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8 More Keys to the Catholic Environmental Vision

Nature2

This post will articulate the final eight of fourteen principles that I think underlie the Catholic environmental vision. Part one ended on the thought that the first six principles imply a positive and optimistic attitude toward the natural world, the creator, and the human race.

Principle seven, however, is not positive, since Catholicism holds that at the very beginning, something happened which damaged the way man relates to creation. Original sin has disrupted the harmony that ought to exist between humanity and the rest of the natural world. After the fall, God says to Adam:

Cursed is the ground because of you; in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth to you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; you are dust, and to dust you shall return. (Gen. 3:17-19)

In reflecting on the effect of the fall of man on creation, in his January 1, 1990 World Day of Peace address Peace with God the Creator, Peace with All Creation (PC), Pope St. John Paul II offered some sobering thoughts. “When man turns his back on the Creator’s plan, he provokes a disorder which has inevitable repercussions on the rest of the created order” (PC 5). For John Paul II, this is reflected by the Old Testament prophet Hosea when he wrote, “Therefore the land mourns and all who dwell in it languish, and also the beasts of the field and the birds of the air and even the fish of the sea are taken away” (Hos 4:3). In our day, the pope continues, people inside and outside the faith sense that the earth is suffering. The cause of this suffering is “the behavior of people who show a callous disregard for the hidden, yet perceivable requirements of the order and harmony which govern nature itself” (PC 5).

Catholic theology claims that original sin has affected every human being in many ways. In terms of the effect of original sin on man—and thus on people’s regard for nature—I will point out just three: a darkened intellect, a weakened will, and concupiscence.

  • It is hard for people to know the truth. Mankind, in fact, makes profound errors, many of which are self-chosen out of self-interest.
  • In addition, our wills are weak: we might see exactly what we should do but we don’t seem to have the strength of will to do it. “The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Mt. 26:41).
  • Finally, we are subject to concupiscence. This means that our passions and emotions rule our reason and will rather than being directed by them.

Many if not all environmental problems stem from original sin in so far as they are a result of ignorance, short-term thinking, or willful selfishness. For example:

  • Ignorance. Until recently, people simply didn’t know that some forms of irrigation could deposit so much salt in the soil that it would eventually kill the plants they wanted to grow, and so, they irrigated their fertile fields into deserts.
  • Short-term thinking. Some early Yankee settlers in California learned from Native Americans that some pine trees on the eastern escarpment of the Sierra Nevada mountains were edible. So they cut down the trees to get the nuts.
  • Selfish evil. In places where organized crime controls the garbage industry, toxic waste is illegally and unsafely dumped because the gangsters make more money that way.

These are examples of how humanity’s actions negatively affect the environment. But this is not inevitable or even the norm, which leads to our eighth principle: the positive transformation of the world through work.

Creation, including human nature, is wounded but it is not ruined. Creation and human nature remain essentially good. As Pope St. John Paul II points out in his encyclical Laborem exercens, “Man is the image of God partly through the mandate received from his Creator to subdue, to dominate, the earth” (LE 4). In carrying out this mandate to work, “man, every human being, reflects the very action of the Creator of the universe” (LE 4).

Even though work—humanity’s primary activity—is difficult, it is still the way we transform creation and build up human culture. Labor is one of the basic means by which people sanctify themselves, others, and creation itself.

All work which is not evil per se (like criminal activity) has dignity and value. This includes both intellectual and manual work, as well as ordinary, everyday tasks.

Just as our present world is the result of the work of hundreds of generations of people before us from which we benefit (and in some cases suffer), our work today contributes to the cultural and environmental inheritance of those who will succeed us. We stand on the shoulders of giants, and those who will come after us will benefit from any good work we do during our time on earth.

Mankind’s basic role in the natural world is to be a sub-creator or co-creator with God. Man takes things in the natural world and recombines them in order to create new things. Whether it is the creation of stories or of cell phones, this remaking of things out of something is another dimension of man’s creation in the image and likeness of God, who makes things out of nothing.

In addition, I think we can be very optimistic about the future, despite the environmental problems we face today. The reason is that just as human ingenuity has had a great role in creating our environmental problems, it can also find solutions to these problems. Henry Ford figured out a way to mass produce automobiles so that cars were affordable for everyone. This set off a worldwide transportation revolution with many positive effects, as well as negative environmental problems, like L.A. smog. However, there are far more cars in the Los Angeles basin today and far less air pollution than in the 1960s.

The ninth principle is the universal destination of goods. It answers the question of who should benefit from the goods of God’s creation and human co-creation.

God created the earth for the benefit of all human beings, not just some. This means that the resources of the earth belong to everyone. They belong to all the people living now, including the poor, and they also belong to future generations.

The Church teaches that private property and the rule of law are two powerful ways to protect people’s right to secure the goods of the earth for their own and for others’ welfare. In fact, poverty and injustice actually increase in places where governments appropriate property in the name of “the people,” where laws are inconsistent, and where contracts cannot be enforced.

Nevertheless, a street orphan in Central America has an intrinsic right to a family, to food, to shelter, to education, to a safe and clean environment, to marry (at least potentially), and so on, even though practically-speaking it is impossible to enjoy these goods at this moment. In the same way, future generations have a right to a healthy planet in which the resources are not all used up.

I think it is important to note that wealth is not a zero-sum game. Because of the innovative creativity of human beings, there is not a fixed amount of the goods of the earth such that if one person has more another person necessarily has less. The marvel of the modern world is that wealth can be created and the goods of the earth can be multiplied.

For example, in the late 1960s, Paul Ehrlich in his wildly successful book “The Population Bomb” predicted massive famines and wars due to the pressure the world’s growing population was putting on the world’s food supply.

But these famines and wars never materialized. Why? Plant breeders such as Norman Borlaug, using philanthropic funding from sources like the Rockefeller Foundation, had by that time effectively solved the world food problem by developing new strains of cereal crops which produced greater and greater yields. Just as we have more cars and less smog in Los Angeles, around the world fewer farmers are growing more food on less land than ever before. There is no foreseeable end to these developments. For example, a high protein/low starch corn has been developed which could be a great boon to the millions of people for whom corn is the staple of life.

Closely connected to the universal destination of goods is the Catholic principle that “we are all in this together” as human brothers and sisters. This is the tenth principle: solidarity. Solidarity or “brotherhood” is the practice of the sharing of material and spiritual goods (CCC 1948).

In If You Want to Cultivate Peace, Protect Creation (CPPC), Pope Benedict XVI points out that solidarity should be both intragenerational, that is, lived in regard to all who are now alive, wherever they are or whatever their economic situation, and intergenerational, that is, practiced toward those who will come after us (CPPC 8). Borlaug’s work is a prime example this solidarity. Borlaug’s green revolution helped hungry people all over the world and it will help future generations. And his work was funded, in part, through the philanthropy of John D. Rockefeller, who had long-since died but who had wanted to leave a legacy for the future.

Lack of solidarity can create environmental problems. Out of ignorance, people have thought that natural resources were limitless or that oceans were so vast that one could dump anything in them and it would simply “disappear.” This was a common attitude in the United States in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries with our vast, resource-rich continent to settle. Shortly after World War Two, for example, the Atomic Energy Commission had some steel barrels of nuclear waste. It dumped them in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of San Francisco. That took care of the problem, didn’t it? We know better now. Polluting the environment is like urinating in a swimming pool. We really are one human family and so, out of solidarity, we should care about what happens to other people in the world and to our descendants.

