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Religion, Science and the Current Ecological Crisis.

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Presentation on theme: "Religion, Science and the Current Ecological Crisis."— Presentation transcript:

1 Religion, Science and the Current Ecological Crisis

2 Genesis God creates the universe in six days. Creation of man in Chapter 1: 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.

3 Creation of man in Chapter 2: God creates Adam out of dust. He plants a garden in Eden and puts Adam there to dress it and to keep it. Tells Adam not to eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die. God tells Adam to name all the beast and birds. God then makes Eve out of Adams rib, to help him. And they were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed.

4 The Fall of Man A serpent tempts Eve to eat of the fruit of the tree of knowledge, saying: Ye shall not surely die: For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil. Eve tastes the fruit, she likes it and she gave some to Adam. And the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked, and they sewed fig leaves together and make themselves aprons.

5 And God made coats of skins and clothed them. God says, Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil And God evicts them from Eden to till the ground from whence he was taken.

6 Man in Nature in Genesis Man is made in Gods image. He is given dominion over all other creatures (at least before the Fall). Adam names all the creatures. But Adam and Eve lose their harmonious relationship with nature: now they must suffer to till the land and make bread, and to give birth, and now there is enmity between people and snakes.

7 The Historical Roots of Our Ecological Crisis In the Historical Roots of Our Ecologic Crisis (1967) Lynn White blames Christian attitudes towards nature for our current ecological crisis. He says: Especially in its Western form, Christianity is the most anthropocentric religion the world has ever seen. In Pagan (pre-Christian) religions, spirits were everywhere in nature. Every tree or stream has a spirit, and people had to care for the happiness of the spirits. Spirits are not people, but they have their own interests and value. In Christianity, in contrast, the purpose of nature is to serve Man. We need not care about nature, except as a way to benefit ourselves or glorify God.

8 Christianity and Science White argues that Christianity has exploited the natural world via science and technology. A Christian philosophy towards nature allows science to ruthlessly exploit the natural world. Historically, man has always changed his environment: Prehistoric overhunting led to many extinctions Cultivation in the Nile valley has changed the nature of the river Ancient Romans profoundly changed their ecologies through terrace farming, overgrazing and cutting of forests.

9 But the real change in the man-nature relationship, according to White, came with the marriage of science and technology, with roots long before the industrial revolution of the 18 th century, or even the scientific revolution of the 17 th century. The turning point came in Northern Europe in the 7 th century, when a new type of plow, requiring six oxen, turned the sod with a vertical knife, and attacked the land with such violence. The goal of farming changed from single family subsistence farming (modest and sustainable) to cooperative action to maximize land yield (aggressive and greedy).

10 Mans relation to the soil was profoundly changed. Formerly man had been a part of nature: now he was the exploiter of nature. Nowhere else in the world did farmers develop any analogous agricultural implement. Is it coincidence that modern technology, with its ruthlessness towards nature, has so largely been produced by descendants of these peasants of northern Europe?

11 Whites Solution Science and technology caused the problem and more science and technology are not the answer. What we do about ecology depends on our ideas of the man-nature relationship. More science and more technology are not going to get us out of the present ecological crisis until we find a new religion, or rethink our old one. Seems to prefer various kinds of mysticism, e.g. regarding groves as sacred and trees as containing spirits. Proposes Saint Francis as a patron saint for ecologists. His view of nature and of man rested on a unique sort of pan- psychism of all things animate and inanimate, designed for the glorification of their transcendent Creator.

12 Questions for discussion Is White right to blame Christianity for the ecological crisis? Is it better to be a subsistence farmer than to exploit nature to produce more than you need? Is Christianity the most anthropocentric religion the world has ever seen? Do we need religion to be the foundation for an environmental ethic? Is mysticism a better ethic for environmentalists than a scientific world view? Can we rely on science to find a solution to our ecological crisis?

13 Reading for next week Required: Bacon, Francis (1626), The New Atlantis, paragraphs and 89-90, available at:


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