Does Nature Need To Be Redeemed?


Yesterday I came across this essay by Holmes Rolston III. He develops an ecological ethic from an EC perspective. Reading it I was convicted of my own ambivalence toward stewardship of the creation. I read it twice because it was so good. So many powerful quotes that I couldn’t choose just one to post. Read it and share if you find his arguments compelling or if you think they fall short somewhere.


I see this hasn’t been a big hit :grin:

(Mark D.) #3

Yeah, it’s a little overwhelming and with lots of biblical references which often sail straight over my head. Any chance you have a synopsis ready to hand?

Based on the title of your thread my questions are:

Why would nature (the rest of the biome that left that accursed apple alone) need to be redeemed?

How would redemption effect nature?


I understand. I’ll see if I can draw out a few paragraphs.


Sadly, I can’t provide a synopsis to do it justice. He argues that humans have a responsibility to rise above a mere animalistic existence and make conscious choices for the benefit of all creation. When animals act like beasts nothing is amiss. But the irony is that they limit themselves by nature (e.g. predation) whereas we as humans are prone to exploiting nature and can only limit ourselves by conscious choice. Nature is in need of redemption in the sense of being rescued from an undesirable state and restored to wholeness.

Now, if we ask the question whether nature needs to be redeemed, we must answer: Yes, urgently, more urgently today than ever before! Humans, as a result of their failings, degrade the natural world, and nature is at peril owing to human cultures on Earth. There is something perverse about an ethic, held by the dominant class of Homo sapiens, that regards the welfare of only one of several million species as an object and beneficiary of duty. We lust. We are proud. We are selfish. These escalating human desires, coupled in this century with more power than ever before to transform the earth, have put nature in travail. In this sense, the fall of nature, far from being archaic, is among the most imminent threats; nature is at more peril today than at any time in the last two and one-half billion years. We may face the end of nature, unless human cultures can be redeemed.

Several billion years worth of creative toil, several million species of teeming life, have been handed over to the care of this late-coming species in which mind has flowered and morals have emerged. Yet this sole moral species has not yet been able to do anything less self interested than count all the products of an evolutionary ecosystem as resources for our consumption. That does not sound like trusteeship; that sounds like corruption, a fall from human nobility. Insatiable overconsumption is cancerous, if not psychotic.

(Christy Hemphill) #6

I’ve been trying to post this all day, but I keep getting interrupted.

It was a good article.

I liked this idea, alluding to Romans 8:22 and the linking of the concept of redemption with regeneration:

“Birthing, which is really also the root for the word nature, (Greek:
natans, “giving birth”) is a transformative experience where suffering
is the prelude to creation, indeed struggle is the principle of creation.
Struggle is always going on, and it is this struggle in which life is
regenerated. Nature is always giving birth, regenerating, always in

I’m all into conceptual metaphors these days. It’s my intellectual flavor of the month, so this conceptual metaphor of NATURE EQUALS WOMAN GIVING BIRTH is pretty cool to think about. When framed within the concept of childbirth, the “suffering” of natural evil comes across differently. Childbirth is bloody, sweaty, and gross, not to mention full of hard work and suffering. (for us normal women-- evidently it’s all loveliness and euphoria for the women who write natural childbirth articles in those magazines that get left in the OB’s office, but I digress.) It is interesting to me that in English, we use the verb “deliver” to speak of childbirth. Deliverance and redemption are tied together conceptually too. I would never think of pregnancy as a fallen or corrupted state, or of the suffering of contractions as a natural evil. They are accomplishing the work of birthing which is an inherently redemptive or regenerative process.

I also liked this part, because the Christian God is so personal. While design can be distant and impersonal, there is no impersonal redemption.

"God is not in a simple way the Benevolent Architect, but is
rather the Suffering Redeemer. The whole of the earthen metabolism
needs to be understood as having this character. The God met in
physics as the divine wellspring from which matter-energy bubbles
up, as the upslope epistemic force, is in biology the suffering and
resurrecting power that redeems life out of chaos. "

This passage reminded me of the recent thread on the theological reasons for accepting evolution.

“The abundant life that Jesus exemplifies and offers to his disciples
is that of a sacrificial suffering through to something higher. There
is something divine about the power to suffer through to something
higher. The Spirit of God is the genius that makes alive, that redeems
life from its evils. The cruciform creation is, in the end, deiform,
godly, just because of this element of struggle, not in spite of it. There
is a great divine yes hidden behind and within every no of crushing
nature. God, who is the lure toward rationality and sentience in the
upcurrents of the biological pyramid, is also the compassionate lure
in, with, and under all purchasing of life at the cost of sacrifice. God
rescues from suffering, but the Judeo-Christian faith never teaches
that God eschews suffering in the achievement of the divine purposes.
To the contrary, seen in the paradigm of the cross, God too
suffers, not less than God’s creatures, in order to gain for the creatures
a more abundant life.”

