Science in Christian Perspective
Tearing Down the Green:
Richard T. Wright
Environmental Backlash in the Evangelical Sub-Culture
255 Grapevine Road
Wenham, MA 01984
From: PSCF 47 (June 1995): 80-91.
The environmental movement has a political agenda that has
enjoyed some success and in the process generated a significant backlash
movement. Evangelical Christians are on both sides of this controversy,
causing no small confusion in the ranks of believers. Several case studies
of anti-environmentalism show the dimensions of this controversy: 1. Criticism
of the Evangelical Declaration on the Care of Creation; 2. The charge that
global eco-war is being planned as a way for government to gain more control
over people; 3. The emergence of the Wise Use movement; 4. The writings
of E. Calvin Beisner and Larry Burkett, an economist and a financial advisor,
challenging environmentalism from a Christian perspective; and others. Some
people argue that the battles over environmentalism are basically political,
and that the Christian attack on the environmental movement is primarily
a political attack from the right in the name of Christianity. In this paper,
I explore the scientific dimensions of the controversy--that the anti-environmentalists
use poor scientific work and discount the mainstream scientific consensus
on the environment. Next, a look at the religious dimensions shows that
both sides in this controversy use Scripture to support their views. I then
explore the fundamental world view differences between environmentalists
and the backlash movement. I conclude that a Christian world view does not
conform to either camp, but calls people of faith to care for the environment
because it is God's good creation and we are to be His stewards.
Environmentalism represents a broad spectrum of people and organizations
with a strong interest in protecting the natural world and encouraging greater
human concern for that world. It is fair to say that environmentalism intends
to cause changes in how people relate to the natural world -- that is, changes
in people's behavior and in public policy. Because it also involves people's
beliefs and values, there is often a religious dimension to the environmental
movement. Other components to the movement include science, education, and
economics. But environmentalism has primarily a political agenda, and during
the past 25 years, environmentalists have been successful in implementing
action in support of that agenda.
Recent years have seen a growing reaction to environmentalism -- an environmental
backlash. This reaction has arisen as a response to some beliefs and actions
of environmentalists, especially those that have had a perceived or real
economic impact on individuals or organizations. This movement also has
a political agenda; they want to restrict the regulatory powers of government.
One strategy of this movement is to call into question most of the scientific
claims of the environmentalists about resources, pollution, and population.
Another is to label the movement as politically socialistic and religiously
pagan or earth-worshiping.
Evangelical Christians can be found on both sides of environmental issues:
some are highly supportive of environmental concern, calling for Christians
to take more seriously their calling to be stewards of God's Creation. Others,
however, are critical of environmentalists, citing the political directions
and anti-Christian religious elements found in the movement.
What are we to make of this controversy? Environmentalist vs. anti-environmentalist
has all the appearances of a clash of basic world views; to confuse matters,
some of the Christians on both sides are claiming to have scientific findings
and biblical truth supporting their position. Is this another case of the
Christian world chasing after secular movements and putting a Christian
spin on them? Is there a unique Christian world view to be clarified and
distinguished from both movements? Do the two sides have different political
orientations? What are we to make of both sides' claims that they have strong
scientific support for their views and agendas? We begin an answer to these
questions by presenting several case studies of anti-environmentalism.
Evangelical Declaration on the Care of Creation
The newly created Evangelical Environmental Network, associated with Evangelicals
for Social Action, has drawn up a 1600-word declaration on Christian concern
for the environment1 (see p. 110) and is soliciting endorsements from many
evangelical leaders around the country. It is a strongly worded, uncompromising
document that calls on Christians to acknowledge the extent of degradation
of the Creation, to repent of attitudes and actions that have continued
that degradation, and to commit anew to being a good steward of God's Creation
and to providing justice for people who do not enjoy "creation's bounty"
-- the developing world. The declaration encourages Christians to join with
others -- Christians and "all those who are concerned about the healing
of creation" -- to work toward changing how people relate to the natural
Having obtained a copy of the circulating Declaration, World responded in
November 1993, with a news analysis/editorial entitled "Are God's Resources
Finite?"2 that was critical of the Declaration. The World broadside
has resulted in an editorial battle, reflected in a recent Prism3 (published
by Evangelicals for Social Action). The thrust of World's analysis, written
largely by Christian economist and author E. Calvin Beisner, is that the
Declaration is seriously flawed. In declaring that the environment (the
Creation) is being degraded at all, claims of environmental degradation
are said to be highly exaggerated and largely false. Beisner accuses the
authors of mimicking "the claims of crisis current in the popular press
and the secular environmental movement without checking the credibility
of those claims." The editorial lists the drafters of the Declaration
and challenges their "expertise in environmental science and theory."
Citing a few positive principles in the Declaration, Beisner then charges
that the document is weak theologically and reflects a faulty view of resources
and human relationships with the natural world. Beisner is optimistic about
human creativity and accomplishments, and points to a world that is getting
better, not worse, under human dominion.
