In my previous post, I had a fair number of negative things to say about the book The Creation: An Appeal to Save LIfe on Earth by E.O. Wilson. The short version of that post is that I find Wilson’s own position so contradictory and illogical that his book was very aggravating for me to read. Nonetheless, in the midst of all that, Wilson does have some very useful things to say to Christians.
The object of Wilson’s book is to convince Christians, particularly literal 7-day creationist ones, to join him in the fight to save our environment as we know it. Wilson himself is a professor of biology at Harvard University and a secular humanist. While I can’t see his book being very convincing to his target audience, Wilson does have some good points that I would now like to pull out.
Wilson speaks of stewardship which was actually a word that I had not heard outside of Christian circles very much. But this is exactly how we Christians should be thinking of our relationship to the environment. Genesis 1 and 2 give a picture of man (and woman) as the caretaker of the earth. It is our job to tend it and to cultivate it and I think Wilson is right that we need to be careful to not in the process abuse it or waste its resources.
Why this is not already a big deal in Christian circles in somewhat of a mystery to Wilson. Early on in the book, he says:
“I am puzzled that so many religious leaders . . . have hesitated to make protection of the Creation an important part of their magisterium.” (p. 5)
Wilson does not say it so straightforwardly, but I think we Christians do deserve to be asked: If you believe God created all this and you want to please Him, why do you not care more about preserving it? It is a fair criticism of us I think. While preserving the environment is not by any means the heart of the Christian message, it is part of God’s command to us to care for His world.
One point I think Wilson fails to get is that while we may mourn the destruction of so much of our environment and may seek to work to preserve what there is, for Christians there is never a loss of hope nor need there be a sense of panic about the state of the world. We are called to tend the earth but we do not do so alone. As in all things, God is ultimately in charge and the world will not go down the tubes unless He wills it. I realize this argument can be used to trash our terrestrial home; if God is ultimately taking care of it all, why should we bother? No doubt there are some Christians who think this way but I would venture to say that most are not so irresponsible. While I believe in a sovereign God, He can and does choose to work through us and He has commanded us to care for creation so we must do so, but at the same time we need not fear about its future in the way that Wilson seems to.
Wilson is at his best when his love for nature shines through as it does a number of times in this book. He does a wonderful job of showing how our environment serves us and even how obscure fungi benefit us. In fact, as I read through such passages, I was inspired to greater awe at how God has interwoven the parts of creation so that they work together and also work for the good of His people. How Wilson can see and describe such things without then seeing the Creator who made it all, I cannot understand, but I suppose that is where the work of the Holy Spirit comes in.
Christianity should have a lot to say about the environment. One of the issues that I struggled with in Wilson’s own outlook was how we humans can be a part of the ongoing process of evolution and yet rise above it and have such an impact on the environment. As I mentioned in that earlier post, I find Wilson’s arguments on such issues confusing (whether he himself is confused I have no idea; but I find the way he talks about such things contradictory). He says we are but a part of a purely naturalistic process and yet at the same time speaks of our ability to and responsibility to affect what is happening. Christianity has the power to reconcile these contradictory strands. It says that while we are created, we are also imbued with unique qualities which Scripture calls “the image of God.” It also calls us to affect but also to care for the Creation. We are a part of it and yet above it. This, I think, is not so far from what Wilson believes, but he is unable to account for the above-ness of humanity, or for the spiritual element he alludes to so frequently, in his purely naturalistic philosophy.
There are two more issues arising from this book that I woudl like to address but I think I will save them for future posts.