An Appeal to Save Life on Earth
by Edward O. Wilson
reviewed by Reverend Clare Butterfield
W.W. Norton, 2006. $21.95, 160 pages.
Review published in the May/June 2007 issue of Orion magazine
The Creation is written as a letter to a Southern Baptist pastor (E. O. Wilson himself was raised in this tradition). Within it, Wilson addresses those in the religious community who do not accept scientific evolution, and who may believe in the imminence of the Second Coming—beliefs that tend to make the precarious condition of the planet irrelevant. In view of these beliefs, Wilson seeks a common ground in an ethic of protection for life. “My guess is,” he says, “that you and I are about equally ethical, patriotic, and altruistic. . . . And surely we also share a love of the Creation.” Wilson calls this love biophilia, or “the innate tendency to affiliate with life and lifelike processes.” His argument is based in the value of the diversity of life.
Though I was moved both by the beauty of life as described here, and by Wilson’s reverence for it, I am frustrated by the breadth and depth of the gulf he is attempting to cross. Statistics show that those who believe either in a special creation of the human apart from evolution or in a “God of the gaps,” who is actively involved in all phases of evolution, constitute a substantial majority in the United States. Wilson attributes this in part to poor scientific instruction in the schools. I would also question the quality of religious instruction that creates a necessary conflict between scientific knowledge and religious beliefs.
It will be a difficult and weary task to bridge this chasm, but Wilson’s elegant volume offers a worthy beginning. His invitation, whether he quite realizes it or not, is to abandon beliefs that place an emphasis on the next world in favor of an agreement that what we have before us in this world needs our care. It is an invitation written in the language of science. The response, if there is one, will have to come in the language of theology. How can dialogue be encouraged by groups that don’t even have a language in common to address their differences? Many progressive Protestants and Catholics do in fact stand in the gap between Wilson and the evangelicals he is addressing. I suspect that if any movement from the ends of this spectrum is possible, it will need to be mediated through those in the middle.