Criticism of environmentalism is consistent with World's general stance
on environmental issues. For example, environmentalists are pictured as
deliberately putting people out of work by their involvement in the controversies
over timber harvesting and endangered species like the spotted owl,4 and
by their promotion of governmental regulations to reduce pollution.5 World
compares the EPA and the OSHA with the Gestapo, claiming that regulations
go "far beyond minimal standards for good health. The social engineers
of our government are absolutely committed to bigger government and national
Other Christian journals -- Moody Monthly, Christianity Today, World Vision,
for example -- have tended to take the message coming from the environmentalist
side quite seriously, and have strongly promoted Christian environmental
stewardship as the proper Christian response to environmental ills.6 World,
however, is not alone in challenging the environmentalist message in evangelical
Earth in the Balance
In 1992, then-Senator Al Gore published a book on the environment, Earth
in the Balance,7 that became a bestseller. The book is somewhat autobiographical,
documenting Gore's experiences and beliefs that have led him to produce
a book that is an environmentalist's dream. Here is a leading politician,
now Vice-President, who speaks the language of environmentalism, understands
the scientific literature, and is calling for the environment to be the
central organizing principle of the 21st Century.
Gore claims that our civilization has lost its crucial connections with
the natural world, and seems equally disconnected with the future; it is
now embarked on a collision course with the environment, which is our life
support system. After documenting the crises of air pollution, global warming,
ozone layer depletion, water pollution, deforestation, soil erosion, and
the like, Gore states: "Unless we find a way to dramatically change
our civilization and our way of thinking about the relationship between
humankind and the earth, our children will inherit a wasteland."8
refers to his basic Christian beliefs and sketches out an eco-theology,
which he expands to include all of the world's religions in pointing to
the need for a spiritual change to weather the crisis. The book also provides
details of a "Global Marshall Plan," some of which are quite radical,
to turn our political and economic systems towards solving, not making worse,
our environmental problems.
Late in 1992, the Spiritual Counterfeits Project Journal (SCP) published
an entire issue called "The Way of Ecology."9 The issue contains,
among other articles, a review of Gore's book entitled "America's Ecological
Millennium -- Al Gore in the Balance" by Doug Groothuis. Groothuis
addresses Gore's roles as environmentalist and Christian, and does so in
a balanced way. But the main article of the issue is "The View from
Iron Mountain -- Planning Global Eco-War" by Brooks Alexander. Alexander
refers to a disturbing book published anonymously in the late 1960's, Report
from Iron Mountain on the Possibility and Desirability of Peace. This book
purports to be written by a participant in high-level discussions who must
remain anonymous to protect his reputation. It describes a series of meetings
addressing the question of what would happen to the United States if a condition
of "permanent peace" should arrive -- and a program of how to
deal with the consequences.
The book describes how the participants (also anonymous) laid out a thesis
for the necessity of war to maintain internal stability in nations, concluding
that the elimination of war might lead to such social and political unrest
in societies that peace can be seen as a threat to those societies. The
"report" concluded that war would have to be replaced, if peace
were to "break out," with something that would play the same role
in maintaining stability, a response to some large threat that would mobilize
a society in much the same way a war does. If the threat does not exist,
the group maintained, it must be invented. The "group" proposed
several candidates, but concluded that the most likely substitute for war
would be environmentalism.
Enter Al Gore. Gore tells us "we must make the rescue of the environment
the central organizing principle for civilization." Alexander goes
for the jugular: here is the manifestation of our new war-substitute --
global eco-war. He admits that Gore may not have even read Iron Mountain
(but suspects that he has), but clearly his program fills the bill admirably
for that new organizing principle that will keep nations internally stable.
Alexander's fear is that what is now happening in society -- the persistent
message that we are in danger of seriously damaging our planet and its atmosphere
-- is a threat manufactured to serve the needs of those who want government
to conduct social management of its people and perhaps forge an international
agency with control over other nations. In effect, the ecological crisis
is part of a political conspiracy. Other articles in the issue reinforce
The Wise Use Movement and Rush Limbaugh
Mainstream anti-environmentalism is seen most clearly in what is called
the Wise Use Movement, and in the work of Rush Limbaugh. On Feb. 4, 1992,
ABC News Nightline featured a debate between Al Gore and Rush Limbaugh called
"The Environmental Movement's Latest Enemy."10 The newscast setup
for the debate presented the views of a group called the Wise Use Movement.
Their spokesperson, Ron Arnold of the Center for Defense of Free Enterprise,
states: "We intend to destroy the environmental movement once and for
all by offering a better alternative, the `wise-use' movement."11 This
movement consists of a loosely organized group of private landholders and
organizations whose common interest is maintaining freedom of access to
public lands -- the motorcycle industry, oil companies, mining groups, the
timber industry, and the National Rifle Association. The movement has nothing
good to say about environmentalists: they are "anti-people and pro-owls,"
they "exaggerate their claims in order to gain control" (e.g.,
ozone depletion, toxic pollution, endangered species needs, etc.), they
are "tree-worshiping pagans," and their activities are "stifling
the economy and putting people out of work." For financial support,
Arnold has also tapped into the American Freedom Coalition, an arm of Sun
Myung Moon's Unification Church.
Rush Limbaugh applauds the efforts of the Wise Use Movement to contain environmentalism
and explains in his presentation how the environmentalists have promoted
a fragile earth and a crisis mentality. Limbaugh calls them the new home
of socialism and a doomsday industry who want to shut down business. He
asserts that their activities are an assault on the American way of life.12
Speaking on the newscast for the environmental community are Bruce Hamilton
from the Sierra Club and, of course, Al Gore. Hamilton admits that the Wise
Use Movement has to be taken seriously by the environmental movement, and
counters their claims about the damage being done by environmentalism. Gore
responds to Limbaugh's charge that ozone layer problems are highly exaggerated
by referring to specific scientific findings in support of a damaged layer.
