Science in Christian Perspective




Planetary Economies and Ecologies: The Christian World View and Recent Literature


Wildlife Biologist
Montana Dept. of Fish, Wildlife & Parks
P.O. Box 1351
Red Lodge, MT 59068

From: PSCF 40 (June 1988): 66-71.                                                   Response


Understanding and practicing Christian environmental stewardship requires consideration Of economic factors affecting environmental problems. This paper evaluates pivotal publications integrating ecologic and economic analysis, including literature which relates this integration in a Christian perspective. Simulation models of world supply and demand systems have identified relationships between environmental degradation and economic policy. Appreciation Of such relationships stimulated development of steadystate economic theory. Christian scholars have long recognized theological implications of economics, but have only recently attempted to understand ecologic-economic problems in a scriptural perspective. Their roles in providing integrative literature in this area and in influencing choices of the Christian community are discussed.

In this century, science and scientists have been moving toward increasing specialization. As a result, growing numbers of scientists know more and more about less and less. At the same time that science is fragmenting, practical world problems are requiring a much more integrated approach, especially in ecology. As more and more environmental studies have discovered the causes of ecologic problems, economic factors have often emerged as more major contributors.

In dealing with environmental issues, dissatisfaction with purely pragmatic, technological solutions has occurred as their impotence to solve real ecological problems has been perceived. New, fairer economic policies are proposed, but rejected in favor of national interest. Pollution control technology is developed, but goes unused. Developing countries create national parks on paper, but do not protect them in substance. Individuals conserve, but total stocks of resources still dwindle. Ecologists have discovered that humanity does not lack the means to conserve, but the will. Greed and selfishness have often proven stronger than reason and necessity.

Garrett Hardin was one of the first to prophetically assert that the ecologic crisis had amassed an entire array of problems for which there was "no technical solution. "l As Aldo Leopold had warned, changes in ethics could not be "accomplished without an internal change in intellectual emphasis, loyalties, affections, and convictions."2 Without this conversion, conservation strategies were doomed to fail. Reluctantly at first, then with increasing clamor, environmentalists have demanded a new "stewardship ethic" from theology. Both in response to and independent of this demand, the Christian community has engaged in increased discussion of the biblical basis for environmental stewardship, and has suggested practical applications of biblical principles for current environmental policy. In this journal alone, contributors have begun to explore the biblical basis of environmental ethics, the role of environmental education in the Christian college, the resource manager as an environmental steward, and the application of technology to environmental problems and the plight of the poor in developing nations.3 Among the most recent and comprehensive responses has been the North American Conference on Christianity and Ecology, convened in North Webster, Indiana in August 1987. Earlier in the same month, the theme of the American Scientific Affiliation's annual meeting in Colorado Springs, Colorado was devoted to Christian environmental stewardship.

The purpose of this paper is: 1) to identify and evaluate pivotal publications which have integrated economics and ecology; 2) to examine specifically Christian literature which has addressed both ecology and economics; and, 3) to suggest what future roles Christian scholars should take in continuing to address this issue.

Ecology and Economics

The growth of the environmental movement in the early 1960's led to a reevaluation of traditional economic models and a search for new ones. British economist Barbara Ward formalized the philosophical concept of "Spaceship Earth" in a call for building a worldwide system of common institutions, policies, and beliefs in 1965.4 A year later, economist Kenneth Boulding borrowed the same concept, but applied it in much stricter economic terms, in his essay, "The Economics of the Coming Spaceship Earth." Boulding urged a shift from the "cowboy" economy of exploitation to the "spaceman" economy of sustainability.5 In 1968, Garrett Hardin's classic essay, "The Tragedy of the Commons," eloquently described the collective ecological results of individualistic economic practice.6 Hardin went even further in an essay in 1970, "To Trouble a Star," when he predicted that "ecology will engulf economics," forcing traditional cost-benefit analyses to assess ecologic consequences.7 A more corn prehensive, technical integration of scientific philosophy, physics, and ecology in relation to economic analysis appeared in 1971, in Nicolas GeorgescueRoegen's classic, The Entropy Law and the Economic Process.8 Georgescue-Roegen argued that the sin of all traditional economic theory was its failure to consider the problem of natural resource extraction. The economic process consists of a transformation of low entropy to high entropy (i.e., waste). Because that transformation is irrevocable, natural resources must form an aspect of economic value. Humanity's natural dowry consists of its stock of natural resources and the planetary flow of solar energy. Humanity, said Georgescue-Roegen, must therefore learn to ration meagre resources to survive in the long run.9

