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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Biophilia Response

Air Date: Week of

Listeners discuss the recent broadcast about Edward O. Wilson and other scientists' theories that people and nature are genetically linked.


CURWOOD: By the year 2020, projections show, more than half of the Earth's humans will live in cities, surrounded almost exclusively by other people. Increasingly cut off from the rest of life. Yet, billions of us are still drawn to the nonhuman world: to mountains, to fields, to zoos and wildlife refuges. It's almost as if there's something in us that can't be satisfied with a world entirely of our own making. Harvard University biologist Edward O. Wilson thinks that something is genetic. That over the long sweep of our evolutionary history, we relied on other creatures and plants for crucial resources and information. And that we developed a need for contact with other life forms that became encoded in our genes. And Professor Wilson worries that as humans push more and more other species extinction, we may be sowing the seeds of our own demise. Living on Earth recently featured a segment on this theory, which Professor Wilson calls 'the Biophilia Hypothesis.' Wilson's theory is essentially scientific, but the comments we received ranged far beyond. What we heard on our comment line was not so much a series of responses, as a conversation. We received this call from a listener to KWIT in Sioux City, Iowa.

CALLER: If you look around our rooms and see the colors that we use, our concern with flowers and the way we decorate our homes, we all try and recreate in some way a small part of the outdoors indoors. And this seems to be a part of our genetic nature, that if we cut ourselves off from life around us, we cut ourselves off from our own being. It's just a wonderful idea, and it's a very liberating idea, and it changes our whole relationship to the earth and perhaps causes us to interpret, once again, the book of Genesis about what is the role of man's place on earth?

CALLER: My name is Bill McElroy; I'm calling from Seattle. My public radio station is KPLU. I do believe there is a genetic factor, particularly in our aesthetic response to landscape. In fact, if you think about it, if there is no deeper meaning of an aesthetic response within human beings, then what is its significance at all? On a deeper level I think we have to admit that as the earth's capacity has less capacity to support a diversity of life, its capacity to support us diminishes. I think people really have a need to begin to understand how we're all in this game together.

CURWOOD: The theological implications of the notion that we evolved with an innate need for contact with other species also resonated with this listener to KVNF in Paonia, Colorado. He's a divinity school graduate who thinks the theory lays a basis for a new kind of spirituality.

CALLER: I think we, in religion we look at deities, but sacredness would have to do more with the nature of life. The nature of life being this inner-relatedness. And the quality of those relationships determines the quality of our life. It's kind of like the flip side of the Golden Rule. Instead of do to others as you'd have others do to you, it's what we do to others we do to ourselves.

CALLER: Hello. This is Chaska Wright from St. Paul, Minnesota, calling with regard to Professor Wilson's Biophilia Theory. I found no scientific facts to substantiate macro-evolution. I've come to the conclusion that macro-evolution is not a science thing but rather a world-view thing, or a religious thing. What I suspect is happening with the Biophilia Theory is a shift from evolution in cold, materialistic robes to evolution in New Age pantheistic robes.

CURWOOD: Ms. Wright says there's new evidence that human life came about not through evolution, but by the hand of a great designer.

CALLER: Hello, this is John Konapac calling from Norman, Oklahoma, where I listen to Living on Earth on KGOU. With regard to the Biophilia Hypothesis, I fully support it. I think it's absolutely crystal clear. Fundamentalists, particularly the plural conservation and the theories that support it, because it means that there's perfectibility on Earth. That Earth was perfect before God and then man muddled in it. Which bothers them because it means that men are responsible for the state of the Earth. But what is the legend of Noah if not a primitive statement of the Biophilia Hypothesis? That man alone is not man.


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