Correction to This Article
A Sept. 20 Style article incorrectly gave Focus on the Family founder James Dobson the title "reverend." He is not an ordained clergyman.

Science And Salvation

Dr. E.O. Wilson, Harvard biologist, Pullitzer Prize-winner
The biologist, in front of a photograph of weaver ants at his Harvard office, wants religious communities to join in efforts to protect biodiversity. (Josh Reynolds for The Washington Post)

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By Bob Thompson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 20, 2006

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. It's hard to picture, if you know him only by his scientific reputation, but E.O. Wilson confesses it freely: He loves watching preachers on television.

Wilson is an internationally renowned biologist who has based his extraordinarily productive five-decade career at that great bastion of secular humanism, Harvard University. At 77, his work and his worldview are so thoroughly entwined with Darwinian theory that they're impossible to imagine without it. His reverence is for the wondrous creatures and intricate interconnections of the natural world, not for any supreme being.

So what's he doing tuning in those evangelical sermons from the megachurches?

"I listen to them the way an Italian listens to opera," Wilson confesses with a lopsided grin. "I may be thinking of the texts as fiction, but I can't resist the old-time rhythm, the music and the superlative performances."

These rhythmic exhortations are the stuff of Wilson's childhood. He may have put aside the Southern Baptist faith into which he was born -- and, as a teenager, born again -- but he has retained his emotional ties to the culture surrounding it. All of which helps explain the herculean task he recently assigned himself:

He's trying to bridge the gap between science and religion in the hope of saving life on Earth.

The vehicle is his new book, "The Creation." Wilson chose the title because he knew it would resonate with evangelical Christians, a community so vast and influential that without its support, he believes, reaching the goal will be next to impossible. And he chose to present his argument in the form of a letter to a fictional Southern Baptist minister.

If you called it a sermon, he wouldn't object.

"Pastor, we need your help," Wilson writes. "The Creation -- living Nature -- is in deep trouble." At the present rate of destructive human activity, "half the species of plants and animals on Earth could be either gone or at least fated for early extinction by the end of the century."

It's not that this looming catastrophe is news; Wilson and many others have sounded alarms about it for years. What's new is his personal outreach program. Since "The Creation" was published this month, Wilson has been taking every chance he gets to extend the hand of friendship across that yawning science-religion divide. Tonight at 7:30, he's scheduled to address the subject at Washington National Cathedral.

Why? Because to him, science and religion are "the two most powerful forces in the world today" -- and they need each other.

Don't get him wrong. He's not trying to reconcile the irreconcilable.

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© 2006 The Washington Post Company

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