And God said, “Let the water teem with living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the expanse of the sky.” So God created the great creatures of the sea and every living and moving thing with which the water teems, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. God blessed them and said, “Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the water in the seas, and let the birds increase on the earth.” — Genesis 1:20-22 NIV 1984
Today (April 22nd) is Earth Day. For a variety of reasons, I believe that Christianity offers both the best foundation for proper care of the world’s ecosystems and the only hope for the future of our planet. Those are topics for another time; for now, I want to draw our attention to three things from this passage in Genesis.
The first of these is the inherent goodness of the creation. Here in the opening chapter of the Bible, we see God creating the universe and preparing the Earth—land, sea, and sky—for the vast variety of life that would soon inhabit it. He then commanded the Earth to bring forth vegetation, sea life, birds, and land animals. With all of this in place, God pronounced that the creation was “good.” Being good, the creation is not something to escape from, nor is it something that is somehow less important than the “spiritual.” The biblical teaching is that the creation—rocks, water, plants, and animals—has inherent value, apart from its usefulness to humanity.
The second thing we can learn from this passage is that the living world was created to be fruitful. On the fifth day, starting with Genesis 1:20, God created the sea life and birds, and the earth “teemed” with them. To teem is “to become filled to overflowing,” to “abound,” and “to be present in large quantity.” When reading this, I think of the abundance of bison that populated the American Great Plains before the 1800s, or the diversity of life that is found in tropical rainforests. We sometimes forget that it wasn’t just to humans that God issued the command, “Be fruitful and multiply.” He also gave this command to sea life and birds, and it is later stated (Gen 8:17) that God created the land animals to be fruitful and increase in number as well.
Thirdly, the goodness and teemingness of creation should guide how we think about our responsibility towards nature. God placed Adam and Eve over the creation to “rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air…” (v. 26). It has been pointed out that this dominion is not meant to be domination, but rather a stewardship or vice-regency over the creation, with the responsibility to tend it as God’s representatives on Earth. If the creation has inherent goodness apart from the resources it supplies to us, and if God created the living world to be abundant and fruitful, then it follows that an important part of our responsibility is to act in such a way as to preserve, protect, and enhance that fruitfulness. This means that the world is not here just for us. It is also here for sea urchins, red-winged blackbirds, polar bears, and giant Palouse earthworms. I believe that the thriving of humans and the thriving of the rest of the living world must go hand in hand. Our challenge is to figure out how to make this work.
Grace and Peace
For some reasons why Christianity offers the best foundation for environmentalism, see my summaries of For the Beauty of the Earth by Steven Bouma-Prediger and Pollution and the Death of Man by Francis Schaeffer. These books have shaped how I think about our responsibility towards the creation.
The definitions of “teem” are from http://www.merriam-webster.com/. “Teemingness” is indeed a word.
In saying that the material world is just as important in Christianity as the spiritual, I am saying that all of our good works—acts of love to our neighbors—are done in the physical realm. Even much of what we consider to be “spiritual,” has physical components: prayer, communion, baptism, evangelism. At times Christians have had an unbiblical picture of a future life of escaping from the material world and floating in the clouds, but the biblical affirmation of the goodness of creation is really one of the strengths of Christianity. In many Eastern philosophies and religions, the material is an illusion or something to escape from. An example of this is the moksha or nirvana of Indian religions. In atheistic naturalism there is no absolute reason outside of ourselves to value plants and animals. In other words, there is no reason to judge Eden as a better place than Coruscant, the completely urbanized capital of the Star Wars galaxy. Ultimately, we can choose which type of world—Eden or Coruscant—that we think is best for our purposes. I am not saying that Buddhists and atheists do not care about the creation; many of them do care very much, and are active in what I would call creation care. It is just that they do not have an adequate philosophical foundation for doing so.
I first thought seriously about the teeming of the living world in Genesis 1 while reading The Creation by biologist E.O. Wilson. Wilson is not a Christian, but the book is written to Christians as “an appeal to save life on Earth.”
Mountain lion in St. Louis County! — This doesn’t happen too often. A night-time wildlife camera captured a mountain lion in suburban St. Louis, less than ten miles from our home. We’re a little more used to opossums, raccoons, deer, and wild turkeys around here.
