Angry Charles warns scientists of disaster

M A Jones jones118 at
Wed May 17 01:45:22 MDT 2000

John Vidal and James Meek
Wednesday May 17, 2000

Prince Charles's simmering anger with the direction of some modern science
will tonight blow into a philosophical storm as he argues that the only way
to avoid environmental catastrophe is for humankind to rediscover an urgent
"sense of the sacred".
In a Reith lecture, to be broadcast on Radio 4 tonight, he will confront
scientific materialism, politicians and business leaders to argue that it is
because of humanity's "inability or refusal to accept the existence of a
guiding hand that nature has come to be regarded as a system that can be
engineered for our own convenience and in which anything that happens can be
fixed by technology and human ingenuity".

He will add: "We need to rediscover a reverence for the natural world,
irrespective of its usefulness to ourselves, to become more aware of the
relationship between God, man and creation."

The lecture takes swipes at biotechnology, the government's modernising
zeal, and economic globalisation - and warns that it is only by employing
"both the intuitive and rational halves of our own nature that we will live
up to the sacred trust that has been placed in us by our creator".

He asks: "If literally nothing is held sacred anymore, what is there to
prevent us treating our entire world as some 'great laboratory of life' with
potentially disastrous long-term consequences?"

But the prince is careful to build bridges between modern science and the
sacred. "We need to restore the balance between the heartfelt reason of
instinctive wisdom and the rational insights of scientific analysis. Neither
is much use without the other. Only by rediscovering the essential unity and
order of the living and spiritual world and by bridging the gap between
cynical secularism and the timelessness of traditional religion will we
avoid the disintegration of our environment."

The Prince of Wales has weighed into the debate over genetically modified
foods before, but this time his attack on the scientific approach is broader
and deeper. Some of his critics are likely to interpret his remarks as an
assault on the whole medical and agricultural revolution being ushered in by
the new era of genetics.

His fears over GM crops may have inspired his criticism, but his lecture is
a cry against excessive scientific rationalism in general. His belief that
tampering with nature is an affront to God, whom he refers to throughout his
lecture as the creator, is spelled out more explicitly than in previous

The 22-minute speech draws on green gurus including Fritz Shumacher and
Rachel Carson, natural theologians including Philip Sherrard, and radical
economists such as Herman Daly, formerly of the World Bank. Last night it
was well-received by British environmental leaders, who are increasingly at
odds with what they see as the fundamentalism of some modern science.

Peter Melchett, director of Greenpeace, said: "It's long overdue that
someone pointed out how bereft and barren of humanity are those people who
claim they are acting on the basis of 'sound science'. They say in effect
that culture, society, values and religion don't exist."

Charles Secrett, director of Friends of the Earth, said the speech would be
a wake-up call to politicians and business leaders who thought nature was "a
piece of machinery".

"He is reminding us that nature is something wondrous and beautiful and that
we have to learn that humility to develop a truly sustainable relationship
with nature," he said.

Jonathon Porritt, a close friend of the prince's who has also argued that
science today is philosophically unable to address the challenges of
sustainable development, said: "There is an overwhelming consensus that
everything can be sorted by 'good science'. But it cannot be a panacea. It
is a part of the mix but not sufficient in itself."

The prince's words provoked a strong response from Richard Dawkins, the
zoologist and award-winning science writer. "Far from being demeaning to
human spiritual values, scientific rationalism is the crowning glory of the
human spirit," he said. "Of course you can use the products of science to do
bad things, but you can use them to do good things, too."

Others were scathing. "He's attacking everything that has been done by
mankind in the past 100,000 years," said Julian Morris of the Institute of
Economic Affairs.

"Man should consider man foremost. Does Prince Charles think we ought to go
back to the point where we are at the whim of nature? In Genesis, man is
called on to take charge of nature. This seems to be akin to some pagan love
of an earth goddess."

The guardian 17.05.00
Mark Jones

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