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The Evangelical Ecologist

S. M. Hutchens

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One of the more exasperating characteristics of the biblical God is that He, inferior to greater souls in this regard, seems to evince very little reverence for life. By this I mean His attitude toward the biological life we prize so highly in ourselves and by natural extension in other living things seems to be entirely, and jealously, proprietary, and that what we would bestow more generously, had we the power, He, in accordance with His own lights, keeps short and difficult. We humans in particular, who would be gods, He quickly recycles: "Imperious Caesar, dead and turn'd to clay, might stop a hole to keep the wind away."

The scriptures show him removing life from the whole earth when men displease Him, contemplating this event not only once, but twice, "the fire next time." The attitude that seems to please Him most toward this gift which seems so precious to us that we are constantly tempted to define our being by it is "the Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away -- Blessed be the Name of the Lord."

Now comes E.O. Wilson, complaining to Christians about the loss of plant and animal species. In The Creation, Wilson asks the imaginary Baptist pastor to whom the book is addressed to search his faith for reason to make common cause in earth-saving with Wilson's own secular humanism, the dogmatics of which assert that "heaven and hell are what we create for ourselves on this planet. There is no other home." To this end, the eminent biologist and teacher writes this charming paean to "creation," threatened by numerous extinctions, especially those caused by human activity.

Kermit the Frog, to summarize the situation, in a phrase, is sick. And to varying degrees so is much of the rest of the living world. Might Homo sapiens follow? Maybe, maybe not. But with certainty we are the giant meteorite of our time, having begun the sixth mass extinction of Phanerozoic history. We are creating a less stable and interesting place for our descendants to inherit. They will understand and love life more than we, and they will not be inclined to honor our memory.

In the biographical postscript, Wilson, himself raised a Southern Baptist, is described as "lastingly influenced by the lyrical and spiritual power of evangelical Christianity." In his opening salutation he emphasizes that he began where the minister remains: "As a boy I too answered the altar call; I went under the water. Although I no longer belong to the faith, I am confident that if we met and spoke privately of our deepest beliefs, it would be in a spirit of mutual respect and good will. I know we share many precepts of moral behavior."

Wilson reveals himself to be, in his own way, what he knows his Baptist minister is -- a passionately religious man. If religion is devotion to an Ultimate Concern, an incalculably worthy reality beyond man himself, accompanied by a disciplined piety in service of that reality, then Wilson by the presents of this book is not simply a biologist in the sense of a student of organic life, but exalts bios as logos, believes science of the Darwinian persuasion its proper mode of worship, and regards his responsibility thereto as a ministerial vocation. The Creation is an evangelistic tract seeking to enlist the cooperation of Christians of the sort who are "literalist interpreters of Holy Scripture" in seeking to preserve the life-diversity of the biosphere as an aspect of their own religious duty to which they have heretofore been insufficiently attentive.

Read the entire article on the New Atlantis website (new window will open).

Posted: 09-Jan-08



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