In 1958 Olga Owens Huckins penned a letter to The Boston Globe that triggered a revolution. In an effort to control mosquitoes, her property and a large number of others had been sprayed with DDT.  The unforeseen consequence was the death of many birds and  Olga Huckins wrote to the Boston Globe to express her concerns. Olga sent a copy of the letter to her friend Rachel Carson. That letter inspired Rachel Carson to write the book Silent Spring, which catalogued the impact of pesticides such as DDT on the environment and generated such interest that it brought the fledgling environmental movement to mainstream attention. Carson decried the arrogance of humankind in seeking to alter the delicate balance of nature. This, she claimed, could only end in disaster, and was rooted in a worldview that saw the earth as ours to do with as we pleased.

“The “control of nature” is a phrase conceived in arrogance, born of the Neanderthal age of biology and philosophy, when it was supposed that nature exists for the convenience of man.

A few years later American historian Lyn White Jr, blamed western Christianity for that arrogance. His 1974 journal article, titled “The Historical Roots of our Ecological Crisis” became the focus of intense interest, especially among academics. White argued that the fusion of science and technology in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries gave us command over nature unlike anything seen before. Humankind shifted from being part of nature to being an exploiter and shaper of it, creating the ecological crises of the modern era. Driving all this, White claimed, was the Christian attitude to nature. Western Christianity taught that because human beings were created in the image of God, we were separate from the rest of creation, which was designed “explicitly for man’s benefit and rule: no item in the physical creation had any purpose save to serve man’s purposes.” Imbued with a sense of superiority and entitlement, we plundered and continued to plunder the earth, sowing the seeds of its destruction.  

Rachel Carson’s and Lyn White’s arguments have been contested, but whether overstated or not, they challenge us to think carefully about how we view and engage with the creation.

Source: Scott Higgins, A Beautiful WorldChristianity and Creation (2014)