2nd May 2022

Sir David Attenborough is on record as saying that the text Genesis 1:26, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over . . . every living thing that moves upon the earth’, must take much of the blame for the human despoliation of our planet right down to the present crisis of climate change.

Notwithstanding my deep respect for Sir David, this is too simplistic. For one thing, those words have been around nigh on 3,000 years. For nearly all that time, human treatment and ‘dominion’ over the earth was not that of selfish exploitation but of responsible husbandry in agriculture, and the text can just as well be held responsible for inculcating that attitude.

But what about the industrial revolution of the last four centuries? The case here is more arguable: the growth of dark satanic mills took place in a largely Christian western environment. But the evidence regarding Genesis 1 is still largely circumstantial. To be convincing, one would need to find much direct use of Genesis by the early industrialists, and the preachers they heard on Sundays, in initiating and justifying their practices. At most, the case would be that Christianity, once the revolution got under way, did too little to counter the mistreatment of nature, and indeed of human beings, for commercial gain.

That of course doesn’t let us Christians off the hook, but puts us on another one. It should make ourselves study the Bible more thoroughly (there is after all a lot more in the Bible on the subject than Genesis 1!) and act more resolutely.

Keith Clements