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29.3.02

In reading Seyyed Hossein Nasr's Religion and the Order of Nature for my thesis, I came across what is one of the more interesting arguments against evolution that I've seen. The book is about religious versus secular/scientific views of nature. His argument is that religion views nature as sacred because it is a reflection of God, and that the denial of the sacredness of nature by modern science is at the root of the current environmental crisis.

His view of evolution was mentioned only in passing, as Nasr wrote at length about this topic in another book. While his tone (calling evolution "absurd" and insinuating that some kind of scientific establishment conspiracy refuses to discuss the obvious flaws in evolution) suggests the book may be a lot of ill-informed rambling about the Second Law of Thermodynamics and microevolution versus macroevolution, the argument of interest to Religion and the Order of Nature was somewhat different. The problem with evolution, Nasr says, is that it isn't finished. Everything is still evolving. So there is nothing special about the arrangement of nature at present. It's simply a random spot in a never-ending process that has no particular goal. Therefore, there is no moral imperative to respect or protect nature -- it's all going to change anyway, and the present state of affairs is no more special than any other. In contrast, the religious view says that nature as it exists now is a perfectly constituted reflection of the eternal qualities of the divine. As such, the current arrangement of the natural world is something that has sacred significance and therefore must be protected.

It's interesting that his argument is not based on a contention about the truth of evolution (though he certainly believes it is wrong). His argument is, rather, that believing in creationism is useful -- it fosters an ethic of environmental stewardship that would help to avoid the environmental crisis caused by a belief in evolution's apparent callousness toward the makeup of the natural world.

This raises the problematic issue of the equilibrium view of nature. This view, which retains incredible popularity in environmentalist circles despite being challenged by new ecological and anthropological research, holds that non-human nature exists in a state of perfect harmonious balance on its own. The presence of humans can only mess things up and put nature out of balance. This view is necessitated by the proposition that nature is the culmination of creation.

I also don't think a view of the natural world as sacred (or inherently valuable in some other sense) is necessary to avoiding an environmental catastrophe. A view of nature as sacred is simply one mechanism of preserving the human species. A more explicit calculation of the sustainability of various practices could work as well. It's interesting how religion, which bases its claims on access to eternal truths, can become, in the hands of a careless defender, simply a mechanism for achieving another goal. I don't have a problem with that type of argument, but I doubt it's direction Nasr meant to go.

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