Ecology and the Bible

(RiderOnTheClouds) #1

Those who know me will know i am deeply concerned for conservation issues, in fact, i recently joined the RSPB.

I support nature conservation due to the great spiritual benefits wild places have (which are scientifically proven) as a place of respite. Under this view, we should protect individual species to show us the health of our wild places.

Yet I find my view hard to reconcile with Genesis 1:26-28, a verse which ‘commands’, not just allows humans to ‘conquer the earth’ using violent military language. This verse could justify the destruction of all natural places, and the extermination of all animals which pose a threat to mans dominion, potentially including ‘all’ animals.

Or is there another way of looking at the verse?

(Shawn T Murphy) #2

Dear Reggie,
Having dominion over His creation has been falsely interpreted by many, twisting His words for their own profit.

And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth. So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them. And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.

I like to point the revised Swiss founding documents, because Switzerland is a democratic, enlightened, Christian federation that is over 700 years old. They say that its humanity’s responsible to care for His creation, as a benevolent ruler would, not as a conquerer. This is in concert with the KJV translation above. Rule over it as He would rule, not as man would rule.

(RiderOnTheClouds) #3

Whenever the word ‘kbš’ is used elsewhere in scripture, it means somethibg violent and cruel, like taking somwthing by force, and by violence if need be.

(Mitchell W McKain) #4

Yes the same word is used for imposing your will on your children and enslaving conquered people. So does this mean the Bible commands the abuse of children and the practice of slavery. The only problem is that the Bible imposed considerable restrictions on the practice of slavery and assumes that parents treat their children with love. The use of this word certainly does not mean there isn’t a wrong way of doing such things.

(Jay Johnson) #5


Perhaps you should grab a copy of this one:

(Christy Hemphill) #6

Check out [BioLogos 2019 Conference featured speaker] Jonathan Merrit’s 2010 book, Green Like God:

The appendix has a bunch of organizations with info on how Scripture supports conservation. You can see a copy of it here:

(Dominik Kowalski) #7

Since he is one of my favourite biblical scholars and certainly one of the smartest I can only recommend Richard Bauckham and his book Bible and Ecology: Rediscovering the Community of Creation

(Randy) #8

That’s a good question. I think that it may be hard to picture that here, in the areas where man reigns supreme over nature. However, I think that back in those times, nature (including drought, flood, carnivorous beasts like lions, and snakes) was considered an enemy-- they were real and constant threats. In the 17th and 18th centuries, the pioneers’ rhetoric of conquering the wilderness in North America, Australia rang similar. Living in Africa, where mortality rate from poverty and nature’s disease, drought and animals rages constantly, you get more of a sense of that; it’s really strange from their point of view to see the Westerners spending money to protect wild animals, when their own suffering so severe. I remember being told that people were afraid to travel between villages at night because of hyenas when I was a child (though we slept outside during the hot season in walled compounds); and the lone giraffe that once in 20 years ventured near our drought-stricken town was immediately tracked and killed for meat because of the constant starvation of the people. We did not keep dogs or many pets, because we could not justify buying grain or meat for animals when others were starving (the missionaries distributed grain and gifts as they could, and in exchange the people did plant reforestation trees on the denuded hills during the rainy season).

This is a really great question. It seems to me that it is an example of how amazingly different circumstances can change what seems to us as a moral constant. I think you know the verse that we should not muzzle the ox that treads the corn–but in general, I imagine that the wild world was considered something to be tamed. What do you think?

On the other hand, maybe this change in relative morality is a lesson to me to understand all sides–that those things I feel most strongly about may be perceived by someone else in quite a different light. This can apply to areas of politics and other morality–while I consider myself more “progressive” than others in many ways, there are reasons that I would be considered mistaken in someone else’s sphere and experience.

I did not like it when I found two hedgehogs near my house in Africa and indignantly told the twin 10 year olds playing with me and my brother that they could not kill and eat them–but I realized, years after wards that they were probably truly hungry, and protein deficient. I may have done better to ask my mom to give them a snack; or, perhaps, as this was their world, to have let them have the bushias as well.

