Should Christians Be Environmentalists? Absolutely.

For a lot of people, the phrase “Christian environmentalist” sounds like an oxymoron. At least since Lynn White’s famous 1967 essay, “The Historical Roots of Our Ecologic Crisis,” many people who care about the environment see Christianity as part of the problem rather than part of the solution.

Dan Story sets out to change this perception in his book, Should Christians Be Environmentalists? Story himself was part of the beginnings of the environmental movement in the ’70s. When he became a Christian in the early ’80s, he didn’t leave his interest in and concern for the environment behind; it became deeper because of his commitment to Christ. The purpose of his book is threefold:

1. To “encourage godly environmental stewardship by systematically developing a Bible-based theology of nature, including an environmental doctrine and guidelines for environmental ethics” (11).
2. To “present an apologetic to anti-Christian environmentalists who claim that Christianity is the ‘root cause’ of environmental exploitation and degradation, and that other religious traditions are better suited morally and theologically to push for environmental stewardship” (11).
3. To “explore the potential evangelistic opportunities embedded in Christian environmentalism” (12).

Story argues that, while Christians have not necessarily had a great track record when it comes to environmentalism, the fault does not lie with Christianity. Rather, Christian opposition to environmental concerns have traditionally been politically and ideologically based (28), not based on the Bible. A biblically faithful Christian is a Christian who cares about the environment, because God created it and entrusted humans with the task of faithful stewardship. Not only that, but God’s plan for redemption includes not only humans, but the entire created order (Rom 8:19–21; Rev 21:1). Along the way, Story addresses questions surrounding Christian environmentalism (or, as my former professor Loren Wilkinson would prefer it, “creation care”), and urges Christian care for the environment as not just something Christians ought to do, but also as an opportunity to spread the gospel.

This is a wonderful introductory book on the subject of Christianity and environmentalism. While it is introductory, it is not full of fluff; Story quotes academic sources, but still manages to maintain a reading level that non-experts would be comfortable with. I would recommend it to both Christians and non-Christians who are interested in getting behind the rhetoric to see what the Bible really says about the created world, and what life on earth would look like if we took it seriously.

Note: Thanks to Kregel Publications for a review copy of this book. I was not asked to give a positive review.

Paleontologists at the Creation Museum

I read this article yesterday about a group of paleontologists who visited the Creation Museum in Petersburg, KY. For those interested in the interaction between Christianity (or, at least, one version of it) and science, it’s great reading. I found the following paragraphs most fascinating:

Many of the paleontologists thought the museum misrepresented and ridiculed them and their work and unfairly blamed them for the ills of society.

“I think they should rename the museum — not the Creation Museum, but the Confusion Museum,” said Lisa E. Park, a professor of paleontology at the University of Akron.

“Unfortunately, they do it knowingly,” Dr. Park said. “I was dismayed. As a Christian, I was dismayed.”

What I found most interesting about this is that here is a Christian paleontologist who thinks that her work is being misrepresented and ridiculed by other Christians. I think that those who run the Creation Museum have every right to interpret the Bible and scientific evidence the way they want, and argue publicly in the marketplace of ideas for their position. But ridiculing opposing points of view strikes me as being un-Christian. Yes, I know that those who run the Creation Museum are not the only people who ridicule opposing points of view. But for Christians to do that – and to draw attention to this ridicule by institutionalizing it in a museum – doesn’t seem right.

Truth Project 5: Science (What is True?)

The fifth tour of the Truth Project is a two-part lecture dealing with science. Del begins with the Bible’s statement, “The heavens declare the glory of God” (Psalm 19), and points out that there has been a tendency since the Fall to look at what is plain (i.e., God’s creation and ordering of the world) and ignore it. Del notes the difficulty of answering the question, “Why is there something rather than nothing?” from a purely naturalistic point of view. He also points out that if what we see in the world is random, then we would have no need to study it. But since we can see that the universe has order, that makes it difficult to claim that it is the product of chance.

