Ecology is a word that is often used and less often understood. Ecology deals with the relationships of living things (organisms), including man, to their surroundings. It is a young science, dealing with a broad and complex subject, and has yet to reach the sophistication or predictive ability of anatomy or physics.

However, some conclusions seem clear. Among the most important are these:

1. Resources are limited. Therefore, they are passed from organism to organism. For example, the energy content (calories) of plant food matter is passed on to other living things, such as from grass to a cow to a man to bacteria, maggots, and fungi. Another way of putting this is to say that we are traveling together on “spaceship earth,” or that the earth is a closed system.

2. All organisms are absolutely dependent on other organisms. This follows naturally from conclusion 1. Most animals depend directly on green plants for food. Green plants depend on animals to pollinate them, disperse their seeds, and eliminate competitors. Animals and green plants depend on fungi and bacteria for the recycling of important materials. This interdependence is expressed in terms such as community, a word used to designate all the organisms coexisting in a particular place.

3. A community repairs itself slowly if damaged. For example, forests will reappear in abandoned fields in most parts of the United States, but only after many years.

4. Pollution simplifies communities. A pollutant is abnormal by definition. Many organisms (man, rats, and most weeds are exceptions) will survive only under a narrow range of conditions normal to them. Spilling oil, changing the temperature, or altering some other condition usually eliminates some species from any community.

5. A simplified community is less able to repair itself than a complex community. This conclusion seems beyond common sense, and is somewhat controversial even among ecologists. However, most of them would say that a simple community, like a government with a strong legislature but little executive or judicial power, has fewer checks and balances.

6. An organism newly introduced into a community may cause great changes because there are few checks and balances on that organism. Hong Kong flu, Japanese beetles, English sparrows, the Kudzu vine (from Japan), Dutch elm disease, and chestnut blight (also from Japan) are examples, but the prime example is man.

7. “Spaceship earth” has entered the beginnings of a man-made ecological crisis.

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Many people do not perceive a crisis. They seem to think that oil spills, bottles by the roadside, and perhaps some polluted water now and then are all there is to it. Some prophets of doom have cried “wolf” too often and fostered a belief that there is no need for alarm.

What is this crisis?

It is a crisis of dwindling resources. Energy, as fuel, as a power source, and as food, is the most critical, in part because energy generally cannot be recycled. The United States is already beginning to feel this, and the point has become quite clear during the oil shortage. Power companies are paying for advertising space to teil us not to use electricity unless we need to! Can you imagine an auto dealer telling us to think twice before buying his cars? Food and fuel shortages and high prices are no longer news.

It is a crisis of pollution. Man’s body wastes, insecticides, oil spills, automobiles, and industries are choking some communities of organisms to the point of nearly complete destruction. Some rivers are open sewers with few or no fish. The pollution burden is increasing, and communities that might have recovered in a few years are often hit with a fresh wave of pollution before they have begun to recover.

It is a crisis of extinction. Between 1967 and 1970 the number of endangered species of animals increased from 78 to 101. Even such a relatively common animal as the alligator is in danger of vanishing forever. The American bald eagle may be doomed.

It is a crisis of a single type of organism multiplying almost beyond precedent, with bad effects on almost all others. Man, especially in the so-called developed countries, is fouling beaches with spilled oil, littering the countryside with bottles and cans, pouring poisons into the atmosphere, paving over land for sprawling suburbs and highways, destroying deserts with motorcycle races, ruining oyster beds with his sewage, and so on. And all at an increasing rate, for two reasons. First, there are constantly more of us, and second, each of us is demanding more every year. The meek may inherit the earth, but the rieh pollute it.

Not only do some people not perceive a crisis, but many who do are misled as to its solution. Some feel it has already been solved: there has been so much talk, so many laws passed, that surely everything must be under control. This is not true. Probably more of us feel that the solution does not involve us, or are more concerned with “image” than reality. Some industries spend more money on advertising that tells us how clean they are than on actual cleanup efforts. The auto industry is telling us that pollution-control devices are responsible for decreased gas mileage. This is partly true, but a cop-out. Air conditioning, power steering, increased weight, and other fads are responsible also. Some politicians spend more effort in telling us they are against pollution than in really doing anything about it. Most of the rest of us feel that it isn’t our fault, and it is up to the government to make industry clean up. But let’s not forget Prohibition. Without wide support, laws may be unenforceable. Individual citizens and municipalities pollute more than industries do. It is our fault. Even Publishing CHRISTIANITY TODAY contributes to pollution! You and I are polluters.