Gore also reaffirms his conviction that the earth is indeed fragile, and
that human beings can do serious damage to the global environment. The televised
debate ends with the opponents hopelessly disagreeing on everything except
the importance of paying attention to the business community and affirming
capitalism and democracy.13
Healthy Growth or A Fading American Dream?
Without any doubt the two most prominent critics of environmentalism from
within the Evangelical fold are E. Calvin Beisner and Larry Burkett. Beisner's
book Prospects for Growth14 is directed toward refuting the notion that
human population growth and resource use are problems. His editorial in
World is likely a preview of a book on the radical environmental world view.
In the editorial, Beisner counters each of the "degradations of creation"
listed in the Evangelical Declaration, and concludes that there is no serious
environmental problem in the world today.
In his book, Beisner leans heavily on biblical passages that (1) present
children as a blessing from God as proof of the mandate to multiply and
fill the earth (he points out that the earth is not yet filled); and (2)
support the derived ideas that humans are "subordinate owners"
of the earth (Psalm 115:16), not just stewards; and that God-given human
creativity, reflected in our present civilization, more than cancels the
negative impacts that the Fall has had on the Creation -- i.e., things are
getting better, not worse.
For his "scientific" sources, Beisner taps into the work of the
prominent anti-environmentalists Julian Simon, Herman Kahn, Fred Singer,
and Dixie Lee Ray, and chooses to ignore the evidence against his views
that can easily be found (see, for example, publications of the World Resources
Institute,15 Worldwatch Institute,16 and World
Bank,17 all of which broadly
represent current research and consensus in the scientific community). Beisner,
it seems, takes the views of the more conspicuous anti-environmentalists
and puts a Christian spin on them, concluding that more growth in human
population and resource use is not only environmentally sound, but is also
justifiable from a Christian perspective.
Larry Burkett is a well-known financial advisor and president of Christian
Financial Concepts, a ministry designed to promote "God's principles
for financial management." Unlike Beisner, Burkett is pessimistic about
the future, and has laid out the reasons for his pessimism in What Ever
Happened to the American Dream.18 Burkett's American Dream is the expectation
that each generation could, with hard work, live better than the previous
generation. Two fundamental processes are causing that dream to fade: the
enormous federal debt built up over the past two decades, and the growing
burden of governmental regulations. This book addresses the latter problem;
an earlier book deals more directly with the debt problem.19
Burkett targets the problem of environmental regulations in detail. In brief,
Burkett holds that environmental extremists have gained control over the
political process, having done so by frightening the public into believing
that environmental problems are far more serious than they are. The problems
of global warming, acid rain, ozone depletion, asbestos, and pesticide use
-- to cite the most prominent ones -- are overblown precisely so that environmental
extremists can gain control of our political system. Behind them are the
mainline scientists who use scare tactics to get unquestioned public support
for their scientific empires. The net effect of the regulations is to lay
on the economy an enormous burden of unnecessary costs that saps the strength
of the economy and are dooming Americans to a future in decline (while we
watch jobs evaporate or disappear overseas).
To support his "scientific" pronouncements, Burkett cites many
articles from New American, an ultra-right wing journal, and many popular
writings of anti-environmentalists used by Beisner as authoritative sources.
Burkett consistently ignores the writings of mainstream scientists in favor
of the journalists and others with a clearly political axe to grind. The
book contains many statements that lack scientific support; they are simply
untrue. For example, writing about how DDT was withdrawn by the EPA because
of its impacts on birds, especially raptors like the bald eagle and osprey,
Burkett states: "...there is no (repeat no) evidence to support any
of the wild claims made about DDT."20
Burkett is perhaps at his very worst when he takes on global warming (Ch.
8: The Global Warming Myth) and ozone depletion (Ch. 9: The Hole in the
Ozone Myth). He repeats many criticisms of these climatic phenomena, essentially
all of which have been thoroughly refuted in the refereed scientific literature.
For example, writing about the chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), Burkett states:
"CFCs are significantly heavier than the Earth's air, and no one to
date has explained how they would 'float' into the upper atmosphere"
-- this in spite of the fact that CFCs have been so carefully measured in
all parts of the atmosphere that essentially all that have ever been produced
have been accounted for.21 A spectacular example of Burkett's inexpertise
is seen in his reference to some 910,000 metric tons of CO2 coming from
the Mt. St. Helen's eruption as "dwarfing the output of CO2 of all
industrial sources"17 -- completely oblivious of the fact that the
annual release of CO2 from the burning of fossil fuels is more than 18 billion
Gaia, New Age, Eco-Feminism, and Deep Ecology
Out on the fringes of the environmental movement are several ideologies
with strong religious thrusts. Gaia--earth goddess of the ancient Greeks--has
been resurrected to give substance to a semi-scientific hypothesis that
the earth can be regarded as a single living entity with capabilities of
self-regulation. In other words, life itself controls the environment to
suit its own needs. The New Age Movement and radical feminist groups have
embraced the concept of an earth Mother in their religious thinking. Earth
becomes sacred (as in many pagan religions), and therefore environmental
degradation becomes a blasphemous act. The most radical form of environmental
"religion" is Deep Ecology--an ideology that assumes all of life
to be on an equal footing and strongly opposes mainstream environmentalism,
Christianity, Gaia, and New Age visions of how humans should relate to nature.
