The Historical Roots of Our Ecologic Crisis Short Summary

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“Hence we shall go on to hold a deterioration ecologic crisis until we reject the Christian maxim that nature has no ground for being save to function man.” ( Lynn White Jr. ) Discuss.

“The Historical Roots of Our Ecologic Crisis” an Introduction

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This essay will be looking at Lynn White Jr’s 1967 article ‘The Historical Roots of Our Ecologic Crisis’ and the chief theories that he states and puts frontward to back up his allegation that Christianity and Christian beliefs are the root cause of the current and declining ecological crisis that we are presently in the thick of.

When Lynn White Jr. gave his talk entitled ‘The Historical Roots of Our Ecologic Crisis’ in 1966 and subsequent article of the same rubric was published in 1967 [ 1 ] he stirred many responses and arguments. White wrote this essay during the 1960’s when societal geographic expedition and spiritual and religious affairs were at the head of modern society, particularly the younger coevalss who understood that we were heading for a serious environmental exigency that needed to be examined before any solutions could be discussed.

White is accused of falsely impeaching the Christian religion, misunderstanding of transitions and merely looking at a really little proportion of the Bible.

Arguments and responses to his article ranged from enraged defense mechanism of Christian beliefs and religions to finish understanding with White’s theories and analyses of who is to fault for the ecological crisis the universe is confronting. White recognised that before we could look at solutions and plan the motion frontward in respects to environmentalism, we needed to look to the past and happen the root cause for the ground why we find the Earth and our ecology in this quandary and besides measure human attitudes towards nature.

Lynn White Jr was a historian ( the first American historiographer to earnestly analyze the function of technological innovation in the Middle Ages ) and he believed that the industrial revolution and its roots in mediaeval Judeo-Christianity are to be held accountable and are finally the culprits in respects to the environmental ruin in which humanity has found the planet in.

His chief claims are –

  1. The Bible asserts adult male ‘s high quality over nature and leans towards anthropocentricity [ 2 ] .
  2. Christianity creates a dichotomy between adult male and the remainder of creative activity, which has no “ soul/reason ” such as that world has, and is therefore inferior.
  3. It is God’s will that adult malefeatnature for hisproperterminals.
  4. The solutions are either to abdicate the Christian religion wholly or to look to Saint Francis of Assisi as a leader of the religion.

How does Lynn White Jr. semen to his decisions?

The bulk of White’s theories stem from his surveies in mediaeval history, sociology and agricultural methods. He was originally a bookman in mediaeval history and engineering and believed that when analyzing the root cause of our ecological crisis we should be looking at the history that underlies modern engineering and scientific discipline.

Harmonizing to White –

‘Science was traditionally blue, bad and rational in purpose ; engineering was lower category, empirical, action orientated.’ [ 3 ]

White believed that the brotherhood of scientific discipline and engineering is related to ‘contemporary democratic revolutions, ’ and it removed societal barriers making an accent on the unison of the encephalon and the manus. And because of this emerging democratic civilization, which as a effect triggered the ecological harm to our planet, White believed that traveling frontward would intend reconsidering axioms with a spiritual background.

In the early 13Thursdaycentury, natural divinity [ 4 ] started to seek and larn how God’s head worked and how his creative activity maps. ‘The rainbow was no longer merely a symbol of hope foremost sent to Noah after the deluge’ [ 5 ] Grosseteste, Fr Bacon and Theodoric of Freiberg produced improbably intricate surveies and work in respects to the optics of the rainbow. White [ 6 ] continues, “From the 13Thursdaycentury onward, up to and including Leibnitz and Newton, every major scientist … explained his motives in spiritual terms” . Here, White comes to the decision that modern engineering and scientific discipline are a byproduct and result of natural divinity. This may hold been due to the Industrial and besides the Scientific Revolution, when western minds attempted to extinguish flawed ‘scientific beliefs’ established by antediluvian minds and preserved by the church. This was done by detecting nature and the Torahs that oversaw natural phenomenon. The church at the clip encouraged the scrutinies believing that analyzing the natural universe showed esteem in God’s work.

The following measure to measuring how Christianity has a topographic point in scientific discipline, engineering and the effects sing nature and ecology, White sought to looking within the bible and attempted to set up what the Christian religion says in respects to nature and man’s nexus with it.