I also really liked the idea that election is not a state of being chosen to not suffer, but being chosen to suffer with and for God. And that even the name Israel hearkens back to Jacob wrestling with God and being injured by him.

(Matthew Pevarnik) #7

I think that’s a little dramatic, but I think it brings some good thoughts to the table overall. I am not sure that what humans have done exactly compares to any of the mass extinctions just yet, i.e. The Permian-Triassic Extinction event. Some highlights:

  • 96% of all marine species extinct
  • 70% of terrestrial vertebrates extinct
  • Triggered by one or more large meteor impacts, massive volcanism and ensuing coal, gas fires and explosions, a runaway greenhouse effect thanks to some methane-producing microbes. Many other things happened to including huge dead zones in the oceans with a lack of oxygen.

Note: I am not someone who argues against human responsibility for the planet by saying “eh, the temperature has changed in the past” even though what I wrote could have echoes of that sentiment.

(Christy Hemphill) #8


This article is pretty long, but I think you would find it right up your alley. Some of the parts reminded me of your ideas about humanity and the fall.

(Mark D.) #9

I feel very strongly about this. I prefer to identify as part of the greater biome rather than simply team mankind. I’m convinced that the world would be both less healthy and aesthetically less appealing if we maximized the number of human beings with every resource available.

I think the solution will have to include forgoing large families or even any children at all. It will require a major change in perspective to live a life without becoming a parent or a grandparent. Of course not everyone needs to forego families but many will need to and those who do choose procreation will need to keep the family small. Otherwise, we’re not thinking about the wellbeing of the greater family of life, just team mankind.

I personally have not created any children but I’ve had a hand in bringing up a niece and nephew and have had a role in bringing up more than 3,000 middle schoolers, and I am satisfied.

(Albert Leo) #10

Yes, Rolston’s worldview seems similar to the one I have constructed based largely on the writings of Teilhard de Chardin. Rolston, as have many others, equates the dawn of humankind with the dawn of culture, but, at least in this article, does not use Teilhard’s nomenclature of Biosphere -> Noosphere. The gist is the same, however.

[Rolston] We have moved out of biology into ethics, but further, out of ethics into spirituality.

Rolston has a command of language (as you do) that I envy, but I don’t feel (in my gut) that his Zygon paper gives me a fuller understanding of how the Noosphere can inspire us to become Images of God rather than becoming gods in our own right. Like Rolston, I feel strongly the unless we do concentrate on the former rather than fall prey to the latter, that humankind will end up in the ash bin of extinction. If this disaster comes to pass, I believe that Gaia would survive to continue God’s plans. Hopefully, if we honor the slogan on our coins 'In God We Trust’, we will accept the offer to become His children, and we will succeed in building His Kingdom here on earth much as you envision it.
Al Leo


Al, anything you might suggest reading on this subject? I was inspired to post this Rolston article after reading what you said about sin as a “failure to rise” on another thread.


Mark, I hear what you’re saying here and I’m sympathetic to your view. We consciously considered our family’s ecological footprint when we decided to have only two children. As you know, restricting family size offends the sensibilities of most wherever individual rights are generally valued over the common good including here in the US.

(Mark D.) #13

Glad to hear it. I think Christianity promotes parenting almost to the point of seeing the childless as slackers. Many both among the religious and the nones see it as necessary to having the full, human experience. I think alternative lifestyle choices need to be more widely promoted if we’re to be good stewards of the planet.

(Mitchell W McKain) #14

I think it is because all the living organisms on the earth are not really independent of each other. It is an ecosystem of interdependence and we are the brain of the outfit. That is indisputable. We are the only ones with the capability of looking out for the well being of the Earth. And as long as we fail to take proper stewardship then the Earth is like a smoker and a junkie – filled with poisons because the brain chooses to defile the whole body.

Redemption would be an answer to Paul’s cry in Romans 7:21-24:

21 So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. 22 For I delight in the law of God, in my inmost self, 23 but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin which dwells in my members. 24 Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?

So that we would finally actually do what we know is right, and education might actually do all that the liberals dream it should.

(Albert Leo) #15

The previous post you refer to may have been misleading. I am grateful to you for bringing Rolston’s Zygon paper to my attention. I am pleased that someone with Rolston’s credentials has published a Christian worldview that treats the ‘problems’ of Adam & Eve and Original Sin in a way that makes sense to me. However, I am unsatisfied with the wording I use to deal with the concepts of redemption, salvation, & atonement.. While I am comfortable with the way my ‘new’ Fall-less paradigm can treat these concepts, I don’t seem to find the words that would be convincing to an evangelical Christian to make the switch in perspectives. Furthermore,I don’t think that Rolston, in this single Zygon article, does so either, even tho he is a far more skillful wordsmith than I.

Teilhard, in his original works, may have done so, but IMHO they are written on such a ‘spiritual plane’ that they have a lasting effect only on those who make theology a lifelong study. An anthology that gives a clearer view of Teilhard’s meanings is:
“From Teilhard to Omega” Ilia Delio, Ed. It is available on Amazon.
Al Leo