clearly too vast, and the relationships are too intricate. That, however, doesn't mean we shouldn't try. Nor does it mean that lack of knowledge renders the problem something we can dismiss. We ignore the result of our actions at our peril.
Going a step further in his analysis, Wilson notes the planet's rash of environmental "hotspots" that need immediate solutions addressed to them. He's even able to put a price on healing the afflicted areas. He proposes forms of "protective umbrellas" that can be applied to areas like the Amazon and Congolian basins and others. These saving mechanisms would require "one payment of about US$30 billion". That's about 15 weeks of current expenditure on Iraq's occupation at the latest rates. He further shows how the subsidies given the fishing industry in the US alone, if redirected to a programme of oceanic reserves, would allow fish stocks to recover. To ensure the survival of countless threatened species, it's a minimal expence. If humans can set themselves up as gods in destroying the environment, they can act creatively to preserve it.
Wilson's "letter" may seem a bit lengthy at 170 pages, but as "one long appeal" to his audience, it's not overmuch to take up. Take it up and read it. Then have your children read it - they are the ones confronting the future Wilson describes. The offer it to the pastor nearest you. Religious leaders have whole flocks who should hear what Wilson has to say. [stephen a. haines - Ottawa, Canada]
on October 28, 2006
"Pastor, we [that is, humanity] need your help...Scientists estimate that if...destructive human activities continue at their present rates, half the species of plants and animals on Earth could be either gone or at least fated for early extinction by the end of the [twenty-first] century. A full quarter [may] drop to this level during the next half century as a result of climate change alone. The ongoing extinction rate is calculated in the most conservative estimates to be about a hundred times above that prevailing before humans appeared on Earth, and is expected to rise to at least a thousand times greater or more in the next few decades. If this rise continues unabated, the cost to humanity, in wealth, environmental security, and quality of life, will be catastrophic."
The above is taken from the first chapter of this exceptional, easy-to-read, slim book by biologist, former Harvard professor, conservationist, and prolific author Edward O. Wilson.
This book is really one long letter to a Southern Baptist Pastor. In this letter, Wilson has briefed the pastor on a subject of common concern--the creation (that is, living Nature or biodiversity) and how it is in "deep trouble." He focuses on the interaction of three problems that affect all life on Earth:
(1) the decline of the living environment
(2) the inadequacy of scientific education
(3) the moral confusion caused by "exponential growth of biology"
When taken as a whole, Wilson's letter is "an appeal to save life on Earth."
This book is divided into five sections. Each section has a cover page that has a brief description of what each section is about. I will reproduce the descriptions below so as to give the potential reader a "feel" for the entire book:
(I) A call for help and an invitation to visit the embattled natural world in the company of a biologist. (7 chapters).
(II) Blinded by ignorance and self-absorption, humanity is destroying the creation. There is still time to assume the stewardship of the natural world that we owe to future generations. (3 excellent chapters).
(III) Arguments for saving the rest of life are drawn from both religion and science. The relevant principles of biology, the key science in the discourse are explained in this section. (3 chapters).
(IV) The only way to save the diversity of life and come to peace with nature is through a widely shared knowledge of biology and what the findings of that science imply for the human condition. (3 chapters).
(V) Science and religion are the two most powerful forces of society. Together they can save the creation. (1 chapter).
At the beginning of each section and throughout the book are black and white pictures and illustrations. I found these enjoyable and interesting.
I thought because this book was so slim that I would not learn anything new. Was I wrong!! It is one of the most interesting books I have ever read and, to my relief, it was not preachy.
Finally, I did find some minor irritations in this book:
(1) At one point, Wilson seems to come down hard on scientists. I understand that these are his opinions but I felt his negative comments about scientists were not needed and detracted from the book's main message.
(2) He mentions Mars, Europa, & Titan (which he calls "Titanis") and calls them planets. Actually Europa and Titan are moons.
(3) There is a black and white map of the world in the book with the caption "Thirty-four of the most critical biodiversity hot spots on land: geographical areas with large numbers of endangered species." Yet these thirty-four hotspots are not marked on the map!
(4) He says that "Biology is the study of nature." True, but so is chemistry, physics, and other sciences. In fact, science can be basically defined as the systematized knowledge of nature and the physical world.
