Thursday, October 27, 2011

Carl Safina’s Proposal For A Merger of Knowledge and Devotion

Peregrine Falcon (Teddy Llovet)
First of all, you have to read Carl Safina’s blog post, “Knowledge and Devotion; A Proposal For A Merger” because it’s classic Safina: articulate, touching and thought-provoking.

He recasts the dilemma C.P. Snow laid out in his 1950s essay, “The Two Cultures,” bemoaning the gulf between science and cultural humanism, or the gulf between facts and values.

Safina writes: “Jacques Cousteau said, “We protect only what we love.” But to protect effectively, we must fuse head and heart. Then, we can’t just watch, and we can’t just wait; we must also do. The falcon must search the waves, but it also must focus on a target and execute the dive.

“....The broader trick is to harness science’s ability to find out what is really happening, with religion’s tendency to ask, “What is right to do?” Both halves are necessary. Without understanding what is really happening, religious imperatives have barely budged since the Middle Ages. They focus on the Creator yet ignore the creation. And without asking, “What is the right thing to do with our knowledge?,” scientific knowledge counts for little.”

Safina is one of the best examples of meeting the challenge put forth by C.P. Snow in merging science and cultural humanism. In this blog, he manages to describe the flight of the peregrine falcon and quote W.B. Yeats.

In looking to Christianity, he is told by Dr. David P. Gushee, Distinguished Professor of Christian Ethics at Mercer University in Georgia, “Science and religion may not succeed in saving the Creation because there are not enough human beings who actually love this distressed world.”

That’s probably the case with Christianity that has a teleological dogma leading to the End of Days. Perhaps Hinduism or Buddhism may serve us better.

In this case, Safina is looking for a religious-like devotion that can ask, in this merger with science, “What is the right thing to do with our knowledge?”

That devotion is not in the dogmas of religion; it is in our cultural humanism— the poetry, the stories, the dramas, the paintings, the sculptures, the dances— of our world’s civilizations. That’s where the merger with knowledge needs to take place, that’s where the key to saving our civilization lies.

Good stuff to think about as the Salish Sea Ecosystem Conference winds down today.

--Mike Sato

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