Science in Christian Perspective


Christianity As An Ethical Matrix for No-Growth Economics

Pepperdine University 
Malibu, California 

Mesa College
San Diego, California


From: JASA 32 (September 1980: 164-168.

Evidence is mounting within the scientific community that planetary resources are finite. This challenges all contemporary ethical systems, for it is clear that any successful ethical matrix must one day accommodate itself to no-growth systems; exponential growth curves such as exist with population and resource consumption cannot continue indefinitely in a closed planetary system. The authors argue in favor of a modified Pascalcan Wager and that a future perspective is an absolute imperative to all decision making. Arguing that alternative ethical frameworks are inadequate, relevant biblical principles are presented that would positively support the Christian community's advocacy of planetary stewardship.

The Ethical Challenge: Finite Planetary Resources

The decade of the 1970s started with a major call for planetary ethical action with the publication of Jay Forrester's World Dynamics.a Using five system levels" -population, natural resources, capital investment, food and pollution-the computer models standard run was one where the aggregate planetary system overshoots its natural resources and collapses around the year 2020.1 Utilizing Forrester's basic concepts and a more sophisticated, but still rather simple model, a team of seventeen Massachusetts Institute of Technology researchers, led by Donella and Dennis Meadows, produced in 1972 The Limits To Growth: A Report for the Club of Rome's Project an the Predicament of Mankind. This was followed in 1973 by Toward Global Equilibrium, edited by the Meadows, containing the scientific papers to support the model in Limits. Then in 1974 a more complex model, 'world three," was presented by this M.I.T. team in Dynamics of Growth in a Finite World.2

Another team of 56 researchers from six countries produced during this same time six volumes of scientific papers that led to the publication of the popular hook Mankind at the Turning Paint: The Second Report to the Club of Rome.3 Mihajlo Mesarovic (Case Western Reserve) and Eduard Pestel (Hanover, Germany) report that "in our model about 100,000 relationships are stored in the computer, as compared to a few hundred in other well-known world models."4 Instead of using an aggregate model of the planet in which the "entire system reaches its limits at one time and either collapses or not," as occurs in the Meadows' Limits model. Mesarnvic et. al. base their model an diversity in the system:

there is no such concept as one limit for the entice system: rather different parts of the system face different limits at different times with the traumatic experiences for the entire system depending on the interrelationship of the constituent parts - the collapse, if it occurs, would he regional rather than global, even though the entire global system would be affected.5

Mesarovic and Pestel then produce three theses:

File solution to such catastrophes of the world system is possible only in the global contest and lo appropriate global actions. If he framework for such joint action is not developed, none of the regions would he able to avoid the consequences. For each region, its turn would come in due time.

Such a global solution would be implemented only through a balanced, differentiated growth which is analogous to organic growth rather than undifferentiated growth. It is irrefuitable that the second type of growth is cancerous and would ultimately be fatal.

The delays in devising such global strategies are not only detrimental or costly. but deadly. It is in this sense that we truly need a strategy for survival.6 (Emphasis supplied.)

Are these dire predictions by these research teams just the product of inadequate computer models? Other scholars, such as Heilhroner in An Inquiry Into the fHuman Prospect (1974) and Richard Falk in This Endangered Planet (1971) have arrived at similar conclusions without the aid of quantitative models and computer simulations. The former examines three major problems confronting man: population, nuclear technology, arid thermal pollution; the latter arrives at a "series of increasingly grim 'decades': the 1970s characterized by a Politics of Despair; the 1980s by a Polities of Desperation; the 1990s by a Polities of Catastrophe; the Twenty-first century as an Era of Annihilation.7

All of the above writers are suggesting that western civilization's past success in handling crises may not guarantee future success, for we are enmeshed in numerous interwoven simultaneous global crises which can he dealt with only together, not in isolation from one another. We are part of an interdependent world system. Furthermore, there has been a tremendous increase in the system's complexity, and this, coupled with system delays,)b creates a need to act very much in advance of the full development of a crisis, if its potential impact is to be counteracted success fully."8 We need a new tine-horizon of 50 years, rather than the present very limited one of less than a year to the occasional one of as much as five years. For example, a 3.3% economic growth rate produces in 16 years the change that used to take 40 years, and in 40 sears the amount of change will be five times the amount of the past 40 sears (1938-1978)--thc equivalent of 200 years of change in 40.

