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Environmental Ethics, Ecological Theology, and Natural Selection

Environmental Ethics, Ecological Theology, and Natural Selection: Suffering and Responsibility

Lisa H. Sideris
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  • Book Info
    Environmental Ethics, Ecological Theology, and Natural Selection
    Book Description:

    In the last few decades, religious and secular thinkers have tackled the world's escalating environmental crisis by attempting to develop an ecological ethic that is both scientifically accurate and free of human-centered preconceptions. This groundbreaking study shows that many of these environmental ethicists continue to model their positions on romantic, pre-Darwinian concepts that disregard the predatory and cruelly competitive realities of the natural world. Examining the work of such influential thinkers as James Gustafson, Sallie McFague, Rosemary Radford Ruether, John Cobb, Peter Singer, and Holmes Rolston, Sideris proposes a more realistic ethic that combines evolutionary theory with theological insight, advocates a minimally interventionist stance toward nature, and values the processes over the products of the natural world.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-52949-5
    Subjects: Philosophy, General Science, Ecology & Evolutionary Biology, Environmental Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-x)
    (pp. 1-10)

    Charles Darwin once said that going public with his theory of natural selection was like confessing to murder. Despite the common assumption that we live in a post-Darwinian world, the perennial resurgence of creationism serves as a reminder that Darwinian theory cannot be taken for granted as a shared understanding of the origin of humans and the mechanisms at work in the natural world. Yet the difficulties that attend embracing the theory of natural selection are not felt only by “fundamentalist” Christians or unenlightened persons. Misgivings and misunderstandings regarding evolutionary theory persist, I think, even among those who consider themselves...

  5. CHAPTER 1 This View of Life The Significance of Evolutionary Theory for Environmental Ethics
    (pp. 11-44)

    Evolutionary biologist Stephen Jay Gould has written that the “stumbling block” to widespread acceptance of Darwinism lies less in comprehending the scientific details of the theory than it does in the radical message of Darwinian science, namely, “its challenge to a set of entrenched Western attitudes that we are not yet ready to abandon.”¹ What exactly is this message? A significant part of it consists in the revelation that humans are not the center of creation—a message that is as simple as it is difficult to grasp. Another disturbing feature of the Darwinian message is that nature operates according...

  6. CHAPTER 2 The Best of All Possible Worlds Ecofeminist Views of Nature and Ethics
    (pp. 45-90)

    Robert Booth Fowler observes that environmentalists frequently turn to the idea that nature provides an ideal model of life in community. For some Christians an ecological ethic requires them to “live the community ethic,” represented by nature’s “holism, interrelatedness, and the vital importance of striving to maximize a common good.”¹ Yet this turn to nature for a model of community life overlooks important questions, including whether natural systems actually exhibit communal, harmonious characteristics. Scientists, he notes, generally see far more “competition and instability in nature than community enthusiasts might like.”²

    The work of two prominent ecofeminists, Rosemary Radford Ruether and...

  7. CHAPTER 3 The Ecological Model and the Reanimation of Nature
    (pp. 91-130)

    The conviction that mechanical views of nature have wreaked environmental havoc is woven throughout the writings of ecological theologians. If science itself is partly to blame for oppressive attitudes toward life, then perhaps a new and better science—enlightened by theological insights—can pave the way toward a more ethical treatment of all creatures. The ecological model, as the product of scientific and theological reflection, promises to provide this fresh outlook on life. We have seen arguments in favor of the ecological model already in the work of ecofeminists. Their support of the ecological model is shared by Christian environmentalists...

  8. CHAPTER 4 Darwinian Equality for All Secular Views of Animal Rights and Liberation
    (pp. 131-166)

    In the present chapter we turn from a discussion of ecological theology and examine some important arguments in secular ethics regarding human obligations toward other forms of life. Animal rights and liberation arguments flourished in the 1970s in the wake of civil rights movements and a surge of interest in ecological issues. A link to civil rights concepts is apparent in Peter Singer and Tom Regan’s arguments, both of which extend to animals certain ethical categories and assumptions traditionally restricted to human beings. The concept of rights, of course, has a long and rich history in Western social and political...

  9. CHAPTER 5 Philosophical and Theological Critiques of Ecological Theology Broadening Environmental Ethics from Ecocentric and Theocentric Perspectives
    (pp. 167-216)

    Environmentalists, whether religious or secular, agree that in order to know what our obligations are to the natural world and its inhabitants, we must acquire some basic understanding of how nature works. But how much understanding is possible? To what extent can we step outside of a human perspective and begin to envision what is good or appropriate for nonhuman forms of life? How do we decide what is most valuable in nature? How can we be certain that our ethical choices, once implemented, will have the intended effect? Environmental ethicists constantly attempt to deal with such questions, yet not...

  10. CHAPTER 6 A Comprehensive Naturalized Ethic
    (pp. 217-262)

    In a recent work entitled God After Darwin John Haught observes, “To a great extent, theologians still think and write almost as though Darwin had never lived.”¹ I have argued throughout this work that much of contemporary ecological theology is a case in point. The failure to take nature seriously is particularly problematic in environmental ethics where knowledge of natural processes is essential. But what does it mean to take nature seriously? Can we, and should we, follow nature in some simple and straightforward manner? Should ethics follow directly from evolutionary and ecological considerations? I have claimed that it should...

  11. CONCLUSION Finitude and Responsibility
    (pp. 263-268)

    In the last few decades the rise of ecological theology and the discipline of environmental ethics as a whole has signaled an important effort to shift concern toward nature and nonhuman forms of life. Ecotheology stems from the conviction of many Christian thinkers that the beliefs, practices, and paradigms of their tradition can and ought to be developed along environmental lines. The imperative to do so is strengthened by scientific evidence pointing to a fundamental interdependence of all life. One of the primary tasks that I have undertaken throughout this project is to closely examine the use of ecological and...

  12. NOTES
    (pp. 269-300)
    (pp. 301-306)
  14. INDEX
    (pp. 307-312)