For the Beauty of the Earth — Chapter 3 — Complaint #2

Last week I started summarizing the complaints that some environmentalists have against Christianity as presented in chapter 3 of For the Beauty of the Earth, by Steven Bouma-Prediger. In my previous post on this, I presented the first complaint, which was that the Genesis 1:28 mandate that gave humans dominion over the creation leads to despoilation of the Earth. The second criticism is that Christian theology emphasizes the spiritual over the material, resulting in the material being abused or neglected.

The emphasis within the Christian tradition on dualisms of soul and body, spirit and matter, denigrates the earth and sanctions its misuse and exploitation.

Christianity fosters a care-less attitude toward things material and thus is at fault for the plundering of the earth.

The author points out that even though some Christians may be guilty of this kind of thinking, neither the Old Testament nor the New Testament affirms such a dualism or separation between the spiritual and material.

While the body is separate from and inferior to the soul for Plato, this is not the case for Scripture.

For God, matter matters.

The initial premise is unacceptable– the claim that the Bible promotes a dualism between soul and body, spirit and mater–this argument is not sound.

Some additional thoughts of my own:

  • The original creation was proclaimed to be “very good” even apart from anything “spiritual” in its description. (Genesis 1:31).
  • Christ became fully human as well as being fully God. The incarnation is a sign that the material is good and of eternal value.
  • Christ did not come just to redeem our immaterial souls; he came to redeem our bodies. We will receive new bodies in the resurrection, and all of creation will be made new.
  • The idea that the spiritual is important and that the material is unnecessary or even evil is found in gnosticism, not in Biblical Christianity. This gnosticism was present in an incipient form in the apostolic age–it is argued against in Colossians–and became a major heresy in the second century. (The DaVinci Code tries to paint a pretty picture of gnosticism, but this corruption of Christianity stands in opposition to the Christ of the Bible, the Gospel, and care of the creation).

The second ecological complaint is unfounded. Biblical Christianity affirms the value of the material creation, and holds us accountable for how we take care of the world.

Grace and Peace

Knowing God – Chapter 8 Quotes

We took a break from going through Knowing God by J.I. Packer at the dinner table, but now we are back into it. Chapter 8 is “The Majesty of God.” Here are a few good quotes:

How may we form a right idea of God’s greatness? The Bible teaches us two steps that we must take. The first is to remove from our thoughts of God limits that would make Him small. The second is to compare Him with powers and forces which we regard as great.

I can hide my heart, and my past, and my future plans, from men, but I cannot hide anything from God.

‘Your thoughts of God are too human,’ said Luther to Erasmus. This is where most of us go astray. Our thoughts of God are not great enough; we fail to reckon with the reality of His limitless wisdom and power.

‘Why sayest thou, O Jacob, and speakest, O Israel, My way is hid from the Lord and my judgment is passed away from my God?’ [Isaiah 40:27 RV] This question rebukes wrong thoughts about ourselves. God has not abandoned us any more than He abandoned Job.

Grace and Peace

Where in the World? #4

Last week I had an image of Toba, a volcano on the island of Sumatra in Indonesia (winner: Ron Schott from The Geology Home Companion). Toba had a colossal eruption 70-75,000 years ago which was probably the largest on Earth in the past several million years; even larger than the eruptions of the Yellowstone Caldera (last eruption 640,000 years ago). The volume of material from the Toba eruption was approximately 2800 km3, compared to 1.2 km3 from the 1980 eruption of Mt. St. Helens. The Toba event undoubtedly had a worldwide impact on climate and probably led the the extinction of many species in southern Asia.

This week: one more volcano. What volcano is this?

Grace and Peace

The Paleomap Project

Welcome to The GeoChristian. Out of over 600 posts on my blog, this one on the Paleomap Project is in the top five in terms of how many people view it. The purpose of The GeoChristian is twofold: 1. To enhance science literacy within the Evangelical Christian community. 2. To present a Biblical Christianity that is hostile to neither science nor the environment. I invite you to browse around and read some other posts.

Today’s Astronomy Picture of the Day refers to a site that I’ve known about for some time but never got around to blogging about. The Paleomap Project shows the configuration of the continents through geologic time as they have moved across the surface of the Earth due to plate tectonics.

