The Common Good and Environmental Ethics -- An Audio Workshop by Dr. Steven Kolmes

Introduction by Derrick Peterson

With the philosophers Ludwig Feuerbach and Friedrich Nietzche, it began to be argued that Christianity had silenced nature.  With the exaltation of heavenly delights, said Nietzsche in particular, earth was despoiled of its grandeur in favor of the hereafter.  In the mid-twentieth century, Lynn White Jr. (himself a Presbyterian layman), argued in his seminal essay "On the Historical Roots of our Ecological Crisis" that as early as the 12th century in Latin Christendom nature began to be seen merely as a vast deposit of energy and resources to be exploited by a mankind made in the image of its sovereign Creator.  Such is the saturation of these ideas today that few reflect upon them.

Yet the Bible itself is brimming with themes of care and stewardship of God's creation.  So much so that it takes acrobatics of the wildest variety to vault over the wonder of stars and the care for animals that pepper Holy Writ.  In Proverbs 12:10 the righteous "care for the needs of their animals" who are also included in the weekly and the seventh year sabbath so that "your ox and your donkey may have rest, and the son of your bond-maid, and the alien, may be refreshed" (Ex. 23:10-12; Lev. 25:6-7; Deut. 5:12-15).  Indeed, these animals themselves are revelations of God's care and might:

But ask the animals, and they will teach you, the birds of the air, and they will tell you why; ask the plants of the earth, and they will instruct you, and the fish of the sea shall declare to you.  Who among all these does not know that the hand of the LORD has done this?  In his hand is the life of every living thing and the breath of every human being. (Job 12:7-10)

Praise the LORD from the earth, you sea monsters and all deeps, fire and hail, snow and frost, stormy wind fulfilling his command!  Mountains and all hills, fruit trees and all the cedars, wild animals and all cattle, creeping things and flying birds, praise the LORD! (Psalm 148:7-20, 14)

Indeed, as the bible teaches that all things were made--not for human beings--but by and for Jesus Christ, the Eternal Son of God, the Logos (Col. 1:16) their value arises from God's delight in them.  Indeed creation itself "groans" as it anticipates the salvation wrought through Jesus (Rom. 8:19).

It is as such a Christian duty to care for the creation.  But what is the best way to go about this?  Recently at our faith and science conference Dr. Steve Kolmes, Director of the Environmental Studies Program at University of Portland, gave a talk on "The Common Good and Environmental Ethics" and we have the audio for you!  While all answers of course cannot be given, this was an extraordinarily interesting talk on how we can partner with our local communities to become more aware of the ways we can help.

Steven A. Kolmes is Director of the Environmental Studies Program, Professor of Biology, and occupant of the Rev. John Molter, C.S.C, Chair in Science at the University of Portland.  Dr. Kolmes has degrees in Zoology from Ohio University and the University of Wisconsin-Madison.  His interests are in the area of salmon recovery planning, combining ethical and scientific analyses in environmental policy discussions, water and air quality issues, and the sublethal effects of pesticides.  He has served on government scientific advisory panels (NOAA-Fisheries Technical Recovery Team for Willamette and Lower Columbia Rivers; Oregon Dept. of Environmental Quality Toxics Technical Advisory Committee) and on the Steering Committee for the Columbia River Pastoral Letter.

[Photo Credit: Donnie Nunley]