Science in Christian Perspective

Letter to the Editor



Fred Van Dyke Responds

Fred Van Dyke, Ph.D.
Wildlife Research Biologist
Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife & Parks
P.O. Box 1351
Red Lodge, Montana 59068

From: PSCF 40 (December 1988): 255-256.

Unlike Mr. Schlossberg, I believe that a serious discussion of environmental economics within a Christian perspective is quite possible. I welcome the opportunity to participate. In responding to Mr. Schlossberg's letter, I want to address, first, Mr. Schlossberg's criticisms of the article itself and, second, Mr. Schlossberg's own views of the environmental problem.

"Planetary Economies and Ecologies" is a review of recent literature in environmental economics and of Christian reaction to and understanding of it. Mr. Schlossberg's comments about the articie's generalities notwithstanding, it is quite specific in: (1) citations of individual publications which have influenced this field over the last 30 years, (2) the specific conclusions reached in. those publications (expressed, whenever possible, in the authors' own words), and (3) the specific outcomes and impacts of such literature on future directions in environmental economics. The Limits to Growth was cited because of its obvious importance to an understanding of this field and its literature. This single book produced more discussion, literary response, symposia, and criticism than any other book of that decade. The works of Simon and Kahn, among others, would probably never have been written had Limits not been published. The paragraph to which Mr. Schlossberg alludes in his criticism takes full account of the criticisms and refutations to which this book was subjected.

I find Mr. Schlossberg's objections to the inclusion of a book of this magnitude quite incredible. It is rather like a bald man wanting a mirror that only goes up to his eyebrows. Just as we cannot change the truth about our own appearance, we cannot change the truth about what constitutes important literature in a given field. To attempt such alterations tells us nothing about the literature, but only about the reviewer's lack of scholarship.

My article makes no recommendation of individuals or groups turning their resources over to government control, and I think that criticizing an article for something it never even said is both unfair and unprofessional.

The works of Julian Simon and of Simon and Herman Kahn are included for the same reasons that Limits to Growth was included: because their books form significant contributions to discussions of environmental economics. The major conclusions of Simon and Kahn are quoted in their own words to avoid misrepresentation of their views. Such quotes do not, as Mr Schlossberg rightly indicated, provide credibility for any alternative views. However, such quotes do, in my opinion, provide the reader with evidence for the incredibility of Simon and Kahn's views. Let me illustrate this incredibility with one of their conclusions; namely, there is not prima facie evidence to require any expensive species' safeguarding policy. Simon and Kahn's view of the whole question of endangered species is well summarized in the quote which appeared in my article.

We do not neglect the die off of the passenger pigeon and other species that may be valuable to us. But we note that extinction of species billions of them-. . . has been a biological fact of life throughout the ages, just as has been the development of new species, some of which may be more valuable to humans than extinguished species whose niches they fill. (Simon and Kahn, The Resourceful Earth: A Response to Global 2000, P. 23)

While we are on the subject of birds, it is worth noting that, in this century, human beings have exterminated an average of two bird species every three years, including the passenger pigeon. But, given Simon and Kahn's premises, their conclusion is true, because none of the species presently endangered are valuable enough to humans to make them worth preserving.

In his letter, Mr. Schlossberg tells us abut God's "good" world. Unfortunately, what Mr. Schlossberg does, in following the lead of Simon and Kahn, is make good synonymous with human utility, exactly the opposite of what the scripture intends. When the scripture speaks of the creation as "good," it never uses this adjective of the creation in general, but only of its particulars. The light is good, the land and water, the earth's vegetation, the moon, the sun and the stars, the fish of the seas, the great sea monsters, the birds, the cattle, the creeping things, the beasts of the earth, and finally, human beings. Additionally, the term "good" always refers back to God's pleasure in His creation, not humanity's utility of it. This concept is further exemplified in the latter chapters of Job. God demonstrates His wisdom and sovereignty to Job through Behemoth and Leviathan, the great river and sea monsters, respectively. God's obvious pride in their "goodness," their strength, power, and majest,vl is amplified by God's knowledge that they are of no use to Job. No one can control them. Because only God can master them, Job, like all of us, is humbled before them. So God can say of Leviathan, "He is king over all the sons of pride."

When the scriptures tell us of a good world, by extolling the goodness of its particulars, their intent is to produce humility in the reader to recognize that he is not the measure of the universe. When Mr. Schlossberg talks about a good world, he means a world which can never run out of all the things we want to have because God simply won't permit it.

There is a town in Crawford County, Michigan, called Deward. It was named somewhat corruptly, after the 19th-century Michigan timber baron, David Ward. Ward established the town in the midst of his most extensive timber holdings, 90,000 acres of virgin forest, including 16,000 acres of 170-foot tall white pines that had never seen a woodsman's axe. Like God's pleasure in Leviathan, Ward was very proud of his timber, and believed that it would last for many decades. But less than 12 years after his lumber mill began operating in Deward, all marketable timber had been cut.

There was once a church at Deward, and perhaps believers there thought as Mr. Schlossberg thinks today. Regrettably, there is no one left at Deward to argue the point. In fact, there is nothing left at all, except the concrete cornerstones of Ward's mill. The rest was hauled away for scrap. No government policies caused this disaster. Deward is a story of free enterprise at its best.

To say that God will simply not permit resource depletion before the end is like arguing that God will not permit a believer to spend all the money in his bank account before the rapture. If the scriptures teach anything, it is that God is not pledged to keep a fallen world happy, or to save us from the consequences of our own stupidity and bad theology. Like politics, all environmental problems are ultimately local. Environmental consequences will be experienced by ordinary people in ordinary communities around the world, one life and one consequence at a time. If a sovereign God, by divine mercy and love, places into the hands of human beings finite resources which they can destroy, be it a personal bank account, a Montana elk herd, or a Michigan forest, He takes the risk that the worst can happen. And a theology that says it can never can, will be cold comfort when it does; just as it was cold comfort to the families of Deward who watched their dreams hauled away with their last load of logs.

When Mr. Schlossberg asks us to accept the fact that the world is sufficient to support us in abundance, it certainly sounds like he is encouraging us to faith, and that is a worthy exhortation. Unfortunately, faith concentrated in the wrong object is not virtue but vice. The faith offered by writers like Simon and Kahn is faith in human ingenuity and technology. Indeed, the ultimate resource is, to them, the human mind. Christians believe that God is the ultimate resource, and to replace Him with anything else is idolatry. The Bible calls us to a different kind of faith, no only for ourselves but all creation.

For the anxious longing of creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will, but because of Him who subjected it in hope that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God. (Romans 8: 19-21)

That is what faith is, the sure and confident hope that Jesus Christ can redeem both us and His world. Anything else is nothing but a sub-Christian substitute. I reject the work of Simon and Kahn because it substitutes faith in a living God for faith in human cleverness, which is an act of idolatry, and because it changes God's creatures and resources from objects measured by their Creator's concern for them to objects measured by their ability to meet human need, which is an act of rebellion. If God told a sinless man that the way to rule and subdue was to cultivate and to keep, it seems to me it would behoove sinful rebels such as ourselves to do no less. At the end of my article, I warned that what Christians write on these matters must grow up, or the world will never find in it or us a reflection of the One we serve. I am glad that Mr. Schlossberg has given me the opportunity to repeat that warning here, and has provided a specific example of the kind of thinking that the Christian community must reject.