December 16, 2007


The Evangelical Ecologist; a review of The Creation: An Appeal to Save Life on Earth by E. O. Wilson (S. M. Hutchens, Fall 2007, New Atlantis)

Now comes E.O. Wilson, complaining to Christians about the loss of plant and animal species. In The Creation, Wilson asks the imaginary Baptist pastor to whom the book is addressed to search his faith for reason to make common cause in earth-saving with Wilson’s own secular humanism, the dogmatics of which assert that “heaven and hell are what we create for ourselves on this planet. There is no other home.” To this end, the eminent biologist and teacher writes this charming paean to “creation,” threatened by numerous extinctions, especially those caused by human activity.

Kermit the Frog, to summarize the situation, in a phrase, is sick. And to varying degrees so is much of the rest of the living world. Might Homo sapiens follow? Maybe, maybe not. But with certainty we are the giant meteorite of our time, having begun the sixth mass extinction of Phanerozoic history. We are creating a less stable and interesting place for our descendants to inherit. They will understand and love life more than we, and they will not be inclined to honor our memory.

In the biographical postscript, Wilson, himself raised a Southern Baptist, is described as “lastingly influenced by the lyrical and spiritual power of evangelical Christianity.” In his opening salutation he emphasizes that he began where the minister remains: “As a boy I too answered the altar call; I went under the water. Although I no longer belong to the faith, I am confident that if we met and spoke privately of our deepest beliefs, it would be in a spirit of mutual respect and good will. I know we share many precepts of moral behavior.”

Wilson reveals himself to be, in his own way, what he knows his Baptist minister is—a passionately religious man. If religion is devotion to an Ultimate Concern, an incalculably worthy reality beyond man himself, accompanied by a disciplined piety in service of that reality, then Wilson by the presents of this book is not simply a biologist in the sense of a student of organic life, but exalts bios as logos, believes science of the Darwinian persuasion its proper mode of worship, and regards his responsibility thereto as a ministerial vocation. The Creation is an evangelistic tract seeking to enlist the cooperation of Christians of the sort who are “literalist interpreters of Holy Scripture” in seeking to preserve the life-diversity of the biosphere as an aspect of their own religious duty to which they have heretofore been insufficiently attentive.

From Wilson’s viewpoint the world is not and never has been “for man,” in the sense of subject to a right of human dominion, but rather in some way for itself—and by extension for its component species, among which man takes a place where his responsibility for its use is not principally to God, in accordance with an eschatology assumed in divine directives, or to the human race, in accordance with a philosophical concept of human good, but to the biosphere itself. The summum bonum in view, the ethical end humanity as earth’s most powerful species is bound to seek, is the maximum health, abundance, and diversity of living things.

What makes the Darwinist appeal to maintain biodiversity so amusing is not just its religious tone but how unnatural it is.

Posted by Orrin Judd at December 16, 2007 11:12 AM

It's natural for pagans to look back to a golden age and dread the coming end times. The Darwinists want to bring back pangea, the Econuts want to bring back Eden, and the Socialists want to bring back the tribe and their God-King rulers. Only Christians look to the future in hope and joy....

Posted by: Robert Mitchell Jr. at December 16, 2007 1:21 PM

Speaking of Kermit the Frog— What ever happened to that worldwide plague that was supposedly killing off all the frogs? The one that was caused by ozone rain or acid pollution holes or carbon overdose or something. Weren't all the frogs supposed to be dead by now?

Posted by: Raoul Ortega at December 16, 2007 5:18 PM