My Worldview

Nature is my god. To me, Nature is sacred. Trees are my temples and forests are my cathedrals.

– Mikhael Gorbachev [1]

I don’t have any idea of who or what God is. But I do believe in some great spiritual power. I feel it particularly when I’m out in nature. It’s just something that’s bigger and stronger than what I am or what anybody is. I feel it. And it’s enough for me. Jane Goodall [2]

My philosophy of life is based on my response to what I believe.

All religions have their stories. Christians, Muslims, Buddhists and Hindus – they all have their stories. All political ideologies have their hallowed texts. I have my story. It is the story of life on this planet and of the evolutionary emergence of humankind and of the interactions between humans and the rest of the living world. I call this story the Bionarrative. It comes to us through the natural sciences.

The more I learn about the Bionarrative, through personal observations and from science – the more I learn, the greater is my sense of wonder, and the more profound my sense of respect -indeed feeling of reverence – for Nature, and for the creative forces that gave rise to the living world.

I am thinking not only of the natural environment, with all its mindboggling diversity and beauty, but also of the amazing and extremely complicated processes that go on inside my own body and that have kept it going for over 95 years.

While I accept Darwinian theory and believe that biological evolution can be explained, at least partially, in terms of random genetic mutations and natural selection, I do not rule out the possibility of some other influence. I am absolutely amazed by the mindboggling range of patterns of size, shape and colour among living organisms, from dinosaurs, whales and massive trees to butterflies, moths, flowering plants, fungi and sea slugs.

Can this all be the result of random mutations and natural selection? Many biologists would, of course, as say ‘Yes; but I am among those who can’t help wondering.

Anyway, here I am, a living human being, a product of 4000 million years of biological evolution. I received this gift of life from Nature, and I am totally dependent of the processes of life for my continued existence. And I am still a part of Nature, as are the eucalypts on Oakey Hill, the cockatoos in the garden and the wallaroos on the farm.

Science tells us about the evolution of life on Earth and about the ecological and physiological processes that keep us alive. But it tells nothing about morality. It does not tell us whether it is right or wrong to needlessly cause pain or distress in humans or other animals. It does not tell us whether it matters if the human species trashes the living systems that gave rise to it and on which it depends, or if it comes to an early end through its own activities and arrogance.

I don’t know how Nature came into existence: but I do know that it happened. And I know that Nature created me. I feel deep respect for the forces and processes that lie behind my existence.

As I see it, I have a choice. I can seek to live in harmony with Nature, or I can look on Nature with disdain and set out to exploit and conquer it. For me, there is no doubt whatsoever. My understanding of the story of life and of my biological origins leads me to choose the first of these pathways. I believe it is not only wise, in terms of my survival and wellbeing, but also morally right to strive to live in harmony with Nature. I see this as of supreme importance. It is what matters most.

I consider it morally wrong, the height of disrespect and arrogance, to trash the living systems of our beautiful planet. I have no sympathy with notion, dating back to the so-called Enlightenment, that we should set out to conquer Nature – to conquer the living system that gave rise to us, of which we are a part, and on which we are totally dependent.

With regard to my behaviour towards other human recipients of the gift of life, who are also part of Nature, again it seems to me that I have a choice. I can choose to do all I can to help them make the most of this gift, and to enjoy themselves; or I can

exploit and harm them. Once more, there is no doubt whatsoever. My understanding of how we all come to be here leads me to feel morally committed to do everything I can to help others to enjoy life.

I am not saying I have lived up to these ideals, but I wish that I had.

These ethical pontifications are an outcome of my scientific understanding of the story of life on Earth and the human place in Nature [3]. However, although their underlying source is science, science does not prescribe them. They come from within me. They are my personal responses to my understanding of the bionarrative [4].

And the more I learn about the universe and the story of life, the greater is my resolve, in the words of Claude Monet, ‘to mingle more closely with Nature’, and ‘to live and work in harmony with her laws’ [5].

I should also say that, apart from its influence on my ethics, the bionarrative has meaning for me that can best be described as transcendental, or spiritual. Sometimes my understanding of this story, along with the experience of natural beauty and love for my family, brings about a profound sense of awe, joy and reverence. These feelings are a vitally important part of my life experience.

The bionarrative reminds me that I am not only a product, but also an intrinsic part, of Nature – even if an infinitesimally small part. I find myself feeling at one with the living world. It is a good feeling – uplifting, strengthening and comforting. It gives me peace of mind. It is a good feeling

[1] 1 “Nature Is my God” – interview with Fred Matser in Resurgence No. 184 (September-October 1997).pp14-15.

[2] Jane Goodall. Questions and answers. Readers Digest. p.128. September 2010.

[3] I realise that some, but not all, of these values overlap with values imparted to me by my parents in my childhood, and are probably shared to some extent by many people in our society today. They have also been influenced by my wife, Rosie. But they have been reinforced and reshaped by my understanding of the bionarrative.

[4] There are, of course, difficulties with these ideals. I have suggested that it is morally wrong to use fossil fuels as a source of energy, because they are the main cause of anthropogenic climate change. Is it, therefore, morally wrong for me to drive my car to the university, or even to go there by public transport powered by petroleum? The answer is ‘yes’. But I have no other choice. In other words, a bio-insensitive society compels me to behave immorally. Or, if I come across fellow humans who don’t share this philosophy. and who set about interfering with my enjoyment of life, or that of my family, should I try to help them experience the joy of living?


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s