Wednesday, May 13, 2009

E.O. Wilson's War

הלל אומר, הוי כתלמידיו של אהרון--אוהב שלום ורודף שלום,
אוהב את הברייות ומקרבן לתורה
Hillel says: Be like the students of Aaron, loving peace and chasing peace,
loving other people and bringing them closer to Torah. (Avot 1:12)

Pulitzer Prize-winning biologist E.O. Wilson is passionate about biodiversity. The multitude of plant and animal species is not only beautiful, but also holds secrets to combating human disease. In the 1990s, Wilson became concerned that industrialization of the world's most biodiverse zones, such as Madagascar, was threatening thousands of species. But his efforts to raise awareness were frustrated by the political climate, in which any environmental cause was linked with liberal politics and rejected by the right. Wilson's response? He wrote a book, The Creation, which reached out to religious groups to cooperate with scientists in order to save endangered species. In a recent interview on NPR, he described his thought process (skip to 18:50):


I said to myself, it's something obvious, you know we're not going to really get a lot of movement until the people arebehind it. Then, who are the people? This is a religious country... the Evangelicals, I grew up among them, that's what I was, when I was a kid in the South, ~42 % of Americans are Evangelicals. Why not find a way to form an alliance? And the only way to do that was to extend the hand of friendship, sincerely, to show some respect, to show that scientists don't really disrespect them, at least in terms of what we could all accomplish together. And so I wrote the book The Creation, in which I did this, and asked for their help.

... I believe this is the right way to proceed: Let's put all this stuff we've been fighting about - evolution and traditional Judeo-Christian or Abrahamic religious beliefs - can we put that aside for a moment, and fuss about it later, and meet on common ground... to talk about something that is
transcendent.
Note the Obama-esque pragmatism of this approach. It's very realistic (read, scientific). To succeed as a modern-day Noah, Wilson knew he'd have to come down from the ivory tower and start speaking the peoples' language. As a result, both sides have moved a small step closer to one another - and to saving Earth's precious biodiversity.

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