Science in Christian Perspective
MAN HAS A POSITIVE RESPONSIBILITY
TO MANAGE NATURE
Research Scientists Christian Fellowship
From: JASA 25 (March 1973): 3-4.
Sixty Christian Research Scientists (from RSC Fellowship) drown from many fields of pure and applied science and meeting in London on October 23, 1972 issued a statement in which they declare that man has a positive duty to manage nature within certain moral limits. The statement reflects a day-long conference held at Bedford College and chaired by Dr. R. I. Berry, Reader in Genetics at the Royal Free Hospital Medical School, London. Four papers prepared by groups of scientists in St. Andrews, Cambridge, Manchester and Bristol were discussed.
1. The Christian's Positive Mandate
A. Man has a positive responsibility to manage 'na ture' and to mold it for his own good. (Genesis 1:28, 2:5 and 15). This was as true before the Fall as after it. Man has still an ongoing responsibility, or mandate, to control and use natural resources for his own corporate good and for posterity.
B. Since the Fall there is added a lack of some degree of harmony between man and his environment which makes the task harder and at times distasteful. The environment is not entirely friendly and it needs to be tamed as well as used. This, however, only alters man's role in degree and not in principle. For most purposes the principle (A) is an adequate rule. However well man had behaved it is hard to see how he could have avoided an ultimate problem of population and use of scarce resources.
C. The Christian should hold any constructive work as honorable. Jesus was a carpenter, the apostles mostly fishermen and Adam was a gardener even before the Fall. Most constructive work is, in the end, deriving from 'nature' what we would not otherwise have without molding it to our purposes. Such work is good and, since the Fall at least, essential.
D. In an imperfect world, in which many do not have a proper standard of living, the Christian must have a compassionate aim of material progress as a part of his desire for the good of all men. As long as people suffer from diseases, lack of basic education, food, physical facilities for family and personal life, etc. we must work for progress, within the limits outlined below.
E. The Christian cannot therefore accept a call to revert to a state of 'nature'. That is animal not human. We must boldly insist that man is intended to rule his environment and mold it for his own good. That in itself is not selfish; it is a duty. The back-to-nature movement is like asceticism in sex. It denies our God-given calling.
F. The Christian's outlook will in these respects differ from that of some non-Christians in each of the above points. His view will also differ as to what is the 'good of all men', The Christian cannot see it as merely material. Most non-Christians will agree, in theory at least, but will value things in a different way. Because Christians value the family so highly, for instance, it will alter their view of 'progress' that may disrupt family life.
Limitations and Priorities in That Mandate
In Genesis 1:28 man is commanded to multiply without qualification. The qualifications, such as
marriage and the family, come later. In the same verse he is called to have dominion without qualification, but qualifications are later given in the Bible.
A. We are to love the Lord our God and we are stewards of His world (Genesis 9:1-9, Psalm 8, Leviticus 25:23). This means: 1. That we must not waste God's wealth; we are to use His gifts as He does and as He commands us; and 2. we are (Psalm 8) His vice-regents and we are to make a constructive use of nature consistent with respect for it as His.
B. We are to love our neighbor as ourselves. The Christian's mandate is for the whole of mankind. It is not sectional and it includes future generations. This limits us severely but constructively.
C. We must beware of love of self. Many of the abuses have arisen from selfishness and greed,
etc. Some are due to ignorance and in that case only become blameworthy when we discover our fault and do nothing about it. The Christian must constantly speak out, especially when his own group or society or country is guilty of greed, luxury and selfishness. (Man's fallen nature is very evident here.)
D. The methods used must he ethical. Not everything that can be done should be done. Wholesale abortion for instance is not a Christian option. The break up of family life or euthanasia are not methods that we can accept any more than war, famine or genocide.
E. Everything created by God is good (1 Timothy 4:4). Therefore our management must be conservative. The creation has a wonderful balance and richness which is all too easily destroyed thoughtlessly. We want to preserve a natural state and balance as far as these are compatible with other positively good aims. Like the ideal of physical health (which may involve sanitation, extermination of certain species, etc., etc.) there is an ideal of human well-being which includes for the Christian at least a recognition that man, if he is to be altogether healthy, needs beauty, contact with trees and birds and animals, human community, mental and physical recreation, etc. and a life which can be open to God and His truth. If not all are available then we must compensate by art, etc. We therefore want to change nature as little as possible and to preserve the diversity of nature and a state of balance. Man's aesthetic sense is not altogether misplaced. What men value as beautiful should be highly prized.
3. Some Practical Applications
A. We must use the best knowledge and methods available to avoid destruction and establish a reasonably natural state of equilibrium. Biological resources (e.g., whales) should be managed as long term assets. Mineral resources must be used economically.
B, Scarce resources especially, but all natural resources, should be used as a trust. Conservation and re-cycling of many waste products should have a much higher priority than at present.
C. The extinction of species and of natural habitats is a cause for concern; they represent a loss of natural diversity and often upset the balance of nature more than is expected. Even if tigers have to be confined to game parks and yellow fever mosquitoes extirpated from areas where they might carry yellow fever, we should hope to preserve the species if possible. Even malaria has its medicinal uses against other diseases. There is here a question of balance and even if Bacillus tuberculosis has its uses we would all be glad to see it extinct unless we can completely control it.
D. Population growth may need to be checked arti ficially if natural falls in reproductive rates do not operate adequately. If we cannot give the next generation a wholesome life if their number is too large, we should avoid their increase. This is a corporate responsibility. As nearly all parents at some stage say 'Enough! We cannot adequately look after more children, so the community must do the same.
E. Governments will need great reinforcing in their resolves to do good because every government is tempted to find favor by taking more out of nature' than is necessary at the expense of future generations. Christian opinion is needed to help to create a whole attitude to natural resorces that will enable governments to do what in their responsible moments they would like to do, but dare not, because of popular greed. There is a stage between personal motivation and legislation in which Christian opinion should be influential. This stage is the creation of public opinion on which legislation can be based.
The existentialist mood of living only in and for the present has to be fought here. Rational long term planning is necessary.
F. Christians will need to set an example of abstemiousness in consumption (i.e., standard of living), perhaps in family size, and in respect and love for the creation, even when it requires extra effort and self-sacrifice to do so.