Our Obligations to Nature

By Smith, Stacey Vanek | The Christian Science Monitor, March 2, 2003 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

Our Obligations to Nature


Smith, Stacey Vanek, The Christian Science Monitor


If Isaac Newton owes his theories on gravity to an apple, Holmes Rolston III owes his philosophies to a flower.

While hiking in the mountains of Virginia, Dr. Rolston spotted a whorled pogonia, an endangered yellow and white orchid that grows in the Eastern United States. He sat and pondered the rare beauty. "I thought it was a good thing the flower was there, whether a human saw it or not," recalls Rolston, a tall, lean man with sparkling blue eyes and a quiet manner. From this encounter, Rolston began to form his ideas on the intrinsic value of nature and man's spiritual and ethical obligation to preserve it.

This concept has become the raison d'etre for the philosophy professor, who says he has spent his life in a lover's quarrel between science and religion. Though most scientists and environmentalists would hesitate to plant trees for God, and most religious leaders would not call deforestation a sin, Rolston insists the two are undeniably connected.

The earth, says Rolston, is the Promised Land of milk and honey referred to in the Bible, and man has a duty to protect it. He discussed this concept in his first article, "Is There an Ecological Ethic?" (1975). "We have a duty to preserve the whooping crane, and a duty to preserve the wolves," he says. "We have a duty to preserve endangered plants for what they are in themselves, because they are a part of God's creation."

For these ideas and their contribution to progress in religion, Rolston earned yesterday what is known as the world's most generous award.

As the recipient of this year's Templeton Prize for Progress Toward Research or Discoveries about Spiritual Realities, Rolston will be awarded the sum of $1,138,000 from the prize's foundation, which was started by Sir John Templeton, an American businessman who made a fortune in the stock market. Former recipients of the award include Mother Theresa, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, and Charles Colson.

Sir John says Rolston's article is still an important milestone, one that effectively launched environmental ethics as a philosophical inquiry. "The discipline has since become inseparable from his name," says Templeton. "His is a career of remarkable accomplishments."

But Rolston says he is interested in the award only insofar as it furthers the ideas he has championed for more than three decades - applying religious teachings and ethics to environmental conservation.

Rolston's unique mix of expertise in religion, science, and nature began in the Shenandoah Valley, where his father worked as a pastor. After earning his bachelor's degree in physics from Davidson College, in Davidson, N.C., Rolston immediately began to pursue a religious education, eventually earning a PhD in theology and religious studies from the University of Edinburgh in Scotland. He served as a minister for several years before returning to school, where he earned a master's of philosophy of science degree from the University of Pittsburgh in 1968.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited article

Our Obligations to Nature
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?