The New Philosophy Vol 108 No 1-2, January-June 2005
We live in a time of unprecedented change in the natural world. Ecologists tell us that we are currently experiencing the sixth mass extinction in the world’s history, but with one key exception: the current crisis differs from the previous five in that it is human-induced. Acid rain, soil erosion, global warming, suburbanization, and over- or conspicuous consumption are just a few of the problems facing us at the turn of the millennium. It would not be difficult to add many other items to this list, but it is beyond the scope of this paper to address the actual manifestations of ecological degradation in any detail, or for that matter even attempt to evaluate the veracity of these facts. Rather, this paper is premised on the belief that while there may be some discrepancies, or even distortions, in the way scientific research is used and presented, mankind’s current modus operandi is having a deleterious effect on the natural world. The earth’s stocks of resources, natural capital (genetic, hydrologic, atmospheric), are being consumed or over-burdened faster than they can replenish.
In the effort to find meaning and reality we explore diverse realms of knowledge. Two such realms, theology and science, share a mutual history of divergence and even conflict. One of the better known historical examples involves the case of Galileo Galilei (1564–1642) who confronted the Catholic hierarchy with the view that the earth orbited the sun—a position that countered the contemporary dogma of a geocentric solar system. While Galileo recanted his view and the church position prevailed for the moment, Galileo’s ideas ultimately triumphed. Galileo’s case is indicative of the pattern of slow but steady assumption by science of the right to be the sole interpreter of the natural world. Before this onslaught of scientific data and logic, theology has retreated to the point where Richard Altick could make the observation, even at the end of the 19th century, that science “finally made unbelief respectable” (Altick, 1973, p. 233).