Monday, 4 January 2010

Christianity and Environmentalism

For much of this chain of thought and many of the ideas themselves I'm indebted to Andrew Kulikovsky, whose book I recently reviewed.

Christians are bound to be in favour of looking after the planet - we believe that God made it and (Genesis 1:28ff) gave man a special charge to care for it. We believe that creation was made "very good" (Genesis 1:31) and has real meaning and purpose. Christians have to be "environmentalists" in a certain sense. But does that mean they must be uncritical adherents of the modern environmental movement (MEM)? Are we bound to agree with all that comes out of Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, etcetera?

In answering "no" to this question, firstly we need to notice that the MEM's view of creation is significantly different to the Christian one. MEM thinking is all too often pagan, Gaia thinking. According to this way of thought, the biosphere is a wonderful, harmonious paradise where all creatures live in a wonderful egalitarian symbiotic harmony. Man's unique significance for the creation is denied, and more than that this man is actually seen as the enemy of creation. He comes into the blissful harmony of "Nature" (capital N) and starts spoiling stuff with his development. His basic actions towards the environment are actions of rape and pillage. The goal of environmentalism is to return us to the Gaian harmony where man lives in close harmony with Nature instead of exploiting it. This is painting with broad strokes, but that's the basic picture.

Christianity, however, believes that God made the world with immense potential and then actually gave man the "creation mandate" (Genesis 1:28ff) - a charge, a commandment, to develop and harness the latent powers that were in it. Man is intended to "exploit" (in the positive sense of the word) the environment. And he is intended to exploit it primarily in his own interests - not in the interests of all animal life as an equality.

Kulikovsky points out that the idea of man living in simple harmony with nature is a myth. Go to the places with least development and you'll find the places where the water isn't safe to drink, where little children die of preventable diseases, and most to the point where the heads of the MEM would never dream of trying to live. Where man has sought to bring the environment under his control for his good, there you find safe drinking water, good health care and many other blessings. The picture of a sweet harmony is a false one - it's the Biblical one that is found true in practice. None of this justifies wanton destruction, or selfish pollution - those things are ultimately against man's interests. It's a myth that it's the MEM way or no other way. An undeveloped need as Christians seek to apply Christianity to all of life is to develop an authentically Christian environmental movement, and not one that simply sells the pass to pagan thinkers.


gingoro said...

We believe that creation was made "very good".

How can that be. Is a malaria carrying mosquito good, is a fly that produces elephantiasis good, is cancer that kills many of us good, is leprosy good.

I expect you will answer that all such are the result of the fall of mankind. But you also believe that God made all species as we now see them, so God made mosquito etc because of the fall??

Dave W

David Anderson said...

Hi Dave,

Yes, I believe in the fall and that would be my basic understanding of the origin of so-called "natural evil".

A creationist, understanding the early chapters of Genesis to be intended as historical narrative as the basic genre, is only committed to the belief that variation between generations of any living species is limited by the boundaries of basic "kinds". There are a few extra bits of course - Genesis 1 does identify some of the boundaries of these kinds; e.g. trees and animals are in different ones.

There's no commitment to exactly where the boundary of the created "kind" lies, and absolutely not to the idea that the kind precisely equals the modern biological "species". Exactly how the kind correlates with kingdoms, phyla, genera etc. is a matter for scientific research, but the precise answer isn't a matter of creationist orthodoxy. That "kind" precisely equals the modern species and the idea that creationists are committed to "fixity of species" are fallacies that only appears in the literature of anti-creationists. When you read them it's telling you that the author hasn't tried to find out what creationists actually believe and is only repeating what other anti-creationists have told him...

Best wishes,

gingoro said...

OK so how did the basic kinds God created change into the species we see now? As I understand your position all the land and air species we see now had to be produced somehow from the number carried on the ark. What mechanism in detail produced what we now see.


David Anderson said...

Hi Dave,

First two disclaimers. This is a scientific question open to a considerably degree of speculation - not a matter of Biblical fidelity or essential to creationism. In the same way that I'm sure you believe that there are satellites in the sky, which you can tell me without needing to also explain in detail how they work. Second disclaimer: I am not a creation biologist. If you want the best answers that creationists have, you should find one. Probably John Wordmaroppe's "Noah's Ark - A Feasibility Study" is the best overview of technical questions relating to the ark.

Having said that, here's my best guess given my present state of knowledge. Firstly, creationists don't have any problem with acknowledging that natural selection can give rise to a good deal of genetic variation. The creationist position is that this variation is limited, not unlimited. The highly specified codes that make up a cat can't be twiddled through natural selection to end up with a fly or a cabbage. But *perhaps* a cat and a lion are part of the same Genesis "kind", and only one of them needed to be on the ark. Then it was simply a matter of the genetic potential expressing itself through many combinations and natural selection. Dog-breeding shows that fantastic variety in outward appearance can be achieved surprisingly quickly.

To summarise: as a creationist I'm not bound to reject natural selection, and again no actual creationist I've ever come across does. What we deny is that natural selection is omnipotent, to turn reptiles into professors of philosophy. But just because we deny that doesn't mean we deny that it can result in one reptile's descendents being surprisingly different reptiles. Again, exactly where the limits lie is a matter for scientific investigation, not a matter of fixed creationist dogma.

God bless,

gingoro said...

I'm not a biologist either and in fact due to the fact that my high school education was on two continents and three schools I never took any biology at all. Thus what I know is from reading as an adult.

Assuming the flood was about 3500 years ago that would seem to be a very little amount of time for genetic change and natural selection to work. In fact even 10,000 years seems to be an extremely short amount of time by orders of magnitude. Remember that the species had to travel from the ANE to the Americas, Australia and so forth. I find it hard to conceive of the marsupials being of the same kinds as other animals, using your terminology.
In your proposed "evolution" what is God's role? In my view of evolution God;s governance and sustaining sovereignty is always supervising what occurs. However I doubt that we can discern when God acts in either role in any given circumstance except through revelation. This is one place where I tend to differ from ID as I see it. They seem to think that we can detect some cases when God intervenes (so to speak) to inject design. I am not saying that individuals in some circumstances do not have a strong belief that God intervened, but that such belief is a long way from proof.

David Anderson said...

Hi Dave,

Whether there's enough time in the timescale would depend on a mathematical calculation based upon the number of animals believed to be on the ark and an evaluation of where the boundaries and limits of the variation possible under natural selection are and the number of generations available. There are many variables involved. A creation biologist would be the best person to ask about this... John Woodmaroppe's book "Noah's Ark - a feasibility study" might be a good place to look. The ark as described in Genesis is vastly larger than most people imagine it for one thing. Or search the or AiG sites to see if there are any figures on this there.

Again, I don't know any ID literature that would say something like "God only did these bits, not others". ID as I understand it is a limited enterprise - to detect signatures of design indicating intelligence. Design activity shouldn't be equated with all activity. I might throw some stones in the air and the result might be indistinguishable from the activity of a non-intelligent agent (e.g. a rock-fall), and I might arrange the stones to spell out a sentence. Only one is detectable as the activity of an intelligent agent, though in fact both were.
In other words, ID (where the person doing it is also identifying the intelligent agent with God - which takes in larger questions than simply the detection of an intelligent agent itself) only claims to detect some of God's activity, but is not by implication denying that he was active in other parts.

For myself, in line with historical orthodox Christianity, I distinguish between God's ongoing activity in the world now (providence) in which he upholds and governs all things everywhere without exception, and his original supernatural activity in the primordial acts of creation which were historically unique events and not open in principle to investigation by examining what processes are happening in the world today.

Hope this helps,