Deep Ecology rejects any form of human control of the natural world. The
first issue of SCP Journal for 1991 was devoted to an analysis of these
"environmental religions"; Themelíos has also presented
some excellent reviews of these "Green religions."23
Some Christians are quite concerned with what they see as a tendency to
embrace elements of this new "Ecotheology," in a desire to unite
with all who are willing to work towards more responsible stewardship of
the Creation. Some see a willingness to make Earthkeeping the main thrust
of the Church's message, downplaying the evangelistic thrust of the gospel
and blending Christianity with paganism. The Evangelical Declaration on
the Care of Creation makes a clear effort to avoid these two errors.
Christian Guilt for the Ecological Crisis
For many years and in many contexts, Christianity has been castigated for
being the source of Western civilization's willingness to make full use
of the earth and natural species to further human progress. This accusation
began with Lynn White's article in Science, 1967, entitled "The Historic
Roots of Our Ecologic Crisis."24 White traced both modern science and
technology to Christian doctrines of human dominion and the notion of progress,
and claimed that exploitation of the environment was a consequence of Christianity.
This claim has been addressed by many, including myself.25 I pointed out
that irresponsible exploitation of the environment could be found in many
cultures not influenced by Christianity, and that the real source of the
problem is to be found in the human heart-- that human pride, greed, and
carelessness are the source of our ecological crisis.
Writing in SCP Journal, Coffman and Alexander, referring to White's charge,
saw the possibility that a new generation of "earth protectors"
will actively prosecute a campaign against biblical Christianity because
of its perceived "earthcrimes." SCP Journal pictures a violent
world view clash between "the anthropocentric" Christian ethic
that has dominated Western culture, and a new, biocentric, mystic-pantheistic
Green religion that will seek to water down Christian belief and fuel a
political and social revolution where earth is revered.26
Sex Education and Family Planning
Although pretty far afield from these ideological issues, it should be noted
that evangelical Christians are usually in the forefront of protests against
sex education in public school systems, and are highly critical of the international
family planning movement.27 There are several concerns here. The most important
one is a strong pro-life stance that sees abortion as one option promoted
in many family planning programs. A second concern is that sex education
will encourage sexual activity in teen-agers because of its explicit explanations
of the birds and the bees and especially, contraceptive techniques.
On the other side of these issues are people concerned about teen-age pregnancies
and the spread of AIDS, who argue that sex education holds the only possibility
of changing the behavior of teen-agers in a pluralistic society like ours.
The increasing incidence of teen-agers with AIDS, acquired heterosexually,
has pushed this controversy to the front burner.
Their aversion to abortion has led many Christians to oppose any notion
that population growth is a serious problem. In doing so, they are in direct
conflict with one of the most pervasive of environmental concerns: that
human population growth continues to cause widespread environmental degradation
and places unsustainable demands on resources. Family planning programs
represent the most logical and cost-effective way to help nations reduce
their fertility.28Dimensions of the Controversy
Concerns about the environment -- which we as Christians can properly view
as part of God's Creation -- have been around even before the first Earth
Day in 1970. However, since the early 70s, environmentalism has gathered
steam and has become a true movement in our society and in many other parts
of the world. There are all shades of environmentalists, and they are often
a part of a large and influential collection of what are called NGOs (non-governmental
organizations). These organizations effectively mobilize grass-roots activism
by putting together a constituency of like-minded people, keeping them informed,
and acting to promote their agendas in local and global arenas. The environmental
NGOs are now a well-recognized interest group, with lobbying activities
in Washington and local or regional offices to carry out their campaigns
for membership and political action.
Some prominent NGOs are the Sierra Club, the National (and local) Audubon
Societies, The Wilderness Society, The League of Conservation Voters, Greenpeace,
Zero Population Growth, The Union of Concerned Scientists, etc. These groups
have become politically wise -- they know how Washington works. It is a
game of power and influence, with the stakes often going to those who can
garner the most media coverage or generate the most letters and telegrams
to key Congressional politicians or regulatory agencies. Their critics suggest
that even the best-intentioned environmental interest groups will be tempted
to exaggerate on an issue to generate membership support.
Politically, environmental interest groups have tended to lean to the left
of center -- not, I believe, because of any intrinsic socialist philosophy,
but because they have found more support from politicians who seem to be
concerned with social issues and are less willing to favor the big business
interests, who also have their influence on the political scene. Environmentalists
are highly skeptical of classic American capitalism, with its minimalist,
hands-off approach to regulation. Accordingly, the Democratic Party has
more frequently been seen as the party for environmentalists. The presidential
parade of the last two decades has helped draw the political lines for the
environmental movement; Jimmy Carter and now the Clinton-Gore team are viewed
as having strong environmental ties, while the Reagan years are regarded
as the low point, environmentally, with Bush attempting to make some corrections
in the Republican record. The 1994 Republican tide that swept the Congress
will undoubtedly create some challenging times for environmental concerns.
It is conventional wisdom that Washington bureaucrats -- especially those
in the regulatory agencies -- tend to favor the regulatory approach to solving
environmental problems, whereas the parties being regulated -- business
and industry in particular -- view every regulation as a drag on the economy
and worse -- an infringement on the freedom of the market system that has
been a hallmark of the American way. Environmentalists point to the need
for and, then, the successes of regulation in such legislation as the Clean
Air Act, the Endangered Species Act, the several acts dealing with Toxic
Waste (Superfund, Toxic Substances Control Act, etc.), and the ongoing work
of such Federal agencies as the EPA, the Fish and Wildlife Service, the
FDA, and the OSHA.
