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The Creation: An Appeal to Save Life on…

The Creation: An Appeal to Save Life on Earth

by Edward O. Wilson

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"Science and religion are the two most powerful forces of society. Together they can save the Creation."

This short (175 p) book begins with a letter to a Southern Baptist Pastor, a fixture of E. O. Wilson's childhood in Alabama, with a plea to set aside differences and find common ground to save the biodiversity of earth. "You are well prepared to present the theological and moral arguments for saving the Creation. ... I will now lay before you and others who may wish to hear it the scientific argument." And so he does, addressing the hypothetical Pastor briefly in each chapter, but speaking as a scientist. I would have preferred a dialogue, a demonstration of this common cause. And yet Wilson can be religious in tone, more so than usual in this book.

Humanity went wrong in the neolithic, he says, a bit hyperbolically, or evoking religious imagery. "We strayed from nature with the beginning of civilization roughly ten thousand years ago. That quantum leap beguiled us with an illusion of freedom from the world that had given us birth." ... "We have been trying ever since to ascend from Nature instead of to Nature. The consequence is both bewildering complexity of scientific knowledge, and dangerous ignorance of the biodiversity that sustains us.

The effects of our presence are summarized by the acronym HIPPO, and fleshed out with statistics and examples:
H : habitat loss
I : invasive species
P : pollution
P : population
O : overharvesting

What to do? He outlines a program of biology, "broadly applied" and "exactly guided". "Scientists are to science what masons are to cathedrals." Biology has three dimensions: (1) each species, from its molecular composition to its place in an ecosystem, (2) mapping biological diversity in a range from local habits to the entire planet (3) reconstructing the history of each species, gene, ecosystem. This is an enormous agenda. Currently, resources are skewed toward the molecular and cellular level and medical applications, toward the "explorer-naturalists of a new age" investigating microscopic ecosystems. The rest, however, is nowhere near complete. He proposes an Encyclopedia of Life, with a web page for each species, with information about its genetic code, its ecological niche, its geographic distribution, its relevance to humans. (The Encyclopedia of Life (http://eol.org/) now exists, created in response to a TED talk (http://www.ted.com/talks/e_o_wilson_on_saving_life_on_earth.html).) And this is not an ivory tower enterprise; enthusiasm and involvement of the public are essential to the cause, and focus of the chapter Citizen Science. (Example: bioblitzes.)

This is E. O. Wilson, so of course there are ants. Mystery ant #1: During the 1500s, a series of ant plagues in the the West Indies wreaked havoc on gardens and orchards. (Bartolomé de las Casas believed this was God's punishment for mistreating the Taino.) Which species of ant? And why then? This is a tale of invasive species, but the ants were already there. Mystery ant #2: The pitchfork ant has jaws that inspired its name. What are they for? An appeal in Notes from Underground got an answer. "There is nothing more satisfying to younger scientists than showing up older ones."

Alarming and sweet, and recommended.

(read 22 Feb 2012)
1 vote qebo | Feb 28, 2012 |
This is a collection of letters to a Baptist minister, trying to convince him that the religious community should take part in the effort to save life on Earth. While his arguments are convincing, they fail to speak to the target audience. I didn't care for the emphasis on biology or the argument that we should save endangered species because we haven't yet studied them. There is a higher calling which Wilson should have spoken to if he was going to address a minister. ( )
1 vote zdufran | May 29, 2008 |
p28 "...the human genome will be modified only at risk. It is far better to work with human nature as it is, by changing our social institutions and moral precepts to get a more nearly optimal fit to our genes, than it would be to tinker with something that took eons of trial and error to create." p32 "The power of living Nature lies in sustainability through complexity." p63 "...biophilia, which I defined in 1984 as the innate tendency to affiliate with life and lifelike processes." p64 What is human nature asks Wilson. It is not genes, it is not culture "human nature is the heredity rules of mental development." p117 biodiversity disappearing at an accelerated rate because of HIPO, habitat destruction, invasive species, pollution (all 3 caused by human population growth) and overharvesting. p128 "I didn't understand all the words but, I got the music." p130 a liberal education: facts, concepts, understand how to learn, able and motivated think for self.
  normaleistiko | May 25, 2008 |
With his usual eloquence, patience and humor, Wilson, our modern-day Thoreau, adds his
thoughts to the ongoing conversation between science and religion. Couched in the form of
letters to a Southern Baptist pastor, the Pulitzer Prize–winning entomologist pleads for the
salvation of biodiversity, arguing that both secular humanists like himself and believers in God
acknowledge the glory of nature and can work together to save it. The "depth and complexity of
living Nature still exceeds human imagination," he asserts (somewhere between 1.5 million and
1.8 million species of plants, animals and microorganisms have been discovered to date), and
most of the world around us remains unknowable, as does God. Each species functions as a
self-contained universe with its own evolutionary history, its own genetic structure and its own
ecological role. Human life is tangled inextricably in this intricate and fragile web.
Understanding these small universes, Wilson says, can foster human life. Wilson convincingly
demonstrates that such rich diversity offers a compelling moral argument from biology for
preserving the "Creation." Wilson passionately leads us by the hand into an amazing and
abundantly diverse natural order, singing its wonders and its beauty and captivating our hearts
and imaginations with nature's mysterious ways. --Publisher's Weekly review
This review has been flagged by multiple users as abuse of the terms of service and is no longer displayed (show).
  TunstallSummerReads | May 15, 2008 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0393062171, Hardcover)

In this daring work, Edward O. Wilson proposes an alliance between science and religion to save Earth's vanishing biodiversity.

(see all 2 descriptions)

" Like Rachel Carson's Silent Spring, this is a book about the fate of the earth and the survival of our planet. Wilson attempts to bridge the seemingly irreconcilable worlds of fundamentalism and science. Passionately concerned about the state of the world, he draws on his own personal experiences and expertise as an entomologist, and prophesies that half the species of plants and animals on Earth could either have gone or at least are fated for early extinction by the end of our present century. This is not a bitter, predictable rant against fundamentalist Christians or deniers of Darwin; rather, Wilson, a leading "secular humanist," draws upon his own rich background as a boy in Alabama who "took the waters," and seeks not to condemn this new generation of Christians but to address them on their own terms.--From publisher description.… (more)

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W.W. Norton

2 editions of this book were published by W.W. Norton.

Editions: 0393062171, 0393330486

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