When saying how Christianity dictates human kind’s relationships with nature, White chiefly refers to the creative activity and Genesis in the bible, particularly Genesis 1:28 –

“God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in figure ; make full the earthand subdue it. Rule overthe fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every life animal that moves on the ground.” [ 7 ]

When looking at the above transition you can see how and why White interprets and therefore comes to the decision that the bible gives worlds permission to work nature and have control over all birds and sea animate beings and ‘every life animal that moves on the ground’ . The words used do look to moderately maneuver to this premise.

During the industrial revolution work forces ( and adult females ) may hold seen the reading of the bible as blessing to utilize the Earth and animate beings for their benefit. To mine for more coal, to handle animate beings without kindness, to construct more on land that was sacred or of import to wild animate beings and to make aggregate countries of deforestation, all for economic worth and promotion in industries that were dining.

White stresses – ‘Our scientific discipline and engineering have grown out of Christian attitudes towards man’s relation to nature.’ He goes onto affirm that, ‘We are superior to nature, disdainful of it, willing to utilize if for our slightest whim.’ [ 8 ]

One of White’s suggestions to the ecological jobs start by looking at Saint Francis of Assisi and his beliefs in the virtuousness of humbleness for work forces non merely every bit work forces as persons but as world. St Francis besides believed that there should be no hierarchy of worlds over animate beings and all things were made for the ‘glorification of their transcendent Creator’ [ 9 ] and attempted to replace the thought of man’s regulation over creative activity with the thought of equality of all animals including adult male, nevertheless, he had small success. White continues to state that because our modern scientific discipline and engineering is so blemished with ‘orthodox Christian haughtiness toward nature’ we can non anticipate any solution from Christianity entirely.

Criticisms of White’s article and theories

White’s critics accuse him of a few errors, amongst others: –

  • Merely reading and mentioning to a really little per centum of the transitions within the bible and establishing his theories and claims upon these.
  • Mentioning to the Bible, an ancient spiritual text, for issues faced in modern Western society.
  • Not looking beyond Judeo-christian religions that do non precede the Middle Ages.
  • White claims are purportedly forward-thinking, yet are based in history and hind-sight.

Jeanne Kay [ 10 ] provinces that the major subjects sing nature in the Hebrew bible are concerned with the usage of nature as godly justness and that the bible holds limited bearing sing environmental issues faced in Western society.

For illustration the clime in ancient Israel would hold been really different to the modern clime in Western society, every bit good as a immense discrepancy in affairs of ecology, agribusiness and economic system. It is impossible to seek and compare the two.

Kay besides brings up the topic of interlingual renditions of the bible. The Old Testament in peculiar was written in ancient Hebrew texts, yet most of the English speech production participants in the argument refer to and read merely the English interlingual rendition.

An illustration of the jobs refering interlingual rendition in the bible, particularly when looking at ecological subjects, is that many names of works and animate beings species are misidentified in the King James version. Another illustration is that there are no tantamount footings in the Hebrew Bible for the English word “wilderness” which is used in great many contexts in the English linguistic communication and appears over 300 times within the King James Bible.

Kay cites another illustration of hapless interlingual rendition –

“English interlingual renditions normally call animate beings ‘living creatures’ instead than ‘souls’ . But compare ‘nefesh’in Genesis 1:20 ( “let the Earth convey Forth thelife animal” ) with Psalms 42:2-3 ( “my psychethirstethfor God” ) The Hebrew word is‘nefesh’in both cases” [ 11 ]

Lynn White Jr accuses the Christian religion of an anthropocentric position of nature and the creative activity, yet Kay describes the bible holding more of an anthropomorphous construct of nature as they have their ain list of commandments. In Genesis, God commands that the animate beings go forth and multiply along with giving the same commands to Adam and Noah ( Genesis 1:22 and 8:17 ) God besides creates workss at the same clip making their generative potencies ( Genesis 1:11-12 and 9:3 )

Eugene Hargrove [ 12 ] claims that White’s thesis is inadequately framed to guarantee that there would be no utile results that would ensue and that White’s proposed solutions are non acceptable.

In his essay “Ancient Roots of our Ecological Crisis” , J. Donald Hughes states that like White, the underpinning of humans’ attitude towards nature that nature is something to be conquered and dominated are based on spiritual beliefs and human history. Yet, Hughes feels that we need to look farther back in history and claims that it is non merely a recent alteration in the relationship between worlds and nature. Hughes notes that animism was replaced by other positions in assorted parts of the universe, and the Transcendent monotheism of Israel fortified the belief that nature was non godly and a lesser signifier of creative activity. Ancient Grecian philosophers so went on to replace traditional mythology and polytheism with ground being chief. This belief that all things merely exist to function the intent of human demands continued for centuries, including the ancient Romans handling nature as another state that is to be conquered for net income and benefit. These attitudes influenced the early Christian position that the universe they lived in was merely impermanent and that other things in the universe were non relevant to their redemption.