What should the United States' response be to these dire predictions? Should the predictions be dismissed as the products of simplistic' computer models'? Should they he dismissed as misguided prophets of doom? It

Is Christianity a viable ethical matrix for contemporary public decision making, or does it need to be replaced by another framework such as evolutionary naturalism or modern humanism?

is not the intention of the authors to defend the above scenarios of catastrophe. It should be clear, however, that any successful ethical matrix must one day at least accommodate itself to no-growth systems, for no exponential growth curve for any closed planetary system can continue indefinitely.9 The planet is experiencing exponential growth curves with population, pollution and consumption of non-renewable natural resources. These writers argue that it is best to opt for a no-growth economy as soon as possible with a modified Pascalean Wager. That is, if we opt to continue to grow, and the no-growth advocates are essentially correct, disaster looms. If we opt for no-growth soon the loss is so small compared to the risk as to make this choice the only meaningful one. By opting for no-growth economics we conserve our planetary resources and give the scientific community more time to respond with possible technological solutions. We believe that a future perspective is an absolute imperative to all decision making, and especially to ethical decision making.

Alternative Ethical Frameworks

What should be the Christian response to these planetary crises? What should he done, individually and corporately? Does Christianity, in fact, provide an adequate ethical matrix for making decisions such as opting for a no-growth economic system in the present to avoid possible future societal collapse? Would some other ethical system provide a better basis for the necessary futuristic component in decision making that is inherent in the call for a no-growth economic and population system?

Kieffer asserts in his Ethical Issues and the Life Sciences that "moral pluralism is unworkable as an approach to deal with the sensitive issues raised by recent advances in the medical and biological sciences."10 He believes one ethic is needed to provide direction for our society. He rejects Christianity as inadequate, opting for a humanistic self-actualization matrix for ethical decision making. 'There appear to he at least five broad philosophical alternatives for providing a monistic ethical matrix to support futuristically oriented decision 

A "level" is a major component of the system where quantities either build up or from which quantities are removed. In this model population, for example, is mathematically portrayed as being increased by a birth rate flow and decreased by a death rate flow. Depending on the rates of the two flows into and out of the level, population would he either increasing or decreasing in the computer simulation. Forrester's model has population increasing at the UN's estimated 1970 growth rate until it reaches in the ''standard'' computer run more than 8 billion: then, having greatly depleted another major level, natural resources, the model shows population dropping to one billion,

b The time between when an action is taken or occurs and the system's reaction is known as a system delay. An economic decision by the American Government takes 10-12 months to begin taking effect. There is a 25 year system delay from the discontinuence of the application of DDT and lower levels of DDT in fish. --simply because of its slow degradation rates combined with the build up of DDT in the soil. This stored DDT will be released over time into the aquatic system resulting in higher 'amounts of DDT in fish for as much  as 25 more year. See Toward Global Equilibrium- Chapter Ill.

making, including no-growth economics: (1) the Judaeo-Christian ethic, (2) evolutionary naturalism, (3) humanistic secularization, (4) some contemporary form of economic socialism, and (5) some other world religion that might seek to universalize itself. The latter two are not explored in this paper; however, it is appropriate to note that socialism, as capitalism, is a present consumption oriented system. It claims that it can deliver more, and with less economic inequalities, than capitalism. A no-growth economic system threatens both capitalism and socialism, since both are consumption models.

Is Christianity a viable ethical matrix for contemporary public decision making, or does it need to he replaced h another framework such as evolutionary naturalism or modern humanism? Can these latter philosophies provide a superior basis for making public decisions, particularly a decision such as making a present sacrifice in order to benefit future generations and the peoples of other countries? Could they provide a futuristic perspective that is lacking in Christianity?

Leo Rosten notes in Religion in America that a Gallup poll indicated that 98 percent of the United States population believe in God.11 To fail to utilize such a widely existing consensus seems politically unwise. To reject this belief system totally, as humanism does, means that a great deal of effort will he needed simply to tear down this structure before a new Weltauschauung can be erected. But this is simply an utilitarian argument; we wish to go beyond reliance on simply utility, or the weakness of alternative models, to assert the full adequacy of an intelligent Christian theology and a fully applied Christian ethic-an ethic that also permits ethical plural-ism. Any monistic belief system would likely result in a decrease in human freedom, e.g., Skinner.

