Re: Course Ecology and Christianity

From: Janice Matchett <>
Date: Wed Feb 22 2006 - 09:58:52 EST

At 04:12 AM 2/22/2006, Oscar Gonzalez wrote:
>Hello all,
>I have been invited to give a course called
>"Ecology and Christianity" at a Christian
>Biblical Seminar in Lima, Peru. As far as I
>know, this is the first time than in a Peruvian
>Evangelical Seminar a course such as this is
>going to be given in Peru. The level has to be
>very basic, some of the students hold a
>profession (but none related to science) and
>some just know the Bible. My main objective is
>to show Christians the importance of Ecology as
>a Science and get them involved in Conservation,
>supporting it biblically and theologically.
>I am programming the course with these topics:
>- Defining concepts: What is Ecology?
>- Positive and negative interactions between Science and Christianity
>- Responsible stewardship in the bible
>- Environmental ethics
>- Bible environmental teachings
>- Earth resources degradation
>- Sustainable development
>- Prejuices of Christians for not getting into environmentalism
>- Christian responses to care for the Earth:
>Conservation and education programs
>I would like your input, can anybody share the
>program of a course like that? what other topics
>should be considered? what references should not
>be avoided? (I am considering several PSCF articles on the topic)

### "...what references should not be avoided? "

In order to ensure that they don't draw ___the
wrong conclusions___ from what you plan to teach,
you may want to include the biblical teachings
about the virtues of temperance, courage, and
fortitude, and how the vice of cowardice is a
result of an excess of fearfulness.

For instance, Aristotle examined each particular
virtue, starting with courage, which he defined
as the appropriate attitude toward fear. Courage
does not mean fearlessness, as there are some
things, such as shame or brutality toward one’s
family, which one ought to fear. Rather, courage
involves confidence in the face of fear, best
exhibited on the battlefield, where men show
themselves unafraid to die an honorable death. An
excess of fearfulness constitutes the vice of
cowardice, and a deficiency constitutes
rashness. (Nicomachean Ethics - Aristotle)

Consider having your students read the items I
have referenced below, and having them spend lots
of time at . In
that way, you will be sure that you have presented a _balanced_ program.

~ Janice

Fear, Complexity, & Environmental Management in the 21st Century

<>Culture of Fear
^ | February 17, 2006 | Ronald Bailey
Posted on 02/20/2006 2:08:56 PM EST by

Dealing with cultural panic attacks

Earlier this week, the American Enterprise
Institute in Washington, DC, held a remarkably
interesting conference titled
Attack: The New Precautionary Culture, the
Politics of Fear, and the Risks to Innovation."
It was interesting not only because I was a
participant, but because it looked at how many
Western countries are losing their cultural
nerve, as evidenced by the increasing cultural
acceptance of the so-called precautionary principle.

The strongest versions of the
principle demand that innovators prove that their
inventions will never cause harm before they are
allowed to deploy or sell them. In other words,
if an action might cause harm, then inaction is
preferable. The problem is that all new
activities, especially those involving scientific
research and technological innovation, always
carry some risks. Attempting to avoid all risk is
a recipe for technological and economic stagnation.

At the AEI conference, University of Kent
sociologist, <>Frank
Furedi, summed up the danger of this loss of
cultural nerve in a talk based on his new book
Of Fear: Beyond Left And Right. He identified
five trends fueling the rise of risk aversion in Western cultures.

First, Furedi argued that there has been a shift
in moral reaction to harm. People no longer
believe in natural disasters or acts of God.
Today, people suspect that someone is behind a
disaster­an irresponsible corporation or a
cowardly bureaucrat. Indeed, accidents don't
happen anymore; they have been
as preventable injuries.

Furedi argued that many of us now assume that
every negative experience has some inner meaning.
For example, when a teenager dies in a car crash,
grieving parents regularly tell television
reporters, "There is lesson to be learned from
Johnny's death." The lesson usually is not that
bad things randomly happen to good people, but
that our roads don't have enough guard rails, or
that we should enact laws to prevent teenagers
with friends and so forth.

Furedi sees this kind of thinking as a return to
pre-modern days of higher superstition, where
every event has a deeper meaning. In the medieval
era, the hand of God or the malevolent influence
of Satan explained why people suffered
misfortunes. Today the malevolent hand of
government or corporate America is to blame for every catastrophe.

