The Nature of Nature πŸƒ

When one is attempting to define time periods on the geological scale, it’s important to find both very broad and wide-reaching similarities that separate them from other periods. As a result, it is often best to use geological functions, such as the changing of the climate, or an extinction-level event like an asteroid impact, to define an era of Earth’s history. However, prior to the development of humans, all periods were defined by natural phenomena, or blind chance. This is what makes the idea of the Anthropocene such a fascinating idea. The idea that we as a species have become so wide-reaching that we have fundamentally altered the very composition of our planet’s surface is both awe-inspiring and terrifying. The moment humans began creating stone tools and laying down the seeds of agriculture, we have been changing the planet to suit our needs. But never before has this become so wholly apparent. As industrialization forces us to utilize greater and greater percentages of the natural world, we must stop and ponder the question: Have we gone too far?

The two articles which we have been presented analyze this question, and offer solutions to a world crushed by the weight of humanity and technological “progress.” The first is a scientific journal entry by Lynn White, Jr. He mentions how “it was not until about four generations ago that Western Europe and North America arranged a marriage between science and technology, a union of the theoretical and the empirical approaches to our natural environment. (White 2)” For generations people had been studying the world in a scientific manner. And for generations people have been adapting and creating new technological tools with which their lives could be improved. Their fusion and ubiquity in our modern society is a newer process, heralded by the Scientific Revolution and similar processes, but such industrializing efforts have been going on much longer, such as the invention of the water mill in the first century BCE.

In any case, White correctly points out that what we often think of as the “Western world” has arrived at the conclusion that the domination of nature is necessary for humanity to prosper. Such ideas have perpetuated, although alternative ideas have since emerged. He believes that the influence of Christianity in Europe may be the primary culprit for this, claiming that “Christianity, in absolute contrast to ancient paganism and Asia’s religions, not only established a dualism of man and nature but also insisted that it is God’s will that man exploit nature for his proper ends. (White 4)” The idea that we are allowed, if not encouraged, to exploit nature for the sake of man thus appears to be Christian in nature. It is therefore interesting to approach the second article, which deals with the same problem of humanity’s destruction and abuse of nature, yet is written by the head of the Catholic Church.

Pope Francis speaks of the ecological plight humanity faces due to its actions, just as White did. They both even speak of the same historical figure, Saint Francis of Assisi. However, what fascinates me the most is that while White considers him to be a radical who challenged Christian ideas with his spiritualism and devotion to nature, Pope Francis celebrates him and regards him as his inspiration, for precisely the same reasons. He also responds to the claim White supported, that Christianity encourages this domination over the earth. His response: “Although it is true that we Christians have at times incorrectly interpreted the Scriptures, nowadays we must forcefully reject the notion that our being created in God’s image and given dominion over the earth justifies absolute domination over other creatures. The biblical texts are to be read in their context, with an appropriate hermeneutic, recognizing that they tell us to ’till and keep’ the garden of the world. (Papa Francesco 49)” As sentient beings, he believes it is still our duty to command over the earth, but it is important that we do so in a benevolent and caring way, providing for the earth so that it may provide for us.

Whether or not Christianity is to blame for the destruction of nature, it is abundantly clear that something must be done to repair the damage. Both authors concur that a solution must be actively sought. Social, political, and economic incentives for perpetuating this ecological process must be analyzed and redirected to better alternatives, lest the problems become too great and we drive ourselves to extinction. The Anthropocene era is defined by human activity and transformation of the earth, but perhaps with the right circumstances, such processes can benefit both humans and nature.

Lynn White, Jr., β€œThe Ecologic Roots of Our Ecologic Crisis,” Science 155:3767 (10 March 1967), 1203-1207.

Pope Francis,**Laudato Si

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