Ecology and Spirituality: Intrinsic Value

And God said, “Let the waters swarm with swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the expanse of the heavens.” So God created the great sea creatures and every living creature that moves, with which the waters swarm, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. And God blessed them, saying, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth.” And there was evening and there was morning, the fifth day. And God said, “Let the earth bring forth living creatures according to their kinds–livestock and creeping things and beasts of the earth according to their kinds.” And it was so. And God made the beasts of the earth according to their kinds and the livestock according to their kinds, and everything that creeps on the ground according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. (Gen 1:20-25 ESV)

The well-being and flourishing of human and nonhuman life on Earth have value in themselves (synonyms: intrinsic value, inherent value). These values are independent of the usefulness of the nonhuman world for human purposes. – First ethic of Deep Ecology

The first idea presented by Deep Ecology is the idea that each life on planet earth, human and otherwise, has value in and of itself. This intrinsic value is not dependent on the creature’s usefulness to humankind. Hence why they all have “intrinsic” value.

Within the Judeo-Christian tradition, this idea is expressed clearly in Genesis one, when God calls the earth and waters to “bring forth” life. God called the earth to do this and then “saw that it was good.” Why was it good? Because God “saw” that it was.

For many Christians, it is understood that the reason any part of creation has value is because God has given it value. It is valuable due to its origins in God. But this cannot be deduced from the Genesis 1 creation poem. According to Moses, creation is good in and of itself. It is as if God called creation to “bring forth” life and then watched as it did so and nodded His head approvingly.

Now, for the Calvinist, this poses a serious problem. We Christians of the Reformed tradition understand God to be in control of all things directly and indirectly. Not only that, but all things have been foreordained by God to happen in the very manner in which they happen for His glory alone. I am in no way saying that this is untrue. But it is very hard to gather this idea from the Genesis text before us.

According to Genesis 1, God is only the means of origins and beginnings, but the work in between is independent of His controlling. Hence how God can merely see that creation is good rather than declaring it as such.

This is in part why the fall had such far-reaching consequences. Not only did people mess themselves up, but they ruined the whole of creation. According to Paul,

For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it…For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. (Rom 8:20,22 ESV)

God had seen all that was good, and the one part of creation that He had created in His own image by His own hands and breathed His own Spirit into came along and ruined the whole lot. The creation was ruined by humankind. What was once good, was now corrupted. And God held His hand-made creations personally responsible.

But notice something else: After the fall, the only part of creation that became not-good was people. The rest of creation is still perceived by God as good and valuable for He has never said otherwise.

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One thought on “Ecology and Spirituality: Intrinsic Value

  1. I’m tired of how many of us don’t give a darn about how our population numbers are overpopulating our earth, and having impact on climate change. Read my recent post on http://peoplepowergranny.blogspot.com and tell me what size you think families should be today.

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