[ Below is an excerpt, out of order, from New Scientist’s 21 Jan 2015 interview with E.O. Wilson “Religious faith is dragging us down“. The extinctions we cause will kill us too, says the sociobiology pioneer – the best thing would be to eliminate religions]
Why is biodiversity loss suicidal for humans?
The major theme of my upcoming book will be that we are destroying Earth in a way that people haven’t appreciated enough, and that we are eroding away the biosphere through species extinction, like the death of a thousand cuts.
I want to examine the new ideology of the anthropocene – namely those who believe that the fight for biodiversity is pretty much lost and we should just go on humanizing Earth until it is peopled from pole to pole; a planet by, of and for humanity. It sounds good, but it’s suicidal.
The biosphere is an extremely complex system, and razor thin: if you look at it from the side, from orbit, you can’t even see it with unaided vision. That’s where we live, and that’s what produced us, plastered on the surface of our planet. We were not just created separately in some manner and then lowered into the biosphere. Everything about us – our minds, our bodies – is conditioned to exist in those exact conditions created by our biosphere.
The beautiful equilibrium of the living world is a result of all the species, plants, animals and microorganisms around us. As it is eroded away, the living world is almost certainly going to reach a tipping point where its equilibrium is going to decay and unravel. And when that happens, the whole thing collapses – and we collapse with it.
JG: Why does our species seem to ignore scientific warnings about Earth’s future?
WILSON: I think primarily it’s our tribal structure. All the ideologies and religions have their own answers for the big questions, but these are usually bound as a dogma to some kind of tribe. Religions in particular feature supernatural elements that other tribes – other faiths – cannot accept. In the US, for example, if you’re going to succeed in politics, it’s a prerequisite to declare you have a faith, even if some of these faiths are rather bizarre. And what they’re saying is “I have a tribe”. And every tribe, no matter how generous, benign, loving and charitable, nonetheless looks down on all other tribes. What’s dragging us down is religious faith.
The important thing is that it appears that humans, as a species, share a religious impulse. You can call it theological, you can call it spiritual, but humans everywhere have a strong tendency to wonder about whether they’re being looked over by a god or not. Practically every person ponders whether they’re going to have another life. These are the things that unite humanity.
[Our built-in] transcendent searching has been hijacked by the tribal religions. So I would say that for the sake of human progress, the best thing we could possibly do would be to diminish, to the point of eliminating, religious faiths. But certainly not eliminating the natural yearnings of our species or the asking of these great questions.
The question I most want answered now is whether or not there’s life on other planets. I’ve just got to know!
Jason Grow (JG): Your new book, The Meaning of Human Existence, addresses a huge question. What inspired you to tackle it?
Wilson: I think it’s time to be audacious. The central questions of religion and philosophy are three in number: where do we come from, what are we and where are we going? We now have a pretty good picture of how humanity arose in Africa, what intermediate forms existed, the rate at which these forms evolved and the circumstances in which they evolved. So of those three great questions, we have most of the answer for where we come from. And in this book I take up the question: what are we? We’re starting to close in on that one. We need to know where we came from and what we are to have the self-understanding to sensibly plan where we’re going.
JG: So will you examine humanity’s future next?
Wilson: I’m writing a trilogy. The first was The Social Conquest of Earth, which dealt with where we come from. The Meaning of Human Existence deals with what we are. And the final part, The End of the Anthropocene, will look at where we are going.
[ Religion is the main reason birth control and abortion are illegal or hard to get. Obviously one child per woman would be the most humane solution to declining energy and natural resources (see posts on population). Overpopulation has led to massive pollution of land, air, and water, the destruction of (rain)forests, biodiversity, fisheries, topsoil, clean water, and every other problem facing us.
What little control women have had over their lives and fates during this brief age of oil is likely to vanish after civilization collapses and energy slaves are replaced with human slaves. Although many Hindu, Muslim, and other conservative religious women aren’t considered “slaves”, they often have no control over who they marry, family planning, careers, ability to travel, the chance to become educated. Which is damn close to being slavery. Getting rid of religion will never happen, we’re hardwired for it, and consequently the Biblical phrase “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth” has the potential to drive us and most other species extinct. Alice Friedemann www.energyskeptic.com ]