Mankind versus Mother Nature?

The shock of the tsunami at the turn of the year has not only rocked countries lining the Indian Ocean, but also triggered a wave of debate among the general public and academia in China on how nature ought to be viewed. Even as the consequences of the deadly tide ebb, the debate continues to rage.

In China at least it all began with an article entitled "Man should be in awe of Mother Nature," written by Wang Yongchen, a journalist with China National Radio in Beijing and an environmental activist. In the article, she listed a string of disasters in recent years which have claimed hundreds of thousands of lives, and concluded that: such "catastrophes are a warning from Mother Nature, cautioning us not to harm it any more, but to revere it with awe."

The article, carried by the Beijing News, a popular tabloid daily on January 3, incurred the criticism of He Zuoxiu, a physicist and member of the Chinese Academy of Sciences. He responded with an article in the bi-weekly Globe on January 10, entitled "Man needs not revere Nature."

While acknowledging that many environmentalists and ecologists are right to warn the public not to ignore the need to protect the environment and ecology, and agreeing unnecessary damage has been caused in recent years as a consequence of human activities, He says environmentalists and ecologists are "one-sided" in certain respects.

"In handling relations between man and nature, should we put man, or the environment, or ecology first?" he asks.

"This is a profound philosophical issue. I hold that human beings should top our concerns. The purpose of protecting the environment and ecology is for the benefit of people. Sometimes we have to do a little necessary `damage' and make some changes to the environment and eco-system also for the benefit of man," he argues.

Citing reservoir construction to justify his argument, he says: "China is suffering from a shortage of electric energy and we need to dam the rivers for hydropower, which will inevitably wreck some parts of the environment and eco-system." Here he argues for the need to weigh the gains and losses, the deciding factor should be the interests of human beings.

To hold nature in awe, he says, is to inhibit human initiative when faced with natural forces. Such an attitude "is anti-science, especially when confronting natural disasters like the tsunami or epidemic outbreaks." "Reverence and awe make no sense," He says. "We should put our confidence in the power of science and try to prevent or curb the impact of such calamities."

Growing debate

Standing by the academician's contentions is Fang Zhouzi, who holds a doctorate in molecular biology and is known for an anti-pseudoscience Chinese website based in the United States. In an article carried by the Beijing News on January 13, Fang says to be in awe of nature is actually to fear it, which indicates a psychology similar to that of the primitives of ancient times who regarded nature as Manitou, a supernatural power, possessing a soul, and who might be aroused to exact revenge if offended.

The premise of modern science, Fang makes clear, holds that the material world is objective and without consciousness, while the laws governing nature are independent of man's will.

"To make people keep a respectful distance from nature is contrary to science, at odds with the scientific approach to it, and in opposition to the use and transformation of nature through the application of scientific principles."

Their views have stirred a variety of opinion among various groups.

Liang Congjie, founder and president of Friends of Nature, a leading environmental NGO in China and member of the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, had this to say: "Calling people to revere nature and hold it in awe doesn't mean doing nothing. Reverence is an attitude cautioning us to think twice before reaching a decision, with a vision of a possible negative impact. And to be in awe implies humility and humbleness. After all, science is not omnipotent and we are still not far-sighted enough to predict the future."

Yang Bin, a part-time environmental activist who works with an investment company, also takes issue with He and Fang on what he terms "human-centralism" in relation to nature. As one of the numerous species of creatures on this planet dating back 4.6 billion years, he observes: "Human beings claim a history of existence of no more than 6 million years. Why should man think he has a right to live at the price of other creatures?"

Yang is of the opinion that the attitude of He and Fang and those likeminded do harm to both nature and man. Human beings "are part of nature and should try to learn about it so as to live in harmony with it."

Some enthusiastic high school students also participated in the debate. A 14-year-old eighth grader who identifies herself as Xin'er, had her article published in the Beijing News. She argued: "To revere nature and regard it with awe is a common sense which has been cultivated (in us) since primary school. Seeing even such a simple truth becoming controversial, I wonder if you adults are blinded by the pursuit of profit. Some people say that reverence and being in awe are just slogans, if so why is sustainable development encouraged?"

It is out of concern for nature that sustainable development has been promoted and man should hold nature in awe, says Wang Yongchen.

"We have had too many negative lessons in this respect in the past decades," she says.

The Sanmenxia Reservoir, built in the 1950s, and once hailed as a great project to harness the Yellow River, China's second longest, has proved a failure as it has neither been able to solve the problem of sedimentation or generate power to its design capacity. At the same time soil erosion, caused by deforestation, has left many areas more vulnerable to flooding, even at times of not very heavy rainfall.

Chen Guojie, an ecologist with the CAS Institute of Mountainous Disasters and Environment in the Sichuan provincial capital of Chengdu, drew a literary metaphor. "The Yangtze River will not flow down from the sky," as poets of old wrote, "but from the staircase, as a string of hydropower cascades are planned for the upper reaches of the river."