(5) I felt Wilson was biased too much toward biology (which is understandable) while giving small acknowledgement to other important sciences that could also help us get out of the mess that we're in.
In conclusion, this is an important book that you should read if you agree with the following statement:
"Each [living] species [on Earth], however inconspicuous and humble it may seem to us at this moment, is a masterpiece of biology, and well worth saving."
(first published 2006; 5 parts or 17 chapters; main narrative 170 pages; references and notes; about the author)
on September 9, 2006
E.O. Wilson once again has used his significant scientific expertise and his great passion for the well-being of Earth and the biotic community to stimulate care for (the) creation. By suggesting that Christians and secular scientists "meet on the near side of metaphysics," Wilson extends a hand to all who are concerned about environmental degradation, and engaged (or open to being engaged) in environmental restoration, suggesting that people of diverse views should work together to "save life on Earth." This is a most important work, which offers a vision, hope, a challenge, and an invitation to become engaged in practical projects that concretize biophilia. As a Christian, a university prof, and an active environmentalist, I have long appreciated E.O. Wilson's expertise and dedication. "The Creation" deepens that appreciation.
Wilson makes a short plea here for science and religion to join forces in defending the natural world from the increasingly destructive human race. Some of his points are wonderfully telling, such as the speech that he invents to justify our bad behaviors- and the response he crafts to explain why such justifications are nonsense. Yes, the laws of nature still apply to humans as well as Dodos. This is an important book from a prophet of science. I like his term "biophilia"- the love of living things.
on January 31, 2007
Harvard's renowned entomologist E.O. Wilson was born (1929) in Alabama and raised in the evangelical faith of the Southern Baptists, a faith that he rejected long ago in favor of what in this book he calls "secular humanism." So there is a personal history behind his decision to craft this book as a long letter written to a fictional pastor, asking the pastor to set aside their important differences in order to join forces in a common cause. The stakes are high, for "the fate of the Creation is the fate of humanity," he writes, and right now creation is in deep distress. As the two most powerful forces in society, he says, religion and science can act as a tremendous force for good.
To the extent that religion neglects the earthly present in order to emphasize a heavenly future, and as a consequence abuses creation, Wilson blames faith for many of our environmental woes; and his history of humankind reads something like a long, slow march from superstition due to religion to liberation thanks to science. But he is just as wary of scientific and technical optimism as he is of religious pessimism. Such "exemptionalism" that denies our environmental crisis is what he fears most.
Whereas the earth's genetic heritage has taken tens of millions of years to evolve, our cultural heritage has developed swiftly with catastrophic consequences. Earth's biodiversity is vanishing at an astonishing pace due to the destruction of habitats, global warming, the spread of alien species, pollution, and over-population. And this is only what we do know. "We don't know what is happening to most of the rest of life, because we don't even know what it is. We don't need a moon base or a manned trip to Mars. We need an expedition to planet Earth, where probably fewer than 10 percent of the life forms are known to science, and fewer than 1 percent of those have been studied beyond a simple anatomical description and a few notes on natural history."
Across seventeen very short chapters Wilson sketches why and how this has happened, along with the projected consequences for our failure to act. He also laments current science education and suggests how we can improve it. I especially enjoyed his personal anecdotes, how, for example, he recalled his first microscope at the age of eight, and three important university mentors who bequeathed to him a passion for science. If various news reports are accurate, at long last the evangelicals that Wilson left long ago are beginning to get the message about the environmental crisis and joining scientists like him in what he calls in his last chapter an "alliance for life." If true, and let us hope that it is, that would be good news about the Good News.
I enjoyed this book. It moved me; it contained a wealth of interesting information; it was exquisite writing. It fell short of its goals.
Wilson is a phenomenal writer. Like few others living today he can take the uninteresting and make it interesting to both scientist and layman. When you read him you actually get excited about bacteria living 2 miles under the surface of the Earth. He is passionate about his craft, natural history, and communicates that passion with excellent pedagogy.
Wilson has clearly shown, in this book and others, how urgent it is to change the way we treat the planet, and work to save the Earth. We are at a crux, where things are going horribly wrong as we enter the 6th and greatest Mass Extinction Event. But it is still possible to change the future, if we act now, and radically alter how we treat the rest of the life. Wilson's approach is to show how closely we are integrated with life, and one with the biosphere. For instance, Wilson points out how we are ecosystems in ourselves, with more bacterial cells in one human than there are human cells, seriously calling into question what it means to be human. What happens to one then happens to all.
