Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Book Review: The Creation by E.O. Wilson

The Creation
E.O. Wilson

            “More than 2 million tons of expired electronics are discarded in land fills each year, making ewaste the fastest growing fraction of the municipal garbage system.  These castoffs account for nearly 40 percent of the toxic heavy metals – like lead, cadmium, and mercury – found in dumps.”  Wired Magazine, Fall 2006.

            E.O. Wilson is an interesting contradiction.  He was brought up in a Southern Baptist household in rural Alabama and is now a Darwinian student of evolutionary biology.  He is a world renowned entomologist whose area of specialization is ants and has been a Harvard University Biology professor for 25 years.  Two previous books have won this author the Pulitzer Prize, “On Human Nature” in 1978 and “The Ants”, co-authored by Bert Holldobler in 1990. “The Creation” is a letter to an unnamed pastor (representing the religious or anti-evolutionist point of view) which lays out a very scientific, dispassionate argument for preserving all of nature’s species.  He documents the dramatic peril that living organisms currently face through citing current research.  He emphatically states: “According to estimates by a team of experts in 2004, climate changes alone, if left unabated, could be the primary cause of extinction of a quarter of the species of plants and animals on the land by mid-century.”  He calls our times an “ecological Dark Age.”  The author then laments the decline of the Earth’s biodiversity from a purely scientific standpoint and points his finger directly at one species responsible for this debacle: Homo Sapiens.  “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.”  He then presents cogent arguments for reversing this trend citing, among other items, medical and health reasons to preserve the Creation rather than systematically destroy it.

            Throughout this fascinating and yet frightening book the author appeals to “the Pastor” in religious terms.  He discusses the quote from Genesis in which God gives humans dominion over all of Earth’s other species and expounds on how that caveat has been abused over time to allow us to plunder our natural resources.  The concept that humans are a higher order of being on theological grounds has sanctioned the exploitation of our co-inhabitors of the planet.  The author considers this flawed rationalization and blames it for what he describes as the “homogenization of the Earth’s ecosystem”, or declining biodiversity.  He appeals to the Pastor using his own religious vocabulary.  He calls on all humans to be stewards of this great gift, the Creation.  “The Creation is the greatest heritage other than the reasoning mind itself ever provided to humanity”.  On these grounds alone, the author reasons, the Creation should be celebrated and preserved.

            The last section of the book discusses the differences between secular and religious humanism.  There is an interesting harpooning of the concept of “Intelligent Design” as a default argument between the religious and scientific communities.  The real value of “The Creation” though is in these last few important pages of the book.  In these E. O. Wilson implores scientists and theologians to basically put aside their differences and celebrate their similarities.  Both camps have solid reasons to preserve the environment and Earth’s biodiversity despite differing bases for the same conclusions.  He calls for a better educated populace in the area of biology.  He calls for “all species inventories” to be undertaken so that we can more fully understand our world.  These inventories have already been started in areas such as the Great Smoky Mountains National Park using “citizen naturalists” to discover and catalog the living creatures in that area.  What a refreshing attitude!  The author is basically stating: “Let’s quit arguing over our philosophical differences which we will never resolve and move on to our common goal: preserving the environment!”  If this attitude would catch on in the political arena as well, can you imagine what a better “Creation” we would live in?

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