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8. No organism can survive in its own waste. We will poison ourselves, we will run out of resources, and we will destroy the plants and animals around us, which we absolutely depend on, even in these 1970s, unless drastic changes are made. We, too, are passengers on “spaceship earth.” (For further information, consult Ecology Crisis by John Klotz [Concordia, 1971], which is written from a scriptural viewpoint, or any high school biology book.)

Heading Off The Crisis

Heading off this crisis is an immense task, involving all of us. It will probably demand some drastic rethinking. We will need to have fewer children. We will have to adjust to a lower standard of living. We will need to separate our wastes for recycling operations. We will have to do without some disposables and other conveniences. We may need to lower our standards of personal hygiene somewhat. We may need to buy economy cars and use bicycles and mass transit systems. We shall have to pay for better sewage treatment (our waste water will have to be used again before it reaches the ocean). We may have to air condition less. We should eat less. Our magnificent technology will have to be asked to do more about cleaning up the environment and recycling what we have already used than about satisfying our demands for frills (electric toothbrushes, color TV, superfluous clothes). Physically, we need to practice thrift. Every Christian ought to be an example of careful consumption.

That’s quite a drastic solution, you say? Yes—but the alternatives are so much worse that there’s really no choice. Besides, there will be health, aesthetic, and economic benefits (air pollution alone now costs the average American about $80 per year).

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Not only individuals but also nations must change their habits. To feed their pets and raise their meat, rich nations buy protein that poor ones need and cannot afford. It has been calculated that an agricultural program to feed everyone on earth for the next fifty years, even at present growth rates, could be financed for what the United States and the Soviet Union have spent over the last four years for defense.

Many nations have exploited fish stocks to the point of extinction. (The United States is less guilty than most.) Probably all countries have spent more on circuses than they should have, and less on bread. Recent developments in Africa and elsewhere suggest that a time of famine is beginning (see CHRTSTIANITY TODAY, April 12 issue, page 48). The United States and the Soviet Union are beginning to face up to the crisis in energy sources, pollution, and food supply, but not with the urgency these problems demand.

Ecology And The Bible

What does the Bible say about ecology? The Bible teaches:

1. Individual responsibility (e.g., Rom. 14:12; Ezek. 18:20). We cannot view this crisis without assessing our personal duty. We are all polluters. We all consume resources and produce waste. We often are negligent in both processes, and condone negligence on the part of others.

2. That the earth, as created, was good (Gen. 1:31). Psalm 19:1–6; Psalm 104, and Romans 1:20 imply strongly that it is still good, although perhaps not as glorious as it once was (Rom. 8:19–22).

3. That the earth and its creatures belong to God (Ps. 24:1; Ps. 50:10–13; Matt. 10:29; Ps. 104:31). If God is aware of the death of one sparrow, what about the extinction of entire species?

4. That God is concerned with how we act toward his creation. Genesis 1:28 gives us responsibility for God’s creation. Think of it! (Incidentally, the Genesis 1:28 command to “be fruitful and multiply” appears to be one of the few we have obeyed). Just as we are responsible for our own immortal soul, we are responsible for God’s handiwork. The Pentateuch has many statements directing the Jews in matters of this type. For instance, they were to be careful in depositing body wastes (Deut. 23:12, 13), and they were to let the land lie fallow every seventh year (Lev. 25:2–4).

5. That the cause of the crisis is sin. Some have argued that Christianity is responsible! (The best-known argument of this type is Lynn White’s, published in Science [Vol. 155, pp. 1203–7] and reprinted in Schaeffer’s Pollution and the Death of Man and other compilations.)

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On the other hand, Christopher Derrick in The Delicate Creation (Devin-Adair, 1973) says that mankind needs to repent of a heresy. He calls this heresy Manichaeanism, tracing its roots to ancient Manichaeanism and Gnosticism. According to Derrick, this Manichaeanism is dualist; it treats all matter, including man’s body, as evil, and all spirit as good (though it relegates God to the periphery of the universe). Symptoms are the drug culture and mysticism (the spiritual is exalted) and the perversion of sex (matter is evil).

