I have heard that in the scientific community there is a debate on whether humanity is part of nature or not. It seems to be driven by the fact that humans can do so much damage to nature that it’s hard to believe we are part of it. We don’t seem to live in harmony with the system of nature and therefore we can’t be a part of the system. I find this debate interesting because it only makes sense within a theistic world view. In a totally materialistic universe, the question cannot even be asked.
Within a Christian worldview there are two sides to reality: the natural and the supernatural, the material and the spiritual. God is pure spirit and is part of the supernatural universe. Rocks, for instance, are purely material and are part of the natural universe.
Where does man fit in? We are the only being that is a hybrid of the two. We have both a supernatural and a natural element. Our bodies are material and thus part of nature, but our souls are immaterial, part of the supernatural dimension. Thus we can ask, “Is man a part of nature?” and answer “Yes and No.” We were designed to be part of nature, living in harmony with it, and yet at the same time we are apart from nature and thus can affect it in very negative ways. I will come back to this at the end of this essay.
But let us now look at the universe from a completely materialistic or naturalistic point of view. Within this worldview there is no God, there is no supernatural, no angels, no demons, no spirits, no souls. The only thing that exists is nature. Therefore, when we ask the question, “Is man a part of nature?”, there is only one possible answer: “Yes.” Nature is all that there is and therefore the only thing that man can be is nature.
Now let us look at the implications of this worldview for how humans relate to rest of the planet. Is pollution bad? No. Pollution is just part of nature. Humans are part of nature, Humans make pollution. Pollution is therefore natural. If it is replied that pollution seems to be harmful to plants and animals, we could note that nature does things there are harmful to plants and animals all the time, such as forest fires, tornados, hurricanes, earthquakes, volcanoes, ice ages, lightening, floods, etc. The fact that something harms some parts of nature does not make it unnatural. Pollution is not something we should worry about. It is just part of nature. We don’t have to expend resources in trying to solve this problem. It’s not a problem.
What about extinctions of species? There is no reason for us to worry about it either. If we cause species to go extinct, we are only doing what come natural to us. In studying the history of the earth, one finds out that millions upon millions of species have gone extinct before humans ever come onto the scene. What caused these mass extinctions? Nature, of course. The only thing that exists is nature. It had to do it. There are no other possibilities. If humans are causing extinctions now, it is just nature doing what it has done many times in the past. It is not wrong or bad. It’s natural. We don’t have to expend resources in trying to solve this problem. It’s not a problem.
One begins to see the pattern. If the universe is a closed natural system, mankind is simply a part of that system and can do nothing to harm it. Humans can do nothing wrong to the planet. If is observed that humans seemed to be doing things that harm themselves and the survival of the human species, again we can note that nature has eliminated species many times before. Our survival is not more important in the big scheme of natural history than any of the other extinct species that have gone before us. If we go extinct, it’s just part of the natural process.
Besides, pollution, extinction of species, etc don’t mean humans will go extinct. These are just new conditions produced by nature that we must adapt too. That is what evolution is all about. Those that survive are those that adapt. Pollution and like conditions are not bad or evil or something we need to change. They are just new environments to adapt too.
However, if humanity is also a spiritual being made in the image of God to rule over and care for the planet, efforts to save humanity and the planet make perfect sense. God put the animals here for us to care for, and we are responsible to him if we lose any one of the species. We were put here to care for the planet, not destroy it. We are stewards of God’s world. If we harm it through pollution, then we have to answer to him. Is it important to save the human race? Yes, for we are made in God’s image and have worth and value because of it. We are not just another random offshoot off the evolutionary tree to be discarded by nature as it has millions of species before us. To fight for and care for our fellow human beings is one of our chief purposes. We honor God when we care for those made in his image.
The whole notion of environmentalism only makes sense within a Christian worldview. If there is no God, we can do nothing wrong to the planet. Everything we do is part of the natural process. If we are royal beings made in God’s image to care for this creation, we will have to answer for our wanton destruction of his world.