The eleventh Catholic environmental principle shapes the way we practice solidarity. It is the idea of subsidiarity. According to the Catechism, “a community of a higher order should not interfere in the internal life of a community of a lower order, depriving the latter of its functions, but rather should support it in case of need and help to co-ordinate its activity with the activities of the rest of society, always with a view to the common good” (CCC 1183).

Subsidiarity means that higher levels support and coordinate the lower levels when—and only when—necessary. Higher levels do not interfere with the legitimate life and functions of the lower levels.

When it comes to environmental questions, individuals, families, civic organizations, businesses, governmental entities, and international bodies each have a legitimate sphere in which to exercise their specific responsibilities. Solutions cannot be handed down from above for everyone to obey because centralization and authoritarianism simply do not work. Individuals and groups should take responsibility within their own realm.

The twelfth principle of the Catholic environmental vision is the problem-solving virtue: prudence. Prudence is the natural virtue which governs our practical decisions. Prudence means using reason to recognize a problem or opportunity, to gather and weigh evidence, to apply objective standards, and to arrive at a decision for action. Prudence counsels us not to ignore problems. If, for example, global warming is both real and a bad thing for us and for future generations, then we are obligated to take realistic steps to act against it, without embracing impossible utopian agendas.

A particular application of subsidiarity and prudence for Catholics is that the Magisterium or teaching authority of the pope and bishops provides the principles (such as those articulated here) but the laity has the responsibility to work out concrete solutions.

As Pope Benedict XVI points out, the application of the principles of the Gospel to social life is the work of reason, “enlightened reason,” which requires Christianity to constantly “reshape and reformulate social structures and ‘Christian social teachings’” according to the concrete demands of the time (Jesus of Nazareth 126-27). This reliance on reason is why Catholics can work with fellow citizens of widely different ideologies, since we are looking for solutions which accord with reason. However, prudence is not confined to technical, practical solutions. There is another whole dimension to consider.

The thirteenth principle is that environmental decisions are moral decisions. Although some environmental matters are purely technical questions (should I use aluminum or titanium?) or involve prudential choices between goods (should I raise chickens or grow vegetables?), one must always begin environmental problem-solving by examining the moral issues involved. When prudence makes a decision, one of the sets of standards it judges by is the standard of the morally right thing to do. One may never do a direct evil or do evil so that good may come of it (Rom 3:8). To give an extreme example, if a government decided to do its part in ending its country’s “addiction to carbon” by cutting off all use of oil, natural gas, and coal, it would probably plunge its people into extreme poverty and suffering that would be morally reprehensible. This would be an example of illegitimately putting environmental ecology over human ecology.

This brings us to the have-nots.

The fourteenth and final principle of the Catholic environmental vision is the option for the poor. The Church insists that the poor and powerless must always be taken into consideration both in assessing environmental problems and in proposing solutions. Out of solidarity, those with power must take the poor into account because the poor don’t have a way of asserting their own dignity and rights. The powerless “poor” includes future generations. These have absolutely no ability to determine our decisions but nevertheless they have to live with the consequences of them.

Conclusion

The Catholic Church sees God as the good creator of his good creation. Within this creation, God has placed his god-like creature, man, to discover creation’s inner nature and wisely to direct it to his own fulfillment. Despite original sin, man can bring the goods of creation to every human being on earth and safeguard these goods for the benefit of future generations, all the while never forgetting the poor. I think this, in brief, is the Catholic vision of creation, stewardship, and solidarity.

Kevin Aldrich

Written by

Kevin Aldrich has a Master’s Degree in English literature and is a certified educator with twenty-four years of teaching and administrative leadership experience in pre-K-12 parochial and independent schools. His students have ranged from kindergarteners through college freshmen with four years of high-school English. He has recently authored the teacher editions for ten high-school theology textbooks in The Didache Semester Series and the eight-volume Didache Parish Program. In the area of character formation he is the author of Teen Virtues and wrote the first two generations of the Families of Character curriculum. In addition to his educational writings, he is the author of fourteen feature screenplays, three television pilots, and four novels. His essay “The Sense of Time in J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings” has been reprinted in Tolkien: A Celebration: Collected Writings on a Literary Legacy.

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  • I'll comment more later, but firstly: Since this was written before the encyclical, and now the encyclical has been released, please post any updates to your thinking as comments here when you've had time to read it and reflect. Thanks!

    • Kevin Aldrich

      I'm only slowly making my way through Laudato si' but I'm seeing these principles there, which should not be surprising, since they are derived from earlier Magisterial writings, as is this encyclical.

      That said, this surprised me: "Every creature is thus the object of the
      Father’s tenderness, who gives it its place in the world. Even the fleeting
      life of the least of beings is the object of his love, and in its few seconds
      of existence, God enfolds it with his affection." (#77)

      I can see why atheists and agnostics might say that is a strange sort of love.

      I guess Francis' statements are deeper insights into ontological good. Things are good in their being because God created them out of love and they have a value in and of themselves.

      • Things are good in their being because God created them out of love and they have a value in and of themselves.

        Is that "value in and of themselves" different from the empirical sense in which living organisms value themselves?

        • Kevin Aldrich

          Yes, because many beings, lacking consciousness and/or reason, have no sense of self-value.

  • I think atheists and Catholics are generally in favour of environmental protection for two reasons. Health and beauty. Both groups value both, albeit for potentially different reasons. These must be weighed against compromises with respect to economics and freedom.

    Many of these principles are irrelevant to atheists and I would imagine play little role in Catholics' views on environmental issues too.

    The issues with environmental issues are not about whether the environment should be protected, but questions of empirical fact (are human activities causing climate change, what will be the consequences) and how to address them (should we aim to eliminate the use of fossil fuels, should industry be constrained to preserve habitat in a given circumstance).

    It seems this piece is directed at whether humans should care about protecting the environment at all, perhaps to arguments that god will protect us, or he plans to doom this planet anyway. I don't know, but these issues just don't seem to arise in the secular context.

    I think it is clear that atheist, and all religious people value environmental protection. Disagreements on the science, what to protect and how, don't seem at all to fall on lines of belief in deities, or religious affiliation, as the dispute between the Pope and Bill Donahue demonstrates.

    • VicqRuiz

      The issues with environmental issues are . . . questions of empirical fact

      I quite agree. It's a matter of costs and benefits, which must be carefully weighed.

      • Michael Murray

        Delete -- sorry I replied to the wrong post

    • Michael Murray

      but questions of empirical fact (are human activities causing climate change, what will be the consequences)

      Assessing the consequences though is difficult. There is a lot of guesswork or assessing of probabilities. How likely are the nightmare scenarios such as massive global methane release.

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clathrate_gun_hypothesis

      We are running an experiment on our own environment. I guess we will be able to firm up the modelling in due course.

    • Kevin Aldrich

      I think these principles are important because they do (or should) play a major role how Catholics view environmental and social justice issues. For example, coming to realize a principle like the preferential option for the poor can change the way a person behaves.

