Newspaper article The Tuscaloosa News

DON NOBLE: Pulitzer Prize-Winning Author Edward O. Wilson Addresses the Big Questions

Newspaper article The Tuscaloosa News

DON NOBLE: Pulitzer Prize-Winning Author Edward O. Wilson Addresses the Big Questions

Article excerpt

What writer/thinker would have the expertise, the wisdom, the confidence and the courage to write a book entitled "The Meaning of Human Existence"? The subject is infinite and eternal, not to mention wildly controversial. Luckily, there is such a person: E. O. Wilson, Harvard professor of biology emeritus, two-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize, author of more than 20 books, inventor -- one might say -- of sociobiology, expert on ants and superorganisms of all kinds, premier ecologist and, one could argue that he is the Francis Bacon, the Charles Darwin, of our time.

At 85 years of age, Wilson is done holding back. In this powerful slim volume, he addresses the big questions, and many readers will not be happy with his answers.

Among those unhappy will be the deniers of evolution, some 46 percent of Americans and a "comparable fraction of Muslims worldwide" whose "minds are closed to the overwhelming mass of factual demonstrations ... (and who) ignore, or more precisely ... call it virtue to remain ignorant of ongoing evolution observed in the field (and even) new species created in the laboratory."

Humans were not created, he insists, by God "in one to several magical mega-strokes."

Rather, "our planet was born about 4.54 billion years ago," the Milky Way galaxy is nearly 14 billion years old and evolution has been under way for 600 million years, not via "advance design, but instead (through) overlapping networks of physical cause and effect." Nevertheless, Wilson believes humans are not the servants of instinct or environment.

Wilson says that, paradoxically, "Human existence may be simpler than we thought. There is no predestination, no unfathomed mystery of life. Demons and gods do not vie for our allegiance. Instead we are self-made, independent, alone and fragile ..."

Wilson acknowledges an innate spirituality in humans: all societies have religions, which offer "enormous psychological benefits to the believers." Religious faith "gives them an explanation for their existence. It makes them feel loved and protected above members of every other tribal group."

Further, he says, "It binds groups more strongly, and provides comfort to their members. It promotes charity and law-abiding behavior."

Unfortunately, he argues, blind religious faith, especially tied to a strong creation story, leads to tribalism. God favors us, believers think, above all others. …

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