Ecology and Spirituality: Biodiversity

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.
Richness and diversity of life forms contribute to the realization of these values and are also values in themselves. – First and Second ethics of Deep Ecology (Emphasis Mine)

One of the ways in which the creation is in distress is mentioned in discussions on issues like Global Warming. One of the arguments that is posed as to why people should try to stop this is because it damages the natural balance of life and destroys the biodiversity of the planet.

Now, some would say that the extinction of a particular species is not important. But, I would argue, as would a scientist, that it is indeed important. And, as a Christian, I believe this to be what the Bible teaches.

From a purely scientific standpoint, the diversity of life on earth is vitally important for many reasons. We will limit our discussion here to the impact of the diversity of life on humankind.

[T]he lack of biodiversity, was a contributing factor to several agricultural disasters in history, including the Irish Potato Famine, the European wine industry collapse in the late 1800s, and the US Southern Corn Leaf Blight epidemic of 1970. Higher biodiversity also controls the spread of certain diseases as viruses will need adapt to infect different species…

Biodiversity provides food for humans. Although about 80 percent of our food supply comes from just 20 kinds of plants, humans use at least 40,000 species of plants and animals a day. Many people around the world depend on these species for their food, shelter, and clothing…

A significant proportion of drugs are derived, directly or indirectly, from biological sources; in most cases these medicines can not presently be synthesized in a laboratory setting. About 40% of the pharmaceuticals used in the US are manufactured using natural compounds found in plants, animals, and microorganisms…

A wide range of industrial materials are derived directly from biological resources. These include building materials, fibers, dyes, resins, gums, adhesives, rubber and oil…

Through the field of bionics, considerable technological advancement has occurred which would not have without a rich biodiversity…

For some foodcrops and other economic crops, wild varieties of the domesticated species can be reintroduced to form a better variety than the previous (domesticated) species. The economic impact is gigantic, for even crops as common as the potato (which was bred through only one variety, brought back from the Inca), a lot more can come from these species…

Biodiversity provides many ecosystem services that are often not readily visible. It plays a part in regulating the chemistry of our atmosphere and water supply. Biodiversity is directly involved in recycling nutrients and providing fertile soils. Experiments with controlled environments have shown that humans cannot easily build ecosystems to support human needs; for example insect pollination cannot be mimicked by human-made construction, and that activity alone represents tens of billions of dollars in ecosystem services per annum to humankind…

Many people derive value from biodiversity through leisure activities such as hiking in the countryside, birdwatching or natural history study.

Biodiversity has inspired musicians, painters, sculptors, writers and other artists. Many cultural groups view themselves as an integral part of the natural world and show respect for other living organisms.

Popular activities such as gardening, caring for aquariums and collecting butterflies are all strongly dependent on biodiversity….

The relationships between the original natural areas of these often ‘exotic’ animals and plants and commercial collectors, suppliers, breeders, propagators and those who promote their understanding and enjoyment are complex and poorly understood. It seems clear, however, that the general public responds well to exposure to rare and unusual organisms– they recognize their inherent value at some level, even if they would not want the responsibility of caring for them…

Philosophically it could be argued that biodiversity has intrinsic aesthetic and/or spiritual value to mankind in and of itself

The last point ties directly into our topic at hand: the connection between Ecology and Christian Spirituality. Not only is biodiversity important because it is useful to people, but because it has been given, by God, intrinsic spiritual value. This value does not exist because humans exist, but it existed from the very beginning when God called it all “good.”

The earliest Old Testament authors noticed this. In Job, we find mingled in God’s lecture to Job, a mentioning of God’s concern for all kinds of animals; animals we would probably not give a lick about. Wild donkeys, ostriches, dinosaurs (it seems). The Psalms mention wild goats and rock badgers. And Proverbs mentions ants. If these animals were not important to God, then why would the people He had called as His own see them as valuable and include them in their writings? Could it be, since God has inspired all Scripture, that He also inspired their thoughts regarding the diverse animal life that He had created?

Spiritually speaking, when we look at nature, in some way, we see God at work. And when we see God at work, it should draw us closer to Him. But all too often, it doesn’t.

God has given everyone myriad ways to see Him and His handywork. It is all around us. And yet, when we see the richness of life, all we can think of is how it can benefit us. We look at a rolling field, and we immediately draw up plans for a strip mall.

In a very real sense, our spirituality is tied to creation. As we distance ourselves from what God has made, we distance ourselves from the best way to see and acknowledge God. And when we can’t see or acknowledge God naturally, we try to find our own ways to see Him. But, like Paul told the Athenians, “He is actually not far from each one of us” (Acts 17:27 ESV). He is all around.

In him we live and move and have our being (Acts 17:28a ESV)

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