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Honored with the National Medal of Science and two Pulitzer Prizes, Harvard entomologist and author Edward O. Wilson is noted for originality of thought and passion for his subject. His latest book, The Creation: An Appeal to Save Life on Earth, illustrates why. It is a passionate manifesto about the facts and consequences of humanity's destructive impact on Earth's biodiversity.
The title refers not to the events described in Genesis or by the Big Bang theory, but rather to Nature itself--Earth and the life that fills its varied ecological niches. Preserving and defending that Creation, Prof. Wilson asserts, is the moral obligation of all humans equally, regardless of whether they view it from a scientific or a religious perspective.
Nature-loving readers will find much to admire in the compact volume's fervent prose. Yet most of them may legitimately wonder whether it was written for them. It is structured as an extended letter to a pastor in the fundamentalist Southern Baptist Church in which the Alabama-born author was reared.
Its opening "Salutation" evokes a voice colored with lush southern inflections and genteel manners: "Dear Pastor,... I write to you now for your counsel and help. Of course, in doing so, I see no way to avoid the fundamental differences in our respective worldviews. You are a literalist interpreter of Christian Holy Scripture.... I am a secular humanist.... For you, the glory of an unseen divinity; for me, the universe revealed at last.... You have found your final truth; I am still searching."
The core of the book lays out the magnitude of the damage humanity has wreaked on The Creation and what can be done to repair it. Our planet is experiencing a mass extinction greater than any in its history, but this time the cause is not a rogue asteroid or a cataclysmic volcanic eruption. The source of the damage is a humanity that has gone too far in fulfilling the biblical injunction to subdue the Earth.
Preserving The Creation, argues Prof. Wilson, is humanity's essential task, whether we consider it God's work or our own. The book lays out the specifics of what we must do, drawn from his five decades of teaching and research.
Will Prof. Wilson's passion persuade "Pastor" and his fundamentalist flock? Reading the book through their eyes, that seems dubious. They will see the author as an apostate, and they will have a difficult time accepting the premise that biodiversity on a 10,000-year-old planet has required millions of years to recover from past extinctions.
Perhaps he should have addressed his message to someone else.