The social and environmental impact will be enormous, says Wang. "Many species will be affected, together with those who have inhabited the river valleys for centuries.".

"Many dam projects are planned without fully considering their socio-economic and environmental impact. That's why I feel it necessary for we human beings to revere nature and be in awe of it," she added.

Yang Bin compares nature to a dark hall, about which mankind, very much a newcomer, is still ignorant. "What we need to do is to use science as a torch to get a clearer view of the hall, rather than to bungle around causing irreversible results," he cautions.

As the debate escalated, both sides were invited to present their arguments in the popular Chinese website's chat rooms and engage in online dialogue with netizens.

According to Xiao Lei, the chat room host, the response has been "very satisfactory." An online poll on whether man should regard nature with awe shows 72.1 per cent of the 17,518 respondents support the views of environmentalists, with 23.87 per cent opposed.

Beijing News, which sparked and sponsored the debate, has carried nearly 30 contributed articles on the topic, says its editor Ai Jun. "They have been selected from about 100 articles submitted not only from around China but also Australia, Germany, the Netherlands, and the United States." The newspaper plans to invite more officials from relevant government departments to express their views.

Even some people not directly involved in the debate have followed the discussions with interest. Hao Xin, Chinese representative of the US-based Science magazine, has read the articles of both sides on the Internet from the United States.

"It seems there is a lack of the most basic vocabulary - which should be the starting point of the discussion - on both sides" she says.

"For instance, how do you define the Chinese expression jingwei? If it means to be awed by nature, what's wrong with that? At least those who love nature often feel awed by its beauty and wonder, especially at such sites as the Grand Canyon in the US and Jiuzhaigou in China. How could you label such a feeling of awe as anti-science? If you insist that to be awed by something is to be afraid of it, you only make the arguments pole apart. An authentic scientific approach to the issue will not go to such extremes."

Despite their differing views, the two sides have one point in common: Both agree discussion is necessary. As Ai Jun puts it: "It is a topic that deserves the attention of every citizen."

Even as the debate continued to rage, an unexpected, but as far as the environmentalist side are concerned, welcome volley came from the State Environmental Protection Administration. In a mandate issued by the administration on January 18, 30 massive projects, including three dams on the upper reaches of the Yangtze River involving the Three Gorges Electric Power Corporation and several other power giants, were ordered to suspend operations for skipping the environmental assessment before construction.

Hailed as "an environment-assessment storm" by environmentalists and the general public alike, the move, affecting a total investment exceeding 100 billion yuan (US$12.1 billion), is regarded as a serious strategic shift from the pattern of "control after pollution," to one of "block the channel of damage from the source," remarked one Internet commentator. "It means environment agencies are no longer 'rubber stamps' to misconduct."





何祚庥與梁從誡的爭論在相當程度上也是現代思想的內部爭論,兩個人分別代表的那種科學主義和環保主義,都從近代科學的形而上學基礎中找到了根據。近代科學最重大的思想成果之一就是重置了人與自然的關系。美國學者Edwin Arthur Burtt對此概括說:關于“人與自然環境關系的理解,對于中世紀主流思想來說,與物理世界相比,人在宇宙中占有一個更重要和更確定的地位。可是對于近代主流思想來說,自然卻比人擁有一個更獨立、更確定、更持久的地位。”他進一步解釋說:“對于中世紀來說,人在任何意義上都是宇宙的中心。整個自然世界被認為在目的論上服從于人及其永琲漫R運。這個信念已經不可抗拒地導致了在中世紀的綜合中統一起來的兩個偉大運動:古希臘哲學和猶太——基督教神學。”“正如中世紀的思想家認為自然屈從于人的知識、目的和命運是完全自然的一樣;現在,人們自然而然地把自然看作是在其中的獨立性中存在和運轉的。……認為人的知識和目的是自然以某種方式產生的,他的命運完全取決于自然。”(《近代物理科學的形而上學基礎》,(美)愛德華-阿瑟-伯特著,中譯,徐向東,北京大學出版社2003年出版。Edwin Arthur Burtt,The Metaphysical Foundations of Modern Physical Science,Atlantic Highlands,New Jersey:Humanities Press,1952,reprinted edition 1980.)(


