Yale University

Class News

The Good in Nature and Humanity Conference May 11 - 14, 2000

by Margie Lee (wife of Tony Lee, '64)

The Good in Nature and Humanity conference took place at Yale University from May 11-14. The conference was sponsored by the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, the Yale Divinity School, and The Wilderness Society. About 500 people from the U.S. and abroad attended. The two main organizers were Stephen Kellert, a professor at SFES, and Bob Perschel, a graduate of SFES, and now the head of the New England region for The Wilderness Society.

The opening statements by a series of speakers set the tone for the conference: "There's too big of a schism between science and religion, reason and faith, the evolutionary process, and the creation story. The gaps are harmful. It shouldn't be one against the other, but both should be working together. Science and religion are both in pursuit of the truth. Neither has a monopoly on the process, and each needs the other. Science, without asking the ethical and religious questions, leads in a dangerous direction. Religion, without incorporating the latest scientific information, is ungrounded. Science and religion are two sides of the same coin. Both need to see the environmentally diminished planet in the context of a spiritually depraved society."

A series of speakers on Friday addressed the following topics:

  • How can scientific understandings of nature contribute to a moral, spiritual, and religious wholeness and well being?
  • How can spirituality enhance our understanding of creation?
  • What can science tell us about the value and good of nature?
  • Do spiritual and religious perspectives of creation complement scientific understandings of nature?
  • Can values and ethics emerge from the quality of our relations to nature?
  • Can religious and spiritual identity contribute to an understanding of nature and humanity?
  • Can the health of natural systems bear on the moral self?
  • Do varying religious traditions differ or cohere in their perspectives of nature?

Wendell Berry delivered the keynote address Friday evening entitled "The Idea of a Local Economy."

Saturday included a series of panel discussions on "Linking Spiritual and Scientific Perspectives with an Environmental Ethic" with regard to Forestry, Agriculture, Commercial Fishing, Architecture, Land Development, and Outdoor Recreation. One panel entitled "Bringing Environmental and Spiritual Practitioners Together with Resource Practitioners in Land Development" was facilitated by Strachan Donnelley, Yale Class of 1964.

The program for Saturday night, "Celebration of Spirit, Science and Nature" was, in fact, a celebration of spirit and science and a triumph of nature. We were treated to a one-woman performance by Kaiulani Lee on the life of Rachel Carson. Following moving readings by authors Barry Lopez and Terry Tempest Williams, we heard the evocative music of Paul Winter Consort. As the musicians played the haunting song of the humpback whale, we could hear a violent thunderstorm getting closer and closer until their Grand Canyon piece was washed out! We then huddled under the tent with lights out, experiencing the beauty and power of nature.

On Sunday morning we joined a naturalist for a bird walk through East Rock Park. The air was clean from the previous night's storm, and the woods were alive with warblers, towhees, grosbeaks and others on their annual migrations. We then returned for Network and Affinity Group meetings and to hear about plans for the UN Charter on the Environment.

Needless to say, it was a very full weekend. There are plans to summarize the conference in book form. It was an extraordinary undertaking to bring all these people and ideas together and many people expressed gratitude that these ideas are moving into the mainstream. People felt that it was historically significant that a reputable university had initiated and sponsored a conference bringing together religion and science on the subject of the environment.