Environmental Ethics, Ecological Theology, and Natural Selection

By Lisa H. Sideris | Go to book overview

NOTES

INTRODUCTION

1. Darwin's account of moral evolution influenced Aldo Leopold's understanding of our development of an "ecological conscience" that is crucial for land ethics. The theory of natural selection also plays a central role in land ethics as a directive for our treatment of wild nature. I will return to both these points.

2. Darwin, The Origin of Species, 450.

3. For his own part, Darwin suggested in the Descent of Man that feelings of sympathy for other creatures were themselves an evolutionary response, thus strengthening the connection between evolution and concern for animal welfare.

4. At a House Judiciary Committee hearing on May 10, 2000, proponents of "intelligent design theory"—which holds that there are irreducibly complex natural systems that Darwinism cannot explain—catalogued the negative effects of Darwinism on education, religion, and morality. During their testimony some speakers invoked a recent work, Thornhill and Palmer's A Natural History of Rape (which explains the origins of rape in terms of adaptive reproductive strategies), as an example of the link between Darwinian theory and moral decline. Defenders of intelligent design also characterized Darwinism as a dogma of materialism, closely guarded by a scientific priesthood that will brook no criticism of the orthodox view.

5.1 suspect, however, that these broader concerns about the social and moral implications of Darwinism may contribute to the neglect of evolutionary theory in much of environmental ethics. In particular, the interpretation of Darwinism as "survival of the fittest" seems to be at odds with the concern among some ecotheologians with the oppressed and marginalized (both human and animal). It is difficult to reconcile an ethic of justice and liberation for the dominated with a reading of Darwinism that seems to legitimize domination of the "weak" by the "strong." I will return to this point briefly in the next two chapters.

6. Certainly, there is more "lay" interest in ecology than most other sciences—and perhaps an unwarranted assumption among its lay devotees that ecology is accessible to all. Interestingly, there is generally no self-censure among scientists, however, many of whom often assume that religion, ethics, and theology are within their grasp, despite having no formal training in these disciplines.

7. While scientists acknowledge there to be a "background extinction rate" that occurs naturally, humans have increased that rate, "perhaps by orders of magnitude." National Research Council, Science and the Endangered Species Act, 5.

-269-

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