In 1972, D.H. Meadows et al. produced The Limits to Growth.10 This book represented a summary of conclusions drawn from a computer model of world supply and demand covering a 200-year period, 1900-2100 A.D. Its conclusions were that

if the existing trend of exponential growth in all of these critical variables is allowed to continue, the result will be severe, perhaps even catastrophic decline in both world population and industrial capacity, probably within the next century.11

These "critical variables" were population, food production, degree of industrialization, pollution, and consumption of nonrenewable resources. The book suggested seven basic policies:

1. World population should be stabilized by reduction in birth rate, and industrial capital should be stabilized by lowering investment rate to equal depreciation rate.

2. Resource consumption per unit of industrial output should be reduced to a fraction of its current value.

3. Economic preferences should be shifted away from material products and towards services.

4. Pollution production per unit of agricultural output should be reduced to a fraction of current levels.

5. Capital should be diverted to food production, and/or existing inequalities in food distribution should be reduced.

6. Agricultural capital and technology should be altered to place higher priority on soil enrichment and preservation.

7. Average lifetime of capital should be increased, implying greater durability and ease of repair and reduced obsolescence.12 

Much controversy followed the publication of Limits to Growth, not the least of which were elaborate refutations of its pessimistic predictions.13 The controversy was so great that the Club of Rome itself published a second report, Mankind at the Turning Point, to attempt to respond to the criticisms and construct a more realistic simulation model of world supply and demand.14 But accuracies and inaccuracies aside, The Limits to Growth abolished forever the separation of ecology and economics.

Ecologists have discovered that humanity does not lack the means to conserve, but the will.

Steady-State Economics

These concepts spurred development of the paradigm of steady-state economics, of which Herman Daly was the principal architect. In his book, Steady State Economics published in 1977, Daly developed ideas about the concepts, institutions, and efficiencies inherent in a steady state economy.15 Unlike the traditional paradigm of the growth economy, Daly's paradigm assumed a no-growth economy. Three critical variables remained constant: 1) human population, 2) stocks of natural resources, and 3) human artifacts (i.e., manufactured goods). The first is assumed to stabilize through low birth and death rates (i.e., long life span), the second through equality of depletion and renewal rates (i.e., sustained yield management), and the third through equality of investment and depreciation rates (i.e., high durability of capital). Though not specifically discussed, Daly undergirded much of his discussion by taking for granted the validity of biblical concepts about the nature of persons, economy, and justice. His biblical perspectives become most clear when he compares the underlying philosophies of growth vs. nogrowth economies. Daly asks:

Is man basically a fallen creature whose salvation lies with his Creator, rather than with his own creations? Or is man potentially the infallible creator himself, whose salvation lies with his own creations? [The first view] is the traditional wisdom of the ages, taught by the great religions. The second view, man as potentially infallible creator seeking salvation in the perfection of his creations, leads to cosmic vandalism. It is not the view of great scientists, but of the third-rate devotees of modern scientism, whose numbers are legion.16

But accuracies and inaccuracies aside, The Limits to Growth abolished forever the separation Of ecology and economics.

Economics and Theology

The relationship of Christianity and economics has had a long and rich history. Wealth is a major theme of both the Old and New Testaments and particularly the gospels, where Jesus had absolutely nothing good to say about it. The rich and wealthy are condemned in the Old Testament as well, although the Old Testament shows examples of wealthy individuals who were righteous. In every Old Testament case, however, wealth was a sign, or sacrament, of the reality of relationship with God. Abraham's wealth came from his renunciation of all earthly security in order to obey God (Genesis 12:lff), and from his refusal to appeal to earthly sources which would make him rich (Genesis 14:23). job learns, in the absence of wealth, that God alone is the Supreme Sufficiency (job 42:1-6). Solomon's wealth is given as a prefigurement, or sacrament, to show but a shadow of the kingdom of another "Son of David" who will one day rule the universe.17

The western work ethic is generally traced to Calvin, by some authors to his credit and by others to his condemnation. Regardless of persuasion, historians are unanimous in crediting both medieval and reformation theology with enormous economic impact.18 Christian influence affected not only western Europe, but also the economic systems of their New World colonies.