  • I am very happy that Catholics come to the conclusion that it is good to care for the environment and therefore to reduce carbon emissions. I categorically disagree with many* of the principles that get them to that conclusion.

    The conclusion matters most. We should work together to make our world a better place!

    *I do not completely disagree with 6, 9 and 11 interpreted liberally, I mostly agree with 12 and 14, and heartily agree with 8, 10 and 13.

    • Michael Murray

      We should work together to make our world a better place!

      Unless we turned global attitudes around tomorrow I suspect it is to late for a better place. We just need to try to avoid our grandchildren living in an apocalyptic, totalitarian nightmare.

      • William Davis

        As long as we preserve DNA, I don't think it's too late for any species. We essential have Jurassic park bio technology already and there is no reason to suppose we won't be able to resurrect species at will in the future.

        http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2013/04/125-species-revival/zimmer-text

        Also, it's reasonable to think that what man can do, man can also undo

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Climate_engineering

        We just need smarter and wiser global citizens who admit these things are of concern and worthy of attention and effort. Personally I can't tell if the future is going to be a dystopia or a utopia, but I'm certain the world we live in today is quite temporary.

        • Michael Murray

          I think we don't know anywhere near enough about how the climate works to risk large scale engineering. We could just make it worse. In any case if something happens like a sudden methane release there won't be anyone around to repair it

          https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clathrate_gun_hypothesis

          We just need smarter and wiser global citizens who admit these things are of concern and worthy of attention and effort.

          Oh dear in that case we really are doomed !

          • William Davis

            I think we don't know anywhere near enough about how the climate works to risk large scale engineering.

            Either we know enough about the climate to be concerned about warming, or we don't. If we know enough to be concerned about warming, then we know enough to warrant CO2 sequestration or some time of cooling technique. It seems the product of unreasonable pessimism to think we only know enough to know we're doomed (I try to be a realist if at all possible). Think about the contradiction between being concerned about something then saying we don't know enough anywhere near enough to do something about it. If that's the case, why be concerned about methan release, why think we know enough to be concerned about that ;)

            Are you familiar with the state of the world 100 years ago? If so I personally don't see how you can think we aren't headed in the right direction, but I'd agree we aren't headed there fast enough.

            Here's a philosopher who's doing some great work on existential risk:

            http://www.nickbostrom.com/existential/risks.html

            As far as I can tell he's done more work on existential risk than anyone else, and climate change seems to be a relatively low priority (though not completely ignored). I'm almost done with one of his books and I'm about to start another that's available online:

            http://www.anthropic-principle.com/?q=anthropic_bias

            I think he does a great job in "Superintelligence" arguing for a largely ignored existential risk in mismanaging artificial intelligence, especially in a fast take off scenario (intelligence explosion). He's the founder of Oxford universities "Future humanity Institute.

            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Future_of_Humanity_Institute

            http://www.fhi.ox.ac.uk/

            Their methodical approach to risk estimation is very useful and helpful considering the large uncertainty involved. Worth considering when trying to decide what to be most concerned about, lol.

          • Michael Murray

            Either we know enough about the climate to be concerned about warming, or we don't. If we know enough to be concerned about warming, then we know enough to warrant CO2 sequestration or some time of cooling technique.

            Knowing enough to be concerned about warning is sufficient to warrant C02 sequestration. I don't see that it follows that we know enough to understand all the risks of other possible cooling techniques. It really depends on how difficult it would be to undo the cooling technique if it turns out to have unintended consequences. Large sun blocking sails in space could be removed. Filling the upper atmosphere with aluminium oxide particles or asteroid dust sounds like it would be harder to reverse if it turned out to be a mistake.

          • William Davis

            I agree about difficult to reverse attempts, and global cooling could be worse than warming (strong association with famine historically)

        • Michael Murray

          A good example of the dangers of trying to solve climate problems by human intervention to alter the climate is the catalogue of disasters generated by attempts to do similar things in pest control. As an Australian I'm familiar with a few of these such as the wonderful cane toad

          https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cane_toads_in_Australia

        • Michael Murray

          As long as we preserve DNA, I don't think it's too late for any species.

          There is a science fiction plot here. We establish a vast computerised DNA preservation laboratory deep under ground with DNA from all animal species including humans. Run by AI computers it keeps going even after the great extinction that wipes us out as well. As the planet recovers the AI has to decide which species to release into the wild. What will it do with us ?

          • William Davis

            It depends on the final goals and philosophy of the AI. This is the core problem with AI (known as the control problem), how can we make sure it does what we want...a tall order. Requiring it to make people smile could result in the world wide manufacture of a nerve poison that forces facial muscles into a smiling position. All the stories about giving a genie a wish that it takes literally come to mind. Of course, are we even sure what we want ourselves...

          • Michael Murray

            Coincidentally I watched Chappie last night. My guess is real AI's might not be that cute.

          • William Davis

            Yeah that was a good movie, but there is no reason at all to think real AI would be human life. The idea that something as or more intelligent than we are would necessarily be like us is an unwarranted bias based on observations of our animal relatives. Even whole brain emulation may not turn out the way we expect, and we're copying an adult human.

  • VicqRuiz

    When considering the "option for the poor", it should be noted that nothing correlates as well with adequate housing, clean water, affordable food, and the availability of medical care nearly as well as an ample supply of affordable energy.

    If we were to stop using and developing fossil fuels tomorrow, there would be more poverty, more misery, more violence, and more oppression in the world as a result. There can be no doubt of it.

    • David Nickol

      If we were to stop using and developing fossil fuels tomorrow . . .

      Has the pope, or anyone else, called for the world to stop using fossil fuels tomorrow?

    • Ladolcevipera

      Nobody said that we should stop using fossil fuels overnight. But we should invest much more in alternative energy sources such as biomass energy, wind energy, solar energy, geothermal energy, hydroelectric energy. They are renewable and clean.

      • Like the failed Solar Power industries, or the wind towers that kill birds , mar the landscape, and spread pollution via the rare metals used in the batteries? The only "clean" energy source, which will be both economically feasible and non-polluting is fusion, and this may be only 10 or so years away. See
        http://www.lockheedmartin.com/us/products/compact-fusion.html

        • William Davis

          Solar is far from failed, I've been involved with installations (I do building automation so the involvement has been in tracking generation and utilizing storage to mitigate peak demand) that are quick productive though perhaps not quite cost effective. Improvement continues, though we will need to greatly reduce consumption (building automation is also helpful with that) if we expect to get most of our power from these types of sources. I do get some reward from knowing my specific career is helpful in solving this big engineering problem.

          Workable fusion would be a game changer, and I hope it is only 10 years (though I'm suspicious of that estimate and am pretty sure it's more of a guess than anything...I'm somewhat familiar with all the technical difficulties involved) away but it doesn't make sense to put all our eggs in one basket. Fusion wouldn't directly solve our tranportation dependence, though fusion coupled with electric cars would go a long way (large vehicles will still require fossil fuels for the near future but we can do much more via electric trains if we put our minds to it).

          Hyperloop looks interesting, but we'll see

          http://www.businessinsider.com/a-hyperloop-pod-design-that-makes-travel-comfortable-2015-6

          • Michael Murray

            Solar of course is workable fusion !

