What is Animism? Is it simply the primitive superstitious belief of early humanity? Does it still have a place in a modern technological and scientifically advanced world
To me Animism is about one simple word – respect. It is about how we treat the world around us. It is about accepting that the world is full of persons, only some of whom are human. It is about connecting to everything in a harmonious and reverential way. It’s about acknowledging the inherent worth of everything. It is about our attitude and the way we approach life. And science is at its heart.
A hundred years ago one could be forgiven for considering science and animism to be complete opposites but I put forward the observation that the scientific discoveries of the past century are vital to supporting and understanding the animist world-view. And what’s more, animism is vital to guiding our scientific endeavours too.
Why do I say this? Think about the science of biology, palaeontology and evolution or the science of genetics. The discoveries in these fields show us that we are kin, we are family, with all life. Everyone shares a common ancestor. Think about the science of astronomy which destroys our self importance and shows us our true and humble place in the universe – we are one species among many and we don’t have a god given right to dominate the earth and trash it. Think about the science of climatology which is teaching us about the effect we are having on the environment through climate change and how we are destroying our own world. Think about the science of ecology and the Gaia Hypothesis which teaches us that we are part of interconnected systems and that everything we do has an effect on everything else because we are all connected. Think about the science of psychology which is finding evidence to suggest we need to spend time in nature for our own mental health – that it is good for us to connect with the natural world. And we could go on…
Science is all about investigation, its all about finding out what we can about the world around us, what lives there and how it all works. Surely the basis of Animism requires knowledge and investigation of the world around us too. How can we treat something respectfully if we know nothing about it? How can we know how to connect with plants, animals, trees or rivers if we don’t understand them and their “needs.” That is why it is so vital for animists to spend time in nature, to learn about the world around them (especially their local area) and to study science.
And just as Science is vital to Animism, Animism is vital to Science. Why? It acts as an ethical guide. Technology can be both good or bad. It can help or it can destroy. Having an animist world-view can help guide us when deciding what science investigates and how. It can provide moral guidance on issues like animal testing, genetically modified crops, nuclear and chemical weapons, exploitation of the natural world and much more. The world-view of Animism can be a moral guide that guides science and the methods it uses.
I believe animism and science mutually support each other and that as more discoveries are made in science, we will develop further towards an animist world-view. It is for this reason that I am an Animist.