Planet Ark, September 4, 2006


[Rachel's introduction: The Harvard professor sees science and religion as allies for averting the mass extinction of species now under way.]

By Daniel Trotta

NEW YORK -- Scientist and Pulitzer Prize-winning author E.O. Wilson is out to save life on Earth -- literally -- and as a secular humanist has decided to enlist people of religious faith in his mission.

The Harvard professor sees science and religion as potential allies for averting the mass extinction of the species being caused by man, as he argues in his latest book, "The Creation: An Appeal to Save Life on Earth" (W.W. Norton), due out on Tuesday.

Asked whether he could unite two groups with clashing world views, Wilson immediately responded, "I know I can."

Among people of religious faith, "There is a potentially powerful commitment to conservation -- saving the creation -- once the connection is made and once the scientists are willing to form an alliance," Wilson told Reuters in a telephone interview on Thursday.

"There are two world views in conflict -- religious and secular -- but yet they can meet in friendship on one of the most important issues of this century," he said.

Wilson, 77, wrote "The Creation" in the form of a series of letters to an imaginary South Baptist minister -- just the opposite of preaching to the converted.

While the scientist believes in evolution, the evangelical Christian interprets the Bible as the literal word of God.

"I may be wrong, you may be wrong. We may both be partly right," Wilson writes.

"Does this difference in worldview separate us in all things? It does not," he goes on, drawing on his former experience as a Southern Baptist to find common ground.

Wilson, who won Pulitzers for general non-fiction in 1979 and 1991, documents how human activity has accelerated the mass extinction of species and says habitat preservation is most urgent. He writes that the world's 25 most endangered hotspots could be saved with a one-time payment of US$30 billion, a relative pittance compared to the wealth that nature generates for man.

In the Reuters interview, Wilson called the religious community in the United States a "powerful majority." The Southern Baptist Convention says on its Web site it has 16 million members in 42,000 churches.

Wilson is no longer one, having drifted away from religion in his youth. Wilson considers himself neither atheist nor agnostic but a "provisional deist."

"I'm willing to accept the possibility that there is some kind of intelligent force beyond our current understanding," he said.

As such he said he gets a "uniformly warm response" from Southern Baptists ministers, and sees mainstream public opinion as getting greener.

"The public opinion in the United States has become pastel green, and the green seems to be deepening," he said. "This could be just foolish optimism, but we could be approaching the turning point."