On Thursday evening, ecologist Thomas Lovejoy ’63 GRD ’71 discussed the ethics of sustainable use and protection of the natural environment, incorporating a fusion of theological and scientific perspectives.
Lovejoy is a Senior Fellow of the United Nations Foundation and a professor in the environmental science and policy department at George Mason University. The talk, which is the first of three lectures he is presenting in Yale’s annual Dwight H. Terry Lectureship series, drew more than 60 members of the Yale New Haven community.
“To wantonly destroy a living species is to silence forever a divine voice. All species have a right to exist,” Lovejoy said, explaining that modern interpretations of the Bible suggest that all living beings are holy creatures in the eyes of God.
The Terry Lectureship was established in 1905 to bring religion into conversation with science and philosophy. Each fall, a distinguished scholar who conducts research at the intersection of these disciplines is selected to present a series of lectures on the potential human impact of their findings.
This year, Lovejoy said he drew on his ecology and policy advisory background as he crafted his series of lectures, titled “The World of the Born and the World of the Made: A New Vision of Our Emerald Planet.”
Credited with coining the term “biological diversity,” Lovejoy has devoted most of his career to documenting and analyzing the destructive effects of industrialization and globalization on environmental health, particularly in cases where human activity threatens the survival of other species.
In Thursday’s lecture, “Under a Desert Sky,” Lovejoy challenged the way humans define the significance of our nonhuman neighbors within the ecosystems we inhabit. Throughout history, civilizations have viewed other organisms as resources for consumption. This outlook, Lovejoy argued, belies both moral poverty and economic imprudence.
Lovejoy called for a shift in “how we value species, as a matter of both principle and practically, [as] a moral and an aesthetic imperative.”
A person of faith should strive to preserve God’s creations, he said — and that a person of sense should recognize that nonhuman creatures often play key roles within our environmental networks, even when their usefulness is not immediately evident to humans.
Attendee John Hodges DIV ’20 said he appreciated how Lovejoy linked theological and scientific schools of thought through the themes of wonder and respect.
“I’m so excited to see this interdisciplinary [event],” added Hopewell Rogers DIV ’20, who also attended the talk. “These are communities where there’s more overlap than a lot of people think there is, and it’s really exciting to see [Yale] acknowledging the value of this collaboration.”
During his two-week stay in the area, Lovejoy will attend several additional functions on campus to facilitate conversations with undergraduates who might not have had the chance to attend his talks. These include a dinner event with students in Davenport College as well as a meeting with undergraduates in the Yale Environmental Humanities Initiative.
The lectureship also employs a number of outreach strategies to make the information presented in each lecture accessible to a general audience.
According to Andrew Forsyth, the assistant secretary for student life and a liaison for the lectureship, Yale University Press extends publishing offers to speakers involved in the lectureship, allowing them to translate the contents of their presentations into full-length books which are often released for popular consumption.
Lectures are also filmed and uploaded to Youtube, where they can be viewed remotely and free of charge.
The next two lectures in the series will be held at 5:30 p.m. in Kroon Hall, on Oct. 30 and Nov. 1, respectively.
Lydia Buonomano | firstname.lastname@example.org .