Let us briefly, however, examine naturalism and humanism before turning to Christianity. Naturalism has great difficult, in the light of empirical reality, of asserting that human beings do have and intrinsically should he accorded human dignity. The essential question is, "Why should we care?" Why should we care about other countries? about economic inequalities? about future generations? Skinner, for example, compares humans to machines that respond to outside stimuli,12 and denies the reality of freedom (all actions, ideas, beliefs are responses to environmental stimuli) and the ascription of dignity to mankind. No person is worthy, for that would assume an "inner moan'' that acts independently of outside events.13

When naturalism is combined with an acceptance of total evolution, then philosophically it becomes even more difficult for adherents of this position to answer the question "Why should we care?" If one takes the 431 billion years of the earth's history and, as an analogy, represents it by a stack of papers 1000 feet high, for the first 500 feet the only life-near the top-is blue green algae. Man appears 1 inch from the top; all of recorded history is on the top page; and, the age of science is the dust on the top.11 Consider in addition that the atmosphere has undergone extensive change in the last 200 feet and that the vast majority of species ever evolved are now
extinct (perhaps only 0.1% are now surviving). Throw in the enormous "powers" of nature earthquakes, floods, ice-ages, pole reversals-and man looks unimportant. In addition, consider that we are on a small planet with a medium sun in a galaxy with 10 to 100 billions of suns in a universe of 10 to 100 billion galaxies. This picture says that man is not important at all. In no way does it say that the future of an individual or species is important or valuable. This system says that we will he replaced or die out. So what? Why should we he ethical? Any ethics from the evolutionary model are ad hoc impositions. They are not built in, nor necessary to the system, arid consequently they can be accepted or rejected at the whim of the viewer.

The Christian, while acknowledging the above, asserts that God cares, transcends arid interacts. The universe has personal meaning. Man, because of God, and only because of God, has meaning.

Humanism, whether naturalistic, evolutionary or scientific, also has great difficulty, in the light of empirical reality, of asserting that human beings do have and should be accorded dignity. humanism can assert merely that we should care, we should respect the dignity of human beings. Either we as individuals will feel better if we do, or society will benefit. Kieffer bases his appeal on the claim that "self-actualization" will result in the present if we care about future generations. This is a difficult concept to sell to the majority of people. Such an appeal is predicated on the assumption that all of the other need levels of an individual have been met. It is subjective to the individual; its measurement by the individual is subjective, it is inward, rather than outward, and its normative authority appeals only to those who already have a particular moral proclivity. In fact, at heart it is based on a selfish motif-you will believe and feel that you are a better person if you act in such a way.

The evidence is overwhelming that most people do not, in fact, have a future orientation beyond their own immediate physical progeny and their immediate physical surroundings.15 Kieffer's call for a monistic ethical system to replace the present ethical pluralism in America and the world is necessarily either a call for a long-term generational evolution of values, (which will not help us meet the present world crises), or, it will require a strong indoctrinational socialization process, perhaps even requiring behavioral modification techniques such as advocated by B. F. Skinner. 16

Christianity as a Matrix For a No-Growth Economic Model

In the last half of the twentieth century it is obvious that any ethical framework must he intellectually harmonious with modern science; total agreement is not required, nor is agreement with science's normative conclusions, but they certainly cannot be systematically contradictory or incongruent. What are the ingredients of a purely naturalistic Weltanschauung on which western science rests? Are any major postulates derived from, or consonant with, historic orthodox Christianity?

\\'e believe that the conceptual ground from which western science arose contained many concepts based on Christianity, such as: (1) the idea that time is linear (in the beginning God ); (2) progress is possible and desirable; (3) the objective world is real and good (Genesis 1); (4) man has the right to seek understanding and rational dominance over the physical world; (5) no reincarnation or transmigration of the soul; (6) no concept of preexisting souls awaiting physical bodies to inhabit; (7) a basic optimism that nature can he made more amenable to man, rather than a fatalism that accepts whatever happens as inevitable; and (8) that God is a God of order and hence the future develops out of the present -it is not arbitrary or capricious. [The dependability of nature is based our the dependability of God (Genesis 1:17: 9:22; Jeremiah 5:24). The latter assumption is basic to all the sciences-uniformitarianisms. Scientifically we are forced to assume a non-random universe, otherwise our enterprise will he fruitless.] Also (9): nature as creation is distinct from the creator and thus is not to be worshipped. This concept has important implications for scientific inquiry; nature, while the product of God's act, is not off limits to man's inquiry and study. In some societies in which the tree is some kind of spirit or a mountain is holy or the storm is god itself, it would he sacrilege for man to investigate these phenomena. Thus Christianity provides a more rational base for man's scientific investigations because the natural phenomena are not sacred, per se.17 It would appear, then, that Christianity is not a priori in discord with modern science.

It seems paradoxical that the JudeoChristian tradition provides the basis for Western societies' love for the material and resulting economic growth, as well as its cure.

