The Monterey List:
Growing toward a sustainable future
for ourselves and for the planet

* Now available in paperback!*
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The Monterey List originated as an actual list I made in a Monterey, California hotel room one November night in 1997 (hence the name). The items on the list were all short observations pertaining to sustainable living on this planet, couched as aphorisms, mostly made up on the spot. There were 112 of them. Over the next few years I rearranged the aphorisms into a coherent order, combined a couple of them with others (there are now 110), expanded them into essays, and collected them into a book. I plan to release the book on this web page - one essay at a time, once per week. This will take approximately two years. If you are impatient, you may purchase the whole thing from Amazon as as either a paperback or an e-book by clicking the image at left. Then you will be able to read all of the essays without waiting. Otherwise....well, patience is a virtue, and anticipation can be sweet.

Enjoy! And please let me know what you think. You can enter your comments at the bottom of this page.


46. Science and religion conflict only in the minds of those who understand neither science nor religion.

There is no reason not to have both faith and curiosity. Studying the workings of creation does not automatically preclude belief in a Creator, nor does finding purpose in our lives require us to abandon the scientific method. Dogmatic religion is suspect, but so is dogmatic science; the problem in either case is not the religion or the science, but the dogma.

Science is epistemological. It constantly attempts to validate its knowledge of the world. The big questions it attempts to answer are what and how. Much of its work is descriptive. Scientists look at the structures of things and try to determine the ways in which the structures they discover might operate. They seek functional relationships. The theories they postulate about these relationships are testable; they can be checked for fit against known or discoverable facts. Verification can be mechanically cumbersome, but it is always intellectually straightforward: do observable, measurable phenomena act in the way the theory predicts, or do they not? What is termed "scientific method" has little to do with laboratory technique or field methods or note-taking or mathematical accuracy - although all those things are important. What it has to do with is repeatability. At its heart lie the twin requirements of duplicable results and peer review: duplicable results to make sure the answer is the same every time, peer review to make sure that everybody gets the same answer. The point is not to prove you are right, but to obtain as objective a view as possible of what "right" is.

Religion is teleological. It seeks to find the purposes behind things: the big question it asks are which and why. Though it often strives for objectivity, much of it is necessarily subjective. Tests of faith do not follow the same process as tests of facts. They are not externally verifiable. Many people may come to the same conclusion - that is how we get organized religions - but the conclusion itself cannot be conclusively validated. We cannot prove the soul exists by measuring it, nor can we definitively describe the purpose of the Universe based on the small fraction of it that we can actually see. We cannot photograph the face of God. We can reach a fair degree of unanimity on what is wrong - greed, hatred, murder - but we cannot find the same level of agreement about what is right. We can experience Divine Love, but the only way we can show it to others is by practicing it.

Science and religion really exist in different spheres. One deals with the knowable; the other, with the unknowable. One can be proved; the other can only be practiced. Comparing one to the other is not only useless but dangerous. You cannot make such a comparison without disregarding important parts of one or both disciplines. To define one as true, but not the other, is to misuse the word "true." Truth and falsehood are only valid terms within areas of knowledge, not across them. In physics or art, one can have a "true red" - a color that consists of only the red rays of the spectrum. But red is not true in comparison to green.

The mathematics of infinity provide a useful way to look at the relationship between science and religion. Infinity is not simply enormous, it is unending. If you try to count to infinity you will never get there, because no matter how high you count, an infinite array of numbers will continue to stretch out before you. Thus, science - which is necessarily finite - cannot expand at the expense of religion, which is the study of the Infinite. No matter how much science learns about the world, there will always be an infinite amount it does not know. That is the realm in which religion properly operates.

Next week: Section 47, "Neither science nor religion can save us; all they can do is help us find the truth."


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I think you mentioned 3 or the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. I forget what the 4th is. (Yes, I know, "Google it.")

This may be my favorite section. Death has a bad name that it doesn't deserve. While it is human to want what we like to go on forever, what we like wouldn't even be here if death weren't an integral component of the incredible miracle of life.

My dad was warning about overpopulation back in the 60's and 70's. I remember seeing 'The Population Bomb' in his small library and he, my mom and myself having conversations at the dinner table on the topic. He was adamant about the profound effect it would have on the planet if there was no intervention, either through individuals choosing to limit the number of children in their families or through governmental attempts to control the situation. Of course, the latter is severely problematic due to individual rights and freedom. However, education does not seem to have made any difference whatsoever. It's a topic that has been a struggle for me. I chose to not have children, although I did miscarry in my early 20's. I find one of my less appealing traits about myself is to judge those who have more than about 2 or 3 children. I wonder if they are blind to the condition of the world and what kind of a world those children and their children are going to inherit. I find myself haunted by these and related questions even in my life today. My wish, which has remained secret until now, is that people will choose to have one child of their own and adopt as many more children as they can support and allow to thrive.

Diane, you will see my views on that question developed in this space over the next few weeks - William Ashworth

Dave Forman, in his book, Take Back Conservation, (I have an autographed free copy thanking me for all of my work), says that we need to retain the idea that we value natural places and preserve them for their own sake, not for human-related reasons. I agree with that, while still recognizing that we need to maintain sustainability.We need both views.
Diane Newell Meyer

Looking forward to the next installment.