Edward O. Wilson hasn't been to church in a while

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In a New Republic cover story (text available here for nonsubscribers), ant expert and environmentalist Edward O. Wilson pleads with "an imagined Southern Baptist pastor" to join with him and "set aside our differences in order to save the Creation."

If you actually wanted to reach a Southern Baptist pastor, would you write a generic letter and publish it in a somewhat liberal beltway opinion magazine? Scott Carson dissects this weirdness at An Examined Life. Carson has his own dogmatic agenda, but that doesn't keep him from thinking straight on one point: Wilson is actually advising fellow secularists to start making nice with conservative religious folk, who have the numbers.

If you take the letter at face value, Wilson does seem naive, especially when he writes:

"You and I are both humanists in the broadest sense: Human welfare is at the center of our thought."

Not necessarily. Christopher Shannon laid out the orthodox religious doctrine by quoting Jacques Maritain in the far-right intellectual mag First Things back in 2004 (my emphases):

"The inviolability of the person does not make him the primary purpose or end of the social order. Maritain affirms the dignity of the person only in the context of a relation of mutual and reciprocal subordination. Though superior to mere utility, [Maritain writes] 'a human life is less precious than the moral good and the duty of assuring the salvation of the community, is less precious than the human and moral patrimony of which the community is the repository, and is less precious also than the human and moral work which the community carries on from one century to the next.' I know of no clearer statement of the Catholic understanding of the place of the human person in society."

Conservative Catholic or conservative Protestant, same difference on this point.  {Added Sept. 8:  Please check out vigorous dissent in the comments.}  Human welfare is at the center of their thought only insofar as it leads to or doesn't obstruct communal "salvation."

Of course, as Shannon laments, many, perhaps most, believers are not this orthodox. But Wilson shouldn't trivialize what their leaders think, especially when he's pretending to talk to them. We don't all agree on the important things.

(FYI:  Apparently this letter is drawn from Wilson's brand-new book,  The Creation: A Meeting of Science and Religion, which I haven't seen.)

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