          • William Davis

            It also has the advantage of keeping the actual fusion at a save distance, 93 million miles off earth ;) Not that I'm against fusion, but I would honestly be somewhat concerned if they built the first working fusion reactor near my house, lol. (It "should" be safer than traditional nuclear but quotes around that word say a lot).

          • The "not in my backyard" syndrome rears its ugly head again!

          • Doug Shaver

            Everybody needs to sacrifice, just as long as everybody else sacrifices more than I sacrifice.

          • William Davis

            Notice I didn't say "not in my backyard" I said I would be somewhat concerned if they built the first one near my house. It is quite reasonable to be concerned until a good track record has been established. In general I think nuclear is reasonably safe except for earthquakes. The unpredictability of earthquakes makes a normally safe technology potentially unsafe.

            I actually have a 4 billion dollar nuclear plant about 40 miles from my home...notice the mention of seismic risk in the wiki article:

            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shearon_Harris_Nuclear_Power_Plant

            Risk assessment is an important part of decision making, not to be confused with an irrational bias against new technology (I'm an engineer so an anti-tech engineer would probably be some kind of oxymoron ;)

          • Michael Murray

            So thorium would be better then.

          • William Davis

            Thorium does show some promise but I wouldn't say it would be better than well designed fusion. Safe fusion would be a virtually unlimited supply of energy so in a sense no conceivable technology could beat it in some ways. I'm not necessarily trying to argue it's unsafe but we would tend to underestimate the safety concerns of a technology with that much promise...just like AI.

        • Michael Murray

          There is an interesting article here on batteries being developed to fill the gaps in renewable technology. People are trying to develop ones that don't use rare metals.

          http://www.brw.com.au/p/tech-gadgets/simon_elon_musk_made_hackett_year_UmzPCsSwB0aWq3uCig6wLL

          I would have thought that thorium fission would be easier to develop at this point than fusion. Not perfect but I think the time is past for perfect.

        • George

          I thought germany was doing quite well with solar.

        • Michael Murray

          or the wind towers that kill birds , mar the landscape, and spread pollution via the rare metals used in the batteries?

          Everything is a trade-off. Have you seen an open cut coal mine ? Where are the batteries in a wind turbine that feeds directly into the grid ?

          • VicqRuiz

            Everything is a trade-off

            And that, sir, is 100 percent correct. We need to carefully examine the costs and benefits of each action (and of inaction).

          • Ladolcevipera

            "Costs and benefits" in terms of economic interests or in terms of protecting the earth?

          • Doug Shaver

            "Costs and benefits" in terms of economic interests or in terms of protecting the earth?

            Are you assuming we can't do both?

          • Ladolcevipera

            Yes we can, but in order to do so we need a change of paradigma.

          • VicqRuiz

            "a change of paradigm....."

            For some reason, it seems that almost every one of the environmental catastrophes which have been predicted since Malthus kicked it all off (and none of which came to pass) can be averted (according to the predictors) by the same old thing - more politicians picking my pocket, and more politicians supervising the details of my daily life.

            You want to get me on board? Change THAT paradigm.

          • William Davis

            The failed predictions of these men is a decent reason not to trust their predictions, but it isn't a good reason to throw all problematic future predictions into the same basket. People only stopped trusting the boy who cried wolf, not everyone who ever cried wolf who is unrelated to the boy. Here is a high level philosophical argument to consider and existential risk is much bigger than climate change (in fact the risk from climate change in relatively small compared to other possibilities)
            http://www.anthropic-principle.com/?q=anthropic_principle/doomsday_argument

          • VicqRuiz

            but it isn't a good reason to throw all problematic future predictions into the same basket.

            I always start getting dubious when a new cataclysm is projected to arrive on our doorstep, and the proposed solution is, once again, "Let's Finally Get Socialism/World Government/Central Economic Planning Right This Time, Finally, OK?"

            Note that the United States has significantly reduced its carbon emissions in the last five years without any more of that cumbersome baggage than she already has.

          • William Davis

            Socialism sometimes can be seen as a solution looking for a problem. I fail to see how it can help with carbon emissions in itself. As I said before, a simple and slowly ratcheting carbon emission tax is the obvious direct step but that doesn't lead to socialism so the left is ignoring it while the right pretends their is not problem. I don't think either side is thinking straight.

          • VicqRuiz

            "A simple ...... carbon emission tax" is unlikely to be adopted in the United States because it provides insufficient opportunities for graft. Cap and trade, and subsidies to favored "green" industries are far more the American way.

          • William Davis

            To me, this represents a great opportunity for the right to actually put forward something that's in the public interest. If such a tax resulted in the desired outcome (innovation in energy technology) then this would be a powerful future weapon against socialist ideals. I'm more of a capitalist than a socialist, but I try not to call myself a capitalist because there are some legitimate roles of government, and privatizing everything doesn't seem to be the answer (especially roads and prisons).

          • Ladolcevipera

            "In terms of economic interests".
            By a change of paradigm I mean that we have to stop to give economy overriding importance. Society has different spheres. Economy is only one of them, albeit a very important one which functions according to its own rationality. But it is only one sphere amongst others. We have a problem when the methods and the rationality of one sphere are imposed on the other spheres, and ultimately on reality itself. That is what is happening now. Human and social life is deeply affected by the neo-capitalistic model. Other models are possible. The economy is there for man, not the other way around.

          • VicqRuiz

            Fine, but let's do it in a non-coercive manner, okay??

          • Ladolcevipera

            Of course it is okay. It may come as a surprise to you, but I am a peaceful member of society!

          • VicqRuiz

            Thanks. I did not mean to imply that you were "coercive" in the sense of violent. I did mean that we should not necessarily assume that the solution to every problem is passing more laws.

          • Doug Shaver

            We need a rational paradigm. A cost-benefit analysis that is restricted to short-term economic considerations is not rational, in my judgment.

          • Ladolcevipera

            I already answered that. Cf. my reply to VicqRuiz "In terms of economics interests"

          • VicqRuiz

            Are you assuming we can't do both?

            If we determine that we will use every source of energy available to supplant oil and coal - which means more nuclear, more natural gas, more hydropower, I think probably we could.

            But if we say no to oil, no to coal, no to dams, no to fracked gas wells, no to nuclear.....then we're headed to increasing impoverishment of most of the world's population.

          • VicqRuiz

            It depends on how you use the term "economic interests".

            If you are suggesting that there is a cabal of plutocrats who are determined to force easily affordable energy upon a public which is equally determined to resist it, I think that's in every way a straw man.

            But that there is a valid economic interest for everyone, rich, middle, and poor, in having access to ample and affordable energy - I don't doubt that for a second. I saw it in the faces of my working-class neighbors who effectively got large pay raises when the costs of natural gas, gasoline, and heating oil took a dive from their previous high levels. And nothing, but nothing, would help the world's poorest nations more than ready access to electricity at prices they could afford.

            And when those economic interests, those "externalities" (to use a term beloved of the environmentalist left) are put on the table, then yes, we need to measure them against the proposals which purportedly "protect the earth" and ask: "All right then. You say that 'the science is settled'. Using that science, how much impact will proposal X have upon the earth's temperature fifty or a hundred years hence, and what will be the cost of taking that action as compared to the cost of not taking it?"