Those on the political right, whose views are quite effectively expressed
by Rush Limbaugh, contend that excessive regulation has led to economic
disaster in case after case, and is part of a general political malaise.
Some Christians echo these sentiments, for example, Larry Burkett says,
"Most of our regulations are not designed for solving problems, but
rather to expand the government's authority."29
As the case studies above have shown, anti-environmentalists often speak
in terms of conspiracies and intrigue, where the motives ascribed to environmentalists
are designed to paint them as communists or socialists with a lust for power,
control, and manipulation. I think this strategy is counterproductive, as
it clearly strains the credibility of all but those who are committed to
conspiracy theories. Interestingly, these charges can also be found in The
New American, a journal sponsored by the John Birch Society. This journal
is a major source of the "science" used by Larry Burkett in What
Ever Happened to the American Dream!
My point here is to make it clear that the classical political alignments
are very important in understanding the views different people and groups
have about the environment. Environmental concerns have ceased being apple
pie and motherhood issues (in the words of Ted Koppel), and are now part
of the larger political dichotomy that pits conservatives against liberals,
businesses against regulators, economists against ecologists, with all shades
from far right to far left to be found. The farther to the political right
one is, the more anti-environmental; the farther left, the more environmentalist.
These political orientations should, however, be separated from the next
two considerations -- science and religious belief -- and unfortunately,
they often are not when it comes to the question of Christian anti-environmentalism.
Obviously, where one stands politically or religiously does not need to
have anything to do with whether a person has strong environmental convictions.
However, evangelical Christians are very often drawn to the more conservative
political viewpoints because (1) they are already religiously conservative;
and (2) they perceive that the other camp contains proponents of such views
as pro-choice, equal rights, radical feminism, New Age, and secular humanism.
Who wants to keep company with these convictions? So, very often, environmental
concerns are thrown in with a lot of undesirable baggage, and discarded
with the rest of the baggage.
Concerns for toxic wastes, pesticide impacts, global warming, ozone depletion,
and routine air and water pollution were first raised by scientists with
reputable credentials. The professional scientists addressing their specialties
have tended to become the advocates for political and social change. Because
scientists have a great deal of credibility in our society, their advocacy
for environmental issues carries weight with the media, the public, and
All environmental issues are grounded in scientific work, from ecology to
demography to atmospheric chemistry. For example, the EPA makes a strong
effort to base their regulatory rules on scientific research, employing
a strategy called risk assessment to evaluate the risk of a given technology
or practice for human or environmental damage. Each environmental NGO hires
scientifically-trained staff to evaluate the copious literature that relates
to human impacts on the environment. In developing arguments for their views,
the environmental NGOs invariably call on the findings of scientists for
support. And the media follow suit.
But this is a game two can play, and the anti-environmentalists also dig
into the scientific literature to find research that supports their opposing
views. They are often successful in locating (or publishing their own) books
and journal articles written by scientists taking issue with practically
every major item in the environmental agenda.
A good example is the issue of a diminishing ozone layer in the stratosphere.
Articles and books have been published on both sides of the issue. On the
one hand, there is the claim that the increased release of CFCs from refrigerants
and solvents over the past 30 years has led to the Antarctic ozone hole
and a general thinning of the ozone layer everywhere. Yet, anti-environmental
activists bitterly oppose this view.30 However, the prevailing scientific
consensus clearly supports the CFC theory; ultraviolet radiation is definitely
on the increase because of the thinner ozone layer.31 Where does the opposition
come from, then? Here it can be traced to a few skeptics who have not done
any work in the field but have misinterpreted the scientific parameters.
The anti-environmentalists have picked up and propagated the errors, compounding
them, and continuing to make use of them in spite of repeated rejoinders
from scientists in the field showing where they are wrong. The media often
make matters worse by devoting equal time to both sides of the issue, implying
that there is equal support for the opposing views and that the truth is
likely to be somewhere in the middle.
The uninformed public -- indeed, most of us -- is therefore dependent on
whatever media source they encounter and can easily be misled into believing
exaggerations and untruths. How can this be avoided? In evaluating statements
about the environment, the best guard against swallowing untruths is to
look carefully into both sides of an issue and get in touch with the basic
scientific work underlying the issue.
In this regard, it is important to distinguish among the refereed literature,
which contains the original scientific work of the scientists working in
the environmental field; the gray literature, which consists of reports
by agencies and other organizations; and the popular literature, which is
the books and journals written for profit or propaganda.32 The reliability
of the science declines significantly in going through this progression!
Some of what poses as science is very clearly propaganda, but it is not
easy to know this unless you have dug more deeply into the literature on
a given issue, and clearly distinguish between science and interpretations
of science. Textbooks in science represent a special case, where the work
of scientists is presented in a format that attempts to synthesize the current
state of knowledge. The information from which textbook science is drawn
is always cited in the appendix or reference pages. Check these to see what
kind of literature was used for the text.
Unfortunately, the bottom line for many will be, whom do you want to trust?
Do you trust Rush Limbaugh to give you a scientifically accurate picture
of global warming and acid rain? How about Ted Koppel? Do you trust your
Christian magazine because you believe that it stands for the truth? In
the final analysis, there is no substitute for scientific literacy and the
ability to read and understand the original reports of the scientists. However,
since this literature is inaccessible to many in our society, the question
of trust remains. My recommendation would be for you to search for media
with no obvious ties to a political agenda; some examples would be this
journal (Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith), many major media
journals (Time, Newsweek, etc.), and many scientific journals (Scientific
American, Nature Conservancy, Discover, etc.)
