Assess the claim that secular approaches to environmental issues are of more help than religious approaches.
Environmental ethics considers the major concerns about the environment and evaluates these against the various ethical theories and the other ways in which the environment is shown to have value.
A key religious approach is whether dominion or stewardship (the way we treat our environment) is the way. The Bible appears to imply that humans can do what they want because the Bible states that nature was the inanimate creation of God. Words such as ‘dominion’, ‘subdue’, or ‘rule over’ are seen in Genesis 1 and have paved the way for exploitation. This anthropocentric idea is supported by Aristotle who claims “since nature makes nothing purposeless or in vain, it is undeniably true that she has made all animals for the sake of man”. Under dominion, humans are free to do as they please, free to litter, free to make money by polluting the environment through acts such as the burning of fossil fuels. There is argument however, that this dominion gives us responsibility to ensure the world is cared for as it belongs to God. Genesis 2 states God put man into the Garden of Eden to ‘work it and to take care of it’. Humans therefore have two roles, to conserve and care for creation and to act as the director of nature’s obedience to God. Through stewardship however we must be responsible over such things such as taking care not to litter and perhaps reducing the amount we pollute the environment. Originating from the Augustinian Theodicy is the idea The Fall may explain why we experience environmental problems as this is when humans became poor stewards and therefore gives the environment intrinsic value.
These two very different interpretations to environmental ethics seem enormously contradictory and therefore very unhelpful with no clear cut course of action. The Bible is accused of encouraging human domination and exploitation. Lynn White’s article The Historical Roots of our Ecological Crisis argues that the current disaster facing the environment is due to the Christian command to have ‘dominion’ over the earth. People have moved away from nature-centred religions to a religion where God demands dominion over nature. The ecological crisis will be solved only when the Christian view is rejected.
An alternative way of looking at the environment and the way we should treat it in a religious light is through natural law. Like Aristotle, Aquinas saw animals as existing for the benefit of humans, but it is still possible to apply the primary precepts to the environment as they are universal and so provide a framework for all peoples and all cultures. The precept of worshipping God implies reverence for creation and gives value to the environment. We share many of the precepts with other animals, such as reproduction and the education of the young. However, although Aquinas would share the view of stewardship that we have a responsibility to maintain harmony in the natural word…