Is it possible that Southern Baptists could be the key to saving the world? E. O. Wilson seems to think so. Wilson, in case you don’t know, is an Alabama native and former Southern Baptist layman. He is now one of foremost experts in the field of entomology. He is also the creator of his own sub-discipline in biological research known as sociobiology. And apparently he believes Southern Baptists can help save the world.

Not in the way Baptists usually talk about saving the world. Back in the 1970s Southern Baptists launched and evangelistic campaign called Bold Mission Thrust. The goal of this bold mission was to preach the gospel to every person in the world by the year 2000. Internal denominational politics eventually derailed the effort, but it at least shows that Baptists are interested in saving the world, at least in one sense.

But Wilson has something else in mind. In his new book, The Creation: An Appeal to Save Life on Earth, Wilson argues passionately that our planet is in trouble. According to Wilson, “Scientists estimate that if destructive human activities continue at their present rates, half the species of plants and animals on Earth could be either gone or at least fated for early extinction by the end of the century.”

At this point you are probably wondering what Southern Baptists have to do with all this. Well as it turns out, Wilson has structured his book as a long letter to an anonymous Southern Baptist pastor. Wilson encourages the pastor to give the old biologist a fair hearing. Even though Wilson admits he is passionately devoted to the teaching of evolution, he nevertheless grew up in the faith, answered an altar call and, as Wilson puts it, “went under the water.”

Wilson acknowledges that he is now on a different spiritual path than the one he began as a Baptist. Despite that, however, he believes there is essential common ground for people of faith and people of science. The differences between the two pursuits are artificially maintained mostly by those who profit from the conflict.

Wilson writes about the pointless division: “Religion and science are the two most powerful forces in the world today, including especially the United States. If religion and science could be united on the common ground of biological conservation, the problem would soon be solved. If there is any moral precept shared by people of all beliefs, it is that we owe ourselves and future generations a beautiful, rich, and healthful environment.”

The matter is not without precedent. Rick Warren, evangelical pastor and author of best seller The Purpose Driven Life, has recently expressed publicly his concerns about global warming and other environmental issues. And then there’s the Evangelical Environmental Network which works to reduce pollution and environmental degradation.

Wilson believes that there is great suffering in the world because we have not been good stewards of our planet. And there is more suffering to come if we do not change our ways.

“Earth, and especially the razor-thin film of life enveloping it, is our home, our well-spring, our physical and much of our spiritual sustenance.”

Wilson believes that caring for the planet should be a concern for all people of faith, and that faith leaders have a critical role to play. He writes, “You are well prepared to present the theological and moral arguments for saving the Creation.”

That’s a pretty bold mission.

James L. Evans, a syndicated columnist, also serves as pastor of Auburn First Baptist Church in Auburn, Ala.

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