Part one of a series on reasons to care for creation.
In Genesis 1:29 + 31 we read that ‘God saw all that He had made and it was very good’. Also: ‘I give you every seed bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food.’
God has created a world in balance that is wonderfully interconnected; that is self-sustaining; that does not produce waste; and that provides, or should provide, amply for all life on earth. Here I want to divide this section further into extrinsic and intrinsic valuations of God’s provision for us.
From a completely self-serving point-of-view, creation sustains the human race; without it we could not survive. Nature provides the services, such as pollination, oxygen production, water filtration, and climate regulation, that keep us alive. In economic terms alone these services are worth far more than the entire value of the world economy.
A team of economists and scientists first did the sums back in 1997 and came up with a figure of $33 trillion annually. The gross world product in that same year was $18 trillion. I didn’t look up an updated total figure but I would imagine that as our knowledge of how efficiently nature provides services has grown, in tandem with our knowledge of how inefficiently we replicate them, this figure will probably be even bigger now in relation to the size of the world economy that it was then. Maybe not, but the figure still serves as an indicator of the scale of God’s provision through creation.
Take pollination for example. There have been several studies released recently that have assessed the impact of neonicotinoid pesticides on bee populations. They fundamentally affect the ability of bees to navigate and to produce queen bees, thereby contributing to colony collapse, and of course to a reduction in pollination. When you consider that pollination services provided by bees are estimated to cost £1.8 billion if done by hand, suddenly this becomes a very serious economic issue as well as an environmental and social one.
How wonderful that our very existence is bound up with the smallest parts of God’s creation.
David Attenborough writes in the foreword to his documentary series, Life in the Undergrowth, that
For every pound of people on earth, there are 300 pounds of insects. If we, and the rest of the backboned animals were to disappear overnight, the rest of the world would get on pretty well. But if the invertebrates were to disappear the land’s ecosystems would collapse. Wherever we go on land, these small creatures are within a few inches of our feet – often disregarded. We would do well to remember them.
Next time you’re about to drop the yellow pages on the spider in your bathroom, you think about that!
So creation is God’s provision for our practical needs.
The second element of God’s provision for us through the wonderful world cannot just be measured on a balance sheet. It concerns the intrinsic value of His creation.
The natural world is a continual source of inspiration for us. It soothes and stimulates, it excites and humbles, it terrifies and comforts. Like in psalm 8, psalm 104 states: ‘How wonderful are your works, O Lord; in wisdom you made them all; the earth is full of your creatures.’
Consider these statistics from E. O. Wilson’s book, The Future of Life:
Studies of response prior to surgery and dental work have consistently revealed a significant reduction of stress in the presence of plants and aquaria.
Post-surgical patients recover more quickly, suffer fewer minor complications, and need smaller dosages of painkillers if given a window view of open terrain or waterscape.
Studies in prisons revealed that inmates provided window views of nearby farmlands and forests, as opposed to prison yards, reported fewer stress-related symptoms such as headaches and indigestion.
In one Australian study, which factored out variation in exercise levels, diet and social class, pet ownership accounted for a statistically significant reduction of cholestrol, triglyercides, and systolic blood pressure.
Of course we shouldn’t be surprised by this, that animal and nature therapy has such a powerful impact on people. Nature is a general revelation of God’s power and wisdom. And when God reveals himself to us, we cannot fail to be blessed.
I used to work in environmental education in the Ulster Museum and it was such a pleasure and a privilege to see people, particularly children, be amazed by the wonders of the world around us. You’d show them the world’s biggest spider or an elephant’s tooth and their eyes would light up and their jaws would drop. Such is the provision of God’s creation for us in these areas of our life too, a source of wonder and inspiration. But of course this sort of wonder isn’t just for children, it’s for boys and girls of all ages. Alain de Botton, a philosopher, recently wrote:
We should allow ourselves to handle zoology in the interests of stirring awe rather than in the name of promoting knowledge, biology leant upon for its therapeutic, perspective-giving capacity rather than its factual value.
He’s maybe swung too far in one direction with this statement but he has a point that it’s not just about facts. God’s creation provides us with perspective and a sense of wonder that puts us firmly in our place.
But let’s also remember that creation’s value isn’t related to its utility for human purposes. All creation exists primarily to give God glory, simply by being itself. This applies to lions and lionfish and lion-tailed macaques, as well as to species which have evolved and lived and died and vanished from the face of the earth without ever encountering a single human being.
Creation as provision
We’ve somehow fallen for the myth that with our great understanding and technological abilities we are quite independent of the rest of creation, and that can somehow dispense with its services if we choose.
On the contrary, God has created us to depend utterly on the bounty of nature in His world, that the existence of the human race should be intricately bound up with the lives of countless other species, be they blue whales or beetles. Whether it is extrinsic or intrinsic valuation, whether it puts food in our bellies or a smile on our face, creation is God’s provision for so many aspects of our lives, a wondrous thing to celebrate, and one which we arrogantly disrupt at our peril.
Gloria in excelsis Deo.
This is an edited extract from the Christians in Science Ireland ‘God and Science Lecture’, given on the 30th April 2012 at University Road Moravian Church, Belfast.