Secret Lovers: Science and Animism

Science and Animism may be aligned in ways that are not only remarkable, but when it comes to climate change, may point the way forward.

Science is often blamed for killing religion, but now it seems the oldest old-time religion, animism, may be aligned with scientific principles in ways that are not only remarkable, but when it comes to climate change, may point the way forward.

For starters, many First Nations refer to the divine as The Great Mystery. Could there be a better name for the god of scientists?

When Animists look at a mountain they see a living, breathing entity (often a deity) who plays a central role in the health and destiny of everything in the area. Everything else in that mountain’s ecology, from the bear to the sockeye salmon, is also part of the pantheon of deities, each with meaningful, detailed relationships described in stories.


↑ Copper carving depicting a Sámi shaman from Meråker, Nord-Trøndelag, by Knud Leem, 1767.

The impressive documentation of science increasingly reveals the great complexity of relationships in nature. Today, science looks at a river ecosystem and sees trees along the river growing much faster when they receive nutrients from the salmon remains discarded by bears. Often, the more sophisticated our science gets, the more it verifies the environmentally advanced thinking of the animist view.

So where is this Venn diagram between science and animism pointing us? Well, as Wade Davis says in his talk at the University of British Columbia:

The interesting thing is not whether that forest is cellulose and board-feet or whether it’s the domain of the spirits, it’s how the belief system metaphorically defines a relationship between a people and their natural world with profoundly different consequences for their ecological footprint.

When it comes protecting the planet, the animist belief systems of indigenous people and the insights of science point in the same direction. One can easily imagine a scenario in which a mining company applies to remove a mountaintop, and both the scientists and the animist—for very different but aligned reasons—agree that it’s a really bad idea.

Now what we need is a scientist and an animist to get romantically involved and form an unlikely team of detectives kicking down doors at UN climate talks, kicking ass and taking names.

↓ “Atlantic Starr – Secret Lovers”

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