Another theme of Wilson's is the incredible complexity of biology, by far the science of the 21st century in importance. There is the myriad of millions of species, most unknown. There is the level at which they interact, in complex ecology that is greater than the sum of its parts. And that ecology is constantly changing and evolving through time, so biology can not come close to being understood without looking through the billions of years past, and looking towards the future.
This was a wonderful book. I enjoyed it. And yet it fell short of the mark. In one minor point, Wilson uses Literal Creationist language of something being "only a theory", as if it were not proven. It is unconscionable that a scientist of Wilson's stature should misuse the term theory like that, compounding the common error of the laity in thinking that a theory is less than a law.
The bigger problem is Wilson's stated purpose, and the modus operandi of the book, that being to convince the archetypal Southern Baptist Pastor who believes in Literal Creationism. Wilson wants this pastor (and all those like him) to come to care for the environment. Wilson wants to argue that the pastor should do so because the Bible makes it clear that the Earth is important, and creation is beautiful. He hopes to capitalize on his past experience attending Baptist churches as a child.
Yet it would seem those past experiences are long forgotten. For he comes across as dismissive and even attacking on Literal Creationism and even basic Christian beliefs. Rather than fully embracing the call of God and the Bible to care for the environment, he pays lip-service to this, and in the process insults the beliefs of those he's trying to convince. This is not a way to get people to your side. I say this as one who was once in the darkness of Literal Creationism, and is still a committed Christian. I was able to look beyond the statements Wilson made to enjoy the biology of what he presented, because I am committed already to biology, the environment, and evolution. But from knowing many who are still in the Literal Creationist camp, and from my own experiences, I know that what he said was deeply offensive to them. Wilson doesn't try to bridge or speak to the needs and issues of the other. He is simply dismissive and patronizing in his tone towards Christians and Literal Creationists. Wilson even goes so far as to argue that science convincingly shows that evolution is the path that was used, and that there seems to be little need of a Deity. The former is true, the latter simply his opinion, but both are not helpful if one's stated aim is to convince the Literal Creationist or someone who dearly loves their Deity.
I highly recommend this book. But Wilson would be wise to rewrite and reprint it, with a completely different objective. That would fit better with what is actually written.
One of the most renowned scientists in the world E.O. Wilson makes an effort to reach across the great divide of our Culture, and bring Science and Religion together in common effort. Raised as a Southern Baptist himself, and an enthusiastic devotee of 'television preachers' he makes his appeal in the form of letters to an Evangelical preacher. His aim is to enlist the religious world in the task of saving the threatened planet.
Wilson says that by 2050 there could be the loss of one- quarter of living species. He points to other kinds of losses which could add to that including pollution, habitat destruction, human overpopulation and overharvesting.
Wilson is also greatly alarmed by the environmental disaster which is coming to the world's water supply, and could leave in the next century forty percent of mankind without a good source of drinking water.
He points out a whole host of other dangers and indicates ways of acting against them.
Wilson is not interested in debating abstract principles or fundamental philosophy in regard to the creation or nature of life, but rather in enlisting and important political constituency in the battle to preserve the Nature he loves, and has given his life to studying and understanding.
on January 16, 2007
As a former deeply religious man, now a physician and athiest, with a believing/questioning wife and family members of all persuasions, I admire Professor Wilson immensely and commend his highly readable effort to tackle the most urgent common goal facing church, science and politics today. It's well worth reading and passing around, particularly before or after watching Al Gore's "An Inconvenient Truth".
on September 23, 2006
This is a very readable book that goes beyond just Dr. Wilson's comments on saving the creation. There's a very good section on top-down teaching methods that can be applied to any subject. There's also an interesting discussion of how to make children more aware of the natural world, going far beyond teaching them facts. The result could be a generation that's much more aware of the world around them beyond TV and video games.
The problem with the book is the way the author approaches the discussion of evolution and intelligent design. Dr. Wilson assumes that people on the side of creationism understand basic biology and the scientific method as he states the "facts" of evolution. His mistake is that most people don't understand those basic facts and readily discount them. His hope may be that he can retrain the past couple of generations as amateur naturalists and this book may be a good start.