Origins of Life
Christianity and Judaism:
- The Bible and the Torah begin with a story that tells how God created the heavens and the Earth out of nothing, filled the Earth with living creatures and made human beings (Genesis 1-2).
- God completed his work in six days and rested on the seventh day.
- It says that it was already there but was covered in water and darkness.
- God made the planet able to support life (with plants and trees for food) and then made animals and humans.
- A second story describes the creation of the first man and woman, Adam and Eve (Genesis 2:4-25). Most Christians believe these stories were written as representations for religous triths, rather than literal events.
- The Qur’an teaches that Allah made the heavens and the Earth in six days (Surah 11:7).
- Man was created first, then woman, and all humans are descended from these two people (Surah 4:1).
- The Qur’an has a story that is similar to the story of Adam and Eve (Surah 2:31-37).
- Awe: a feeling of respect; insight into meaning greater than oneself.
- Wonder: marvelling at the complexity and beauty of the universe.
- Christians believe God created the universe as an expression of his love.
- As God’s children, humans have the responsibility to care for and protect the natural world and be thankful to God for his gift.
- For Muslims, the universe was created by Allah and belongs to him, not to humans.
- God’s oneness or unity is reflected in the oneness of humans with nature. People must care for the world for future generations.
- Jews believe in the goodness of God’s creation (as shown in the quotation at the start of this section) and say prayers of thanksgiving for the continual daily miracle of existence.
- They believe that humans have a responsibility to defend nature against exploitation and abuse.
Caring for Planet Earth
Most religions, through their creation stories or other teachings, believe that:
- God created the Earth with the right conditions to sustain life
- God created all living things, including people
- The world really belongs to God, not to human beings
- Plants, fish, birds and animals were created for people to use and to make the Earth a beautiful place to live
- God deliberately made living things capable of reproducing naturally, so ature continues God’s work in the creation of new life.
- The religious idea that people have been given a special responsibility to be in charge of the Earth, to protect and care for it.
- Since the Earth belongs to God, people have a duty as stewards to look after it on God’s behalf
- In return, we are able to use what the Earth provides for our own survival.
- People do not have a right to abuse the natural world.
- Religious people believe that God will judge humans when they die on how well they look after the Earth.
- They think that respecting God by looking after his creation will help to ensure a good afterlife.
Effects of Modern Life
The Way We Live Now
The Earth is the only planet with an environment and resources that can support human life. If people destroy the planet, they will destroy themselves in the process. Modern life is putting more strains on the planet than ever before. Some threats to the environment include:
- Carbon emissions from vehicles, power stations and factories
- Greenhouse gases destroying the ozone layer
- Increasing amounts of waste
- Pollution of rivers and seas by oil, pesticides and nitrates
- Deforestation and destruction of natural habitats
- Using up natural resources faster than they can be replaced.
People are now more aware of the importance of recycling in saving money, resources and the environment. Most households now recycle glass, cans, newspapers, cardboard, plastic and garden waste. Recycling helps save the environment by:
- Saving energy, which reduces carbon emissions.
- Conserving natural resources so protecting natural habitats
- Reducing the need for landfill sites (rubbish tips) that produce methane, a greenhouse gas.
Pollution: the contamination of something, especially the environment.
Acid Rain: rain made acid by contamination through pollution in the atmosphere as the result of emissions from factories, vehicles, power stations, and so on.
Oil Spills: leaking of oil into the environment, usually the sea.
Toxic chemicals: poisonous chemicals.
Pesticides: substances (poison) used to destroy insects and pests that attack crops.
Pollution is a fairly recent problem so the founders of the world’s religions did not speak about it. However, their teachings can be applied to the issues. Polluting the planet is not good stewardship, as God’s creation is being abused. Pollution harms people so is not following Christian teaching to ‘love one’s neighbour’. It harms living creatures so is against the Buddhist first precept not to harm living beings.
Destruction of Natural Habitats
Natural Habitats: the places where species of plants or animals live in the wild.
Deforestation: the cutting down of large amounts of forest, usually because of business needs.