A second factor that Furedi sees contributing to
our culture of risk aversion is that the nature
of harms is represented in increasingly dramatic
fashion. People are no longer expected to rise
above adversity or encouraged to get on with
their lives after they experience a hard knock.
They are instead victims who are "scarred for
life" and perpetually "haunted" by their
misfortunes. Even the timescale of disaster has
expanded. Anything that happens now produces
consequences that you can never predict. Thus you
have to be very careful about what you do today
and worry about what might happen decades down
the road. Treating people as permanent victims
and constantly speculating about possible future
harms is a recipe for social and economic paralysis.

The fear that actions like inventing new
medicines, chemicals, and energy sources might
have unknowable, irreversible, and ultimately
catastrophic effects in the future leads to
Furedi's third factor. Even as more people are
living longer and healthier lives, life is
perceived as a very dangerous thing. The boundary
between analysis and speculation is eroded as
worst case scenarios proliferate. What if an
asteroid hits us; what if biotech wheat gets out
of control; what if Iraq is giving weapons of
mass destruction to terrorists? Worst case
thinking decreases our cultural capacity to deal
with uncertainty. Risk becomes something to
avoid, not an opportunity to be seized.

The fourth trend that Furedi sees is the
increasing treatment of safety as in end in
itself. Furedi is not opposed to safety as a
technical issue, of course, but he is against
treating safety as a moral principle. Today,
safety often acquires a "pseudo-moral"
connotation as in "safe spaces," "safe medicine,"
and "safe sex." Furedi offered a personal story
to illustrate what he meant. When he took his son
to his new school, the principal told him, "Don't
worry, our number one priority is your child's
safety." Furedi responded, "I was hoping it was
teaching him to read and write and do maths."

A fifth trend that arises from our increasingly
precautionary culture is a radical redefinition
of personhood. People no longer believe that we
have the capacity to cope and to act. We no
longer really believe in the idea of individual
autonomy. People are helplessly addicted to sex,
alcohol, or shopping. People are represented as
weak and vulnerable. More and more
groups­children, women, minorities­are defined as
"vulnerable." Policy is focused on reassuring and
supporting people, and risk taking is stigmatized.

Despite these trends, Western countries still
manage to innovate and take risks. Furedi
acknowledges that in the physical world we still
create all kinds of new technologies and are
going ahead in a dramatic and positive fashion.
He was advised to go to Silicon Valley to find
real risk takers and he did find driven creative
people working hard to create new technologies.
But Furedi pointed out that the refrigerators of
these same swashbuckling techno-entrepreneurs are
chock full of pesticide-free produce; they abhor
tobacco; drink just half a glass of wine with
dinner; and wear knee pads, elbow pads, and
helmets to go bike riding. "In terms of their
lifestyles, they are very very precautionary,
pussycats basically," said Furedi.

"But in the world of meaning, however, we've
become very very confused," he argued. Furedi
pointed to corporate advertising, which is seldom
overtly about business or profits. Instead ads
show blue skies and an interracial mixture of
babies frolicking happily together. Corporations
find it difficult to affirm culturally what they
are really doing, that is, creating products,
providing services, and making profits. To be
called a risk taker used to be considered a
compliment; it now carries generally negative
connotations. Risk taking is just short of
pedophilia in provoking social opprobrium.
"Today, no one is criticized for not taking risks," said Furedi.

In the end, Furedi was very good at diagnosing
what is wrong with our contemporary culture of
fear, but he had very few concrete suggestions
about how to restore people's belief in progress
and the power of human creativity.

In 1982, the superbrilliant thinker
Kahn published
Coming Boom in which he pleaded for the
reestablishment of "an ideology of progress." Kahn warned:
Two out of three Americans polled in recent years
believe that their grandchildren will not live as
well as they do, i.e., they tend to believe the
vision of the future that is taught in our school
system. Almost every child is told that we are
running out of resources; that we are robbing
future generations when we use these scarce,
irreplaceable, or nonrenewable resources in
silly, frivolous and wasteful ways; that we are
callously polluting the environment beyond
control; that we are recklessly destroying the
ecology beyond repair; that we are knowingly
distributing foods which give people cancer and
other ailments but continue to do so in order to
make a profit. It would be hard to describe a
more unhealthy, immoral, and disastrous
educational context, every element of which is
either largely incorrect, misleading, overstated,
or just plain wrong. What the school system
describes, and what so many Americans believe, is
a prescription for low morale, higher prices and
greater (and unnecessary) regulations.
Kahn turned out to be right about the boom, but
most of the intellectual class is still burdened
with an anti-progress ideology that remains a
significant drag on scientific, technological and
policy innovation. As Furedi and Kahn point out,
overcoming the pervasive pessimism of the
intellectual class is the major piece of work
left for us to do in the 21st century.

<>Ronald Bailey is Reason's science correspondent.
Received on Wed Feb 22 10:01:15 2006

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