It is evident from the case studies that religious belief plays an important
role in environmental controversies. As we saw, Christianity has been a
convenient scapegoat when questions come up about how our Western societies
have gotten themselves into environmental trouble. Furthermore, New Age,
Gaia, and Eastern religions have no trouble sanctifying and worshiping the
Earth and other elements in the created order, and so can be seen on the
side of the environmentalists. Yet there is a strong segment of evangelical
Christian thought that claims to provide the key to the environmental problems,
and their analysis is thoroughly supported by Scripture.33
The Evangelical Declaration on the Care of Creation provides a good summary
of this thinking. Until recently, the biggest problem environmentally active
Christians have had with their fellow believers was apathy -- and perhaps
that continues to be the most serious problem. Apathy toward environmental
concerns is also characteristic of the society in general, and so it is
no surprise to find it alive and well in Christian thought and practice.
Now, however, there is the emerging Christian anti-environmentalism I have
documented in this paper. The presumed biblical support for this position
is currently found primarily in Beisner's work; Burkett does not offer biblical
support for his views. For example, Beisner cites biblical passages that
encourage procreation opposing those Christians who might claim that continued
population growth is a problem, and concludes that "no state ought
to discourage fertility," and that Christians are those "who count
it a blessing to be fruitful and multiply."34
Beisner also offers presumed biblical support for his views on resources,
deriving many theological and moral standards to be applied to the management
of resources. From those principles, Beisner reasons that: (1) " man,
not the environment, is primary." If the environment is to be protected,
such protection is "for the sake of man, not for its own sake. Anything
else is idolatry of nature."35 (2) "no entity, private or public,
has proper authority to restrict others' use of property." Thus, "Planning
and control of resource use should be left to the owners of the resources."36
Beisner favors a minimization of state ownership of resources, and a maximization
of private ownership and therefore liberty to make use of God's good provision
of the earth's bounty.
It is fair to say that these views, which are derived from Scripture but
are not explicitly supported by the Bible, are controversial. At the very
least, it is possible to present opposing views supported by principles
derived from Scripture. For example, the dominion mandate (as it has been
called), from Genesis 1:26-28, can be taken to mean that God gives us a
right, as Beisner puts it, to the "free use and development of resources
. . . that the earth, with everything in it . . . was intended by God to
serve man's needs. Man was not made for the earth; the earth was made for
man."37 It can be argued equally that dominion does not mean slavery
of the rest of creation to humankind, that our task is to care for creation
as Adam was to care for the garden (Genesis 2:15), and that the earth and
the creatures in it were made to glorify God (Psalm 24), not to serve man.
As we saw above, Beisner admits that the environment should be protected,
but only because it is important to man. On the other hand, it can also
be argued that since the creation (which is the environment!) has as its
first purpose to glorify God, and God values his creation (he called it
good in Genesis 1), it is not idolatry of nature to protect creation as
One is led to the conclusion that both sides in this controversy may find
support for their environmental views from Scripture, and that the primary
orientation and motivation for searching for this support may be a prior
commitment to a world view.
World View Analysis
At this point then I would like to move to a discussion of world views.
Each of them represents a set of beliefs, supported by sources of information
believed to be accurate, and laying out an agenda for action. This perspective
helps us to sort out the controversies and perhaps put them into a Christian
Environmentalist World View
On Science: The picture we are getting from scientists
studying the interactions of human civilization and the environment is accurate.
The trends are not encouraging.
Population: Human population growth is reaching unprecedented
numbers and makes all of the other problems worse. It is increasing exactly
where it can be least well supported -- in the Third World.
Global pollution: Global warming is likely to occur because
of the increase in greenhouse gases; the ozone layer is becoming thinner
because of CFCs that have made their way up to the stratosphere.
Extinctions: Human societies are continuing to push back
natural species by replacing their habitats with cattle, roads and agriculture.
Species are probably becoming extinct at a rapid rate, but we do not know
because they have not all been found and classified.
Other Concerns: Deforestation is proceeding at an undesirable
rate, fisheries are becoming depleted because of serious overfishing, air
pollution in urban areas is creating more and more human health problems,
soil erosion is causing a large loss in productivity of heavily managed
agricultural land, toxic chemicals and nuclear power represent poorly managed
technologies that are a serious threat to humans, water pollution is degrading
much of our freshwater systems, the gap between the rich and poor countries
is getting greater, etc.
Public Policy: Our political system, from the local level
to the national level and even internationally, must respond to these trends
before they lead us into serious social and economic decline. This means
putting controls on the rates of use of biological resources like the grasslands,
forests, and fisheries. It means addressing the industries and technologies
that are responsible for pollutants that toxify the air, land, and water.
It means helping the more populous nations to reduce their fertility with
family planning methods. It even means committing ourselves to international
agreements so that we can bring about worldwide relief from global warming,
ozone depletion, and biodiversity loss. The market can be used to accomplish
some of these things, but unregulated free enterprise has always led to
greed and exploitation, not just of the natural environment but also of
Backlash World View
On Science: Most of the mainstream scientists are mistaken
about the state of the environment. They are overlooking many good things
that are happening, and exaggerating the problems, often to gain support
for their research.