Del then turns to look specifically at Darwin’s theory of evolution. He cites several sources as saying that evolution is a fact beyond dispute, then attempts to undermine it by appealing to William Paley’s argument for design. Such modern apologists for evolution as Richard Dawkins define biology as “the study of complicated things that give the appearance of having been designed for a purpose,” and Del thinks that he (and others like him) are ignoring the obvious: namely, that if the universe looks designed, then it must have been designed.

In the second half of the science tour, Del continues to take aim at evolution. He questions it first based on molecular biology, then the fossil record. Before looking at molecular biology, he quotes Darwin as saying, “If it could be demonstrated that any complex organ existed which could not possibly have been formed by numerous, successive, slight modifications, my theory would absolutely break down.” This, Del says, is precisely what has happened through study of molecular biology. He cites Michael Behe as saying that the flagellum and the inner workings of the cell are “irreducibly complex,” meaning that they could not have come about through the kinds of modifications that Darwin wrote about.

Del then turns to question evolution through appeal to the fossil record. He points out the paucity of evidence gathered through the fossil record and scoffs at Stephen Jay Gould’s “punctuated equilibrium,” which was presented as a possible way around the lack of transitional forms. He also argues that the difference between the beaks of the varieties of the Galapagos Finch that Darwin observed can be explained as temporary differences that oscillate back and forth depending on the availability of certain types of food.

Del then wraps up by saying that statements like these made against evolution are met with derisive comments. Why? Because, Del says, we are not just dealing with a scientific truth claim, but a philosophical truth claim. Evolution, he says, is a worldview which people will desperately hang on to because the consequences of rejecting it turn them face-to-face with the reality of a creator. If evolution is true, then there was no Adam and Eve and original sin. If there is no original sin, then there was no reason for Jesus to be a redeemer. And if there was no reason for Jesus to be redeemer, then there was no reason for him to come, and Christianity is nothing.

To his credit, Del realizes that this is a controversial subject. Before the tour started, he included a statement to the viewer asking him or her to hear him out and weigh whether his argument is true. I hope that I was able to give him a fair hearing, and here is what I came away with:

I agree with Del that science has a great deal of difficulty explaining why there is something rather than nothing, and even how life came from non-life. And I agree with Del on the reason for this: namely, that science is not capable of addressing philosophical issues like that. Because of the success of science coming out of the Enlightenment, some began (and continue) to claim that science is omnicompetent – that is, that it can do anything, including providing explanations for philosophical questions like why we are here. Del is right to point out this shift and the difficulty involved in it.

I also think that Del is right to point out the willful ignorance of people like Dawkins and Francis Crick, who say that biology studies things that appear to be designed, but really are not.

However, I’m not so sure that Del is adopting the best strategy by taking on evolution lock, stock and barrel. One reason for this is that there are many intelligent Christians (including many Christians who work in the sciences) who find no contradiction between their Christian faith and a belief in evolution. I am no scientist – the only science courses I took in college were a biology class and a chemistry class, which were enough to satisfy the general education requirement – but if people like Francis Collins, the former head of the Human Genome Project and an evangelical Christian, find no contradiction between their faith and their support of evolution, then I am all right with that.

58% of Catholics, 54% of Orthodox, 51% of mainline Protestants and 24% of Evangelical Protestants believe in evolution
58% of Catholics, 54% of Orthodox, 51% of mainline Protestants and 24% of Evangelical Protestants believe in evolution

Another reason that I’m not sure that attacking evolution by substituting Intelligent Design is the best strategy is that it seems to me like a “god of the gaps” way of viewing science. If we believe in a “god of the gaps,” we believe that those natural phenomena that we can’t explain otherwise must have been brought about by God. But what happens when we are able to explain those natural phenomena? Our “god” is diminished.

I think that Del is right in many of the things that he says about science, but he has unfortunately chosen the wrong “bad guy.” The bad guy here is not the theory of evolution, which, as I mentioned, many Christians who work in the sciences believe in. No, the bad guy is scientific naturalism, which says that the only real things are the things we can examine through science. This is the worldview that needs to be addressed. In this debate, evolution is just a red herring. Unfortunately, many young people who have been raised in the church are taught to believe that their faith is incompatible with evolution, and then go to college and become convinced that evolution must be true. Then they are faced with a false dilemma between science and faith, and guess which one loses?