21 Mar 2010, 4:02pm
Forestry education
by admin

Ecology As Religion

A review of:

Robert H. Nelson. 2010. Ecological Science as a Creation Story. The Independent Review, v. 14, n. 4, Spring 2010.

The full text is available [here]

Selected excerpts may be found in the W.I.S.E. Colloquium: Forest and Fire Sciences [here]

Dr. Robert H. Nelson, Ph.D. is a professor of public policy at the University of Maryland, a senior fellow of the Independent Institute [here], and a senior scholar for the Mercatus Center at George Mason University.


Robert H. Nelson has given us a remarkable examination of the philosophical roots of environmentalism and the environmental sciences. Those roots are less scientific than they are religious. Ecology is founded on a post-Darwinian yearning for spiritual certainty, something Darwin’s theories cast aside.

Nelson cites and deconstructs the teachings of some of the most famous and influential ecologists, including John Muir, Frederic Clements, Aldo Leopold, A. G. Tansley, Eugene Odum, and E. O. Wilson. In the key works of each Nelson discovers quasi-religious themes and structures and more theology than science.

The American environmental movement has deep roots in and still depends heavily on the conviction that a person finds a mirror of God’s thinking in the encounter with wild nature — or, in traditional Christian terms, that a person is in the presence of “the Creation.” Absent this conviction, many of the American environmental movement’s basic beliefs and important parts of its policy agenda would be difficult to explain and defend. …

For many secular environmentalists, the simplest course is to ignore this disconcerting issue — to partake of strong feelings of religious inspiration in the direct presence of “God’s creation” and then to go about their daily lives. Environmental creationism has not come under the same intense public scrutiny and criticism as Christian creationism. There have been fewer social and intellectual pressures for environmental creationists to work out their own precise thinking in this area. …

Indeed, the outward scientific appearance of ecology masks a strong underlying religious content. The powerful religious element is not necessarily a problem in itself, but in the case of ecology, at least, the presentation of religion in the guise of a value-neutral science creates major tensions and even contradictions. Ecological science develops a new creation story that differs in some respects from the original biblical version but also exhibits basic continuities. The result is often both poor science and poor theology, as judged from a rigorously analytical viewpoint based in either area. …

Poor science and poor theology lead to poor policy, and we have suffered many disasters because of it. The Let It Burn movement, responsible for so much destruction, is based on a tenuous philosophy and pseudoscience grounded in religious beliefs, not practical, rational thinking.

Ecology is a secular religion. There is no established church, priestly hierarchy, or official dogma. Indeed, some of the primary proponents of quasi-religious ecological “science” are avowed atheists, such as E.O. Wilson. That distracts from but does not excuse his theology masquerading as science.

Secular and traditional religions are often surprisingly similar in their messages and their powerful religious effects on true believers. Marx, for example, substituted the evolutionary laws of economic history for God, and the Marxist faithful exhibited attitudes no less reverential, even showing themselves willing in some cases to be martyrs for the Communist cause, like their Christian predecessors in Rome and elsewhere. Indeed, the modern age would be filled with examples of secular gospels that had a deeply religious effect on their followers, as much as the Jewish and Christian religions grounded in the Bible historically inspired the faithful. …

One of the early founders of the religious of ecology was Fredric Clements, who preached that plant communities develop in accord with a master plan, from “seral” to “climax” conditions via “natural succession:

More religion than science, the theory of the climax state also includes a moment when original sin arrived in the world. Human beings were not part of the original ecological order, as Clements described it, but a foreign element. At the beginning, Clements’ nature thus exhibited a harmony much like the harmony that Adam and Eve initially encountered in the Garden. Uniquely among species, however, human beings could alter the natural harmony of the Creation. Indeed, their actions might disrupt the ecological equilibrium entirely and permanently, warping and destroying the otherwise strong tendency to reach the one climax state, as in the Jewish and Christian accounts of events in the Garden. This new presence of human sinfulness in the world would again result from humans’ quest to know more than they should. …

This ecological creation story would be repeated many times in many forms over the twentieth century. Indeed, it is still being heard. …

We note that the catastrophic failure known as the Northwest Forest Plan is founded on exactly those religious Clementsian theories. Off limits to management are the Late Successional Reserves (LSR’s), allegedly sacred forests that have attained Clementsian Nirvana. That the LSR’s burn in megafires is of no consequence to the eco-clergy. The burned out forests revert to “Early Successional” and once more begin their spiritual journey back to Climax.

Currently, natural, early-successional forest habitat — naturally disturbed areas with a full array of legacies (i.e., not subject to post-fire logging) and experiencing natural recovery processes (i.e., not seeded or planted) — are among the scarcest habitat condition in some regions, such as the Pacific Northwest. — from Reed F. Noss, Jerry F. Franklin, William Baker, Tania Schoennagel, and Peter B. Moyle. 2006. Ecological Science Relevant to Management Polices for Fire-prone Forests of the Western United State, Society for Conservation Biology Scientific Panel on Fire in Western U.S. Forests.

