The Declaration produced by the Environmental Commission of the Diocese of British Columbia stated the hope that it would “bear witness to the wider church and to others beyond the Christian faith”. While the Declaration might be convincing to believers, I doubt if it would make much sense to secular people.
The primary objection to the declaration likely to be raised by secular people centers on your claim that God’s original design of creation was one of “order and perfection” (Declaration 8) and reflected “God’s original love and harmony” (Declaration 10). Instead, any careful observer of nature is bound to find ample evidence disorder, imperfection, cruelty, and discord. Charles Darwin expressed this observation most clearly when he wrote to a friend:
“I own I cannot see, as plainly as others do, & as I shd. wish to, evidence of design & beneficence on all sides of us. There seems too much misery in the world. I cannot persuade myself that a beneficent & omnipotent God would have designedly created the Ichneumonidae (a family of wasps) with the express intention of their feeding within the living bodies of caterpillars, or that a cat should play with mice.”
Christians do not have any feelings for the caterpillars that are eaten from
the inside out by the wasp larvae. They may not even react when seeing a cat
torturing a mouse. I wonder, however, why Christians who feel “called to
respect all life forms” have no sympathy for the seals slaughtered by the polar
bears or the deer ripped apart and devoured by wolves. I wonder if they might
react to the behavior of chimpanzees described in the Science
section of the New York Times by Michael Wilson, an assistant professor of
anthropology at the University of Minnesota:
“When they’re hunting red colobus monkeys, they will either kill the monkeys first or simply immobilize them and start eating them while they’re still alive,” Dr. Wilson said. “The monkey will continue screaming and thrashing as they pull its guts out, which is very unpleasant for humans who are watching.”
Who trusted God was love indeed
And love Creation's final law
Tho' Nature, red in tooth and claw
With ravine, shriek'd against his creed (In Memoriam A. H. H., 1850)
The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them. The cow and the bear shall graze, their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. (Isaiah 11:6-7)
Although the possibility of wolves, bears, leopards, and lions becoming total vegetarians seems remote, the vision of animals living at peace with one another has had a strong appeal to people who are appalled by the nastiness of nature in the wild. Edward Hicks (1780-1849) portrayed nature the way it ought to be in his now famous painting entitled “Peaceable Kingdom”. The difference between the painting and reality could not be more obvious. The painting asserts that something is definitely wrong with nature. And whose fault is that?
The Environmental Commission of your diocese has declared that environmental problems are the fault of human beings who “introduce disorder into God’s creation” (Declaration 7). The “original design of order and perfection” was “distorted when humans placed themselves at the centre of Creation” (Declaration 8). Although human beings certainly can have a negative impact on the environment, they did not introduce disorder. Scientists such as Stephen Jay Gould have shown that disorder has been the norm since earth came into being. Moreover, no reputable scientist accepts the idea that the earth was formed according to an original design, so no prior order and perfection existed for human beings to distort. I am afraid that any secular person educated in the sciences would find the Environmental Declaration to be based on faulty premises.
Equally unacceptable are some of the “thoughts” included with the Declaration, such as: “All parts of the Creation are good because they are created by God.” Try convincing a person suffering from HIV/AIDS that all retroviruses are good or a person with malaria that all parasites are good. Unless you believe that a loving God lovingly designed these little life forms to cull the human herd, you will probably conclude that many parts of nature are not good at all. They are the enemies of the larger life forms, and human beings must continue the work of eradicating the pathogens that bring sickness, misery, and death.
doubt that any genuinely secular person would be persuaded by the Declaration,
I imagine that any committed environmentalist would be happy to see religious
groups urging their members to take responsibility for the well-being of the
planet. Cooperation is possible between Christians and secular people in
preserving or restoring a healthy environment. Such cooperation, however, often
depends on mutual respect. If we Christians want the respect of evolutionary
biologists and ecologists, however, I think we should be careful in our use of
theological language. Using words like “God” and “design” and “Creation” in the
same sentence immediately brings to mind the notion of Intelligent Design being
promoted by fundamentalists, who used to call their theory “Creation Science”.
The situation in Canada