Does respect for the former help the latter?
A while ago I posted about environmentalism and the religious worldview. I’m afraid that post was overbroad and led to a discussion about whether one can be a religious environmentalist (of course one can) and, more tediously, whether religion is "good" or "evil" overall.
But I had a more specific question in mind. Let me approach it from another direction.
This week Bush came out in favor of teaching "intelligent design" alongside evolution in school science classes.
I’ve been debating whether to post about this. This is an environmental blog. Is it an environmental issue?
I think it is, if only indirectly, if you accept the following three propositions:
- Environmentalism involves, in some way, to some degree, an appreciation of the complexity, the variety, the simultaneous fragility and resilience, of natural ecosystems. It involves some sense that events have causes, that human behavior ripples into the natural world via paths that are, in principle, explicable. It involves at once a belief that human beings can understand the natural world and improve our relationship with it, and that the natural world is of such vast complexity that a degree of modesty and awe are warranted.
What teaches us these attitudes? Science.
- Conversely, the view that miracles abound, that mankind was created apart from and superior to the natural world, that God intervenes here and there, that events are therefore, on a fundamental level, unpredictable and inexplicable, tends to make one, if not anti-environment, at least of little use as an environmentalist. I do not oppose talk about the majesty of God’s creation, nor do I discount the political power of religious lobbies. But when it comes to the difficult thinking about what ought to be done, on both an individual and policy level, a nice dose of good old fashioned reason is indispensable.
- The forces if irrationality and mysticism have an undue influence on our political leaders — I doubt Bush’s sop to the religious right was made from conviction so much as from cold political calculation.
So, to be much more brief: The President (and his party) are encouraging nonsense, the propagation of nonsense, and the habits of mind that produce nonsense. That’s bad for environmentalism.
As Matt Yglesias reminds us, the president is not in the minority here — in fact, he’s in a very large majority. Failure to apprehend the most widely accepted building blocks of scientific consensus is widespread. Anti-intellectualism and disrespect for the methods that produce scientific results are widespread.
If understanding of and respect for science were more common, would environmentalism gain strength?
I guess my answer is Yes. What do you think?
(Also: Don’t miss this post on Panda’s Thumb, which has links to the many blogs condemning the president’s statement.)