Friday, 11 June 2010

Religion and Ecology

HRH the Prince of Wales was in Oxford this week to give a speech on Islam and the Environment. The whole speech can be viewed or read on his web-site, but here is an extract:
I would like you to consider very seriously today whether a big part of the solution to all of our worldwide “crises” does not lie simply in more and better technology, but in the recovery of the soul to the mainstream of our thinking. Our science and technology cannot do this. Only sacred traditions have the capacity to help this happen.

In general, we live within a culture that does not believe very much in the soul anymore – or if it does, won’t admit to it publicly for fear of being thought old fashioned, out of step with “modern imperatives” or “anti-scientific.” The empirical view of the world, which measures it and tests it, has become the only view to
believe. A purely mechanistic approach to problems has somehow assumed a position of great authority and this has encouraged the widespread secularisation of society that we see today. This is despite the fact that those men of science who founded institutions like the Royal Society were also men of deep faith. It is also despite the fact that a great many of our scientists today profess a faith in God. I am aware of one recent survey that suggests over seventy per cent of scientists do so.

I must say, I find this rather baffling. If this is so, why is it that their sense of the sacred has so little bearing on the way science is employed to exploit the natural world in so many damaging ways? I suppose it must be to do with who pays the fiddler. Over the last two centuries, science has become ever more firmly yoked to the ambitions of commerce. Because there are such big economic benefits from such a union, society has been persuaded that there is nothing wrong here. And so, a great deal of empirical research is now driven by the imperative that its findings must be employed to maximum, financial effect, whatever the impact this may have on the Earth’s long-term capacity to endure.

This imbalance, where mechanistic thinking is so predominant, goes back at least to Galileo's assertion that there is nothing in Nature but quantity and motion. This is the view that continues to frame the general perception of the way the world works and how we fit within the scheme of things. As a result, Nature has been completely objectified – “She” has become an “it” – and we are persuaded to concentrate on the material aspect of reality that fits within Galileo’s scheme.

Understanding the world from a mechanical point of view and then employing that knowledge has, of course, always been part of the development of human civilization, but as our technology has become ever more sophisticated and our industrialized methods so much more powerful, so the level of destruction is now potentially all the more widespread and un-containable, especially if you add into this mix the emphasis we have on consumerism.
[I posted this blog before registering the Prince's comments on population control, which - especially in light of his quoting Chesterton, who would hardly have agreed with them - have been noted elsewhere. It would be a pity if his few remarks on this topic, tucked into the very end of the speech, and not even particularly clear, should distract from the excellent things he says earlier. I intend to return to this topic at some point in the future.]

No comments:

Post a comment