Cornwall Alliance's Denial of the Power of the Fall

I’ve been critiquing the theological section of the Cornwall Alliance’s new document, “A Renewed Call to Truth, Prudence, and Protection of the Poor,” which was written to support their new statement, “An Evangelical Declaration on Global Warming.”

I’ve looked at how the Cornwall Alliance truncates the imago Dei to merely “dominion,” severely slanting their view of humanity’s responsibility in the world. Now I want to look at how they dismiss the Fall’s effect on humanity’s responsibility to cultivate and care for the environment, which leads them to think that we humans cannot do irreparable harm to the environment.

In “An Evangelical Declaration,” they state,
“We believe Earth and its ecosystems—created by God’s intelligent design and infinite power and sustained by His faithful providence —are robust, resilient, self-regulating, and self-correcting, admirably suited for human flourishing, and displaying His glory. Earth’s climate system is no exception. Recent global warming is one of many natural cycles of warming and cooling in geologic history.”

Theologically, they defend this statement by making this claim in “A Renewed Call to Truth,”
“A crucial element of the environmentalist worldview is that Earth and its habitats and inhabitants are extremely fragile and likely to suffer severe, even irreversible damage from human action. That view contradicts Genesis 1:31. It is difficult to imagine how God could have called “very good” the habitat of humanity’s vocation in a millennia-long drama if the whole thing were prone to collapse like a house of cards with the least disturbance—like a change in carbon dioxide from 0.027 to 0.039 percent of the atmosphere (the change generally believed to have occurred from pre-industrial times to the present).” (p. 6)

In other words, the Cornwall Alliance believes that the Bible teaches that there is no way that humans can cause irreparable harm to God’s good creation. They scoff at the idea that human emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases could cause global warming –
“But clearly this scenario rests on the assumption of the fragility of the whole of the geo/biosystem—an assumption contrary to the Biblical worldview. That an increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide from one molecule in every 3,704 to one in every 2,597—from 270 to 385 parts per million—should cause dangerous warming is fundamentally inconsistent with the Biblical worldview of Earth as the “very good” product of the infinitely wise Creator. The Biblical worldview instead suggests that the wise Designer of Earth’s climate system, like any skillful engineer, would have equipped it with balancing positive and negative feedback mechanisms that would make the whole robust, self-regulating, and self-correcting.” (p. 6)

There’s a glaring irony in their argument, however:

To make their claim about the environment, they not only look at contrary scientific evidence (which is very appropriate to do), they compare atmospheric clouds to the iris of the human eye,
“Actual observation of cloud response to surface temperature shows they are a net negative feedback—they reduce both warming and cooling, keeping temperature within a narrow range. The clouds’ response is somewhat like that of the iris of the eye. The brighter the light to which the eye is exposed, the more the iris grows, shrinking the pupil to protect the retina from discomfort and damage. The dimmer the light, the more the iris shrinks, enlarging the pupil to increase vision… Although these and similar findings (discussed in the science chapter) have stunning implications for the ongoing debate about global warming, their more important effect should be to prompt Christians to praise God for the way in which Earth, like the human body, is “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14). In some senses Earth, like the eye, may be fragile, but overall it is, by God’s wise design, more resilient than many fearful environmentalists can imagine.” (p. 7)

Here’s the irony about their argument: Diabetes is the leading cause of blindness. People with diabetes are 40 percent more likely to develop glaucoma. People with diabetes are 60 percent more likely to develop cataracts. More than 21 million people in the United States have diabetes, with 6.2 million people unaware that they have the disease. Another estimated 54 million Americans aged 40 to 74 (40.1 percent of the U.S. population in this age group) have pre-diabetes, a condition that puts them at high risk for developing type 2 diabetes.

And... What is the leading cause of Diabetes?

“Obesity and lack of physical activity are two of the most common causes of this form of diabetes. It is also responsible for nearly 95% of diabetes cases in the United States, according to the CDC.” ("Causes of Type 2 Diabetes," WebMD)

So, if the human body is “fearfully and wonderfully made” by God (which Christians do not dispute), how is it that we can do such irreparable harm to our bodies that we can go blind?

We certainly believe that the human body is an amazing creation from a loving and good God. We also believe that the human body is amazingly complex; it is obviously intricately designed. We also believe that God did not simply design the human body and then leave it on its own – God’s sustaining power is amazingly displayed in things like the blood-clotting cascade.

But, even with all this amazing evidence of God’s creative and sustaining power, we would not go on to presume that human sinfulness (the sins of being a glutton and a sluggard) cannot have terrible effects on the goodness of God’s creation of the human body.

Here’s the point: The Cornwall Alliance claims to espouse “the biblical worldview.” But I differ with them on at least two major points of what the Bible teaches:

1. The Cornwall Alliance believes that the Bible teaches that since God made humans as the imago Dei, there is an ontological difference between humanity and all of the rest of creation. God placed humanity in a privileged position of dominion over the creation, and this dominion means we not only have the responsibility to master it, we have the right to do so with force, as long as we do so for the good of the human species.

I beg to differ. As I said in my last post, the ontological difference in Genesis is not so much between humans and everything else, but between God and all of his creatures. Humanity is certainly the pinnacle of the creation because we are created in the image of God, but this image-bearing does not place us in a privileged position as much as it places us in charge of caring for the rest of the Creation, to cultivate it, to serve it, to “lord under it” more than to “lord over it.”

2. The Cornwall Alliance believes that the Bible teaches that since God made this earth, humans can only do small amounts of harm to it. It is ultimately “robust, self-regulating, and self-correcting.” Human beings cannot (through their sins of gluttony, selfishness, greed, laziness, and consumeristic excess) possibly do irreparable harm to God’s good creation.

I beg to differ. The Cornwall Alliance minimizes the effect of the Fall on our ability to righteously image God. Our ability to have dominion over God’s creation (i.e., "to cultivate and keep it," Genesis 2:15) is severely warped because of the Fall. Human sinfulness can, and often has, created incredible harm to the environment. And humans often need to make dramatic changes in the way we live and do business in order to fulfill our responsibility to steward the creation. The idea that humans cannot do irreparable harm to the environment that God has given to us to steward is, in my view, the unbiblical worldview.

Cornwall Alliance’s “Christian Worldview”: Free Market Capitalism

Other posts of interest on "Global Warming:"
Evangelicals Divided Over Climate Change
Do All Evangelicals Hold to a Conservative Political Viewpoint on Economics?
Fundamentalist Suspicion Toward the Scientific Community Dies Hard
Things We Can Affirm in Cornwall Alliance's Declaration
Imago Dei is More than "Dominion"


Ann said...

Thanks for this great perspective. I was reminded of the fact that my 1 1/2 year old daughter seems to be inclined to get ear infections (as many young children do). I jokingly say "poor design of the ear canal" is to blame.... which is true. Young children have a flat ear canal so fluid sits in there and bacteria grow.
I wish I knew why the issue of climate change has become so bi-partisan. I grew up in a conservative calvinist home and I was taught our role in creation was to be care-givers. Where did the evangelical church go wrong? I know they aren't teaching that at Calvin College.

Ted M. Gossard said...

Very good, Bob. And I agree. Important words that need to be both heard, taken in and heeded.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for writing this post, so many years ago - now more relevant than ever. It is sad to see how this business-funded organization has wormed its way into so many churches.