[Gary Brumbelow and Darrow Miller recently exchanged email about Francis Schaeffer’s 1974 seminal book, Pollution and the Death of Man. Their (slightly edited) conversation is offered here in hopes of being of value to our readers.]
Gary: I have just finished reading Pollution and the Death of Man by Francis Schaeffer. I came away with a new appreciation for the proper Christian respect due creation because it is made by God. My position has been (and continues to be) heavily influenced by a book entitled The Cross and the Rainforest, which documents the anti-Christian roots and false “science” which lie at the roots of the environmental movement.
Darrow: I agree that the modern environmental movement is not born of biblical theism but from neo-paganism. I argue this in Discipling Nations. While this is so, we need to function proactively from biblical truth and the nature of reality; God exists and he has created a real universe that he has called ‘good.’ Too many Christians build their understanding from a negation of wrong. The opposite of a wrong is not always right. For instance, the opposite of naturalism (nature is ultimately only physical) is animism (reality is ultimately only spiritual). Both are wrong. We need to build our case from a biblical worldview, a unified field of knowledge and reality as God has made it.
Gary: The Bible depicts creation as a picture of invisible truth. Agreed?
Darrow: It is true that the visible creation comes from the invisible God (Heb 11:3) and reveals the invisible God (Psalm 19:1-6; Romans 1:20). However, the creation is real (not an illusion as the Hindu would argue) and it is good (in contrast to some Christians who would say that the natural is evil) in that God made it. He made it for a purpose and declared it good.
Gary: I recognize in a new way that the Christian is to care for the creation as God’s possession.
Darrow: And not simply by maintaining it in a before-the-fall state, or in an after-the-fall reality, but to care for creation so that it thrives, to produce godly culture as the product of human creativity and stewardship.
Gary: Of course, Schaeffer was a pioneer thinker, and as such should not be judged from a 21st century perspective.
Darrow: To my knowledge he was the first in this generation of Christians to challenge the materialistic paradigm regarding nature and draw our attention to the need to steward creation. William Carey, working from a biblical worldview in another generation, called the church in his day to a similar stewardship. (See Vishal Mangalwadi, The Legacy of William Carey.)
Gary: Keeping the above point (about his pioneer status) in mind, I’m not sure Schaeffer gives due weight to the economic dimension.
Darrow: I would agree, but that was not the purpose of the book. Being at L’Abri for three years I only remember hearing him discuss economics on two occasions. And each time what he said was profound. I only wish he had had this as a priority to unpack. I can only hope that the work I have done over the years in poverty and development would be, in some small way, a worthy contribution to Schaeffer’s legacy.
Gary: Environmentalists often sacrifice legitimate development on the altar of their principles (which are repackaged animism, of course). Here in Oregon, for example, much ado is made over the salmon. Some even call for destroying the dam system on the Columbia River. It’s the sort of thing that Michael Novak had in mind (I believe) when he says “Ignorance of economics has caused more harm to more people than any other kind of ignorance.” Do you think Schaeffer was clear on this reality? He seems to mostly stand in judgment of evangelicals in their practice toward the environment. And in fact, he seems to regard capitalism as a system as suspect.
Darrow: I think he would be suspect of atheistic capitalism – hedonistic consumerism. I think he would speak positively of moral capitalism. Schaeffer saw things, as I think the Bible does, as a universe, the integration of diversity. He often urged us to integrate our thinking. So “ecology”–the study of the house, and “economics”—the stewardship of the house, are not opposites, but complementary. Schaeffer mourned the modern world’s fragmentation of education and life. He used to say that in the modern world “we know more and more about less and less.” We bore down so deep in our field of knowledge that we cannot relate it to any other field.
Modern Darwinian biology is a case in point. Modern science is divorced from morals, beauty and the arts, the nature of family, etc. In modern society ecology is divorced from economics. The renaissance man and the reformation man sought to connect disciplines. The early scientists carried the Bible in one hand and the microscope in the other. There was no divorce between theology and science. This is why it is so critical to function within the framework of reality and a biblical world and life view. All else is “pieces.”
Another example is the view of over population as we recently blogged. Christians build their population theories either from a materialistic, or neo-pagan paradigms rather than a theistic worldview.
Just because neo-pagans are speaking out about environmental issues doesn’t mean we become anti-environment. We are to be concerned for economics and the environment because God made the universe good and he wants us to do something good with it. Christians should be providing leadership in the realm of stewardship: progress and conservation of creation.
Gary: Schaeffer also seems to distrust technology in general.
Darrow: I think he would say that technology must not be divorced from morals. Science and technology today ask only, “Can we do it?” This gets us into much trouble. Think of embryonic stem cell research, totally a utilitarian question. But we live in a moral universe and we also need to ask, “Ought we to do it?” Science and technology have divorced from a unified field of knowledge. They care little about morals and the human. This is what Schaeffer would object to.