When I ab initio read Lynn White Jr’s article I ab initio thought that a few noteworthy points were brought frontward and discussed. I believe that White did hold some of import theories and his article made people look and think about how faiths have an impact upon how worlds relate and treat nature. His statements that Judeo-christian beliefs have an anthropocentric mentality sing nature are both feasible and of import. The bible does look at nature from an anthropocentric point of view, but this is because it is written by a human and when we look at nature we can non assist but look at it from a human position at least, as we can non in world expression at it from any other point of position. We are worlds and can merely establish our experiences on how we have those experiences. We may in theory effort to look at nature from an animal’s position, but we can non cognize how that carnal experiences things or how they process things. Do they hold differing mental provinces towards other species? Do they worry about how the ecological crisis will impact them? Are they even aware of half the jobs that we as worlds contemplate and experience? We can non reply these inquiries as we are non able to pass on with them.

When White claims “…we shall go on to hold a deterioration ecologic crisis until we reject the Christian maxim that nature has no ground for being save to function man” he did non look at other spiritual beliefs and religions. Did he see that hapless attitudes and the distressing intervention of nature and animate beings are non merely confined to Western Christian society? There are many instances of animate being maltreatment and deforestation in all parts of the universe and by people of all religions and beliefs. To put the incrimination of the ecological crisis upon a little subdivision of the human race is both nescient and unsafe as it divides communities and societies where people with different beliefs may populate together.

Another concern I have with White’s theories is that it does non hold any existent solution to the job. And while he appears to be rather happy to finger-point, his deficiency of replies, or at least deficiency of executable replies, does non assist us travel frontward towards any programs or declarations. His article did open up doors to how we should look at spiritual beliefs and historical affairs to assist us understand why we have an environmental crisis. His thoughts, although non all considered being of good standing, created a new manner of looking at our ecology, promoting all spiritual religions ( including those of Judeo-christian beliefs ) to look at how they could assist and travel frontward in our responsibility to our planet.

Finally I feel that White should hold looked at other transitions within the bible to see that there is a batch more to see in respects to the relationship between God and his creative activities. Take Deuteronomy 11:12 for illustration – “a land which the Lord thy God careth for, the eyes of the Lord thy God are ever upon it, from the beginning of the twelvemonth even unto the terminal of the year”

So when we see that God created adult male ‘in his ain image’ I believe it meant that like God we are to love the land and attention for it. We are granted with a stewardship of the land and all the animate beings upon it – God created us all and hence, we should all be seen every bit equal as we are seen in God’s eyes and as is mentioned in the bible. White didn’t refer to any of the positive subjects in the bible regarding worlds and nature. He didn’t see the relationship in the bible to be a dynamic relationship, one where worlds relied upon nature and nature relied upon worlds – he read and saw merely a Manichaean and hierarchal relationship, like the really Christians he blames.

Bibliography and Mentions

Web sites

  • hypertext transfer protocol: // — White, Lynn.pdf – Accessed 28/12/2013 10.12am
  • hypertext transfer protocol: // – Accessed 28/12/2013 12.33pm
  • hypertext transfer protocol: // – Accessed 28/12/2013 11.48am
  • hypertext transfer protocol: // – Accessed 29/12/2013 6.20pm
  • hypertext transfer protocol: // – Accessed 29/12/2013 7.40pm
  • hypertext transfer protocol: // — christianity/Whitney — White % 20Thesis.pdf – Accessed 29/12/2013 8.25pm

Books and Diaries

  • Botzler, Richard G and Armstrong, Susan J ; 1998 ; Environmental Ethics – Divergence and Convergence ; United States ; McGraw-Hill
  • Kay, Jeanne ; 1988 ;Environmental Ethical motives; Concepts of Nature in the Hebrew Bible ; Volume 10, Issue 4, Winter 1988 ; Pages 309-327
  • Pojman, Louis P ; 2008 ; Environmental Ethical motivesReadings in Theory and Application, United States ; Thomson Wadsworth
  • Schaeffer, Francis A ; 1976 ;Pollution and the Death of Man – The Christian View of Ecology; United States ; Tyndale House Publishers

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The Historical Roots of Our Ecologic Crisis Short Summary. (2017, Jul 06). Retrieved from

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