Review of E.O. Wilson’s The Creation in TREE

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Thanks to Bob O’H (hat tip) I have discovered that my book review of E.O. Wilson’s The Creation: An Appeal to Save Life on Earth has been published in Trends in Ecology and Evolution (TREE). Wilson attempts to set aside the evolution/creation issue to encourage evangelicals to join him in saving biodiversity. The review is currently the online-before-print version, I assume it will be in the May issue. The journal requires a subscription but I will post a bit below.

I have to add that I take a little extra pleasure in getting to correct Wilson, in my opinion the world’s leading living biologist, for mistakenly talking about the “spinning bacterial cilium” when he meant “bacterial flagellum.” OK, I am still a tiny ant compared to Wilson (and Wilson literally is a god among ants, so that is saying something), but hey, I am on a crusade about the flagellum thing.

If conservationists are serious about making their case to evangelicals, they should have the goal of getting biodiversity on the front cover of Christianity Today, the leading evangelical newsmagazine. Wilson’s book will not do it, but at least he is thinking in the right direction. The key is convincing evangelicals that extinction is a moral outrage, something at least as senseless and horrible as book burning. Extinction should be viewed as stealing from future generations. Aldo Leopold knew this; he once sarcastically invited a wildflower thief to steal the paintings from the campus union while he was at it [2]. Whether a believer or not, ‘thou shalt not steal’ is a good commandment.

[…]

2. A. Leopold, Letter to a wildflower digger [1938]. In: S.L. Flader and J.B. Callicott, Editors, The River of the Mother of God and Other Essays, University of Wisconsin Press (1991), pp. 247–248.

Reference: Matzke, N. (2007). “Needs more brimstone [book review].” Trends in Ecology and Evolution. Published online 6 April 2007. (DOI)

19 Comments

P.S.: For discussion of whether or not there is any way that “bacterial cilium” is legitimate usage, and whether or not E.O. Wilson is the world’s leading living biologist, see this talk.origins thread.

Given the current political affiliation of most Evangelicals, I think you’d do much better to try to get them to oppose something by comparing it to flag burning rather than book burning.

I found the book to be a mixed bag - the format is a novel concept but it is presented inconsistently throughout (the letter-to-the-baptist-pastor style comes in and goes out with no apparent congruity)- it is refreshing that Wilson focused on ecosystem destruction as one of the principal adverse affects of humans on species diversity, but I found that in his desire to keep the book to a readable length, there is not enough substance to persuade people that there is a real concern, other than Wilson’s insistence that there is. Some of the examples he uses are fascinating, but there seems to be a dearth of continuity on some fundamental level. His discussions pertaining to climate change are presented in an uncritical context that I find distressing from a scientist in a position to take a creible and authoritative stance.

It’s a start

Tom

OK Nick we will forgive your indiscretion against the God of the ants ;-)

Actually, engaging evangelicals on environmental issues is not a lost cause. There is a big rift in that community where half of them are rediscovering social issues which for at one time they were leading advocates.

http://www.creationcare.org/ http://www.pbs.org/wnet/religionand[…]0/cover.html

Just google for the words: evangelical environmental.

Wilson is very timely.

Yeah, I didn’t realize this when I wrote the review, but Wilson is actually getting a better reaction from evangelicals than I would have expected based on the book. Part of it is that in addition to the book he has made an effort to dialog, speak at evangelical meetings, etc.

E.g.: Here is a dialog published in Audobon magazine between E.O. Wilson and Richard Cizik of the National Association of Evangelicals.

On the other hand, here is a pretty negative reaction that Wilson got at Christianity Today.

Speaking of Christianity Today, this is also interesting: “Living with the Darwin Fish”.

Nick Wrote:

The key is convincing evangelicals that extinction is a moral outrage, something at least as senseless and horrible as book burning.

Eh… I’m old enough to remember when book burning was an occasional (if not common) activity among fundamentalist churches. And I’m pretty young.

Killer title by the way.

Regarding the negative reaction in Christianity Today, what struck me was (addressed to E.O. Wilson) “. . we both have studied science. As an undergraduate, I, too, took an introductory biology course…”.

‘Hello, Mr, Beckham, we are both soccer players. I have kicked a ball around on the driveway with my son.’

