Coping with Big Numbers and Big Declines in Biodiversity

When I first read this big headline last fall: 3 Billion Birds Lost Since 1970, I had barely even begun to process the previous big environmental headline just a few months prior, which was, if you remember: 1 Million Species at Risk of Extinction.  I am currently of the opinion that these wide-sweeping types of studies are too big to effect any type of practical change. It seems as if the Ecology news now mimics the Economy news. The financial debt and the ecological debt we have accrued are both incomprehensibly large. And we are absolutely immune to the headlines. 

When I was a residence assistant in college we called it “sign blindness.” Put up a sign announcing an event happening in the dorms and by 2nd semester the freshmen had seen so many of these signs they became absolutely blind to them. This is the case with environmental alarmism. This is not a critique of the environmental movement. This is true of media across issues, on both sides of the aisle.  Rather than massive sweeping studies we need to prioritize our problems. We need a rubric for determining which ecological problems most deserve our attention. We need to do this locally first and then regionally. 

Several important categories worth putting forward in a Top Ten list for your local area:

  1. Water quality 
  2. Air quality 
  3. Acres of natural landscape
  4. Biodiversity 
  5. Soil fertility 

A recent article from the American Bird Conservancy took the 3 Billion Birds report and pulled the five American birds with the sharpest population declines. By presenting a limited number of priority species in this fashion land owners, wildlife managers, scientists, politicians, and the informed public at large can better digest the state of affairs and move forward thoughtfully. 

To a Waterfowl

A student recently sent me this as an encouragement. It meant so much to me. He was saying “I get you, Mr. B. and Bryant understood, too.” Absolutely beautiful. 

To a Waterfowl
By William Cullen Bryant

Whither, ‘midst falling dew,
While glow the heavens with the last steps of day,
Far, through their rosy depths, dost thou pursue
Thy solitary way?

Vainly the fowler’s eye
Might mark thy distant flight, to do thee wrong,
As, darkly seen against the crimson sky,
Thy figure floats along.

Seek’st thou the plashy brink
Of weedy lake, or marge of river wide,
Or where the rocking billows rise and sink
On the chaféd ocean side?

There is a Power, whose care
Teaches thy way along that pathless coast,—
The desert and illimitable air
Lone wandering, but not lost.

All day thy wings have fanned,
At that far height, the cold thin atmosphere;
Yet stoop not, weary, to the welcome land,
Though the dark night is near.

And soon that toil shall end,
Soon shalt thou find a summer home, and rest,
And scream among thy fellows; reeds shall bend,
Soon, o’er thy sheltered nest.

Thou’rt gone, the abyss of heaven
Hath swallowed up thy form, yet, on my heart
Deeply hath sunk the lesson thou hast given,
And shall not soon depart.

He, who, from zone to zone,
Guides through the boundless sky thy certain flight,
In the long way that I must trace alone,
Will lead my steps aright.

Monkey Island and Extreme Garden Tending

“Christians who do not believe in the complete evolutionary scale have reason to respect nature as the total evolutionist never can, because we believe that God made these things specifically in their own areas. ”― Francis A. Schaeffer, Pollution & the Death of Man

I was simultaneously awed and appalled as I read this article earlier this evening. A population of refugee chimps, formerly experimental test subjects now living on river islands in their home country of Liberia, are fed twice daily by an incredibly dedicated group of caretakers. I had read about horse sanctuaries for retired race horses and followed stories of rescued homeless pets from the Best Friends Animal Society years ago when my wife received their newsletter. Prior to a few hours ago, however I had never considered the fate of animals used in medical research.

Thankfully others have. This story’s hero is Joseph Thomas. He has fed these chimps for forty years, several since they were infants. Incredible dedication. 

This story makes me wonder what a reformed environmental view of the medical use of creatures should look like. How about the pet trade? The production of animals purely for use as specimens or for dissection? I don’t have answers at the moment. Let’s work on this. 

The NIH officially got out of the business of testing on chimpanzees in 2015. There are several retirement communities specifically for these primates including Chimp Haven in Keithville, LA. They also run a facility near Dallas. Here is the latest news on medical chimp retirement. 

Saruman, Shift, and the State of Creation

Region in the Gulf of Mexico with such a reduced oxygen (hypoxic) state that no living creatures can survive here.

This article was originally posted on  January 13, 2013 here .   

This is an introductory statement to what I hope becomes a consistent and coherent train of thought regarding the Creation, our role as God’s image bearers, principles of Christian dominion, Creation Concern priorities, case studies, and opportunities to engage in stewardship actions at home and afield.

Some of our favorite writers of fiction in the Christian community, Tolkien, Lewis, and others, have a passion for wild lands, for intact ecosystems. They make a strong case for the majesty of deep forests and for the often strange creatures found there. One of the main qualities of the enemies of good (Saruman, Shift the Ape) is their hunger for ecosystem destruction. Their hate of God’s diverse, complex, and intricate Creation is deep. They work to replace it with mechanisms of wood and stone and metal. I pray we allow our knowledge of the Lord’s handiwork to flow into meaningful principles and engagement. Let us take dominion as our shepherd and husband of the church demonstrated, with boldness, with understanding, with deep conviction.

