Nature, God, and Humanity: Envisioning an Ethics of Nature

Nature, God, and Humanity: Envisioning an Ethics of Nature

Nature, God, and Humanity: Envisioning an Ethics of Nature

Nature, God, and Humanity: Envisioning an Ethics of Nature

Synopsis

This study interweaves philosophical, scientific, religious and cultural factors to reveal why non-human animals and nature are objects of moral concern and how our well-being depends on harmony with nature as it was created. This argument is unique in its comprehensiveness, its overt reliance on traditional forms of religious faith, and its account of how those with conflicting ethics can work together to end the current, foolish abuse of nature.

Excerpt

This book originated in environmental ethics courses taught at Yale University during the years 1989 to 2000. As such, it owes a large debt to the students, undergraduate and graduate, mostly divinity and forestry, who listened and engaged, agreeing here, disagreeing there, forcing me to re-think and clarify one issue after the other. I trust that what follows repays some of that debt and, especially, makes clear why I asked them to read more than the standard texts, to wade through histories of ecology, philosophical arguments about the moral standing of animals and plants, theologies of creation, socio-political assessments of the environmental movement, so forth and so on. They were a hardy lot and I owe them much.

One thing I learned from them is that deep tensions exist in the way people think about nature. One tension appears in relation to modern science: a respect for and virtually automatic deference to what science tells us about nature is often combined with a no less genuine conviction that there is more to nature than a merely quantitative science can tell us. As to what this “more” might involve, lively affirmations of ecological spirituality appear arm-in-arm with a zealous distrust of religion. In both cases, science and religion, established ways of thinking, are affirmed with reservations, reservations tied to ethical concerns. In the first case, these concerns lead people to look for more in a recognized authority than is there; in the second, to a longing for the icing of faith apart from the hard cake of church and theology.

A third tension appeared as regards ethical concern itself. Many students whose ethical seriousness was evident saw virtually no value in the painstaking analyses and arguments of professional ethicists. At first, being an ethicist, I attributed this opinion to an intellectual vice, a lack of rigor, a prejudice. Attempting to do ethics without engaging moral philosophy makes no more sense than studying natural history while ignoring evolutionary biology. You may learn some interesting things from . . .

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