I believe the both Wilson’s irenic work and Nick asking respectful and probing questions on the ASA list will in time bear fruit. So, maybe Wilson is not getting a positive reaction in CT but I would add the caveat, yet. It’s taken time to get a positive reaction for Francis Collins. Quite frankly, many evangelicals were appalled at how the religious right have treated Rich Cizic from the National Association of Evangelicals when he stressed the need to deal with climate change. This may also be an American thing. You may recall Sir John Houghton, former head of the IPCC and appointed by Lady Thatcher, is an evangelical and was also instrumental in convincing the NAE of the problem. The leading evangelical relief charity, World Vision, has also stressed the need to deal with climate change because of the profound effect on the poor. This suggests a better angle to stress for evangelicals is the poor rather than bio-diversity. But, this is matter of stress rather than an either/or thing.

Wilson rightly understands that there is a good deal of common ground. A poll of evangelicals a year ago had a majority of evangelicals now believe:

1. Climate change is real 2. It’s caused by humans 3. Action is needed now even if it is expensive

The relationships built by EO Wilson’s and Nick Matzke’s style will do more to convince evangelicals about the need for bio-diversity and mitigating climate change than the best argument. The reason bio-diversity hasn’t yet landed the cover of CT is not because the conservationist’s arguments are not compelling and cogent. It’s because neither side trusts the other. That’s slowly changing in no small part by the good will generated by Wilson and Matzke. As for the arguments themselves, the fact that the latest IPCC SPM shows mass extinctions by the end of the century will do it for them. Nick’s goal is not only a worthy goal for conservationists but also for evangelicals. In the end, the change must come from the inside.

Richard Simons Wrote:

Regarding the negative reaction in Christianity Today, what struck me was (addressed to E.O. Wilson) “. . we both have studied science. As an undergraduate, I, too, took an introductory biology course…”.

‘Hello, Mr, Beckham, we are both soccer players. I have kicked a ball around on the driveway with my son.’

I think the writer was trying to make the same ironic point you’re making: Wilson’s commonality with a Christian pastor is about as strong as the letter-writer’s common ground with Wilson.

Kevin posted; Richard Simons wrote:

Regarding the negative reaction in Christianity Today, what struck me was (addressed to E.O. Wilson) “. . we both have studied science. As an undergraduate, I, too, took an introductory biology course…”.

‘Hello, Mr, Beckham, we are both soccer players. I have kicked a ball around on the driveway with my son.’

I think the writer was trying to make the same ironic point you’re making: Wilson’s commonality with a Christian pastor is about as strong as the letter-writer’s common ground with Wilson.

There is a great deal of difference in the ironies. As a christian, BTW Wilson was raised in protestant church, a member of the congregation as closer to the “truth” as the leader of the congregation; “We are all called to be pastors in the world.” However in sciences or as in sports the difference between an observer or even a person with a basic knowledge is not even comparable to the “pro” as Wilson is compared to a person with a passing knowledge of undergraduate biology knowledge.

Nick Matzke Wrote:

Speaking of Christianity Today, this is also interesting: “Living with the Darwin Fish”.

Yes, it’s always those smug college professors with those Darwin Fish, isn’t it? After all, those Academic Intellectuals in their Ivory Towers are perverting the minds of their students with the Liberal Atheist Agenda! *rabble rabble rabble* In my college experience none of the instructors had Darwin Fish on their cars. A whole lot of the students, however, did. I wonder if the Universe knows what the Religious Right’s obsession with college professors it all about?

Steve Reuland Wrote:

Eh… I’m old enough to remember when book burning was an occasional (if not common) activity among fundamentalist churches. And I’m pretty young.

You don’t have to be that old to remember book burnings. We had a good-old-fashioned Harry Potter book-barnin’ just a few years ago, here in New Mexico.

And that wasn’t the only such event.

Re “In my college experience none of the instructors had Darwin Fish on their cars. A whole lot of the students, however, did.”

Wonder if some of those instructors today were some of the earlier students?

Henry

1. Climate change is real 2. It’s caused by humans 3. Action is needed now even if it is expensive

1 actually is real (probably). 2 is possible but not highly probable. 3 is nonsense even if 2 is true.

You socialists using lies about AGW (I assume you have actually read enough about it to know the facts) are by far a bigger danger to the U.S., and the rest of the world, than the few creationist twits you’re always going on about.

;)There’s a fine line between participation and mockery.

;)Is that a gun in your pocket or are you just happy to see me?

It’s a flashlight.

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This page contains a single entry by Nick Matzke published on April 12, 2007 2:32 PM.

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