I don’t worry too much about mountain lions when hiking in Missouri. I’ve never seen one in the wild while hiking in the West (I’ve lived in Montana, Utah, and Colorado), but I suspect they have seen me.
From the St. Louis Post-Dispatch: Mountain lion spotted in suburban St. Louis.
From the Missouri Department of Conservation: Chesterfield sighting confirmed to be a mountain lion.
Yellowstone Supervolcano eruption NOT imminent — From National Geographic: Yellowstone Has Bulged as Magma Pocket Swells. The ground within the Yellowstone Caldera has swelled upwards up to ten inches (25 centimeters) as magma slowly intrudes into a magma chamber 10 kilometers beneath the surface.
“At the beginning we were concerned it could be leading up to an eruption,” said [University of Utah geologist] Smith, who co-authored a paper on the surge published in the December 3, 2010, edition of Geophysical Research Letters.
“But once we saw [the magma] was at a depth of ten kilometers, we weren’t so concerned. If it had been at depths of two or three kilometers [one or two miles], we’d have been a lot more concerned.”
Apparently, intrusion into the magma chamber is somewhat cyclical:
Based on geologic evidence, Yellowstone has probably seen a continuous cycle of inflation and deflation over the past 15,000 years, and the cycle will likely continue, Smith said.
Surveys show, for example, that the caldera rose some 7 inches (18 centimeters) between 1976 and 1984 before dropping back about 5.5 inches (14 centimeters) over the next decade.
IBM Supercomputer wins Jeopardy — The 1997 computer victory over chess champion Garry Kasparov was nothing compared to this one. Chess is complex, but the logic of chess is nothing compared to the complexities of language as expressed in the TV gameshow Jeopardy. PCmag.com reports that the Watson supercomputer defeated two Jeopardy champions at the game, which means that the computer could understand the nuances of the categories and questions (actually the answers). The author believes that artificial intelligence (AI) will operate at human levels within two decades, and adds “I for one would then regard it as human.” He continues, “By the time the controversy dies down and it becomes unambiguous that nonbiological intelligence is equal to biological human intelligence, the AIs will already be thousands of times smarter than us.”
From PC Magazine: Why IBM’s Jeopardy Victory Matters (three parts) by Ray Kurzweil.
- Is there more to being human than being able to process information? (The Christian answer is “yes.” Humans are created in the image of God, and some things such as genuine emotions just cannot be programmed.)
- How long will it be until someone falls in love with a computer? Until someone gets married to a computer?
- What will stop the Episcopal Church or ELCA from ordaining computers as pastors? (Too bad these denominations don’t require baptism by immersion; that would prevent computers from being eligible for ordination).
HT: John C
Ski Joring Championship — Huh? From the Billings Gazette: World Ski Joring Championships in Whitefish.
The event involves horses and riders pulling a skier who navigates a course with a series of jumps and gates.
Somehow I missed that in the last Winter Olympics.
Stairs are more fun — I almost always take the stairs at work, rather than the elevator. I figure that I climb about 40,000 feet per year, which is more than climbing Mount Everest. But the stairs at work are not this fun…
Grace and Peace
From Yahoo! News/AP — One scientist’s hobby: recreating the ice age
CHERSKY, Russia – Wild horses have returned to northern Siberia. So have musk oxen, hairy beasts that once shared this icy land with woolly mammoths and saber-toothed cats. Moose and reindeer are here, and may one day be joined by Canadian bison and deer.
Later, the predators will come — Siberian tigers, wolves and maybe leopards.
Russian scientist Sergey Zimov is reintroducing these animals to the land where they once roamed in millions to demonstrate his theory that filling the vast emptiness of Siberia with grass-eating animals can slow global warming.
Unlike “re-wilding” ideas in the United States (e.g. Montana), where most land is used for one thing or another, this one is along the Kolyma River (of gulag fame) in Siberia, which is about as isolated as one can get.
Isn’t this a little taste of what nature was meant to be, with the earth, sky, and sea “swarming with swarms of living creatures?” (Gen 1:20,24).
Grace and Peace
Related news: Leaking Siberian ice raises a tricky climate issue