Population: Overpopulation is a myth. The world is full
of unused land and can easily support many more people. Human creativity
and productivity can solve our resource and environmental problems if they
do get worse. Global pollution: The ideas of global warming and ozone depletion
are not supported by the data. Neither of these situations is likely to
happen, because the earth is robust and humans are not able to affect its
Extinction: There is no good evidence that many species
are becoming extinct. The ones that do are undoubtedly poorly adapted and
not essential to natural systems.
Other Concerns: Each environmentalist concern is exaggerated
and based on an inaccurate assessment of human interactions with the environment.
Environmental organizations need members, and they use scare tactics to
Public Policy: Because of environmental and resource concerns,
our society has built a system of regulations that impose enormous costs
on the private sector and effectively stifle economic progress. Public
lands should be opened to multiple use; mineral resources in wilderness
areas and national parks should be developed; restrictions on privately
held lands because of wetlands or endangered species should be abolished.
We should back away from any international agreements on the environment,
because of the danger of losing our sovereign rights. If the environmentalists
have their way, we will likely drift into an authoritarian, socialistic
government, perhaps even into a world government that will take away our
sovereignty. In the end, private enterprise, capitalism, and the free market
represent the best approach to solving environmental and resource problems.
The Roots of Christian Anti-Environmentalism
It would be hard to find two sets of fundamental beliefs about the world
that are more in conflict. It is as if the two camps were living in two
different worlds. At every turn, they will disagree about what we should
The primary concern in this paper is to understand environmental backlash
within evangelical Christianity. As I have looked into this subject, I have
become convinced that Christian anti-environmentalism can be traced directly
to political commitments. The arguments about how questionable the science
supporting environmentalism is, and the influences of New Age and pagan
religions on environmentalists are not the basic issue--but red herrings.
The religious argument is true only of the radical fringe of the environmental
movement. The science argument is patently indefensible when it is scrutinized
carefully. Even many political arguments -- the conspiracies, the socialistic
and authoritarian control -- are tactics calculated to generate fear and
antagonism, and are a direct offspring of the cold war. It is a fact that
the political right has lost its traditional enemy -- world communism --
and appears to be in the process of replacing it with world environmentalism.
The Christian political right is following right along the party line with
the John Birchers, Wise Use Movement and Rush Limbaugh. This does not reflect
well on the Gospel!
There is a solid core of environmentalists -- and Christians -- who reject
the radical fringe of the environmental movement and stand solidly with
the mainstream of the science community as they document what is happening
to the earth -- not for political reasons, but out of a deep love of nature
and often out of sincere humanitarian concern. They deplore the tactics
of the anti-environmentalists as they try to caricature the whole environmental
movement by some tactics and beliefs of fringe groups, and deliberately
downplay and deny unmistakable evidence that all is not right with the earth.
Christian World View
It is the duty of all Christians to develop a uniquely biblical world view
-- that is, to bring biblical truth to bear on all of life, and not to accept
everything that comes to us from a culture that is thoroughly secular and
often destructive to Christian thought and practice. There is a spiritual
battle going on, and it is going to be felt in all of the affairs of humans.
The world view conflict between environmentalists and anti-environmentalists
reflects the spiritual condition of fallen humankind very well. These two
sides have different visions of the good life and how to achieve it. Neither
side understands the biblical doctrine of human depravity and the inability
to escape its consequences. Neither side understands the environment as
God's creation, nor humans as appointed both to dominion and stewardship
acting as God's viceregents and imaging him.
We do not need to embrace either of these camps and become the religious
camp-followers that they might want to provide some moral legitimacy to
their agendas.38 On the positive side, the biblical world view may hold
the key to this controversy. We do not owe our allegiance to any political
party or philosophy, but to a higher authority. What the earth needs are
stewards, people who see themselves as caring for something that does not
belong to them--God's good creation--which should be protected and justly
shared with present and future generations. Christian stewardship should
be a natural outworking of our common faith; if more Christians were to
take their stewardly calling seriously, we could hold up our faith and practice
as "essential to the solution of our ecological problems," as
the Evangelical Declaration puts it.
©1995 Americian Scientific Affiliation
1The December/January 1994 issue of Prism contains the text of the Evangelical
Declaration on the Care of Creation, and an article by Calvin B. DeWitt,
"Take Good Care -- It's God's Earth."
2World 8: 27: Nov. 27, 1993, pp. 10-13.
3Prism 1: 2: Dec./Jan. 1994, p. 7.
4World: March 20-27, 1993, p. 33; June 18, 1994, pp. 10-13.
5World: Sept. 4, 1993, pp. 22, 24.
6See World Vision, April-May 1993, Calvin DeWitt with Ken Sidey, "A
Question of Balance: Poverty or Pollution," pp. 4-7; Moody Monthly,
Oct. 1989, Jim Morud, "Creation Groans: Are Christians Listening?";
and a special presentation of the CT Institute in Christianity Today, April
4, 1994, "Eco-Myths" -- a series of articles by David Livingstone,
Calvin B. DeWitt, Loren Wilkinson and Kenneth Kantzer.
7Al Gore, Earth in the Balance: Ecology and the Human Spirit (Boston: Houghton
Mifflin Company, 1992).
9Spiritual Counterfeits Project (SCP) Journal 17:3, 1992.