          • Including the cost of food increase for poor people due to diversion of corn from food to ethanol as a fuel substitute?

          • VicqRuiz

            Absolutely. The ethanol boondoggle is an example of corrupt rent-seeking wrapped in the flag of "environmentalism", indeed it's one of the worst such.

          • Yes, I live in Pennsylvania --I've seen coal combs and surface mining, and they're much less of a scar on the landscape than the wind towers. You may be willing for that trade-off (which, by the way, is very energy inefficient); I'm not.

          • Michael Murray

            What I've seen of open cut coal mining in the Latrobe Valley in Australia looks like this

            http://static.hwpi.harvard.edu/files/styles/os_files_xxlarge/public/revista/files/picture_1_credit_ronald_de_hommel.jpg?itok=k0pQzgZ3

            No hang on that's Pennsylvania.

            http://revista.drclas.harvard.edu/book/name-development

            warranted by the false hypothesis of AGW

            Ah I see. So not keen on the Pope's encyclical I guess ?

          • No, it isn't Pennsylvania, as the caption says. And AGW is a bunch of tripe, if you choose to examine the science.

          • Michael Murray

            Ah sorry my mistake. It was part of a collection of images I searched for Pennsylvania. Shouldn't post before my first cup of coffee. Here is one of the large open cut in the Latrobe Valley

            http://svc065.bookeasy.com/images/latrobe/Dredger%20image.jpg

            Seems to me that kind of damage is a lot harder to repair than wind towers.

            http://www.visitlatrobecity.com/pages/energy-from-brown-coal/

          • William Davis

            Pennsylvania is a beautiful state too...a shame.

          • William Davis

            You think that looks better than windmills? We definitely diverge on our opinions of landscape beauty. In general I'm not a fan of windmills though, other renewable methods hold much more promise.

            EDIT: Realized this wasn't the original image.

          • Michael Murray

            The Pennsylvania mines listed here

            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_coal_mines_in_the_United_States

            are underground. How big are the surfaces ones ? I'm thinking of things like this

            http://sourcewatch.org/index.php?title=Black_Thunder_Mine

            which look harder to remediate to me than wind towers.

        • Ladolcevipera

          Those are the usual arguments of the promotors of nuclear energy. They forget to tell that nuclear energy is not safe (Tjernobil, Fukushima, and probably many other accidents that are covered up...); it is not compatible with renewable energy; it is not CO2 neutral; it does not itself tolerate the heath of climate change. It is also very unrealistic. To-day, on a world scale, nuclear energy only represents 5% of the primary energy consumption. In order to reduce the global CO2 emission with 6% by 2050 we need to multiply at least by 4 the 436 commercial nuclear reactors. One reactor costs 5 billion euro... We are going to shut down gradually our nuclear reactors and replace nuclear energy by alternative energy.

          • Did you know know, Lad..., that most of the energy in France is supplied by nuclear reactors? (Citing the accidents for two poorly managed reactors--particularly Chernobyl--does not support your case). And I don't trust the rest of your statistics since you seem to operating from a very biased perspective, ignoring all the harm done so far by renewable energy efforts.

          • Ladolcevipera

            To-day 75% of the electricity in France is produced by nuclear power. The French government wants to reduce it to 50% by 2025. A number of European countries are preparing a gradual exit or do not plan new nuclear reactors.

          • William Davis

            Fukushima demonstrated that a completely safe nuclear plant is impossible (at least the uranium type) thanks to the unpredictability of earthquake damage.

          • Doug Shaver

            They forget to tell that nuclear energy is not safe

            Compared with what?

          • Ladolcevipera

            Nuclear power is enormous. So, compared to other sources of energy, accidents with nuclear reactors will cause enormous damage. If a meltdown (and this is a realistic scenario) were to occur it could kill and injure tens of thousands of people. Large region will be uninhabitable. Moreover there is no method for adequately handling long lived radioactive wastes.
            Renewable energy sources (if developed) are capable of producing six times more energy than current global demand.

          • Michael Murray

            Agreed. The problem with nuclear is the size of the potential dangers and the waste. Thorium would be much better but no-one has it working yet.

          • Doug Shaver

            You're talking about what could theoretically happen. I'm looking at what has actually happened. The first nuclear power plant went on line almost 60 years ago. Would you care to compare the casualty figures since that time for nuclear plants against fossil-fuel plants, taking into account extraction and transportation of raw materials?

            a meltdown . . . is a realistic scenario

            The probability of its occurrence is not zero, if that's what "realistic" is supposed to mean.

          • Ladolcevipera

            I'm afraid the probability of a serious accident is very realistic. In Belgium 4 nuclear reactors are closed because of safety problems (and don't tell me we don't know how to handle a problem). Thousands of very small fissures were discovered in the walls of the reactor pressure vessel which might compromise its structural integrity. Worldwide there are 22 nuclear reactors of the same type, 10 of them in the U.S.

            http://www.fanc.fgov.be/nl/news/doel-3/tihange-2-next-steps-of-the-review-process/766.aspx

          • Michael Murray

            You have to weigh the risk against the outcome I think. The likelihood of asteroid impact must be very low but I would still think it's worth our while to track them because the outcome could be catastrophic or as the movies like to say "an extinction level event". So with nuclear power I think you have to weigh things the same way. So far we have been relatively luck although we lost a little bit of the world around Chernobyl.

            Then there is the waste that stays dangerous for vast amounts of time. I think the idea that we would pass this waste down to future generations is enough reason on it's own to not use nuclear power based on uranium. We should be developing thorium based power.

            Of particular concern in nuclear waste management are two long-lived fission products, Tc-99 (half-life 220,000 years) and I-129 (half-life 15.7 million years), which dominate spent fuel radioactivity after a few thousand years. The most troublesome transuranic elements in spent fuel are Np-237 (half-life two million years) and Pu-239 (half-life 24,000 years).[39]

          • stevegbrown

            Hello Ladolcevipera, Are you Italian? La dolce vipera means "the sweet snake/viper" in Italian. I'm surprised that not many are aware of the effort to develop nuclear energy from thorium. Here is a link:

            http://energyfromthorium.com/

          • Ladolcevipera

            Thanks for the link! No, I am not Italian but I read Italian fluently (and speak it if I really have to).

    • Doug Shaver

      it should be noted that nothing correlates as well with adequate housing, clean water, affordable food, and the availability of medical care nearly as well as an ample supply of affordable energy.

      It isn't just a correlation. There is a good reason why, if you make energy sufficiently cheap and abundant, you can easily do just about anything else you'd like to do.

  • VicqRuiz

    solidarity should be both intragenerational, that is, lived in regard to all who are now alive, wherever they are or whatever their economic situation, and intergenerational, that is, practiced toward those who will come after us

    Interestingly enough, many of those who are most concerned about the possibility that we may leave a diminished natural environment to our grandchildren and great grandchildren are apparently oblivious to the fact that we are hell-bent upon pauperizing those same descendants via ever-rising governmental debt and actuarily doomed social entitlement programs.

    • David Nickol

      Government debt and entitlement programs are not the issues raised by Kevin in his posts or by the pope in his encyclical.

      • VicqRuiz

        True, and I wish they would raise them. Most of the positions of the church (outside the realm of sexuality) seem to endorse more picking of my pocket by politicians, and more politicians telling me what to do. This encyclical is no exception.

