Environment

Can Religion and Science Find Common Ground?

Collide-a-ScapeBy Keith KloorDec 8, 2011 5:43 PM

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Roger Cohn, the editor of Yale Environment 360, conducted an interesting interview with Mary Evelyn Tucker, a scholar who studies the intersection of ecology and religion. This is a perennial interest of mine, even though I'm a life-long atheist. Most people in the world (including many scientists) possess a religious faith or seek out some kind of spiritual connection that can't be satisfied by science. Make of that what you will, but it's a reality that can't be wished, argued, or scornfully waved away. So count me among those who believe that science and religion can coexist. There really is no choice, either; they have to. (Yes, that puts me at odds with folks like Jerry Coyne, and this is something I intend to explore further in the near future.) One reason I say this is that people come at environmental issues and concerns from different places. If your object is to expand the constituency for the environment, it makes no sense to alienate those with different worldviews who might share your end goal. Which brings me back to the Yale interview with Tucker, who agrees

that scientific facts are critical and necessary, and policy papers and legislation are indispensable. But they may not be sufficient when it comes to dealing with an environmental crisis. That may require other disciplines and other ways of looking at the world, including religion.

Tucker is also one of the producers of a new film that showcases the splendor of the natural world as a means to connect with people on a different level. Here's an excerpt of the Yale Q & A that speaks to why she took this approach: Yale Environment 360: I was struck by the fact that your film, Journey of the Universe, ultimately is a celebration, unlike a lot of environmental-related literature and film that's filled with a heavy dose of doom and gloom. This film is optimistic and even celebratory in many ways. Why did you choose that approach? Mary Evelyn Tucker: We decided that so many people are aware of the huge and complex environmental problems we're facing "” ranging from climate change to toxicities to species extinction and so on "” that people are so overwhelmed that they go into paralysis and despair. We didn't want to take people there. We wanted to engage their sense of awe and wonder, because humans are moved fundamentally by either wonder or by disaster. We wanted to draw out the wonder. So in this film, we put the consequences of humanity's planetary presence "” our burgeoning population, our overwhelming resource use, all the consequences of having exploded in one century from 2 billion people to 7 billion people "” and we put that in the last 10 minutes of the film, where we do speak about humanity's impact and our current environmental crisis. We felt it was more effective there, because first you need to get a sense of the unfolding of a universe that is 14 billion years old, the evolution of our planet, and life emerging out of this tremendous journey. We wanted to give a sense of how late we humans arrived, and yet, how in a relatively short period of time, our impact has been enormous. *** Now what would interest me is if 1) this approach can work better that the usual eco-apocalypse fare, and 2) it can appeal to a broad religious demographic.

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