那么現在的問題是,何祚庥與梁從誡是如何從近代形而上學這一共同的思想資源中尋找根據的。首先我們要對Edwin Arthur Burtt的觀點做一些修正。近代形而上學的后果是復雜的,而不僅僅是消滅了宗教哲學,消滅了對人不朽命運的信仰,把柏拉圖的最高理念、亞里士多德的不動的動者和基督教的圣父及其結合徹底揚棄,從而以“自然神”取而代之。事情不完全是這樣的。近代形而上學最大特點不是對人本思想的超越,而是對神本思想的否定。在這一過程中,人的地位隨著自然的地位一起上升,正因為“上帝死了”,人和自然于是分別成為上帝。科學的發展鼓舞了這種人文思潮,使人類獲得了“改造自然”、“征服自然”進而“改造社會”、“支配他人”的信心,其極端發展就是出現了“建構理性主義”思潮及其實踐。人類的巴別塔工程及其被毀滅的悲劇以“共產主義天堂”的名義被復制。環保主義在某種意義上是這場人類自負運動的負產品。科學掃除了對上帝的信仰,同時等于為信仰自然神(“大自然母親”)開辟了道路;而科學技術導致的一些負面后果——這一負面后果根植于人性局限——進一步鼓舞文學心靈向自然界尋求安慰,甚至走向反科學主義的“感情自負”。在某種意義上,科學主義和環保主義之爭,就是“理性自負”與“感情自負”之爭,是“人神”與“自然神”之爭。(

對于何祚庥來說,人是上帝。對于梁從誡來說,自然是上帝。然而事實上,上帝是上帝。如果說20世紀有什么重大的理論收獲,那么就是在這個世紀終結的時候,人類對近代形而上學兩個假上帝的揚棄,并對這兩個假上帝制造的災難開始深刻反省。這兩種思想存在某種一致性,人是上帝在某種意義上也建立在自然本位基礎上的,這一點Edwin Arthur Burtt已經闡明。因此,何祚庥與梁從誡的爭論是一場內部爭論,但這場爭論根據20世紀的經驗和中國的政治經濟現狀,可以說處于理論均勢:20世紀共產主義運動不尊重人,也不尊重自然。因此,何祚庥與梁從誡都擁有巨大的歷史感來為自己的信念辯護。然而問題是,這場即不尊重人、也不尊重自然的世紀浩劫,恰恰是以崇拜人、崇拜自然的名義進行的。至少對自然(包括“自然律”)的崇拜在某種程度上,的確會導致對人的權利和尊嚴漠視。對于中國社會來說,這種情況更為明顯。一個基本人權和生存權缺乏保障的國家,片面向動植物移情,確實可能導致一種反諷效果。而在現實生活中,這種移情也可能是不真實的(如反科學就是一個謊言),或者偽善的(特別是人的自我評價總高于對牛的評價,而對他人的評價總低于牛的評價)。保護環境同樣是為了人類的利益。在這一點上,道理站在何祚庥這邊。特別是當梁從誡說“我想任何人都不會否認,人是自然的產物,大自然是人類的母親”的時候,我想他已經完全缺乏常識了——至少全世界有5億人不同意這種觀點,他們相信人是神造的,而自然也是神造的。不過20世紀的經驗在更深刻的地方是反對何祚庥的。人的自負不僅導致人對人的傷害,也導致人對自然的毀滅,從而傷害到人的存在。中國現在正處于這兩種危機之中:政治不合法、經濟不自由、道德敗壞和生態危機,都建立在這種(人神)偶像崇拜的基礎之上。對人的崇拜最大的不幸后果是:在邏輯上它必然導致對哪一個人的崇拜,“崇拜誰”這一問題世界導致的政治后果是“你死我活”的現實世界。從階級斗爭、權力斗爭、民族戰爭、社區內戰到知識分子的圈內戰爭,都是這一困境的外在表現。至少到目前為止,漢語世界仍然在這種文化狀態中徘徊不前,驕傲構成這種文化的外在符號,而對利益崇拜形成經驗根據。(


科學主義和環保主義之間的辯論,都在勉為其難地賦予自己的辯護對象以某種價值。但“如果人們承認在宇宙中根本存在著價值這樣的東西,那么他就會發現,若不給予目的論一個地位,那么要解釋價值就變得非常困難。”(Edwin Arthur Burtt)對于何祚庥和梁從誡各自所代表的那種思潮來說,為人的價值、自然的價值辯護,無法說明人的價值、自然的價值的起源和歸屬,最后只能把人和自然本身上升為最高目的和最高價值,但又不能說明為什么。最后的出路就是在生物學和文學上找根據,但這些根據可以產生完全對立并具有同等說服力的悖論。這一偽目的論不僅導致人與自然兩個偽上帝之間的殘酷戰爭,更極大地傷害了人本身。這一點幾乎不需要引入神學來進行反省,印度洋大海嘯以及其經典的方式宣告了何祚庥和梁從誡同時在公然說謊:對于何祚庥來說,自然對人的征服而不是人對自然的征服如此真實無偽;對于梁從誡來說,把如此殘酷暴虐的“大自然”稱為“母親”不僅是對災民的侮辱,也是梁從誡自己無法接受的。這是一種古老的困境,這一困境早已經在十字架上獲得了神性的穿透和理性的闡釋。(