Robert May (also known as Baron May of Oxford, former chief science advisor to the British government) is arguably the world’s most famous ecologist. I’ve known him for a while, but have never heard him decry any form of religion. Now, as reported by The Independent, May has spoken out against fundamentalism, arguing that the tenets of unquestioning belief may have been useful in earlier societies, but should now be discarded as inimical to progress.
“In such systems, there is unquestioning respect for authority. Faith trumps evidence. But if indeed this is broadly the explanation for how co-operative behaviour has evolved and been maintained in human societies, it could be very bad news. Because although such authoritarian systems seem to be good at preserving social coherence and an orderly society, they are, by the same token, not good at adapting to change.” [Quote from May]
The rise of fundamentalism, not just in the Muslim world but in the United States, and within the Catholic Church, could actually make global co-operation more difficult at a time when an unprecedented level of teamwork was needed, Lord May said. “If you take the view that in times of stress, authoritarian hierarchies tend to resist change, what the history of religion has been has been towards a softening, less dogmatic values, but under stress you simplify complex problems to simple mantras,” he said.