This is the third post I am writing in response to E.O. Wilson’s book The Creation: An Appeal to Save Life on Earth. In the first one, I discussed the problems I had with the book. In the second, I looked at what Wilson has to say to Christians. Now I would like to look more closely at one statement Wilson makes.
In the third chapter, Wilson asks “what is nature?” In the course of answering this question he does a good job of describing just how vast and invasive the effect of humanity of the earth has been. The gist of the chapter if that, for Wilson, nature is at its best when it is wilderness, that is, when it is as unaffected as possible by human beings. His call to preserve the earth seems largely to be a call to keep as much of it a wilderness as possible, or even to return it to that state if we are able.
While I do think Christians should be concerned about the state of the environment, I am not sure that I agree with Wilson’s goal. In Genesis we were told to “fill the earth and subdue it” and to “have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth” (Gen. 1:28; ESV). There is no denying that a lot of what humanity has done has had a negative affect on the earth, but the fact is that we are commanded to affect it. Wilderness is not the biblical ideal.
I think we Christians could use a lot more discussion on what our impact on the earth should be. Should we be making everything farm land? That doesn’t seem right, but where are the lines? How do we cultivate without inadvertently destroying as we have so often? I know Wilson would like to see Christians and non-Christians on the same page at least in terms of preserving our environment but I am skeptical of how possible that will be when we come from such different philosophical foundations. Can we even agree on what it means to preserve and how much influence it is okay to have on the earth?