Friday, October 06, 2006

The Creation

I suppose my interest in scientific literature had something to do with my husband's B.Sc., but I mark the start of its development with the story "Miss Ormerod" by Virginia Woolf, from The Common Reader Vol. 1.. "Miss Ormerod" was 19th Century British entomologist Eleanor Ormerod and Woolf's fictionalized biography demonstrated to me how well a passion for science translates into good literature. Fortuitously, I was signed up for a course called "Literature and the Environment" the next term, and I went on to read such works as Walden, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, Servants of the Map, and last summer I read The Selfish Gene and Silent Spring. Last night I finished reading The Creation* by Edward O Wilson and it's my favourite piece of SciLit yet.

The Creation is written as a letter to Southern Baptist Preacher, pleading not for common ground, but for a common cause: The Stewardship of Creation. The situation is dire, Wilson admits in gorgeous prose, but it is not too late, and he goes on to state his case in chapters including "Ascending to Nature", "Exploration of a Little-Known Planet", "How to Learn Biology and How to Teach it", "How to Raise a Naturalist" and finally, "An Alliance for Life".

Like Ormerod, Wilson is an entomologist and magnifies the amazing world of insects, this "microwilderness". All living ants (there may be 10 thousand trillion) weigh as much as the Earth's population of human beings. That there are more bacteria cells in our bodies than our own cells, and by some perspectives we could be seen as solely their vessals. He writes, "Each species is a small universe in itself, from its genetic code to its anatomy, behaviour, life cycle, and environmental role, and a self-perpetuating system created during an almost unimaginably complicated evolutionary history. Each species merits careers of scientific study and celebration by historians and poets. Nothing of that kind could be said for each proton or hydrogen atom. That, in a nutshell Pastor, is the compelling moral argument from science for saving Creation". (123)

*Wilson is listed as "E Wilson" on the amazon listing, which means he is not linked to his myriad other works, which appear as authored by "Edward O Wilson"

UPDATE- Science Top Tens at Guardian Books.