So, what may be a sin in one culture (indiscriminately killing and conquering nature for our benefit; damaging the land for oil well drilling and irresponsible (in some cases, anyway) strip mining and fracking, and draining swamps to use for profit; may not be a sin in another culture, time or place. Is there a balance in interpretation? I think I am becoming a moral relativist in some ways. :slight_smile:

Good meditation. I still have a lot to learn. Thanks.

(Phil) #9

Lots to think about. Your stories make a powerful point. We cannot fully appreciate the social and cultural differences. It is even difficult to imagine the culture of John Calvin just 500 years ago when he worked to have Serstus executed for theological disagreement.

(Randy) #10

yes, that’s one I have often wondered about. I suppose someone 500 years down the road will think we were barbarians for many other, equally good reasons.

(RiderOnTheClouds) #11

My current view is that Genesis 1:28 is telling us to wrest the position of top predator from the lions, wolves, tigers, bears, crocodiles etc, by force if need be, so that the fear and dread of man falls upon all animals, It is not telling us to destroy, it is telling us to be dominant.

This is not a perfect view, but it deals with the biblical evidence better than any other view. It is also not necessarily opposed to ecological concerns, for areas where tribal peoples dwell tend to have a higher biodiversity, yet in the name of conservation and ecotourism, tribal peoples all across the world have been removed from their lands.

I don’t claim that Genesis anticipated ecological issues, only that it is not incompatible with them.

(Randy) #12

Richard Leakey"s authorization to shoot to kill poachers on sight is deeply troubling and even horrifying. I think it is similar to your example above.

Can you imagine the Department of Natural Resources doing the same in the U S?

One could call it neocolonialism.

(RiderOnTheClouds) #13

This too:

Although I am a conservationist, I strongly have to disassociate myself from the Anti-Human elements of the environmentalist movement, the group that claims all humans do for the world is destroy it.

It is admittedly true that shoot to kill policies are effective in fighting poachers, probably the most effective method in the short term, but in the long term education will be just as useful, and let’s be real here, animals matter, but humans matter more.

(Randy) #14

Wow. That is a great article. Ends do not justify means. Thanks.

I have less faith in our ability as modern people to maintain any sort of true ethical standard. We need humility and dialogue, most especially with those from the weaker nations.

(Mitchell W McKain) #15

But do individual humans matter more than entire species of animals? Does one human’s desire for a flat screen tv matter more than the survival of a species? Do the poachers in question have the same respect for human life? What we are really talking about here is criminals, and I am not so sure that they even have a positive value at all. No, I don’t see their being human as the kind of free pass that is being suggested here.

(RiderOnTheClouds) #16

When did I even come close to implying this, all I said was that human ‘lives’ matter more than animal lives.

Did you read the article? It is not just poachers that are shot.

(Mitchell W McKain) #17

Reminds me of the way terrorists kill civilians so they can blame the deaths on the military forces who oppose them. The proper procedure is to investigate such allegations not to throw these endangered species under the bus just because the poachers are clever and ruthless. Sounds to me like maybe more money is need for signs and fences to help them safeguard the innocent and remove the easy excuses of poachers.

(Phil) #18

All good points. I think there is a difference between poaching for food when your kids are starving, and poaching for animal products to sell on the market for folk medicine or trophies, although I can see the gray area where the money derived is then used to feed your family.
It does point up that it is a complex problem, made worse by selfish behavior and perhaps points out our failure to assist the poor in having meaningful work and in feeding the poor.

(Mitchell W McKain) #19

Yes. And if you spend money on those signs and fences, then to be sure you can compare this (added to the money paid to the guards) to the money which nearby communities have to feed their children. I certainly don’t see why the preserve guards should have their flat screen tvs when the children in nearby communities don’t even have food to eat.

(Roger A. Sawtelle) #20

Of course there is. Christians are New Testament people, who are not bound by the OT. The NT Creation story is found in John 1, which says: Version:1.0 John 1:1-3 (NIV2011)*
1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
2 He was with God in the beginning.
3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.
John 1:14 (NIV2011)**
14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

When the OT disagrees with the NT, which do we prefer. Please note the Word, Jesus Christ, is the Logos and all that means.

It is not well known, but Richard Dawkins is anti-ecology.