All that blather is religious dogma, not science. It is what I have referred to as the Old Paradigm, but what Nelson calls “recasting environmental religion in the language of ecology.”

Unfortunately that religion is written into our law. The Northwest Forest Plan sprang from the same religious roots as did the Endangered Species Act, a decidedly non-Darwinian canon, and the Wilderness Act, an a-scientific and a-historical catechism founded in total mythology (racist mythology to boot). Both Acts arose in the aftermath of the Cultural Revolution of the 1960’s, when traditional religion was rejected and a new set of eco-religious tenets were adopted as replacement.

In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, many grandiose ideas — ideologies or secular religions or whatever one chooses to call them — had made great claims to scientific validity that in retrospect appeared to lack such validity. Indeed, the record of Marxism, national socialism, and other all-encompassing worldviews seemed to show that even in the twentieth century, human beings were remarkably susceptible to half-baked ideas and schemes that falsely claimed to explain everything significant about human existence in the world. It seemed to affirm that, as others have said, before most people will believe in nothing, they will believe in anything. …

A scientific status was especially important when government policy and management were at stake. Twentieth-century Americans believed that the government should not act on the basis of inspirational religious writing, but on the basis of valid professional and scientific knowledge. However, most Americans had not considered the possibility that fields such as ecology might write inspirational “scientific poetry” filled with mathematical equations.

New religious dogma continues to erupt from ecology movement. Among those new scriptures are “ecosystem management,” “biodiversity,” and “sustainability.” These are not merely religious metaphors; they have become gospel and law, despite the absence of scientific rationality or definition. If a term cannot be defined, that is a sure sign it is theology, not science.

The global warming alarm movement is another manifestation of old-time religion — the railing about original sin from fiery pulpits and admonishments to repent. The “science” is alleged to be “beyond debate” (by, among others, no less than our President, a man with no scientific background whatsoever). Again, that is a sign of religious belief, not science. Climate science, such as it is, is in its infancy and is riddled with debate. But that fact does not sway those to whom facts are secondary to faith in their religion, in this case the secular religion of ecology.

The religious underpinnings of ecology are not only of theological interest, however. Many government policies today are grounded in the tenets of ecosystem management, allegedly derived from the scientific principles of ecology. If these principles are also deeply religious, yet this religious aspect cannot be formally acknowledged and explored in public, widespread policy confusion in government agencies is likely to result. Surprising as it may seem, the key to improved government performance in dealing with issues of the human relationship to the natural world may lie in an improved theological understanding.

Robert H. Nelson’s Ecological Science as a Creation Story is worthy of your study. The ideas in the essay are not new or original, but they are well-researched and expressed.

As usual, we prefer that comments on Colloquium listings be made here, at this Commentary site under this post. Use the “leave a comment” box below.

21 Mar 2010, 5:02pm
by Mike

See also:

Robert H. Nelson. 2010. The New Holy Wars: Economic Religion vs. Environmental Religion in Contemporary America. The Independent Institute and Pennsylvania State University Press (co-publishers) [here]

Robert H. Nelson. 2007. The Gospel According to Conservation Biology. Philosophy and Public Policy Quarterly [here]

and a bio of Dr. Nelson with a list of his publications [here]

22 Mar 2010, 1:25pm
by bear bait

No matter who the author might be, the education of the academic has now been compromised for more than a century. I will offend many with my musing on the subject, but that is a risk I will take, and taking a risk is part of the male brain.

Education has been the arena of the female teacher for a century in this country. The school ma’m, the forked conifer, has been a part of the Northwest lexicon for that long. And for the most part, the female school teacher was the result of feeble finances and local control of the schoolhouse. A woman could be had for less money than a man, and she was only going to be around for a year or so, as they were inclined to succumb to some sort of coupling with a male and go off to be a wife and mother. A public education on the cheap. Over time, the school ma’am reputation stained the male teacher, and we never saw many until high school as there was an assault on manhood for an elementary male teacher. Or he was a pervert.

However, the Normal School targeted the female for teaching not unlike the nursing schools recruited young girls for their calling to serve those in need of comfort and to assist in birthing. As our society changed, and wars put women into formerly male dominated positions, females began to dominate in the elementary school and in areas of the high school related to the arts, language, woman’s physical education. And as the role of the woman teacher, and then administrator grew, the role of males diminished in K-12 education.

Our cultural history as humans, for millennia, has been that of women passing women’s skills to young girls and men passing male skills to young males. Those are two different worlds, and thus humans have evolved with a selection for a male brain and a selection for a female brain. We have evolved to having different brains, different hard wiring, different hormones and chemistry. The old saw about “Boys will be boys” is recognition of the differences. That observation has been removed as politically incorrect, and the obsession with equality of the sexes profoundly promoted. That women are cheered as the gentler sex and more capable of serving the growth of all humans has been a result. That result is wrong for boys, does not work for boys, and has been a driving force in the dumbing down of America.