Likewise, modern Christian scholars writing about economics and ecology have generally understood the impact of each on the other. In 1975, Oxford economist Donald Hay, writing specifically for Christians in a pamphlet entitled, A Christian Critique of Capitalism, noted that one of the Bible's most important ideas affecting economic life is that of creation and humanity's dominion of it. Dominion, wrote Hay, is given to all humankind. We exercise a role in creation which includes both its use and its care as trustees. Trusteeship is different from private ownership, for the former implies responsibility to use resources in a manner harmonious with God's intention to provide for all, while the latter does not.19Therefore, implied limitations exist on the individual's use of resources. The classic and comprehensive Earthkeeping, another book written by Christians and for Christians, also devoted much space to economic analysis, though the book itself was written in response to the ecologic problem.20

Christian reaction to the present economic situation has moved primarily in two directions.21 On one hand, domestic and world need raised hunger to a level of major concern in the Church. Traditional relief efforts have continued and amplified, but demands also have begun for economic reform. Hunger organizations have emerged with purely political strategies, rather than food relief, such as Bread for the World. Hunger awareness even began to affect everyday American life, as books like The More With Less Cookbook, by the late Doris Longacre, brought the possibility of simple living into the kitchens of the North American Christian family.22

Though not specifically discussed, Daly undergirded much of his discussion by taking for granted the validity of biblical concepts about the nature of persons, economy, and justice.

Perhaps the single most important publication capturing North American Christian attention was the book Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger by Ron Sider.23 Though Sider was primarily concerned with the hunger issue, his thorough documentation and powerful, expressive style led to three major emphases: 1) a confluence with ecologic concern over resource depletion, 2) a call for more biblical public policy by the West in food and aid distribution, and 3) a call for western individuals to live a more simple, less consumptive life. Within two years of its publication, Rich Christians had led directly to the Conference on Simple Lifestyles.24

A second, equally pervasive but theologically opposing trend has emerged in the convergence of theology and economics. Conservatism and evangelicalism have grown simultaneously, and often together, producing what Van Dahm and others have called the "Christian Far Right" (CFR).25 The CFR's political agenda has 

Articulated by economists like Gary North and organizations like Chalcedon and The Institute for Christian Economics, the overall thrust of such an agenda has been toward a continued growth economy and a western consumptive standard worldwide.

included, among other things, economic revision, but not in the direction of new economic policy and redistribution of wealth. Rather, it has been oriented to increased individualism, unregulated free enterprise, abolishment of long-term debt and credit, a gold standard, abolition of fractional reserve banking, and elimination of most government social services.26 Articulated by economists like Gary North and organizations like Chalcedon and The Institute for Christian Economics, the overall thrust of such an agenda has been toward a continued growth economy and a western consumptive standard worldwide. North, in fact, has called the spaceship earth" analogy "a neo-Fabian propaganda device," a "triumph of intellectual chaos," "a call to religious commitment," and an attempt to divinize the state.27 Related, though not identical, to such an agenda has been the growing interest among Christians in survivalism, and in the prosperity gospel-the proclamation that it is God's will to bless His people with material wealth and physical health.28 Both strains have formed significant components of recent popular Christian literature.

Trends related to the latter emphasis can be detected in Christian reaction to environmental pronouncements and publications. The Global 2000 Report, a document produced in 1980 by a team of government scientists commissioned by former president Jimmy Carter, made predictions similar to those of Limits to Growth regarding world population, resource depletion, and environmental degradation.29 Economist Julian Simon responded a year later in his book The Ultimate Resource to argue that, in the long run, the resources and waste absorbing capacity of the earth are not finite, and that the potential for increasing the service yielded per unit of resource is unlimited.30 in a more expanded response published in 1984, The Resourceful Earth: A Response to Global 2000, Simon and the late Herman Kahn served as editors for a collection of papers by scientists who refuted Global 2000 conclusions, namely that: 1) population control is unjustified; 2) though African food production is down, this has nothing to do with environmental conditions; 3) there is not prima facie evidence to require any expensive species' safeguarding policy; 4) environment, resource, and population stresses are diminishing; and, 5) there will be a progressive improvement and enrichment of the planet's natural resource base and of mankind's lot on earth.31

