Although I was trained as an archaeologist, over the years I have slowly moved towards research that can more accurately be described as palaeoecology or palaeoenvironmental science, i.e. ecology and environmental science applied to the past. As with archaeology, one of the things that attract me to environmental science is its multidisciplinarity. I here take environmental science to mean the study of the abiotic (non-living) environment of living creatures: the air, the water, the soil. (For the biotic side of things, see Richard’s post on ecology). This multidisciplinarity primarily lies in the application of methods from other sciences, such as physics, chemistry, information science, to the object of study: the environment. Furthermore, environmental studies often have clear implications for policy making. An environmental scientist is therefore often forced to consider not just the abiotic aspects of his research, but also the biotic (how does this affect plants and animals) and social, political and juridical aspects, thus avoiding reductionist tendencies.
For Christians, this area of study should be of particular importance. When God created human beings, he gave them a specific task: to ‘fill the earth and subdue it’ (Genesis 1:28). A faithful environmental scientist is fulfilling part of the creation mandate.
It is also clear that the environment is groaning under the effects of the fall. The ground is cursed because of mankind’s sin. The prophet Hosea describes how the wickedness of the children of Israel affected the land: ‘Therefore the land mourns, and all who dwell in it languish, and also the beasts of the field and the birds of the heavens, and even the fish of the sea are taken away’ (Hos. 4:3; for similar passages, see Isaiah 24:4-6 and Micah 6). Much environmental research tries to solve the mess we make of our environment: pollution, climate change, soil infertility.
But as Christians, we also know that one day the creation will be redeemed from its bondage to decay (Rom. 8:19-22). And then, as the Psalmist poetically expresses, the sea will roar, the rivers will clap their hands, and the hills will sing for joy, together with the world and those who dwell in it (Ps. 98:7-8). What a day will that be! But as we wait with eager expectation for that day to come, as Christians in the environmental sciences we should strive to be the best stewards of God’s seas, rivers and hills we can be.
- Moo, J.A. & R.S. White, 2013: Hope in an age of despair, The gospel and the future of life on earth, Inter-Varsity Press, Nottingham.
- White, R.S. (ed.), 2009: Creation in crisis, Christian perspectives on sustainability, SPCK, London.
- Various authors, 2005: A Christian approach to the environment, The John Ray Initiative.