Is Man Part of Nature?

Despite drawing heavily on the Judeo-Christian tradition, environmental theology also contains major new theological elements. In the western religious tradition to return to an original state of nature has been to return to the sinless condition of mankind in the Garden of Eden, or for many secular theologies of the modern age, to some primitive tribal existence. Current environmental theologians, however, now have available to them the fairly recent scientific knowledge that for all but a very limited recent span, nature did not include human beings. To return to the original nature of creation thus might now be interpreted to mean a return to a state of nature that preceded human influence.

This theological logic is today exhibited in the formal criteria for designation of wilderness areas, where it is precisely the absence of signs of human presence that must be documented. Following a similar logic, the National Park Service maintains a policy to avoid interfering with nature and to seek to return to original natural conditions preceding human influence (thus, man-made fires are fought but “natural” fires are allowed to burn). The government goes to great lengths to regulate very small quantities of man-made pesticides, but sees little problem in the widespread presence of dangerous pesticides that are created naturally by plants and vegetables. Global warming due to natural causes would be a cause for concern, but would no doubt stimulate much less public alarm than warming due to a buildup of gases caused by human activities. In each case the violation of nature is the basic concern, not the risk or other impact on human well-being.

Adapted from: Robert H. Nelson
Unoriginal Sin: The Judeo-Christian Roots of Ecotheology The Heritage Foundation; Policy Review 1990 Summer; SECTION: No. 53; Pg. 52