Many Christians and Christian organizations have aligned themselves with these views and given them uncritical acceptance from both scientific and theological perspectives.32 However, the fact is that the conclusions of Simon and Kahn are nothing short. of incredible. Most disturbing is the book's underlying philosophy. It was tragic to hear from Simon and Kahn that:

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.33 [emphasis mine]

The fact is that the conclusions of 
Simon and
Kahn are nothing short of

Simon and Kahn asserted that:

... our present world population size ... is a clear sign of economic success in that we,have the know-how and wherewithal to keep many more people alive as well as provide more goods and leisure.... Because of increases in knowledge, the earth's "carrying capacity" has been increasing throughout the decades to such an extent that the term . . . "carrying capacity" has no useful meaning. . .34

Dismissing concerns about world population growth, Mark Perlman, a contributor to Simon and Kahn's work, stated that:

To know the exact world population size would be like knowing whether 9 or 10 guests will come to dinner tomorrow. A host or hostess knows that the level of consumption will not be much affected by the difference between 9 and 10 guests. In the case of human populations, the "guests" have, in the recorded past, provided most of their own sustenance. In either case, the "host" has time to adjust to the additional numbers.35

Who will be the "host" of this planetary party? Who provides the dinner for all Earth's unexpected guests?

Accusations by popular Christian writers, like Constance Cumbey, that environmental concerns have no biblical basis and are the fruit of heresy, constitute serious obstacles to increased environmental awareness in the Christian community.

Our Response

The Christian community stands today in the midst of choice. One way is turning toward a lower consumptive standard and a greater sensitivity to the needs of creation, the other to survivalism and material prosperity. The final outcome is still very much in doubt. As Christian scholars, we share the burden of that doubt. As yet, there is neither a well-defined theology of ecology, nor a clear path by which environmental and economic concerns are expressed in Christian perspective, especially to the general public. We still have not demonstrated to the Christian laity that there is a biblical basis for environmental concern. Accusations by popular Christian writers, like Constance Cumbey, that environmental concerns have no biblical basis and are the fruit of heresy, constitute serious obstacles to increased environmental awareness in the Christian community.36

Long-standing and mature Christian interest in economics, particularly when united with professional ecologic insight, holds great hope in achieving the kind of integrated outlook on world problems so necessary to produce their solutions, but we have not yet arrived at that point. There is little to be found in contemporary Christian literature which carefully integrates economics and ecology. The time is right for those concepts to emerge. Current world ecologic and economic problems have prepared both a need and a receptiveness in the secular community for a comprehensive Christian presentation, but such opportunities do not last forever.

We cannot separate environmental and economic problems. Perhaps we are learning not to try. Our answers to both must be found together in the One in whom is hidden all the treasure of wisdom and knowledge. What we write on these issues in the future must grow up, or the world will never find in it or us the answers to their questions, or a reflection of the One we serve.



1Hardin, Garrett. "The Tragedy of the Commons," Science 162 (1968), pp. 1243-1248; see p. 1243.

2Leopold, Aldo. A Sand County Almanac, With Essays on Conservation from Round River (New York; Oxford University Press, 1966), p. 246.

3Van Dyke, Fred G. "Beyond Sand County: A Biblical Perspective on Environmental Ethics," Journal of the American Scientific Affiliation 37 (1985), pp. 40-48. Cable, Ted T. "Environmental Education at Christian Colleges," Perspectives an Science and Christian Faith 39 (1987), pp. 165-168. Walker, Laurence C. "Resource Managers and the Environmental Ethic," Journal of the American Scientific Affiliation 38 (1986), pp. 96-102. Van Dyke, op. cit. Ramon, Johan, and Richard H. Bube. "Appropriate Technology for the Third World," Journal of the Anwrican Scientific Affiliation 37 (1985), pp. 66-71. Brand, Raymond H. "At the Point of Need, " Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith 39 (1987), pp. 2-8.

4Ward, Barbara. Spaceship Earth (New York: Columbia University Press, 1966).

5Boulding, Kenneth E. "The Economics of the Coming Spaceship Earth," in Henry Jarrett, ed., Environmental Quality in a Growing Economy (Baltimore: John Hopkins Press, 1966), p. 9.

6Hardin, op. cit.

7Hardin, Garrett. "To Trouble a Star," Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists 26 (January 1970), pp. 17-20; p. 18.

