A friend of mine recently wrote a post on Facebook and encountered the wrath of several of his social media friends. He innocently asked if anyone wanted a kitten. His young feline pet escaped and became pregnant before she could be spayed. The online assault began almost immediately as friends and acquaintances berated him over his negligence in failing to spay his pet. For many who deny the existence of the Christian God, environmentalism and the cause of animal rights have become a religion of sorts. The movement has its own doctrinal beliefs, its own set of commandments and its own set of prescribed consequences. At times, the doctrinal beliefs seem self-contradictory. I have many friends who fight vehemently for the rights of animals while supporting the abortion of humans. Maybe contradictions of this sort are the result of improper “grounding”.
Environmentalism From A Christian Perspective
As a Christian, I definitely understand my responsibility to protect and steward the natural environment. This responsibility is “grounded” in God’s purpose for me as a human created in His image. Adam and Eve were given “dominion” over all creation (Genesis 1:26-28) but they clearly understood this as a responsibility to “work” and “keep” the Garden (Genesis 2:15). Dominion is not reckless power; it is careful responsibility and stewardship. By the time the nation of Israel was established, God provided a number of laws to make sure His children understood the importance of His creation and they learned to respect and care for other animals (see Leviticus 25:1-12, Deuteronomy 25:4 and Deuteronomy 22:6). My concern for the environment is an act of obedience and respect for God’s creation. Everything in nature (humans included) began as a result of God’s creative act. All this created “stuff” is important to God.
Environmentalism From An Atheistic Perspective
But why should an atheist care about the well-being of another species? How is this concern “grounded” from an atheistic perspective? If everything in nature is the result of evolutionary processes and the “survival of the fittest,” why should we advocate for a species that isn’t “fit” enough to survive without our intervention? Why shouldn’t we just allow natural selection to run its course? Evolution is a merciless tyrant. It couldn’t care less about weak species that aren’t “fit” enough to survive. Why should humans care if some remote species of caterpillar is being extinguished in a region we need to use for a purpose benefiting us as humans? The argument that all life forms are inextricably connected to a delicate ecosystem is a weak effort to promote religious environmentalism. The archaeological record reveals the destruction of thousands of species apparently “unfit” to survive. The destruction of these species hasn’t inhibited our human survival. Why should we care when a modern species suffers a similar fate? From an atheistic worldview, fully submitted to the brutal and unguided process of evolution, none of this should be of any concern to us. Why should we even concern ourselves with the future of our own species? From an atheistic perspective, why should we care if the generation living today is the last generation of humans to ever live? In fact, many environmentalists I know would prefer this to be the case, given what they claim about human impact on the planet.
My Christian worldview, however, compels me to see the environment unselfishly. The respect I have for my environment is more than simple utilitarianism. The “natural” world around me is a reflection of the “supernatural” God who created all species with the same love, attention to detail, and creative concern. As I learn to submit to my Maker, I come to appreciate everything He’s made. My concern for the environment is not rooted in my evolutionary status (allowing me to take advantage of the environment if it suits me). My concern for the environment is rooted in God’s supernatural nature and power (compelling me to care for the environment with the awe I offer the Creator). True environmentalism must be grounded in the Creator of our environment. The rights of all animals (humans included) must be grounded in the purposes of God.
J. Warner Wallace is a Dateline featured Cold-Case Detective, Senior Fellow at the Colson Center for Christian Worldview, Adj. Professor of Apologetics at Biola University, author of Cold-Case Christianity, God’s Crime Scene, and Forensic Faith, and creator of the Case Makers Academy for kids.
Subscribe to J. Warner’s Daily Email