        • David Nickol

          Most of the positions of the church (outside the realm of sexuality) seem to endorse more picking of my pocket by politicians, and more politicians telling me what to do.

          I think that Catholic Social Teaching appears "liberal" at first glance (and maybe second glance, and third glance), but I spent a great deal of time some years ago on the web site Mirror of Justice, which is dedicated to Catholic legal theory, and it was argued by Rick Garnett (a professor of law and political science at Notre Dame, whom I came to respect a great deal) that Catholic Social Teaching was sufficiently open to interpretation that faithful Catholics who were also politically conservative could be comfortable with it.

          What offends many "secular" conservatives about Catholic Social Teaching (or so it seems to me) is the insistence that every individual human being matters. Every person has a right to food, shelter, clothing, and medical care, and in the even that they cannot pay for it, it must be provided to them. But of course there are any number of ways to approach this politically.

    • Kraker Jak

      Thank you Loreen....with your links, you have provided a much needed balance to the topic.....in the headlong rush that is going on to promote pope Francis to the level of a saint or the greatest thing since sliced bread.

      • ..
        Well there have not been too many comments posted on this series. I read only a synopsis of Encyclical ( Don't have the strength or energy to read through what? 197? pages of flowery prose!)
        But I also think that Kevin's treatment of the Christian tradition on this subject is very well written, and possibly that is an alternative reason why there has not been the usual degree of 'opposition' particularly on SN. But the weekend lies ahead......

  • Kevin, this is a fine article, and I agree with much of what you say. However, I'll quibble on one point (even though I agree with your conclusion).

    "One may never do a direct evil or do evil so that good may come of it (Rom 3:8). To give an extreme example, if a government decided to do its part in ending its country’s “addiction to carbon” by cutting off all use of oil, natural gas, and coal, it would probably plunge its people into extreme poverty and suffering that would be morally reprehensible. This would be an example of illegitimately putting environmental ecology over human ecology."

    The "Principle of Double Effect" might justify putting environmental ecology over human ecology; namely, if the deleterious effect is foreseen, but not intended, then the secondary evil is justified. An example most commonly used is cutting out a cancerous uterus and thereby killing the fetus. Even though the killing of the fetus is foreseen, it is not intended.

    Your argument is that the evil wrought by cutting fossil fuels does not justify the possible good that might occur to lessening of CO2 is, I believe, valid. Others have criticized the green movement as harming the poor more than benefiting them. For example, the diversion of corn to ethanol as a fuel additive has greatly increased the cost of food for the poor. For other examples, just Google "how green policies hurt the poor".

  • Doug Shaver

    Original sin has disrupted the harmony that ought to exist between humanity and the rest of the natural world.

    This two-part series began with the author asking: Can Catholics and Atheists Agree on the Environment? Sin is a theological concept, and original sin is, as far as I know, uniquely Christian. So no, atheists are not going to agree with it.

    That said, there are atheists whose misanthropic view of human nature bears a striking resemblance to the notion of original sin, at least as the notion is articulated by certain Protestants.

    It is hard for people to know the truth.

    That depends on which truth you're talking about. There are lots of truths that people in general have no problem knowing. But then, that is why nobody argues about them. The only time anyone accuses other people of having trouble knowing the truth is when those people disagree with them. And then the accusations tend to go in both directions.

    In addition, our wills are weak: we might see exactly what we should do but we don’t seem to have the strength of will to do it.

    We are weak-willed about some things and very strong-willed about others. This realization must have predated the invention of original sin by a very long time. And the difference does not consistently track the distinction between moral and immoral behavior. People have always done some good things with a strong will.

    Finally, we are subject to concupiscence. This means that our passions and emotions rule our reason and will rather than being directed by them.

    That often happens, but not invariably. And, whatever ideology one is advocating, religious or secular, it is a poor advocate who uses the observation as a defense of their position. It is possible that I am an atheist just because I am enslaved by my passions and emotions, but it must be just as possible that someone is religious just because they are so enslaved. There is no way past this mutual recrimination except for both of us to critically examine our reasoning to the best of respective abilities.

    our eighth principle: the positive transformation of the world through work.

    We've made a mess, and it's going to take some hard work to clean it up. No argument there. I withhold comment for the moment on whether work per se has value or hard work has more value than easy work.

    The ninth principle is the universal destination of goods.

    I believe that everybody in the world would be better off if everybody in the world did the right thing.

    Closely connected to the universal destination of goods is the Catholic principle that “we are all in this together” as human brothers and sisters. This is the tenth principle: solidarity.

    If the Catholic Church teaches it, then there is obviously a sense in which it is a Catholic principle. But it is certainly not a uniquely Catholic principle.

    The eleventh Catholic environmental principle shapes the way we practice solidarity. It is the idea of subsidiarity. According to the Catechism, “a community of a higher order should not interfere in the internal life of a community of a lower order, depriving the latter of its functions, but rather should support it in case of need and help to co-ordinate its activity with the activities of the rest of society, always with a view to the common good” (CCC 1183).

    So stated, I have no problem with that.

    The twelfth principle of the Catholic environmental vision is the problem-solving virtue: prudence. Prudence is the natural virtue which governs our practical decisions. Prudence means using reason to recognize a problem or opportunity, to gather and weigh evidence, to apply objective standards, and to arrive at a decision for action.

    That meaning of prudence is just rationality. So, the church has declared that it is virtuous to be rational.

    The thirteenth principle is that environmental decisions are moral decisions. Although some environmental matters are purely technical questions (should I use aluminum or titanium?) or involve prudential choices between goods (should I raise chickens or grow vegetables?), one must always begin environmental problem-solving by examining the moral issues involved.

    This atheist agrees with Socrates that no man knowingly does evil. There can never be a conflict between the smart thing to do and the right thing to do. Whenever there seems to be such a conflict--i.e., when X seems like the smart action but our ethics say we should not do X--then we need to reconsider either the reasoning that led to X or the ethical basis on which X seems immoral, and we should never presuppose that the latter cannot be the source of our error.

    • Kevin Aldrich

      Original sin a theological idea, naturally, but I think what the Church identifies as consequences of original sin are pretty evident to everyone.

      I agree with you that sometimes the problem with our wills is that they are too strong. Generally, however, they are weak when it comes to doing what reason directs ("Lose weight") and strong when it comes to what our passions and emotions demand ("Have some Fritos!).

      • Doug Shaver

        I think what the Church identifies as consequences of original sin are pretty evident to everyone.

        States of affairs exist that everyone agrees should not exist, and they are evident to everyone.

        I agree with you that sometimes the problem with our wills is that they are too strong.

        I didn't intend to make any point about whether or when are wills are too strong. My point was about your implied correlation between weakness of will and the goodness of what is willed.

    • Kevin Aldrich

      > "That meaning of prudence is just rationality. So, the church has declared that it is virtuous to be rational."

      Well, prudence is practical rationality, informing one what could be both a moral and an effective action. Prudence does not just involve reason but also the will when it commands "Do X" (X can be don't do anything, or wait, or do something.)

      • Doug Shaver

        Well, prudence is practical rationality

        You think there is such a thing as impractical rationality?