The same theme is presented in C. S. Lewis’s works, especially in The Abolition of Man and That Hideous Strength. This is not surprising, because Lewis tutored Derrick. Filostrato in That Hideous Strength speaks for modern man, according to Lewis:

In us organic life has produced Mind. It has done its work. After that we want no more of it. We do not want the world any longer furred over with organic life, like what you call the blue mould—all sprouting and budding and breeding and decaying. We must get rid of it. By little and little, of course. Slowly we learn how. Learn to make our brains live with less and less body: learn to build our bodies directly with chemicals, no longer have to stuff them full of dead brutes and weeds. Learn how to reproduce ourselves without copulation [Collier Books edition, 1962, p. 173].

Both Lewis and Derrick link population control to this heresy. This is unpopular thinking, but perhaps they are right. At any rate, man certainly does need to repent of his attitude toward creation, and much of the problem is not too many people but too much used by a few of them.

Selfishness is responsible (Luke 16:13). Many have greedily wasted a precious resource, belonging not to them but to God, for a quick profit. God teaches that land (and by implication what is on and in it) is a trust for future generations (Num. 36:5–9; Lev. 25:13–17).

Laziness and ignorance are responsible. It is easier to throw a can out a car window than to take it to a trash barrel. We have encouraged an expansion in consumption; but we were too lazy to think of, or incapable of deducing, the now obvious consequences.

Waste is responsible. Probably the Bible says little about waste because people in biblical times couldn’t afford to waste much.

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Jacques Ellul, in The Meaning of the City (Eerdmans, 1970), claims that the city, the ultimate in technology, has been an expression of men’s rebellion against God. Man’s attempt to shut himself off from creation and be sufficient unto himself began with Cain (Gen. 4:17), continued through Babel (Gen. 11:3–9), and reaches its ultimate expression in the Babylon of Revelation 17 and 18. God’s perception of man’s reliance on technology, rather than on the Heavenly Father, may be seen further in Abram’s call from Ur to be a herdsman (Gen. 11–13), the curse placed on the rebuilder of Jericho (Josh. 6:26; 1 Kings 16:34), the children of Israel’s general failure to build cities (Deut. 6:10; Josh. 24:13; 2 Sam. 5:6–9), and Jesus’ refusal to sleep in Jerusalem (Matt. 21:17; Mark 11:11).

Ellul fends off two obvious rejoinders—the city of David and the city of God. His concept of the city of David is that, in the first place, it was not founded by God’s people. Secondly, even in the building of the temple itself, Solomon’s heart may have gone astray. First Kings 11:26–37 describes how in the midst of Solomon’s building, God saw that Solomon was unfit to govern and caused the prophesying of Jeroboam’s rebellion. Thirdly, and most important, the city of David is an illustration of man’s search for a city not made with hands, whose builder and maker is God. Besides being an expression of rebellion, the city, as the ultimate in technology, reflects a God-given hunger, often perverted, for the heavenly Holy Place. Whether or not Ellul is completely correct, we must agree that our reliance on technology, though it provides us with many benefits, has greatly damaged our environment.

Christians who believe God’s Word ought to be the leaders in protecting God’s world, as Francis Schaeffer argues powerfully in Pollution and the Death of Man. Not only should we try to protect it because we believe it is God’s world, but we should see the seemingly all-powerful Gross National Product as a symptom of idol worship, drawing men’s hearts from eternal values to the selfish accumulation of treasures that moth and rust will surely corrupt. Unfortunately, we Christians have not been the leaders, and often not even followers, perceiving Communist plots (Earth Day is Lenin’s birthday) or fearing upsets in the way of life that we, too, have come to love too much.

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6. Certainty of punishment. After the fall, man’s relation to his environment was changed for the worse (Gen. 3:17–19). After the Israelites did not allow their land to lie fallow as they had been commanded, the land was left fallow for them when they were placed in captivity (2 Chron. 36:21).

Finally, Revelation 6 and 8 mention disease, famine, fire, destruction of plants and fish, poisoned water, and the light darkened (by smog?). Perhaps these things will be the final result of the ecology crisis and man’s other errors. Many scientists predict ultimate doom. So does God’s Word. But it also predicts a new creation, a heavenly city (Revelation 21 and 22). Let us carefully tend the present creation, and at the same time look forward with a reverent mixture of fear and hope, mingled with shame, to the new one.

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