One of America's most respected and celebrated writers provides a thought-provoking analysis of, and a concise rebuttal of, E. O. Wilson's Consilience. "[A] scathing assessmentBerry shows that Wilson's much-celebrated, controversial pleas in Consilience to unify all branches of knowledge is nothing more than a fatuous subordination of religion, art, and everything else that is good to scienceBerry is one of the most perceptive critics of American society writing today. "-Lauren F. Winner, Washington Post Book World"I am tempted to say he understands [Consilience] better than Wilson himselfA new emancipation proclamation in which he speaks again and again about how to defy the tyranny of scientific materialism. "-Colin C. Campbell, Christian Science Monitor"Berry takes a wrecking ball to E. O. Wilson's Consilience, reducing its smug assumptions regarding the fusion of science, art, and religion to so much rubble. "-Kirkus ReviewsIn Life Is a Miracle, the devotion of science to the quantitative and reductionist world is measured against the mysterious, qualitative suggestions of religion and art. Berry sees life as the collision of these separate forces, but without all three in the mix we are left at sea in the world.
As a poet, novelist, and farmer, Wendell Berry has worked and written in favor of tried and tested ways, rejecting the notion that the modern is always to be preferred over the old. Technology may have its uses, he has insisted in books like The Gift of Good Land
, but what matters more is the crafting of sound human communities and of self-reliant living. Religious faith lies at the heart of Berry's unapologetically old-fashioned program. Faith, which supposes that life is full of unpredictable mysteries, stands against much of modern science, an opposition that Berry explores in Life Is a Miracle
. Taking particular issue with entomologist E.O. Wilson's recent book, Consilience
, which maintains the supremacy of scientific explanation over religious conjecture and supposes that science will one day be able to answer every question about the hows and whys of life, Berry revisits C.P. Snow's "two cultures" thesis to observe that science and religion address different kinds of necessary questions. "Science cannot replace art or religion," he writes, "for the same reason that you cannot loosen a nut with a saw or cut a board in two with a wrench." Against science's "false specification and pretentious exactitude," Berry notes quietly that the more he observes his own little corner of the planet, a small Kentucky farm, the less patient he is with reductionist, materialist explanations of the way things work--for here, and everywhere, "life ... is unique, given to the world minute by minute, only once, never to be repeated."
Berry's slender essay offers a thoughtful repudiation of an increasingly technological--and, some would say, soulless--culture. --Gregory McNamee