There are occasions when the time you spend with someone may be brief in terms of time-elapsed ... but special, nonetheless.
Such was the case with me, last night, when I had one of the world's most renowned scientists and naturalists all to myself for a few, priceless minutes. There was an introduction and a handshake ... then we went off to the side of the room so we could sit as he autographed my copy of one of his books. From there a brief conversation, and words of encouragement to-and-from one another. I wish everyone involved in the Evolution vs. Creation debate could have such a moment with Dr. Edward O. Wilson.
Wilson has been named Named one of "America's 25 Most Influential People" by TIME magazine, and for good reason. Through a lifelong passion for biology - especially ants! - he has made a giant contribution to our understanding of the rich spectrum of Earth's biodiversity. He is a the recipient of the U.S. National Medal of Science, the Crafoord Prize (a sister to the Nobel), and the Audubon Medal. He is the Pellegrino University Research Professor, Emeritus, at Harvard, and continues to research at the Museum of Comparative Zoology.
In his lectures, he makes a persuasive, eloquent plea to government, corporate and religious leaders to address the damage we have done to our planet, before it's too late. He is considered among the founders of the modern environmental movement.
His books cover a broad range of topics. His works include Ants and On Human Nature, which both won the Pulitzer Prize; The Future of Life, which offers a plan for saving Earth's biological heritage; and Consilience, which draws together the sciences, humanities and the arts into a broad study of human knowledge. His latest book, 2008's The Superorganism, was hailed by The New York Times as “an astonishing account of the intricate and unexpected swarm intelligence of wasps, bees, ants and termites.”
Last night's lecture at Midland College was based upon another of his books, The Creation, a plea for science and religion to work together to save the planet.
It's a shame, really, that so many of the debates that are rending our country are led and defined by the extremists on both sides of whatever issue is being debated. The Evolution vs. Creation debate, for example, where the extremists on both sides seek to build insurmountable walls, and demand that we choose between science and faith, one or the other.
Well, why not both? Which brings us to The Creation: An Appeal to Save Life on Earth, which is written in the form of an extended letter from Wilson to a Southern Baptist minister.
"We have not met, yet I feel I know you well enough to call you friend," Wilson writes on the first page. "As a boy I too answered the altar call; I went under the water. Although I no longer belong to that faith, I am confident that if we met and spoke privately of our deepest beliefs, it would be in a spirit of mutual respect and good will."
"I know we share many precepts of moral behavior. Perhaps it also matters that we are both Americans and, insofar as it might still affect civility and good manners, we are both Southerners."
Wilson goes on to suggest that, while we might disagree over HOW life, in all its diversity, was created ... can we not agree that it IS a wonderful thing, and that we should make every effort to save that Creation?
And this suggestion is made - in the book, and in his lecture - with an impressive catalog of data, scientific observations and records ... but also with mutual respect and good will, civility and good manners.
Which would be good, perhaps, for even the sharpest points of contention among us. We are more alike than we know, or care to admit ... we could find out for sure if we walked across bridges, rather than shouted over walls.
Special Note: Thanks to the Davidson Distinguished Lecture Series, the Friends of the Series and the Midland College Foundation for making Wilson's visit to Midland possible. Twice-a-year, the series presents nationally-known speakers whose academic accomplishments, civic leadership, and/or public achievements interest, enrich, and enlighten Midland students and citizens. These lectures are free and open to the public.