Edward O. Wilson is widely recognized as one of the world's preeminent biologists and naturalists. The author of more than twenty books, including The Creation, The Social Conquest of Earth, and Letters to a Young Scientist, Wilson is a professor emeritus at Harvard University. The winner of two Pulitzer Prizes, he lives in Lexington, Massachusetts.
His new book is The Meaning of Human Existence.
From Wilson's Q & A with Penny Sarchet, for New Scientist and reprinted in Slate:
Why does our species seem to ignore scientific warnings about Earth's future?--Marshal Zeringue
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 United States, 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.
Is atheism the answer?
In fact, I’m not an atheist—I’m a scientist. Atheism is the belief that there is no god, and you declare there is no god: “Come, my fellow atheists, let us march together and conquer those idiots who think there is a god—all these other tribes. We’re going to prevail.”
I would even say I’m agnostic because I’m a scientist. Being an agnostic means saying, dogmatically, that we will never be able to know, so give it up. The important thing is...[read on]