8Georgescue-Roegen, Nicolas. The Entropy Law and the Economic Process (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1971). 


10Meadows, D.H., et al. The Limits to Growth (New York: Universe Books, 1972).

11Meadows, op. cit., pp. 45-46.

12Summarized in Lewis J. Perelman, The Global Mind: Beyond the Limits to Growth (New York: Mason/Charter, 1976), pp. 45-46.

13For example, on mineral reserves, see David B. Brooks and P.W. Andrews, "Mineral Resources, Economic Growth, and World Population," Science 185 (5 July 1964), pp. 13-19.

14Mesarovic, Mihajlo, and Edvard Pestel. Mankind at the Turning Point: The Second Report to the Club of Rome (New York: E.P. Dutton/Reader's Digest Press, 1974).

15Daly, Herman. Steady State Economics: The Economics of Biophysical Equilibrium and Moral Growth (San Francisco: W.H. Freeman and Co., 1977).

16 Ibid., P. 26.

17Ellul, Jacques. Money and Pouwr (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1984), p. 41.

18For an excellent discussion of Calvin's direct impacts, see John T. McNeill, The History and Character of Calvinism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1954).

19Hay, Donald. A Christian Critique of Capitalism, Grove Booklet on Ethics No. 5 (Nottingham: Grove Books, 1975).

20Wilkinson, Loren, ed. Earthkeeping. Christian Stewardship of Natural Resources (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1980).

21Paradise, Scott. "Visions of the Good Society and the Energy Debate," Anglican Theological Review 61 (January 1970), pp. 106-117.

22Longaere, Doris Jansen. The More with Less Cookbook (Scottsdale: Herald Press, 1976).

23Sider, Ronald J. Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger (Downers Grove: Intervarsity Press, 1977).

24Sider, Ronald J. Living More Simply: Biblical Principles and Practical Models (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1980).25Van Dahm, Thomas E. "The Christian Far Right and the Economic Role of the State," Christian Scholar's Review 12 (January 1983), pp. 17-36.

25North, Gary. An Introduction to Christian Economics (Craig Press, 1973). 

26Ibid,, pp. 274-276.

27Kantzer, Kenneth S. "The Cut-rate Grace of a Health and Wealth Gospel," Christianity Today 29 (14 June 1985), pp. 14-15.

29Barney, Gerald 0. The Global 2000 Report to the President of the United States, Entering the Twenty-First Century: A Report (New York: Pergamon Press, 1980).

30Simon, Julian, L. The Ultimate Resource (Pnnceton: Princeton University Press, 1981).

31Simon, Julian L., and Herman Kahn, eds. The Resourceful Earth: A Response to Global 2000 (New York: Blackwell, 1984).

32For example, Herbert Schlossberg, author of Idols for Destruction and keynote speaker at the ASA's 1984 annual meeting, upbraided Raymond Brand for "ignorance in scientific literature," "false thinking of the neomaltbusian movement," and "materialistic fallacies" in a recent letter to Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith (39:187) regarding Brand's article, "At the Point of Need." Schlossberg cited Siimon and Kahn as an authoritative refutation of these "erroneous conclusions."

 33Simon and Kahn, p. 23.

34Ibid., p. 45.

35Perlman, Mark. "The Role of Population Projection for the Year 2000," pp. 50-63 in Simon and Kahn op. cit.

36Cumbey, Constance. The Hidden Dangers of the Rainbow (Shreveport: Huntington House, 1983), pp. 162-163.

Yours is the day and yours is the night.

It was you who appointed the light and the sun.

It was you who fixed the bounds of the earth:

You who made both the summer and winter. Psalm 73:16-17

Fred Van Dyke is a wildlife research biologist with the Montana Department Of Fish, Wildlife, and Parks. He has served as Assistant Professor of Science at Fort Wayne Bible College (1983-87) and Professor of Natural History at the AuSable Institute of Environmental Studies in Michigan (1984, 1987). He received his Ph.D. in environmental and forest biology from the State University of New York-Syracuse. His publications on his research and teaching experiences have appeared in The American Biology Teacher, The journal of Wildlife Management, The Wilson Bulletin, and Raptor Research. He is a member of The Wildlife Society, The American Society of Mammalogists, and the ASA's Commission on the Global Environment.