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Willamette Community Learns from Renowned Scientist

What will be the state of environmentalism in the next 200 years? How do you conduct scientific research without "selling out" to a major corporation? Why is society so disconnected from nature? How do you encourage environmentalism on a global scale?

These are the burning questions on the minds of Willamette University's science students. And they had a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity this week to get answers -- by posing them to Edward O. Wilson, one of the world's greatest living scientists, while he visited campus to deliver the Biology Centennial Lecture.

"We're in a very strange situation in the 21st century," Wilson told the students in an intimate meeting before speaking to a sold-out crowd of 1,300 that evening in Smith Auditorium. "We have Stone Age emotions, we have medieval beliefs and we have god-like technology.

"We have evolved to exploit the planet, and now we're having trouble slowing down."

Wilson is considered a leader in the fields of entomology, animal behavior, evolutionary psychology, island biogeography, biodiversity, environmental ethics and the philosophy of knowledge. He is the Pellegrino University Research Professor Emeritus at Harvard University, and he has won two Pulitzer Prizes for his non-fiction books "The Ants" and "On Human Nature."

At his evening lecture, he addressed "The Future of Life," informing the crowd about the immense biodiversity of our planet and the important task of trying to protect it. He had the same message for the students earlier. "The world needs to see that ecology and biodiversity studies are fundamental to the health of the planet," he said.

He talked about meeting with evangelical leaders, setting aside their different views regarding evolution and focusing on issues they both agreed on. "I told them, 'Let's stop talking about issues like abortions and stem cells. Let's do something important together, which is save the creation. See how we can combine science and religion into a single enterprise ... and accomplish something quite extraordinary.'"

Wilson also discussed his work on the Encyclopedia of Life, an online resource launched in May that will include information about every species on the planet (view it at eol.org). "We've now reached an advanced state in the information age such that the idea of having everything known and available to everybody is not out of reach."

09-14-2007