Climate Scientist and Theologian Tell How Ecological Crisis Requires New Cooperation between Science and Religion 
Tuesday, April 24, 2018 at 6:02AM
Lee Van Ham in Church of Our Common Home, From Egos to Eden, John Cobb, Veerahhadran Ramanathan, consciousness, dualism, eco-spirituality, new thinking, spiritual consciousness

V.” Ram”RamanathanOn Earth Day 2018, two distinguished scholars and environmental activists pushedJohn Cobb the envelope of understanding for all of us attending a “Reunion of Science and Religion, Head and Heart” event. The event was beautifully hosted by the Church of Our Common Home and 1st Unitarian-Universalist Church, San Diego.

Climate scientist Veerabhadran Ramanathan is a Distinguished Professor of Atmospheric and Climate Sciences at Scripps Institute of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego and consulted with Pope Francis on “Laudato Si’,” the encyclical on ecology. Theologian John Cobb is the preemininent leader of process thought (following philosopher Alfred North Whitehead) and co-founded the Center for Process Studies, Claremont, California. He’s worked with Chinese scholars on an ecological civilization through the Institute of Postmodern Development of China, which he cofounded with Zihihe Wang in 2005.

Because both Ramanathan and Cobb have integrated science and religion in their own worldview, they contribute greatly to the new story in which the two need one another.

Ten points from Ramanathan’s remarks:

  1. Climate change is science, not a political point of view.
  2. In 1980, I predicted the crisis of climate change, but the changes are bigger than I predicted. Earth’s resilience is being overwhelmed in ways I was not yet aware of.
  3. Since 1800, 2 trillion tons of CO2 have been sent into the atmosphere and have formed a thickening blanket holding in Earth’s “body warmth.” Even if we stopped all CO2 emissions now, half of that CO2 will still be here 100 years from now.
  4. By the 2030’s (13 years) heatwaves will have intensified globally in their frequency and severity, increasing death and droughts, while decreasing food production.
  5. Viruses will move into many regions where natural immunities do not exist.
  6. We are sending our children into a world with 5% chance of human extinction. We would not tell our children to board an airplane that had a 1 in 20 chance of crashing.
  7. Action: Convert everything to electricity that is produced from renewables.
  8. Action: End use of super pollutants like diesel (e.g., cars, trucks, cruise ships, cargo ships, and more).
  9. Action: Remove 1 trillion tons of CO2 by growing forests and putting all food waste into biofuel digesters. Ghandi said, “What we do to the forests, we do to ourselves.”
  10. Action: Address climate science in non-political forums such as places of worship.

Ten points from Cobb’s remarks:

  1. We live in an unsustainable world which means we will not be sustained.
  2. The antagonisms between science and religion arise from the mid-17th century dualism that separated soul and nature. 
  3. We need to move beyond the 17th century when science began using mechanistic ways of thinking to explain the world. 
  4. Religion correctly resisted the reductionist mechanistic model, but mostly failed to construct a compelling alternative. Instead, much of religion contented itself with the human soul, accepting the flawed dualistic separation of soul and nature. 
  5. Metaphysics (values, meaning, consciousness) is the most important study for our world in crisis, but it is no longer available in universities because they now pursue value-free education. 
  6. By accepting the dualistic separation of knowledge and values, universities lose their effectiveness to address the climate crisis. Their studies abound in data, but education for actions and social change falters. The data is not put into compelling language on how to use the data to sustain life on the planet. Yet, that is the highest value of our time—morally, spiritually, economically, socially, and scientifically.
  7. Alfred North Whitehead emerged in the 20th century as a leading philosophical voice urging us to see that the natural world acts more like an organism, than a mechanism; that truth is revealed more through the interrelationship of entities than on the entities themselves; that reality is better understood in events than in substances.
  8. If we don’t have values, then we do what makes the most money.
  9. China is recognizing that the ancient integral ecology of Lao-Tzu (Taoism) speaks to today and readily relates to the process thought of Alfred North Whitehead to yield a contemporary framework of thought to create an ecological civilization, the stated intention of the Chinese Communist Party.
  10. We are not acting on many actions that we’ve identified as effective because we are not organized to act.

The Earth Day event was headed by Bonnie Tarwater, leader of the Church of Our Common Home.


Note: I have written on the importance and constraints of dualisms throughout my book, From Egos to Eden: Our Heroic Journey to Keep Earth Livable (2017). I also treat “Science and Religion in the New Story,” there (pages 183-186), quoting theologian Thomas Berry and physicist Albert Einstein. Spiritual Consciousness, as I write about it in the book, is a consciousness where dualisms are held in complementary tension as part of a larger whole, like the North Pole and South Pole in one planet.

For another peer-reviewed and helpful integration of religion, science, and spirit, see David Korten, “Religion, Science, and Spirit: A Sacred Story for Our Time,” Yes! Magazine blog, accessed March 18, 2016. 

Article originally appeared on OneEarth sustainability amid climate change (
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