“They tell me to burn in hell and good riddance,” said Sir David in a recent interview in Radio Times. And the hate mail bit of the interview was headlined in The Telegraph, The Guardian, and many other newspapers and news sources.
I don’t disbelieve the story for a moment. There are hateful, lunatic minorities in all movements, from the animal rights lobby to the anti-abortion lobby.
But it’s not very scientific, is it? How many people have been abusive to Sir David in this way, and over what period of time? And which part of the religious community (if any) do these people claim to represent? They certainly don’t represent any section of the Christian church that I am acquainted with. Even those Christians who think that the Bible is clearly ‘against’ evolution, know that the Bible is yet more clearly and emphatically against hating your enemies. I don’t assume that all atheists are narrow-minded bigots, even though dozens of them can be seen swarming around RichardDawkins.net. It is misleading to headline an unknown number of unattributed nasty comments and allow people to smugly think that the Christian church is full of people like that.
Nor is it very clever of Sir David to repeat the notion that ‘the world is our oyster, that we have domination over all things’ comes from the Bible; from Genesis chapter 1.
The relevant passage is Genesis 1:28:-
God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”
The Bible does not teach – Christianity does not teach – that we have licence to selfishly exploit other living things. This was precisely the charge made by Lynn White Jr. in a famous article published in Science (1967) entitled “The Historical Roots of our Ecological Crisis.” White argued that primitive animism taught that every tree, river, mountain and so on was inhabited by a protective spirit, who had to be placated before the tree could be felled, the river dammed, the mountain mined. In overcoming animism, Christianity made possible the thoughtless exploitation of nature, and used Genesis 1:28 as a licence for doing so. But Scripture uniformly teaches that all things are created by God and are therefore good. There is no licence for exploitation.
God is still the owner of the natural world, (Psalm 24:1) and all the beasts of the forest and the cattle on a thousand hills are his. (Psalm 50:10-12) Human beings are mere stewards under God. We have no mandate to abuse the natural order either for profit or for fun. Indeed, even Job was aware that the land would cry out against him if, in God’s eyes, he abused it. (Job 31:37-40)
Our fellow-creatures are not here simply for our benefit; we are all here – them and us – for God’s glory. Man rules as God’s representative, made in his image, v27. White thought that it would be better if we asserted the equality of all creatures, including humans: but this neglects the very real status of humankind as created in God’s image.