With knowledge of our role being primary, consider these verses. Think about them deeply and not necessarily in economic terms first. Also remember that environmental degradation which includes fouling of air and water, extinction, and other measurable physical consequences are ultimately caused by sin.

Genesis 1 – The Creation

Genesis 1:26-31 – The Dominion mandate

Genesis 6 – God destroys the Creation and Preserves Biodiversity

Genesis 8 – God’s covenant with Noah and with the Creation

Ezekiel 34 – A picture of the restoration of Creation

good sermon that touches on all of these topics and serves as a primer for our role in all of this.

Case Study: Rivers and Dams

Ice Harbor Dam on the Lower Snake River

Biblical principles of taking dominion accomplish what the prevailing paradigms that drive the building and removal of dams are unable to do. In the public square, there are two mainstream paradigms, two ways of thinking about dams.

So starts the senior thesis of a recent college graduate in his Toward A Christian Ethic of Dams: Taking Dominion of the Rivers. I  had the good fortune a year or two ago, of spending time with Collin McGee, a farmer and father, who raises hogs, and chickens, and children in the southeastern U.S. Collin has a passion for tending Creation. And I believe he has produced a valuable work that needs to be read. 

This work serves as a case study for how we need to frame, analyze, and develop large scale infrastructure projects on the landscape. McGee’s work provides helpful historical context and a balanced (man’s needs versus the needs of those in our care) approach. If applied, I believe this framework could significantly reduce Creation’s groaning on river systems in the Western U.S. and beyond. 

This is the first of what I hope to be many more case studies, followed by opportunities for testing on the ground, and eventually implementation.

Case Study Continues 

The first focuses on the benefits dams provide like cheap hydropower, irrigation water, withholding flood waters, etc. The second focuses on the caustic effects of dams, including stopping fish runs, ruining animal habitat, harming water quality, etc. Both paradigms are founded firmly in a wrong understanding of the natural order God created. The first places man completely outside of nature, able to do with it however he please; the second  places man completely inside of nature, on equal moral footing with the land. Because both paradigms are grounded in flawed understandings of man’s relation to creation, they both lead to faulty end-goals.

Read the full paper: TowardAChristianEthicOfDamsMcGee2018

A Lingering Log In Our Eye

“We need a powerful, God-fearing, gospel-centric approach to understanding Creation, for interacting with and learning from the Lord through His general revelation”

From whence comes our sin? Inside, most of the time, if we are honest. If we consult God’s word, we will find this confirmed by James .

Scientism and its heroes alive and dead: Carl Sagan, Stephen Hawking, Bill Nye, Neil deGrasse Tyson, are external manifestations of the fundamental idolatry, worshipping self and the creation instead of the Creator. Christian teachers and preachers have responded to and have worked diligently to refute these icons of pop culture intellectualism. Perhaps too diligently. See The War for Scientism for more on this ongoing battle.

Back to my premise. What do I mean we have responded too diligently? Are they refuted? Have they quieted? They most certainly have not quieted and the likelihood of spokespersons with this much public persuasion power backing down is basically nil. So how then have we been too diligent?

They are easy pickings. These public figures draw our ire and our wrath, and rightfully so, for they see His works and so are therefore without excuse ( Romans 1:19-20). We have still sinned here, however. With our dander up we have remained focused on these icons of Scientism, so much so that we have been distracted from our task given in Genesis 2:15. They have doubled as a log in our own eye. They have become straw-men, themselves, distracting us from taking dominion and in reading God’s Natural Bible .

By default we’ve ceded the terrain of general revelation and its care. So how, should we then live, to use the phrase from Francis Schaeffer. How do we regain a full-orbed view and gospel-centered approach in this arena?

We need a powerful, God-fearing, gospel-centric approach to understanding Creation, for learning how to interact with the Lord and learn from Him through His general revelation. We need a creational approach to living and a creational approach to doing and understanding science. We need a way holistic way to fully participate in this world and still not be of this world.

We have repressed this effort because it is terrifying. It means coming to the gates and not backing down. It means acknowledging that our fear has driven us to understand Creation defensively for at least the last 100 years. It means a paradigm shift for how we think about and tend to God’s handiwork.

The Book of Nature Has Three Leaves

The Lord has revealed Himself to us in two primary ways: special and general revelation. The bible is His special revelation. The Creation is His general revelation. He wants us to be steeped in both. This is the pathway forward for the Christian. The excerpt below paints a picture of how we many begin to open this second book while showing a helpful illustration of how the two correspond and work together to reveal God’s wisdom and truths. 

From Charles Spurgeon’s exposition on Psalm 19, Treasuries of David


EXPOSITIONVerse 1. “The heavens declare the glory of God.” The book of nature has three leaves, heaven, earth, and sea, of which heaven is the first and the most glorious, and by its aid we are able to see the beauties of the other two. Any book without its first page would be sadly imperfect, and especially the great Natural Bible, since its first pages, the sun, moon, and stars, supply light to the rest of the volume, and are thus the keys, without which the writing which follows would be dark and undiscerned. Man walking erect was evidently made to scan the skies, and he who begins to read creation by studying the stars begins the book at the right place.