Thursday, March 1, 2012

Notable Humanists: E.O. Wilson

E.O. Wilson was raised near Mobile, Alabama and in Washington, D.C.  As a child, he fell in love with ants and the natural world they inhabit.  That love followed him to adulthood - he is now a myrmecologist  and a professor at Harvard University.  Wilson has won two Pulitzer Prizes for General Nonfiction (1979 - On Human Nature, 1991 - The Ants).  He is also the faculty emeritus of the Harvard Museum of Comparative Zoology, which is part of the Harvard Museum of Natural History, fantastic, old-fashioned museum on Harvard's campus in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Wilson is probably best known for his development of sociobiology (the precursor to evolutionary psychology), which seeks to apply a scientific approach to the biological bases of social behavior.  He later expanded upon the framework of this notion in his book Consilience.  This dense, ambitious book sets out to lay the framework for the unification of the natural sciences, social sciences, and even art and literary criticism under one system of inquiry - in effect unifying human knowledge by applying the scientific method to all areas of study and breaking down barriers to interdisciplinary research.

Wilson has described himself as a scientific humanist and, with regard to the existence of god, he supports the idea of "provisional deism", although he has also often stated that both religion and belief in god are byproducts of natural, evolutionary action.  Wilson has been clear that he feels that religion has and will always play a role in society due to the fact that it is a part of human nature.  Further, he has stated that he hopes that religious and nonreligious people work together to determine rational answers to social problems.

Here are some quotes from E.O. Wilson:

  • "People would rather believe than know."
  • "Still, if history and science have taught us anything, it is that passion and desire are not the same as  truth.  The human mind evolved to believe in the gods.  It did not evolve to believe in biology.  Acceptance of the supernatural conveyed a great advantage throughout prehistory when the brain was evolving.  Thus it is in sharp contrast to biology, which was developed as a product of the modern age and is not underwritten by genetic algorithms.  The uncomfortable truth is that the two beliefs are not factually compatible.  As a result those who hunger for both intellectual and religious truth will never acquire both in full measure."
  • "Sometimes a concept is baffling not because it is profound but because it is wrong."
  • "Science and technology are what we can do; morality is what we agree we should or should not do."
  • "Science and religion are two of the most potent forces on Earth and they should come together to save the creation."

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