Academic journal article Independent Review

Ecological Science as a Creation Story

Academic journal article Independent Review

Ecological Science as a Creation Story

Article excerpt

Since at least the late 1980s, environmental writers have made growing use of the explicit Christian language of "the Creation." Two 1990s books by environmental authors, for example, are Caring for Creation (Oelschlaeger 1994) and Cavenant for a New Creation (Robb and Casebolt 1991). The magazine of the Natural Resources Defense Council describes the need for a greater "spiritual bond between ourselves and the natural world similar to God's covenant with creation" (Borelli 1988). Natural environments isolated historically from European contact are commonly described as having once been an "Eden" or a "paradise" on the earth--similar to the Creation before the fall (McCormick 1989; "Inside the World's Last Eden" 1992).

Such creationist language has also invaded mainstream environmental politics. During his tenure as vice president, Al Gore said that we must cease "heaping contempt on God's creation" (qtd. in Niebuhr 1993). In a 1995 speech remarkable for its religious candor, Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt said that "our covenant" requires that we "protect the whole of Creation." Invoking messages reminiscent of John Muir, Babbitt argued that wild areas are a source of our core "values" because they are "a manifestation of the presence of our Creator." It is necessary to protect every animal and plant species, Babbitt said, because "the earth is a sacred precinct, designed by and for the purposes of the Creator," and thus we can learn about God by encountering and experiencing his creation.

The American environmental movement has deep roots in and still depends heavily on the conviction that a person finds a mirror of God's thinking in the encounter with wild nature--or, in traditional Christian terms, that a person is in the presence of "the Creation." Absent this conviction, many of the American environmental movement's basic beliefs and important parts of its policy agenda would be difficult to explain and defend. (1) The use of creation language also reflects an increased role that the institutional churches of Christianity are now playing in the environmental movement. This involvement has worked to narrow the previously large linguistic gap between traditional Christian creationism and what might be called a secular "environmental creationism"--the use of creationist language without the explicit Christian context.

In 2005, the Interfaith Climate and Energy Campaign issued a statement titled "God's Mandate: Care for Creation," and Cassandra Carmichael is the director of the Eco-Justice Program at the National Council of Churches. In 2004, the council issued its first ecumenical theological statement on the environment, and in 2006 it distributed a report advocating "creation care" for the Chesapeake Bay (Lutz 2006). Carmichael declares that the council's program is "about justice for all of God's creation. Animals, plants and people are all connected and you have to make sure you are having right relationships with all of them." Invoking the classical Christian formulation, Carmichael explains that "some people compare it to how they can get to know an artist by studying his painting," and God, as one might say, painted the natural world at the beginning. By studying God's artwork in nature, she adds, "you come to know God both by God's written word and by walking in what God has created and being in relationship with it" (qtd. in Lutz 2006). Secular environmental creationists experience much the same sense of awe and inspiration in the presence of "the creation," but they typically describe it as a "spiritual" experience and drop the explicit references to a Christian God.

Environmental Creationism and Darwin

Many secular environmental creationists face a substantial tension, however, between their religious way of thinking about protecting "the Creation" and their simultaneous Darwinist understanding of the evolution--now considered to have been taking place for more than a billion years--of the plant and animal worlds. …

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