10I featured this newsclip in a video case study in my co-authored text,
Environmental Science: The Way the World Works, 4th Ed., Bernard J. Nebel
and Richard T. Wright (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1993). This
and many other newsclips are made available to those adopting the text for
11See articles in the Boston Globe, Jan. 13, 1992 and Oct. 20, 1992; New
York Times, Dec. 19, 1991
12Limbaugh lays out his anti-environmental manifesto in The Way Things Ought
to Be (New York: Pocket Books, 1992), especially in chapter 15: "Sorry,
But the Earth is not Fragile," pp. 152-168; and, most recently, in
See, I Told You So (New York: Pocket Books, 1993). Don Trent Jacobs analyzes
Limbaugh's rhetoric in The Bum's Rush: The Selling of Environmental Backlash
(Boise, ID: Legendary Publishing Company, 1994).
13For reactions to the Wise Use Movement from environmental groups, see:
Wilderness, Spring 1993, Margaret Knox, "The World According to Cushman,"
pp. 28-36; Audubon, Sept.-Oct. 1992, Kate O'Callaghan, "Whose Agenda
for America?," pp. 80-91; National Parks, March/April, 1993, Richard
M. Stapleton, "A Call to Action," pp. 37-40; also, see Carl Deal,
The Greenpeace Guide to Anti-Environmental Organizations (Berkeley, CA:
Odonian Press, 1993).
14E. Calvin Beisner, Prospects for Growth (Westchester, Il: Crossway Books,
15The World Resources Institute, World Resources 1994-95 (New York: Oxford
Univ. Press, 1994).
16Lester R. Brown et al., State of the World 1994 (New York: W.W. Norton,
1994); Worldwatch Institute also publishes a series of Worldwatch Papers
dealing with specific issues.
17The World Bank, World Development Report 1992: Development and the Environment
(New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1992).
18Larry Burkett, What Ever Happened to the American Dream (Chicago: Moody
19Larry Burkett, The Coming Economic Earthquake (Chicago: Moody Press, 1991).
20Larry Burkett, What Ever Happened to the American Dream, p. 131. This
information is thoroughly refuted by the literature; see, for example, George
W. Cox, Conservation Biology (Dubuque IA: Wm.C. Brown, 1993) where pp. 138-142
clearly document the scientific work establishing DDT's harm to wildlife.
21Larry Burkett, Whatever Happened to the American Dream, p. 110.
22This is well-established information. See, e.g., Table 23.1 in The World
Resources Institute, World Resources 1994-95, where CO2 emissions from industrial
processes are documented for every country in the world.
23SCP Journal 16:1, 1991, Brooks Alexander, "Gaia: Sects & Squabbles,"
pp. 8-9; Brooks Alexander, "Deep Ecology," pp. 10-17; Alison Lentini,
"The Goddess Comes of Age," pp. 18-22; Themelíos 16:3,
Steve Bishop, "Green Theology and Deep Ecology: New Age or New Creation?,"
pp. 8-14; Themelíos 18:3, Loren Wilkinson, "Gaia Spirituality:
A Christian Critique," pp. 4-8.
24Science 155, 1967, Lynn White, Jr., "The Historical Roots of our
Ecologic Crisis," pp. 1203-1206.
25See Bioscience 20, 1970, Richard T. Wright, "Responsibility for the
Ecological Crisis," pp. 851-853, and Chapter 9 (Stewards of Creation)
in Richard T. Wright, 1989, Biology Through the Eyes of Faith (San Francisco:
26SCP Journal, 1992, Michael Coffman and Brooks Alexander, "Eco-Religion
and Cultural Change," pp. 15-23.
27See, for example, Radix 22:1, 1993, Shirley Palmer, "What Shall We
Teach Our Children? Sex Education in Today's Schools," pp. 12-15, 28-29;
and World, Dec. 11, 1993, Roy Maynard, "Non-sexual Revolution,"
28A well-reasoned work on this issue by Susan Power Bratton (Six Billion
and More, Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1992) gives
an environmentally informed but Christian perspective on population issues.
29Larry Burkett, World, Sept. 4, 1993, p. 24.
30Rush Limbaugh, The Way Things Ought To Be, pp. 154 ff; Rogelio A. Maduro
and Ralf Schauerhammer, The Holes in the Ozone Scare: The Scientific Evidence
That the Sky Isn't Falling (Washington: 21st Century Science Associates,
31Science 256, 1992, Richard Stolarski et al., "Measured Trends in
Stratospheric Ozone," pp. 342-349; Science 262, 1993, J. B. Kerr and
C. T. McElroy, "Evidence for Large Upward Trends of Ultraviolet-B Radiation
Linked to Ozone Depletion," pp. 1032-1034; see a discussion of this
controversy in Science 260, 1993, F. Sherwood Rowland, "President's
Lecture: The Need for Scientific Communication with the Public," pp.
32See Earth-Wise, Calvin B. DeWitt, p. 29 (Grand Rapids, MI: CRC Publications,
33There is a rich literature in support of these views; see, for example,
in Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith 46:2, 1994, articles by DeWitt
and Bube, and a review of Healing the Earth: A Theological Perspective on
Environmental Problems and Their Solutions, by Richard A. Young (Nashville,
TN: Broadman and Holman Publishers, 1994).
34Beisner, Prospects For Growth, pp. 176-177.
35Ibid., pp. 164-165.
36Ibid., pp. 166-168.
37Ibid., p. 165.
38Fred Van Dyke addresses this concern in Perspectives on Science and Christian
Faith 43, 1991,"Ecology and the Christian Mind: Christians and the
Environment in a New Decade," pp.174-185.