Christian environmental concern
Thu, 20 Jun 1996 15:21:57 EST

Both Russ Maatman and Edwin Olsen in his response to Dick Wright brought up the
point of the difficulty in getting the facts about environmental degradation.
As a writer specializing in Christian environmental ethics, I was hoping that
this ASA community, if any, would have some good ideas about that. If I cannot
be sure I am getting the facts from either the secular or the Christian science
communities, where do I turn? Is it hopeless? Do I just take the tack taken
by many Christian friends: "Nobody knows the facts, so I'm just going to ignore
the whole thing"?

I had the opportunity a couple years ago to teach a college class in Environmen-
tal science for one semester. The textbook had a list of reviewers that was
167 lines long with more than one person per line. So it had about 200 hundred
reviewers of the text from about 150 different colleges and universities. Now
should I have taught from that textbook with a fair degree of confidence that
I was teaching facts or not?

On top of all this I think of two profound statements, the first attributed to
Aristotle and the second to Bacon: "It is better to act on a half-proven fact
ON TIME than to wait until it is TOO LATE to act on a fact fully substantiated.""Man more readily believes what he wishes to be true than what is really true."
On environmental issues it appears to me that much of what is going on is like
shipbuilders on board the Titanic arguing about its unsinkability when it was
in fact foundering."

Russ talks about being "horrified" at the thought of Christians presenting lies
in the place of the truth. I agree. But does that mean we have to wait until
the Cuyahoga burns before we conclude that dumping volatile fluids in our
rivers is bad for us? This brings to mind the old fable of the stage coach
company hiring drivers. The question they asked in screening applicants was,
"How close do you think you can drive to the edge of a cliff with a team of
horses?" [Have you ever driven Gold Camp Road from Colorado Springs to Cripple
Creed?] Most of the applicants bragged about how close they could get, but the
one they hired was the one who said, "I don't know. I always drive as close as
I can get to the uphill side of the road."

It seems as Christians that we should have the same mentality. If we paid
attention to wise stewardship, avoiding waste, simplifying our lives from the
demon of materialism and consumerism, seeking to worship God, not mammon, seek-
ing to store up for ourselves treasures in heaven, not on earth, and truly
delighting in the Creation as God delights in it [Read Piper's book "The Pleas-
ures of God], we would not have to nit pick over whether this commission or
that study ABSOLUTELY proves that we are damaging the ozone layer or altering
the climate or actually losing a specifically defined number of species each

I find on this forum and in the sciences as a whole that almost every scientist
is absolutely convinced of the factual nature of the conclusions he as drawn
from his own research and totally skeptical of the factual nature of the
conclusions other scientists draw from their own research. Where does that put
the rest of us then when we are asked to adjust our behavior according to the
findings of "science." I take one aspirin a day as a hedge against a heart
attack on the basis of what I have read. Should my attitude, however, be that
until I know 100 percent that it works, I am not going to take an aspirin?

In other words, is there not enough evidence of environmental degradation c
created by acid rain, CFC's, toxins on our land and in our streams, loss of
biodiversity, detrimental deforestation, and so forth, for me to adjust my
behavior? If we wait until all the facts are in, it seems to me, we will
ALWAYS do too little too late.

Dean Ohlman
Cornerstone College