The Malevolence of Nature (A Biblical Perspective on Environmentalism: Part 3)

Reprinted with permission from As I See It, which is available free by writing to the editor at The series so far.

To hear some environmentalists tell it, the natural world in all its diversity is just one unending delight, pure paradise every moment of every day, all the year round. “Nature good, human bad.” Such a Pollyannaish view is incalculably far from the truth. The natural world is anything but uniformly benign and benevolent. It is all “under the curse” that was meted out to mankind as a consequence of deliberate rebellion against an expressed Divine command. Thorns and thistles are singled out by God for specific mention as part of that curse which frustrates man’s attempts to secure his food supply—his “daily bread”—from the now-cursed ground (Gen. 3:17-19). But it can be reasonably inferred that other unspecified things were also part of that curse, including insect pests, plant diseases, and inclement weather, to mention some of the most obvious. These are a curse, a hindrance to human survival (though with a definite Divine purpose—“for your sake,” v. 17—for “in their adversity, they will seek me early,” Hos. 5:15). And we have only addressed man’s agrarian pursuits. There is very much more in nature that is hostile to man than just these things.

Even Darwin recognized the unbridled violence that is characteristic of the natural world, which is “red in tooth and claw,” as the predators trail, attack, kill and consume their daily prey—owls and hawks catching and eating rodents and rabbits and birds, the big cats catching and killing wildebeest, deer, domestic livestock and with some frequency, people, bigger fish eating smaller fish, and killer whales eating seals (one of the classic media moments in the history of modern “environmentalism” was the live viewing of the release into the waters off Alaska of an injured seal that had been nursed back to health. The gathered crowd’s enthusiastic cheers turned quickly to gasps of horror as a large killer whale immediately surfaced, grasped the seal in his tooth-lined jaw, and swallowed his lunch. That, folks, is your much celebrated “natural world.”)

In truth, a great deal of the natural world is malevolent. First, there are the highly destructive geologic events—volcanoes, earthquakes, landslides, tsunamis, meteorites and more. And the weather-related disasters—hurricanes, floods, blizzards, tornadoes, gale-force winds, droughts, lightning, hail, avalanches, brutal heat and bitter cold. And we must mention wildfire in grasslands and forests. These are the bigger stuff, the kind that get major media coverage, because they frequently kill people by the tens and hundreds and sometimes thousands, they destroy property by the millions and billions of dollars’ worth, and leave appalling desolation in their wake, which all make for good news footage.

And there are also the “little” things—viruses that cause polio, small pox, rabies, influenza, some cancers, leukemia, lymphoma, “mad cow” disease, hepatitis, mononucleosis, encephalitis, herpes, AIDS, shingles, and a long list of other pathological conditions. There are the protozoa, which among other things, cause malaria, dengue fever, amoebic dysentery, and more. There are bacteria that sicken, injure and kill mankind by the millions, causing such diseases as cholera, typhus, tetanus, tuberculosis, leprosy, bubonic plague, meningitis, gonorrhea, syphilis, rheumatic fever, whooping cough, and many more. There are human-afflicting parasites: tapeworms, liver flukes and others. Molds and fungi that afflict mankind include athlete’s foot, ring-worm, aspergillums, sporotrichosis and more.

Virtually all rational people recognize that all these disease agents, though entirely “natural,” are indeed not beneficent friends of mankind. Of course, there are a few neo-Malthusian elitists who, incredible as it may seem to the rest of us, are hoping for another “black death” or “Spanish flu” epidemic that will effectively kill off millions, or even, in their imagination’s “best scenario,” a quarter or more of the planet’s “excess” human population, effectively “thinning the herd” so that those elitists (in the tradition of Darwin himself) can more easily enjoy the planet, having more Lebensraum for themselves. The most extreme environmental elitists actually hope for the demise of 90% of the world’s population, reducing the human “burden” on the planted to what they imagine to be a more manageable and sustainable 500 million or so. Of course, they never include themselves in what they consider the excess human population.

And then there are the botanical toxins: hemlock, Jimson weed, oleander, dumb cane (dieffenbachia), many kinds of mushrooms and toadstools and a very long list of others; dermatitis-producing plants: poison ivy and oak, and others. We must not fail to mention plants which can cause anaphylactic shock, sometimes fatal, in some individuals—peanuts, other nuts—or other serious maladies.

Then there are the pestilent and frequently agriculturally significant insects and other arthropods: mosquitoes, locusts, lice, bed-bugs, weevils, cutworms, aphids, flies, ants, termites, scorpions, spiders, and even bees (to whose sting some people are deathly allergic).

And space fails me to describe in detail other natural perils to human life and health and well-being—vipers and other reptiles, birds (ostriches who can and have killed with a kick) carnivorous mammals (bears, tigers, lions, hyenas and more) and large and horned herbivores (giraffes, elephants, rhinos, hippos, cape buffalo, bison, and more), and disease-bearing mammals of whatever sort (rabid dogs, raccoons and skunks, cholera-infected swine, etc.), sharks, rays and other man-killing fish. A complete list of every species of animal that has been directly involved in the death of a human being would be very long indeed.

“Nature” is not always benevolent; it often is a formidable adversary to human health and existence. We dare not let our perspective on the natural world and man’s relationship to it to be skewed or colored by a wrong-headed emotion-controlled notion that nature is somehow ever and always inherently good. It is often very much otherwise.

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