Does Christianity provide a viable ethical foundation for meeting potential, if not present, planetary crises? Does it have a futuristic dimension? Is it compatible with no-growth population and economics:? Lynn White, among others, has charger] Christianity with being a pro-growth ethic."18 Because it has been instrumental in promoting growth, is it necessarily eliminated as a basis for a future-oriented no-growth economics? It is true that certain ideas of Christianity appear to have stimulated modern science as well as industrial development. Max Webcr has attempted to link Protestantism, in particular, with the pro-economic growth system known as capitalism."

At first it might seem paradoxical that the Judaeo-Christian tradition provides the basis for Western societies' love for the material arid resulting economic growth, as well as its cure. We suggest that both are true in that by affirming the value and goodness of the real world, and mankind as the apex of God's creation (Genesis 1:27-
31-first creation account), it made condition,,; possible for economic models that favored growth. Couple this with concepts of industry (see Proverbs 20:4, 13, etc.) and the first part of the paradox is true. The other side of the paradox is the assertion that life is more than the material, and that man, in some limited way, can know and experience sr spiritual dimension to reality-witness the manifold claims of Christians that God did enter and change their lives.

We believe that Christianity functions well as a "sitz in lehen" for no-growth economic systems. In fact, we believe it to he superior to other models, including the evolutionary one already briefly examined. A first requisite of a no-growth system is that those people living in advanced countries, where biological needs and a moderate standard of living prevails should find psychological contentment with the economic status quo. For much of the West this means a value reorientation and a rediscovery of the Christian view that while the material world is real and good, it is not the poor!. Jesus said life does not consist in the abundance of things (Matthew 6:25-34). We are told to "set our affections on things above, not on things on the earth." (Colossians 3:2) Multitudes of Christians respond that the paradigms of Christianity do make the foregoing a possibility. It also means that western Christians who presently enjoy the highest living standards on this endangered planet must seriously confront the many references in Scripture that protest against injustice and exploitation. Christians need to ask: Is our consumption of the planet's nonrenewable resources an oppression of the poor nations of the world? (See Isaiah 1:17, 3:15, 6:1,2, and 8; Amos 2:7f; Luke 4:18; Matthew' 2:3:2:3, and Chapter 25, etc.)

Another need of any ethical model is a commitment to and vital sense of the future. Here again Christianity functions well in that it sees all risen-past, present and future-as brothers, oracle in the image of God (Acts 17:26), and possessing sufficient worth so that God interacts with its, ultimately partaking of human nature. In the New Testament the church is seems as the elect of all ages (Ephesians 1:5-10, Hebrews 11-12:1). Hence the present Christian sees himself as part of a community of past, present, and future believers. The communion of the saints" in the Apostle's Creed means just that sense of past and future awareness, coupled with commitment. Wolfhart Pannenberg in History As Revelation makes the point that God is seen and understood from history, which includes a strong future history as well.20 Christians go beyond present self-actualization to see themselves in a grand cosmic drama played over eons of time. A future perspective to Christian ethical decision making is an absolute imperative.

Motivation is provided the Christian by making, including 's own example of involvement in the world. Since lIe became involved, so must we. And, as his involvement stressed a self emptying and a concern for others (Philippians 2), so must ours. To the suggestion that this goes against basic humans nature, the assertion! of the Christian experience is that man has help, God's help, in being is tress' creation with new outlooks.

Another Christian concept relative to no-growth economic principles is that of man as a steward or trustee of God's creation-who will one day give an account of his stewardship (Matthew 25:14-30; I Corinthians 4:1-2). While it is true that no creedal statement says that salvation is a result of man's working, most stress a responsibility for good works. This attitude of stewardship ameliorates the concept of man being superior to the rest of creation. All that exists is the result of God's creative Work and none of it is to he abused. In the second creation account-the Yahweh account-man is placed in a garden to keep it, not to exploit it. While Yahweh tells us that there are no sacred groves, lie also tells its to take care of the land.

An additional factor for consideration is that the Christian matrix provides global concerns. Christianity does see itself as a world-wide system. Consequently Christians are to care about what goes on everywhere in the world because God cares and we are commanded to (Matthew 28:19). This means that Christians should not view the world from the standpoint of nation-states with economic needs, but as a single system in which the Christian concerns of equality and justice most dominate (see Galatians 3:28 and 11 Corinthians 8). Paul asserts that we should esteems other(s) better than ourselves (Philippians 2:3). While much about the Holy Roman Empire was myth, the concept of a single people, the people of God, with varied backgrounds and cultures, was biblically valid (I Peter 2:9).

