A Biblical View of Environmental Responsibility

By Christopher Cone

The climate changed (pun intended) dramatically in 1966 when medieval historian Lynn White presented a groundbreaking paper to the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

The paper was well received and was published a few months later in the 155th volume of the academic journal Science. White’s paper, “The Historical Roots of Our Ecological Crisis,” was a scathing critique of what he understood to be the Judeo-Christian attitude toward nature. White laid the blame particularly on Christianity for what was understood at the time to be a global ecological crisis. “Historical Roots” set the tone for environmental philosophy, and since that publication, Christianity has been perceived within the environmental movement as public enemy number one. One scholar even suggested that “the culpability of Christianity in the destruction of the natural world and the uselessness of Christianity in any effort to correct that destruction are now established clichés of the conservation movement.” Specifically, White accused Christianity of being the most anthropocentric (man-centered) religion the world has ever seen. He thought the Judeo-Christian creation account placed all of nature at human disposal and that God mandated there would be no other purpose for nature but to serve human purposes. Consequently, White suggested, humans abused nature and believed they were doing so with God’s permission. Was Lynn White correct? Is Christianity to blame for environmental problems? Or perhaps White misunderstood Christianity and failed to recognize the environmental responsibility the Bible prescribes.