Here’s one example–the layout of the continents during the Permian Period, approximately 255 million years ago:

Similar maps–all with better resolution than what I’ve shown here–are available for the Precambrian, Cambrian, Ordovician, Silurian, Devonian…

Grace and Peace

The Inner Life of the Cell — The Extended Version

This item was originally posted in September, 2006. It is now part of my blog recycling program. Because I have new readers of The GeoChristian, I will occasionally go back and re-use some of my favorite blog entries. There is a version of this video on YouTube that I don’t think was available last year. The EXTENDED VERSION, with a technical description of what is going on, is absolutely amazing to watch.

The Inner Life of the Cell is a computer animation of the inner workings of a white blood cell. Absolutely amazingboth in terms of the animation, and the processes it portrays. It is a testimony to the wisdom and power of the Creator.

I got this link from my biochemist friend Glenn at Be Bold, Be Gentle.

Image from the movie “The Inner Life of the Cell.”

The movie is also on YouTube.

Grace and Peace

For the Beauty of the Earth — Chapter 3 — Complaint #1

A continuation of my review of For the Beauty of the Earth, by Steven Bouma-Prediger. I’m going through chapter 3, which is “Is Christianity to Blame? The Ecological Complaint Against Christianity.”

The author discusses four common complaints that environmentalists have against Christianity, starting with:

The first is that monotheism in general, and Christianity in particular, is the primary if not sole cause of the despoilation of the earth.

Environmentalists point to Genesis 1:28 as a mandate that has led to an attitude of reckless consumption and disregard for nature:

God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground. (Genesis 1:28 NIV)

Here’s an example of how this mandate is perceived by a non-Christian:

some of the major maladies of the present-day world–for instance the recklessly extravagant consumption of nature’s irreplaceable treasures, and the pollution of those of them that man has not already devoured–can be traced back in the last analysis to a religious cause, and that this cause is the rise of monotheism. (Arnold Toynbee, historian and advocate of pantheism)

Bouma-Prediger writes that this complaint against Christianity advocates that:

Only by repudiating the worldview of monotheism and adopting a worldview in which God and world are seen as one will we be able to extricate ourselves from our ecological abyss.

Wallace Stegner writes:

Our sanction to be a weed species living at the expense of every other species and of the Earth itself can be found in the injunction God gave to newly created Adam and Eve in Genesis 1:28: “Be fruitful and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it.”

How do we as Christians answer this complaint? Bouma-Prediger gives a few ideas:

  • Understand that humans are in some way unique; we are made in the image of God.
  • Also understand that we are not only unique, but are also part of the creation. We are made of the same stuff that the rest of creation is made of, and are embedded in the creation. The name “Adam” is very similar to the Hebrew word for “earth” — ‘adama.
  • Distinguish between dominion and domination. One who has dominion, like the ideal king of Psalm 72, is one who “rules and exercises dominion properly.”

The proper exercise of dominion yields shalom–the flourishing of all creation.

  • Consider Jesus:

For Jesus, to rule is to serve. To exercise dominion is to suffer, if necessary, for the good of the other. There is no question of domination, exploitation, misuse. Humans, therefore, are called to rule, but only if ruling is understood rightly.

And a closing quote from Wendell Berry:

Such a reading of Genesis 1:28 is contradicted by virtually all the rest of the Bible, as many people by now have pointed out. The ecological teaching of the Bible is simply inescapable: God made the world because He wanted it made. He thinks the world is good; He has never relinquished title to it. And He has never revoked the conditions, bearing on His gift to us of the use of it, that oblige us to take excellent care of it. If God loves the world, then how might any person of faith be excused for not loving it or justified in destroying it?

Here are a few of my thoughts:

  • Anyone who uses this argument is guilty of oversimplification. There is not just one human cause of environmental degradation.
  • Biblical dominion is stewardship–taking care of something that has been put under our charge. We are responsible to care and nourish that which is put under our care, whether it be our children, our farm, or employees, or the entire planet.
  • A worldview that believes that humans are a “weed species” (see the quote by Stegner above) goes to an opposite extreme. To have a nature-centered view of creation is an error just as much as having a human-centered view of creation (more about that later).
  • Some Christians have no problem with exploiting the Earth and use Genesis 1:28 as an excuse. More about that under Complaint #3.

Grace and Peace