We also assert the supremacy of Christianity over other religious systems as a matrix for no-growth economic systems in that it has no view of a pre-existing soul, and hence no need of physical births. While maintaining the view that sex is good (man was created male and female and pronounced very good) it does not require reproduction for successful living. This is of great importance, since the ethical model presupposes that human needs must be met on an adequate level and the more humans, the greater the strain on the system.

Perhaps the strongest of all motivations is Love and Christianity provides examples of many and varied expressions of love. Since the Christian believes he experiences God's love, so he in torn is better able to love and accept himself and others. Who has read the New Testament and not experienced the various writers' love of God? It is interesting to note that Dennis Meadows closes Limits with an appeal that avoids the word love, but assumes its presence, requesting the industrialized nations to stop growing economically, and indeed, to lower their standard of living so the underdeveloped countries can continue to grow in order that their future not he so impoverished. The same position is basically advocated by Mesarovic-the developed must stop growing and most transfer trillions of dollars to the developing world so that the gap between them can be narrowed. The appeal is to self interest-altruism in order that the third world not hate us and deny us resources. How much greater is the motivation of the Christian-we are to love, because we have been loved.



1 Donella H. Meadows and Dermis L. Meadows, et al, The Limits To Growth (New York: Universe Books, 1972;. Dennis L. Meadows and Donella H. Meadows,  eds., Toward Global Equilibrium: Collected Papers (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Wright-Al1en, 1973).
2Dennis Meadows, et al, Dynamics of Growth in a Finite World (Cambridge, Massachesetts: Wright-AlIen, 1974).
3Mihajlo Mesarovick arid Eduard Pestel, Mankind At the Turning Point: The Second Report to the Club of Rome (New York: E. P. Dutton and Company, Inc., 1974).
4ibid p. 34.
5ibid., p. 37.
6ibidi. .55.
7Robert L. Heilbroner. An Inquiry Into the Human Prospect (New York: W. W. Norton and Company Inc., 1974), p. 441; and. Richard Falk, The Endangered Planet (New York: Random House, 1971). p. 4201.
8)Mesarovic and Pestel, Mankind At the Turning Point, p. 101.

9Several books discuss in detail the debate over growth versus no-growth economics,, including Mancur Olson and Hans Landsberg, eds., The No-Growth Society (New York: 5W. W. Norton arid Co., Inc., 1973); Warren A. Johnson and John  Hardesty, Economic Growth Versus the Environment (Belmont, California: Wadsworth Publishing Co.197l.   Herman E. Daly, ed., Toward a Steady-State Economy (San Francisco, California: W.H, Freeman and Co., 1973): Dennis Clark Pirages, ed., The Sustainable Society: Implications for I.imiterl Growth (New York. Praegers, 1977); and, George B. Lucas, Jr., and Thomas Ogletree, eds., Lifeboat Ethics: The Moral Dilemmas of World Hanger (New York: Harper and Row, 1970). See also Garrett Hardin, Exploring New Ethics for Survival: The Voyage of Spaceship Beagle (New York: Pelican Books, 1973).

10George It. Richer, Ethical Issues and the Life-Sciences (American Association for the Advancement of Science: Study Guides on Contemporary Problems, 1975), pp. 8-28.
11Leo Rosteni, ed., Religion in America, rev. ed., (New York: Sinion and Schrrster, 1963).
12B. F. Skinner, Beyond Freedom and Dignity (New York : Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., 1971).
13Ibid., Chapters 1, 5, arid 8.
14Cambell, J ,A., Chemical Systems, Energetics, Dynamic Structure p. 2,
15Meadows, et al Limits To, Growth, pp.18-20, but especially, Edward C. Banfield, The Unheavenly City (Boston: Little, Brown and Company: 1965).
16Skinner, Beyond Freedom and Dignity. Chapter 1, as well as, most of the book.
17This point was suggested to the authors by,' Norman Hughes, Dean of the Faculty, Pepperdine University, Malibu..
18Lynn White, Jr., "The Historical Roots of Our Ecological Crisis," found in Francis A. Schaeffer. Pollution and the Death of Man: The Christian View of Ecology (Wheaton IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 1970).
19Max Webber, Protestant Ethics and The Spirit of Capitalism Trans. by Talcott Parsons, 1930, Originally written in 1904 (New York: Scribner, Lyceum Ed, 1930), as well as his Prtestantism, Capitalism, and Social Science, the Weber Thesis Controversy, edited by Robert W. Green. Green (London: D.C. Heath nd Co. 1973).
20Wolfhart Pannenberg, ed. History as Revelation, (New York: Macmillian, 1966).