Women teaching males does not work. It works wonderfully for teaching girls, that female brain. But boys are too much of a challenge, because it is in their nature to challenge, to take risks, to be boisterous, to “cause trouble.” Yep. Boys will be boys. So we have had in place for half a century or more an education format that is prejudiced to serve girls well, and boys less so, and the more effeminate the boy, the better he will do today’s school.

There is a case to be made for gender specific schooling. Boys going to a boys school, and girls to a girls school. There is a history of that and in some cultures, it is only boys who have even a chance of becoming literate, which does not serve society well, either. In the US we have gone off the deep end of equality of sexes in education, and then stilted the process to favor females.

I heard a noted social worker in the homeless child field say that schools cannot serve boys adequately today, and that at adolescence, the only social structure that is geared and available to them are gangs. Gangs inherently know what a boy needs to have to mature. Risk taking, adrenalin rushes, structure, competition, all things that are not now an important part of the public school. And I heard this conversation as part of the discussion of homeless kids, street kids, and why the university system now finds itself with a third of the students male and two thirds female. My mind immediately was diverted to thinking about Boy Scouts, and that kind of activity, but then you realize that they have been out of favor for maybe two generations because of affiliation with churches and the specter of the pedophile. Lots of middle-aged angry men, victims of the priest, swim instructor, Boy Scout leader, the creeps who show up where the boys are. Those organizations have been run out of schools. That is the preordained result of how public education is today run. It is the result of female brain preferences in education.

In Oregon you have to wonder when a college school of education dean is a militant lesbian, and then you have your major city run by an effeminate male and a lesbian superintendent of schools. The subtle rejection of the male brain in education is ongoing, not purposeful, but born out of ignorance and litigation against schools for corporal discipline and control of behavior of the inherently rambunctious and explosive male brain and how it expresses itself. The female ideas of control, of propriety of controls and punishments, the whole gamut of herding the male persona to a productive end, is lost on the female brain and in our legal system. So gangs get the kids, and if not the gangs, then the military, which gets to use all the persuasive means to control behavior denied schools, and the young men thrive.

If you look at the military basic education, and how tough it is on some females, what you see is the mirror image of what the pubic K-12 education system is to many boys. If the female brain continues to think that stuffing a round peg into triangular holes is progress, and civility, then the cause is lost. That is where we find ourselves today. We have dumbed down the whole of education, from K-MS or MA. There might be some rigor left in the PhD. I would not know.

I will note that in the past year, both Pacific University in Forest Grove and George Fox, the Quaker University in Newberg, have announced they are again offering a full fledged university sponsored football program. They are trying to attract manly males to their schools to add diversity to what has become an effeminate education opportunity. They can do that at a private university, but for me to even broach my opinion at a school board meeting would result in my being hooted out of the room by the union school teachers and administrators, all from the system that promotes the compliant and meek, while punishing the very robust and ribald nature of the young male.

So what does all this have to do with forests, health care, conservation biology? You figure it out. The whole point of view has become stilted towards the nurture of nature paradigm, which is much more acceptable than the tooth and claw, spilled blood, and “rape of our wilderness heritage” use of natural resources for the good of mankind.

Forests are being destroyed because we no longer have an education system that can produce an original thinker. We import those from countries where a woman’s right to choose is interpreted as a man’s right to tell his wife to abort a female child. The overboard maleness of the third world and its hugely rigorous education of males in a system based entirely on competition and accomplishment is producing the better minds, and those are the people who staff the best paying jobs in the US. We have abandoned the maleness of the male brain in favor of the less confrontational, more “stable”, quiet accomplishments of women from a national system of education stilted in their favor. And we will suffer for it.

As I write, 75% of the unemployed are male, 65% of graduate students are female. It is a numbers game that cannot be denied. My ideas can certainly be challenged, but the state of our forests cannot. The USFS has been on a Federal Court ordered diversity slot filling employment basis for three decades. That is the workforce that has produced the forest conditions we have: 50% female, 35% white male, ad nauseum, is defensible-in-court work force requirement.

When you have the same thing going in education, K-12, you get 18 year old kids that resemble the conditions we find in our forests. It is not if they will blow up, but when. It is not if the under educated unemployed males will become a societal disaster, but when. We already have that in the African American population of young males with no future. And we cannot help them one bit until we change education from below the floor joists to the peak of the roof. Nor can we restore our forests because the systemic disease in that Federal bureaucracy is in the same state of dysfunction.

22 Mar 2010, 5:52pm
by Foo Furb

Leave it to bear bait to state things exactly as they are. Politically correct? Not even close. Accurate? Very.



web site

leave a comment

  • Colloquia

  • Commentary and News

  • Contact

  • Follow me on Twitter

  • Categories

  • Archives

  • Recent Posts

  • Recent Comments

  • Meta