        • Kevin Aldrich

          The other form of rationality is pure rationality, that is, just trying to understand the truth for its own sake without trying to do anything with it.

          • Doug Shaver

            OK. Thanks for clarifying that.

    • Kevin Aldrich

      I love Socrates but I think he was wrong when he argued that human evil is only the result of ignorance and that if we really knew enough we would never do evil.

      • Doug Shaver

        I'll admit that he was not obviously right about this, but I have a serious problem with the notion that it's possible for the proper exercise of reason to justify doing evil.

        I would make just this one concession. In the world as it now exists, reason commits us on occasion to do certain evils out of necessity, but an evil is no less evil for being necessary. Killing in self-defense is (ordinarily) justified by reason. It is evil, notwithstanding its necessity, and the necessity doesn't change it from an evil to a good.

        • Kevin Aldrich

          Anyone addicted to anything can know his addiction is a bad thing and can tell himself all the reasons to give the addiction up, but he can keep going back to the addiction regardless of what his intellect tells him.

          • Doug Shaver

            Anyone addicted to anything can know his addiction is a bad thing

            They can know, yes. But they don't always know. None of us knows everything we can know, and there are many reasons. Sometimes our ignorance is due to simple dishonesty.

            but he can keep going back to the addiction regardless of what his intellect tells him.

            I know from experience exactly what that feels like.

  • Michael Murray

    Principle seven, however, is not positive, since Catholicism holds that at the very beginning, something happened which damaged the way man relates to creation. Original sin has disrupted the harmony that ought to exist between humanity and the rest of the natural world

    So here is something I don't understand. Which beginning does this refer to ? Adam and Eve would be a few hundred thousand years ago and the world would appear to have been out of harmony since it began. Or is there some kind of backwards causation at work ?

    • Kraker Jak

      Adam and Eve would be a few hundred thousand years ago and
      the world would appear to have been out of harmony since it began. Or
      is there some kind of backwards causation at work ?

      Good question.!There is not much doubt that a lot of suffering took place in nature, even before the emergence of humans on our evolutionary path.
      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Human_evolution

      • Michael Murray

        Except that animals don't have consciousness so they can't suffer. They just feel pain. Or at least I think that is the Catholic position.

        • Kraker Jak

          If that is the Catholic position, then they would be wrong...again.

          "Science leaders have reached a critical consensus: Humans are not the only conscious beings; other animals, specifically mammals and birds, are indeed conscious, too."

          http://fcmconference.org/img/CambridgeDeclarationOnConsciousness.pdf

          • Kevin Aldrich

            It is not the Catholic position. See comment to MM just above yours.

        • Kevin Aldrich

          YOS has pointed out numerous times that Scholastic philosophy agrees that higher animals have consciousness due to their "common sense," that is, the part of their brain that integrates all the various sense images into one. What other animals lack is the ability for abstract sense images into universal forms.

          • Michael Murray

            OK thanks. I'll try and find the source of my confusion then. I am sure I have seen that claim made here by someone representing a Catholic position. That of course does not mean it is a Catholic position.

          • Kraker Jak

            Bottom line, animals feel pain and do suffer.

          • Michael Murray

            OK it's hard to search Disqus based websites Google. Things that Google thinks are there turn out not to be even if you expand out the pages. But I did find this post about a claim of William Lane Craig's along the lines of what I was thinking of

            https://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2012/10/04/william-lane-craig-argues-that-animals-cant-feel-pain/

            I realise WLC is not Catholic but he seems to be viewed favourably here by at least some Catholics.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            It is equally hard to find out if WLC actually said animals don't feel pain. Your article links to a long video debate.

            I did see this where he makes a case for feeling pain as distinct from being aware of pain: http://www.reasonablefaith.org/animal-suffering

            I don't know if it is valid.

          • Michael Murray

            It is equally hard to find out if WLC actually said animals don't feel pain.

            I wasn't expecting him to say that they don't feel pain. Just that they feel pain but don't suffer. As this Catholic blog says

            http://www.aggiecatholicblog.org/2011/10/why-do-animals-have-to-suffer/

            We have to delineate the suffering of animals from the suffering of humans. Humans can suffer in number of ways – physical, mental, spiritual, and emotional. Animals only suffer physically. They do not have an intellect, will, or immortal soul as we do.

            Of course there is no reason why a random blog is official Catholic position.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Catholic philosopher Alastair MacIntyre makes the following arguments in "Dependent Rational Animals, (summarized here http://www.firstthings.com/article/1999/10/dependent-rational-animals-why-human-beings-need-the-virtues-and-the-macintyre-reader):

            Human beings must be understood, first, as animals, though, of course, a special sort of animal. MacIntyre develops this point by discussing in some detail those aspects of our nature that are shared with other intelligent (though non“language“using) species such as dolphins. He argues, in constant conversation with several streams (Anglo Saxon and Continental) of philosophical literature, that it is appropriate to ascribe to animals such as dolphins intentions and reasons for action. They are not so far removed from us as we sometimes like to imagine. Hence, in the early years of life especially, as we develop our capacities as rational agents, the condition of human beings is not unlike that of some other animals. “Our identity was then and remains an animal identity.”

            It seems to me if MacIntyre is right, adult higher animals and prelinguistic human babies have a lot in common and I would never want to argue that human babies cannot suffer, so I would have to concede that higher animals (at least) not only feel pain but do truly suffer because they have some kind of awareness to it.

            On the other hand, these arguments are not theological or based on Divine Revelation. I can't see how the Magisterium would have any competence to say whether animals suffer or do not--no more than whether human-caused global warming is happening.

          • Michael Murray

            I can't see how the Magisterium would have any competence to say whether animals suffer or do not--no more than whether human-caused global warming is happening.

            OK we are heading off in a different direction here but let's go. I think these are two different kinds of questions. In the suffering question you have to define suffering. Then you get into philosophical and or theological questions if you don't take a definition that essential equates suffering with pain. So I think the Magisterium could take a position on this by deciding the theological question. In the case of AGW there is no philosophical or theological question that I can see. We all pretty much know what warming means. The Magisterium, as can anyone who looks at the literature, can make an assessment of the current level of consensus amongst those scientists who are experts in the area. That's all anyone who is not such a scientist can do.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            I think I agree with all that.

            I suspect there are levels of suffering that human beings experience that lower levels of life cannot.

          • Michael Murray

            There is a comment here from Brandon as well

            There's a huge debate about whether, and to what extent, animals feel pain and experience suffering.

            https://disqus.com/home/discussion/strangenotions/why_reality_includes_more_not_less_than_you_may_think/#comment-2062130494

            Maybe there could be a future post on this topic.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            I agree.

            That is a subtopic of the wider and just as fascinating topic of how human beings are different than other animals. Also the very enlightening topic of what we share with other animals.

    • Kraker Jak

      Is there some kind of backwards causation at work ?

      I know there are scriptures that suggest that God "visits" the results of the fathers sins unto multiple future generations. So In the Christian paradigm in which time, past, present and future seem to be one and the same for God, I have no doubt that some sort of backward compatible justification scenario could be dreamed up for suffering before the original sin. Give Christians points for creativity.

    • David Nickol

      Which beginning does this refer to ?