Effects of Defforestation:
- Deforestation destroys the natural habitats of animals and plants so that they face extinction.
- Deforestation contributes to climate change.
- Trees also draw water up through their roots and release it into the atmosphere, from where it falls back to Earth as rain.
- With the loss of protective cover from trees, soil washes away into water courses, lakes and dams. This can cause flooding and landslides.
Christianity - The Earth and all life on it are ... given to us to share and develop, not to dominate and exploit.’ (Roman Catholic Church, 1991)
Judaism - ‘Do not destroy ... trees by putting an axe to them, because you can eat their fruit.’ (Deuteronomy 20:19)
Islam - ‘There is no altering the laws of Allah’s creation.’ (Surah 30.30)
- The world’s population is increasing by 3,500 people every 20 minutes.
- It took all of recorded history until 1830 for the world population to reach one billion.
- Since 1830, population growth has ‘exploded’.
- Oil, Coal and Gas
The following elements will run out by 2099:
- Gallium, Indium, Hafrium
- Zinc and Copper
Many individual religious believers probably waste resources as much as anyone else. However, religious teachings make it clear that the Earth belongs to God. Humans have a duty to care not only for the planet but also for their fellow human beings. This makes some issues complicated because the welfare of people must be weighed against the welfare of the planet in years to come. Religions see both going hand in hand to conserve the world and its peoples.
Climate Change: the idea that the climate is getting warmer (global warming).
Global Warming: the scientific concept that the world is getting warmer.
Droughts: long periods of abnormally low rainfall.
Famine: starvation owing to drastic, far- reaching food shortage.
- Most religious believers consider climate change an important issue because of the harm it can do to people, animals and the delicately balanced system of life on Earth.
- Many would also see the exploitation and abuse of the Earth’s resources as a sign of sinfulness and greed.
- Religious principles of good stewardship, sanctity of life, love of neighbour, compassion for the poor, living in harmony with the natural world are applied to environmental problems by all religions.
Looking After the World
Conservation: looking after the environment and protecting animals.
Earth Summits: informal name for United Nations Conferences on Environment and Development.
Sustainable Development: development which takes into consideration the impact on the natural world for future generations.
Rio de Janeiro 1992: The first Earth Summit discussed pollution, deforestation and the growing scarcity of water. The Summit produced Agenda 21, a plan for saving the planet in the 21st century. The plan urged countries to find alternative sources of energy, to protect animal and plant species and to promote sustainable development. Countries also agreed to keep greenhouse gas emissions at a steady level.
Kyoto 1997: The Kyoto Protocol was agreed at this meeting. Countries promised to cut their CO2 and other greenhouse gas emissions. If they merely maintained or actually increased their emissions, they agreed to carbon trading - paying another country with low emissions to offset their own.
Johannesburg 2002: The World Summit on Sustainable Development discussed the problems of the poor, particularly the two billion people who live without clean water. The Summit was also concerned about the loss of many animal and plant species, and the reduced numbers of fish in the sea. The 185 countries that attended agreed to work hard to combat these problems by 2015.
World religious leaders met at Assisi (1986) and Ohito (1995) to discuss environmental problems. Following are some of the key points made at Assisi.
Christianity: Just because humans were put in charge of Creation does not give us permission to abuse, spoil, waste, or destroy what God has made. God’s glory is shown in the natural world. Christians oppose all thoughtless exploitation of nature that threatens to destroy it and human life as well.
Islam: God’s oneness (unity) is reflected in people’s oneness with creation. Allah has made people stewards of the Earth and he will hold them to account for their actions. Allah’s trustees (all Muslims) are responsible for maintaining the unity of his creation, the integrity of the Earth, its plants and animals, its wildlife and its natural environment. Submission to Allah’s will should govern all decisions.
Judaism: God placed humans in charge of nature but he expected people to act with justice and compassion towards the natural world. Now the environment is in danger of being poisoned and various species, both plant and animal, are becoming extinct. So Jews must put the defence of nature at the centre of their concerns.