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The More We Get Together

Now here's a refreshing approach:

Author sees science, religion saving environment

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Scientist and Pulitzer Prize-winning author E.O. Wilson is out to save life on Earth -- literally -- and as a secular humanist has decided to enlist people of religious faith in his mission.

The Harvard professor sees science and religion as potential allies for averting the mass extinction of the species being caused by man, as he argues in his latest book, "The Creation: An Appeal to Save Life on Earth" (W.W. Norton), due out on Tuesday.

As we have noted previously, there is a media tendency to highlight differences in views, and to emphasize extremes as though they were the norm. The reason for this is driven by marketing and memetics (assuming there is some difference between the two.)

A news story about harsh, irreconcilable conflict has better memes than one about a complex situation in which people are divided on some issues but share a lot of common ground that can unite them on many others. The suggestion that it has "better memes" is not an evaluation of the merits of the content, but rather an assessment of the likelihood that the content will be reproduced. It's like genes -- if I say that Wendy has better genes than Gladys, I'm not saying who is the better person. Getting back to the two news stories, the former is more likely to be noticed, consumed, and transmitted than the latter-- never mind that the latter may provide a much more realistic picture of how the world actually operates.

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So the war between religion and science goes on -- in real life, to be sure, but in a more dramatic and high-concept way in the media. Meanwhile, people tend to be complicated beings with a wide range of views on issues. We demonstrated this a while back with our survey on God and the Singularity. The divisions were predictable; the points of overlap not so much.

But they should be. Ultimately, we pretty much all want to be good people and live good lives. We can disagree vastly as to the details of what those things mean, but we come together on certain basics such as, for example, you have to be alive in order to lead a good life.

Likewise, nobody wants to see massive extinctions occur. Religious people don't. Scientifically minded people don't. Even the stereotypical greedy evil capitalistic exploiter of the natural world isn't setting out to eliminate other species. He just doesn't care sufficiently to alter his behavior.

Here's hoping that E. O. Wilson is on to something, and that people with significantly different viewpoints can find a way to work together to preserve biodiversity. Who knows, maybe this whole notion of "we have more in common than we think so let's cooperate" will prove to be as potent a meme as some of those "us vs. them" ideas that drive so much of what happens in the world.

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