      The Catechism says the following:

      390 The account of the fall in Genesis 3 uses figurative language, but affirms a primeval event, a deed that took place at the beginning of the history of man. Revelation gives us the certainty of faith that the whole of human history is marked by the original fault freely committed by our first parents. [Italics in original]

      Given that it's acknowledged the story is figurative, I think it is quite reasonable for Catholics to believe that the history of man doesn't date back any further than the emergence of our ancestors that could truly be called human beings. I'd say that would be not much more than 50,000 years ago. Of course, there's a problem pinpointing a date, since according to Catholic belief (or at least the more conservative views expressed here), the first humans didn't really evolve. They were "miraculously" created (by the infusion of souls into two existing pre-humans).

      In any case, I think it is certain that going all the way back in human evolution, we and our ancestors have always been both predators and prey.

      • Michael Murray

        Excellent thanks. So very, very late in the evolution of life let alone in the creation of the universe!

    • Doug Shaver

      Adam and Eve would be a few hundred thousand years ago and the world would appear to have been out of harmony since it began. Or is there some kind of backwards causation at work ?

      From the Christian perspective, the world was created just for us. From that perspective, any disharmony that existed before we came on the scene would be simply irrelevant to anything. Since we humans are what the universe is all about, whatever doesn't affect us just doesn't matter.

      • Kevin Aldrich

        Did you see that in the fourteen principles I articulated or do you think it is one I have overlooked? If I have overlooked it, where do you find it in Catholic theology or philosophy?

        • Doug Shaver

          Did you see that in the fourteen principles I articulated or do you think it is one I have overlooked?

          I found this in Part I:

          the human race is singular and the summit of creation . . . . the earth is for our use

          I think that justifies my inference that "From the Christian perspective, the world was created just for us." The rest of my comment represents what seems to me a reasonable extrapolation.

    • Kevin Aldrich

      To answer your second question, I think the following:

      The Garden of Eden was supposed to expand ever outward as the descendants of Adam and Eve were fruitful and exercised their wise dominion over the earth, until the earth and its creatures became a complete, harmonious “garden.” Another window into this would be the way Tolkien envisioned the "high" Elves and their relationship to the natural world. I think he saw them as unfallen personal beings. (Not Peter Jackson's vision of elves!)

    • Kevin Aldrich

      To answer you first question, my own aim is just to identify the principles, and one of them is Original Sin has introduced various kinds of alienation into human life and man's relationship with the natural world.

      Francis in "Laudato si'" references this Catechism point:

      310 But why did God not create a world so perfect that no evil could exist in it? With infinite power God could always create something better.174 But with infinite wisdom and goodness God freely willed to create a world “in a state of journeying” toward its ultimate perfection. In God’s plan this process of becoming involves the appearance of certain beings and the disappearance of others, the existence of the more perfect alongside the less perfect, both constructive and destructive forces of nature. With physical good there exists also physical evil as long as creation has not reached perfection.175 (412, 1042-1050, 342)

      I don't think the Church teaches that creation was perfect before the fall of Adam and Eve. Rather, they and we would be preserved from natural evils, like sickness, accidents, and death.

      • Rather, they and we would be preserved from natural evils, like sickness, accidents, and death.

        Can you see how, to a skeptic, it seems awfully convenient that, right when the story calls for a miraculous departure from the previous several billion years of natural evils, the story has an "excuse" for why the naturalist status quo just kept on going as it always had?

        • Kevin Aldrich

          Yes, but on the other hand, the Jewish authors who wrote and redacted the first three chapters of Genesis had no idea that there were billions of years of natural evil before the origin of human beings. Neither did the early Christians who formulated the idea of Original Sin.

  • Michael Murray

    "Accelerated modern human–induced species losses: Entering the sixth mass extinction"

    http://advances.sciencemag.org/content/1/5/e1400253.full

    Yep we are definitely not living in harmony with the natural world.

    • VicqRuiz

      I wonder if the Paul Ehrlich who is one of the authors of this article is the same Paul Ehrlich who has wrongly predicted imminent disaster several times since the 1960's.

      • Michael Murray

        Definitely yes. Unless there are two Bing Professors of Population Studie at Stanford with identical names :-)

        • VicqRuiz

          It would be interesting to see what the Pope thinks of Ehrlich's prescriptions to save the environment, wouldn't it just......

  • Ladolcevipera

    Original sin has disrupted the harmony that ought to exist between humanity and the rest of the natural world

    Ah, there it is: Original sin, the cause of all evil. God punishes Adam and Eve (as he punished the fallen angel "Lucifer") for disobeying him. So, moral evil is the cause of natural evil. Adam and Eve (and "Lucifer") could disobey God because he created them with a free will and they abused it. But then the question arises: given that all creation is good, what makes a good will choose to do something bad? The answer can only be: because it has the possibility to do so. But why would God implant the possibility for evil into man? And what makes a good will tip over from good to bad? It must be something outside that good will.
    If you look at it this way, the conclusion is that either (1) in creation there is also a principle of evil at work (and that would be Manicheism) and so (2) God is not Almighty or (3) God is not Good and is ultimately responsible for all the evil in the world. I think faith dashes against the rock of evil. My sympathy lies with Lucifer who had the courage to question God and pay the price.
    But then I am not a believer and I think WE are responsible for moral evil and nature unfolds according its own law. Sub specie aeternitatis all is well.

    • Kevin Aldrich

      I think Jacques Maritain did a good job of answering your question in "St. Thomas and the Problem of Evil." The something you are trying to identify is not outside the good human will but is inside it.

      The human intellect does not possess the rule of reason inherently, which is how one judges the morality of a proposed action. One has to seek this standard outside oneself. However, the will is free to act without considering the rule of reason. It can be reckless.

      Thomas uses the homely example of a craftsman. The craftsman does not have the rule of straightness in his hand, he has to use a literal ruler. "Thus the craftsman does not err in not always having his ruler in hand but in proceeding to cut the wood without his ruler. The faultiness of will does not consist in not paying attention in act to the rule of reason or of divine law, but in this:--that without taking heed of the rule it proceeds to the act of choice." (p. 29).

      • Ladolcevipera

        Neither Thomas nor Maritain (a neo-thomist) are convincing. Neither of them succeeds in explaining why a will that is inherently good should have an inclination to evil. If the will is good, it can only be attracted to evil because God has given it the possibility to do so, in which case God is a bit malicious. I prefer St. Augustine. He cannot conclude of course that it is God who is responsible for evil, but he says that the cause of evil cannot be grasped. According to him, if one looks for the "causa efficiens" of evil, nothing will be found. Evil is "incausale". This is an admission of the inability to explain the existence of evil. I think it is a very honest statement.

        • Kevin Aldrich

          I don't think you are characterizing Thomas' argument correctly. The human will does not have an inclination to do evil before original sin. It has the ability to skip the most important step, that is, to not listen to what reason what reason would say and to jump to the decision. This is the case even before there would be any inclination to evil. That comes later.

  • Although the following article is 'long', I submit it here because it contains a presentation of both Catholic/Christian and Darwinian perspectives, with (especially in the footnotes) observations regarding previous 'extinctions', which have been followed by an upsurge of creativity, etc. etc. etc. I trust then it is 'on-topic'!!! http://www.metanexus.net/essay/creative-tension-edge-chaos-towards-evolutionary-christology