Monday, May 25, 2009

What do we do with the environment?

Attenborough blames Genesis for ecological devastation
"The influence of the book of Genesis, which says, "The Lord God said 'go forth and multiply' to Adam and Eve, and that the natural world is there for you to dominate. You have dominion over the animals and plants of the world." And that basic notion, that the world is there for us, and that if it doesn’t act to serve our purposes it is dispensable--that has produced the devastation of vast areas of the earth’s surface. Of course, this is a great simplification. But that’s why Darwinism and the fact of evolution is of great importance, because it is that attitude [Creationism] which has led to the devastation of so much, and is why we’re in the situation that we’re in." - David Attenborough

A Biblical view of environmental stewardship

First of all, I want to quote what God actually said in Genesis (since Attenborough's paraphrase was less-than-accurate).
Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. God blessed them; and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” Then God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the surface of all the earth, and every tree which has fruit yielding seed; it shall be food for you; and to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the sky and to every thing that moves on the earth which has life, I have given every green plant for food”; and it was so. - Genesis 1:26-30
For the sake of time (mine and yours) I will briefly summarize the issue in four bullet points, addressing the macro-level arguments from a Creationist, Christian perspective. I will be referencing a Protestant position paper on the issue, published by the Acton Institute in their 2007 release, Environmental Stewardship in the Judeo-Christian Tradition, which I believe to be a succinct, solid overview of the Christian position on environmental stewardship.

I. Biblical Stewardship: Conditions and Qualifications
  • "Two groups of interrelated conditions are necessary for responsible stewardship. In one group are conditions related to the freedom that allows people to use and exchange the fruits of their labor for mutual benefit (Matt. 20:13—15). These conditions–knowledge, righteousness, and dominion–provide an arena for the working out of the image of God in the human person. In another group are conditions related to responsibility, especially to the existence of a legal framework that holds people accountable for harm they may cause to others (Rom. 13:1—7; Exod. 21:28—36; 22:5—6). These two sets of conditions provide the safeguards necessitated by human sinfulness. Both sets are essential to responsible stewardship; neither may be permitted to crowd out the other, and each must be understood in light of both the image of God and the sinfulness of man."
  • Thus we are not free to do whatever we please with God's creation (including our own bodies by the way), but are restrained in our actions by the principles of righteousness and responsibility laid forth in His Word, and are accountable to the sanctions and authority of His Law. Dominion is therefore not the mindset that "if [the earth] doesn’t act to serve our purposes it is dispensable." It is the solemn obligation laid on humanity to care for the earth in a manner consistent with the created order.
II. We are "Created in His Image"
  • Mankind is NOT a product of natural processes (a.k.a. “mother earth”).

  • The predominant view today is one where man - as a "child of nature" - must necessarily subordinate himself to "mother earth," and assume an equal or inferior position to the natural world around him. So, if an endangered field mouse and a farmer happen to occupy and use the same plot of land, the farmer automatically gets the boot.
  • According to Genesis man and woman were given a privileged status in Creation, and were commanded by God to exercise stewardship and dominion. The Lord said, "Rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth."
  • This brings us to what is commonly called the "Creator / Creature distinction." God is God, and we are His creatures and subject to His rule. In our capacity as stewards, we are to act as responsible agents of His benevolent rule, not autonomous destroyers of His good gifts.
  • Having established the clear Biblical hierarchy of the created order (God - man - natural world), let's make sure we have our priorities straight. As we said above, we do not advocate the subordination of man to the earth (i.e. the field mouse analogy), but instead place first priority on human well-being. “The quest for the humane treatment of beasts by lowering people to the level of animals leads only to the beastly treatment of humans.” By keeping mankind in his Biblical role as steward, we not only promote the betterment of society, the freedom for economic growth, and the health of the environment, but we stridently oppose the environmental slavery which drives so many countries (especially third-world countries) in the exact opposite direction.
III. Biblical Checks and Balances
  • “People, alone among creatures on earth, have both the rationality and the moral capacity to exercise stewardship, to be accountable for their choices, to take responsibility for caring not only for themselves but also for other creatures. To reject human stewardship is to embrace, by default, no stewardship.”
  • Government is not to usurp the responsibility of individuals to exercise stewardship - it exists to restrain evil and to encourage and reinforce righteousness. When people become enslaved to the natural world by tyrannical governmental measures, free market economies become impossible, innovation is stifled and poverty prevails (i.e. third-world countries are sacrificed as a result of stringent environmental measures imposed by wealthy nations)
  • "Our stewardship under God implies that we are morally accountable to him for treating creation in a manner that best serves the objectives of the kingdom of God; but both moral accountability and dominion over the earth depend on the freedom to choose. The exercise of these virtues and this calling, therefore, require that we act in an arena of considerable freedom–not unrestricted license, but freedom exercised within the boundaries of God’s moral law revealed in Scripture and in the human conscience (Exod. 20:1—17; Deut. 5:6—21; Rom. 2:14—15)."
IV. Conclusion
  • “Patrick Moore, one of the founders of Greenpeace International, said in an interview in the New Scientist in December 1999, "The environmental movement abandoned science and logic somewhere in the mid-1980s\... political activists were using environmental rhetoric to cover up agendas that had more to do with class warfare and anti-corporatism than with the actual science...." What we have said above indicates that Moore was right in his critique of the movement to which he made such an important early contribution. Too often, modern environmentalism has become anti-human, anti-freedom, anti-economic development, and anti-reason. It is time to reverse this trend.” [emphasis added]
  • “On the basis of a biblical worldview and ethics, as well as of sound science, economics, and public policy principles, we believe sound environmental stewardship celebrates and promotes human life, freedom, and economic development as compatible with, even essential for, the good of the whole environment. While we do not rule out all collective action, we believe market mechanisms are frequently better means, in both principle and practice, to environmental protection. They are less likely to erode important human freedoms and more likely to be cost-effective and successful in achieving their aims. While we understand that passions may energize in the pursuit of sound environmental policy, we also believe that reason, coupled with a commitment to "do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with … God" (Mic. 6:8), must ultimately guide environmental policy."

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