Environmental Ethics, Ecological Theology, and Natural Selection

By Lisa H. Sideris | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 6
A Comprehensive Naturalized Ethic

A man with the milk of human kindness in him can scarcely abstain from doing
a good-natured thing, and one cannot be good-natured all round. Nature herself
occasionally quarters an inconvenient parasite on an animal towards whom she
has otherwise no ill will. What then? We admire her care for the parasite.

—George Elliot, The Mill on the Floss

In a recent work entitled God After Darwin John Haught observes, "To a great extent, theologians still think and write almost as though Darwin had never lived."1I have argued throughout this work that much of contemporary ecological theology is a case in point. The failure to take nature seriously is particularly problematic in environmental ethics where knowledge of natural processes is essential. But what does it mean to take nature seriously? Can we, and should we, follow nature in some simple and straightforward manner? Should ethics follow directly from evolutionary and ecological considerations? I have claimed that it should not, while maintaining that scientific knowledge must play a central role in the process of discerning our ethical obligations toward nature. In the pages that follow I argue in favor of a "comprehensive naturalized ethic," borrowing a phrase from Holmes Rolston. In developing this argument I will use the term nature in different senses: our own human "nature" as well as nature in the broader sense, as the sum total of natural processes and other life-forms in the world. There is, of course, a relationship between "human nature" and nonhuman nature; I will also explain what I think this relationship is.

Keeping these interpretations of nature (in various senses) in mind, I will then turn to the task of formulating a better environmental ethic—one that takes natural inferences as well as theological orientations into account and

-217-

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