Have you ever had an experience in a wilderness area or a forest or at the beach that changed your life? Lots of people have had them. Why does unspoiled Nature have such an attraction to us? In my case, I feel rejuvenated and relaxed after I run along Rock Creek in D.C. It’s not just “runners high,” mind you, because I don’t have the same experience as I run around a track. No, there’s something unique that happens in a park or unspoiled wilderness area.
E.O. Wilson takes up this question in chapter 7 of his book, The Creation: An Appeal to Save Life on Earth (2006). My wife and I hosted a discussion group in our place this Sunday on his chapter, “Wild Nature and Human Nature.” A lot of us have had powerful spiritual experiences in wilderness areas, but we are at loss for words when we explain them to others.
This is the topic that Wilson addresses in chapter 7. In order to win us over to the project of saving creation, Wilson has to show us how important Nature is to our nature, development, and well-being. He wants us to understand how we neglect Nature at our own peril. Many people in the modern, industrial West are under the illusion that the man-made world (cities, cars, technology, etc.) they inhabit is the sum total of what’s important to their lives and well-being. In contrast to this complete dependence on technology, Wilson argues that we are actually just as dependent on Nature for the things that matter in life—including health, mental well-being, a sense of place, and deep spirituality.
Wilson also holds that our spiritual lives and aspirations are rooted in Nature. In one particularly powerful quote, he argues, “The spiritual roots of Homo Sapiens extend deep into the natural world through still mostly hidden channels of mental development. We will not reach our full potential without understanding the origin and hence meaning of the aesthetic and religious qualities that makes us ineffably human (p. 12).”
There’s a lot to reflect on in Wilson’s chapter. In the Christian tradition, many theologians and scientists of faith have argued that God communicates to humanity through two means: “The Book of Nature” and “The Book of Scripture.” Science can tell us about God’s work that is found in “The Book of Nature.” I find this way of thinking about God’s communication to us valuable and insightful, especially when I am reading Wilson’s illuminating theory of humanity’s relationship to Nature.
Through writings such as Wilson’s, we get a glimpse of a time when people of faith and people of science will be able to sit down at the same table and talk about what unites them (an awe of Creation, for example) rather than what divides them.
Think about how revolutionary that kind of reconciliation could be!