Man Is Not an Intruder in Creation

There is a fundamental precept among climate change activists and radical environmentalists that man is an interloper in the natural world. All would be pristine if it weren’t for us. There seems to be little appreciation that humans are part of creation, that we are supposed to be here, part of the interplay among living organism in which there is both giving and taking.

The role of the human person in creation is developed quite explicitly in the Bible. In the very opening pages of the Scriptures we read of Adam and Eve:

God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and every creature that crawls upon the earth.” Then God said, “Behold, I have given you every seed-bearing plant on the face of all the earth, and every tree whose fruit contains seed. They will be yours for food” (Genesis 1:28-31).

Man is no mere observer or denizen of creation; he has the authority of a steward. The Hebrew word used in this passage is a strong one: kabash (subdue). It means to bring something into submission, to impose a kind of order. Scripture also says, Then the LORD God took the man and placed him in the Garden of Eden to cultivate and keep it (Gen 2:15).

It is remarkable that these things are said even before Original Sin. Thus, even in the paradise of Eden there is something imperfect, something undone. Man was to work with God in the ongoing work of maintaining creation and helping it reach its potential and achieve its goals.

Original Sin harmed both man and the rest of creation. God said to Adam, Cursed is the ground because of you; through toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. Both thorns and thistles it will yield for you, and you will eat the plants of the field (Gen 3:17-18). In spite of this, God reiterates the role of the human person:

And God blessed Noah and his sons and said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth. The fear and dread of you will fall on every living creature on the earth, every bird of the air, every creature that crawls on the ground, and all the fish of the sea. They are delivered into your hand. Everything that lives and moves will be food for you; just as I gave you the green plants, I now give you all things” (Genesis 9:1-3).

It is this sovereign stewardship that is celebrated in Preface Five for the Sundays of the year:

It is truly right and just, our duty and our salvation, always and everywhere to give you thanks, Lord, holy Father, almighty and eternal God.

For you laid the foundations of the world and have arranged for the changing of times and seasons; you have formed man in your own image and set humanity over the whole world in all its wonder, to rule in your name over all you have made and forever praise you in your mighty works, through Christ our Lord.

And so, with all the Angels, we praise you,
as in joyful celebration we acclaim: Holy, Holy, Holy …

All these texts are an answer to the modern, secular, extremist notion that reduces man to an unnatural intruder in the created world. We are not. We are meant to be here. The world was made for us by God, and we are to exercise a dominion that brings order and greater productivity to the created order by God’s grace.

In our best moments, we have done this beautifully. Advances in agricultural science have almost miraculously raised crop yields such that abundant food can be made available worldwide for billions. Forest management has permitted us to reap the benefits of trees while keeping our forests from being depleted through replanting and other measures. Fisheries, animal husbandry, wildlife management, nature conservancies, and national parks bless millions and encourage appreciation for the natural world. We have developed an amazing ability to use the raw minerals and materials of the earth to build and make wonderful things.

Further, the rise of hospitals in the early Christian era and medical study that followed in the West has driven back disease, dramatically lowered infant mortality, and relieved an enormous amount of human suffering. Modern Western economies have raised the standard of living for huge numbers of people, drawing many out of crushing poverty and subsistence living and making food and consumer goods available in rich variety.

There surely have been times when we have polluted, been wasteful, destroyed forests, and engaged in agricultural policies that contributed to crises such as the Dust Bowl of the 1930s. However, we have also learned much, especially in the modern age.

It is unjust to demonize humanity in the name of environmentalism. We are tasked by God to take the world He gave us and make good decisions about how it should be used: some land for farming, some for forests, and some for cities and other developments. It is our role to help unlock the full potential of the natural world by using its resources to make everything from medicine to food, from paint to steel, from grapes to wines and jellies.

It is important to resist accepting the premises of an increasingly radicalized movement. Man is not the enemy. Too many activists propose morally unacceptable solutions such as abortion, sterilization, and euthanasia in the name of “population control.” Other proposals include heavy-handed government intrusion to limit family size, eliminate entire industries, and ban certain fuel sources violate subsidiarity and are likely to have a disproportionate effect on the poor. Creating hysteria about climate change and warning of impending extinction is an old tactic of this movement. I have been hearing similarly dire predictions all my life, but here we still are. Believe what you want about climate change and its causes, but be careful to note what this movement has become and the dramatic, anti-human policies it has adopted.

Humanity is the crowning glory of this planet. We are not intruders into the world of nature. God made this world and put us here in it. Irresponsible stewardship is a sin, but extremist solutions are also a sin—against the dignity of the human person.

Cross-posted at the Catholic Standard: Man Is Not an Intruder in Creation

10 Replies to “Man Is Not an Intruder in Creation”

  1. I wish the Greta Thunbergs of the world would read you and take consolation in God and His plans. When you lose faith in God, you put your faith in other things, ideas, and over and over, I see that if you’re not with God, you’re against Him. The fear I read about and the policies that are made in response are all anti-human. Spare us, Lord.

    1. >”There is a fundamental precept among climate change activists and radical environmentalists that man is an interloper in the natural world.”

      I don’t think that’s true. In the natural world, mankind numbers in the thousands as hunter-gatherers. This is easily sustainable. Now that we have billions of people in an industrialized civilization, this is less true; the earth has a finite amount of natural resources. Eventually we’re going to go extinct if we keep abusing our only Earth that God has created for us in an unsustainable manner.

      Our enemy isn’t environmental activists that are fulfilling God’s will in responsible ecological stewardship. Our enemy is fossil fuel companies and other entities that are using the Earth’s finite resources in an unsustainable manner, which will lead to billions of God’s children dying, for no reason but to bolster their profit margins and please their shareholders.

      1. I don’t believe there is anything natural about human beings not using their brains and increasing in scientific knowledge to better himself and his society.

        Since the space age and Voyager program in particular, NASA has pushed this idea that the earth is some miniscule thing that functions like a tiny, delicate spaceship. In reality, the earth’s natural power is beyond fathoming. Take for example the power of the oceans. In terms of energy at any moment all human energy production and consumption, natural and artificial, doesn’t amount to a fraction of a single percent of the energy in the ocean being actually used at any given moment, let alone its potential energy. Ironically, the natural powers of the earth are usually presented in catastrophic terms (in its potential) to raise alarms and create fear. Now a healthy respect for the power of nature is appropriate but we can ferfect just what a small impact man actually has ordinarily on the earth. Special, sensitive and isolated ecosystems of course need to protection: but on a macro scale like global warming, man’s impact is completely insignificant and often enough the earth already has the actual and potential systems and energy to recycle human waste and byproduct, so long as we dispose of it in the right places and in a suitable way to allow the earth to reclaim it.

  2. Ummm sorry, but I’m of fundamental disagreement with your very first paragraph. As Catholics, we are called to be “climate change activists”.

    It’s dangerous to make blanket statements about whole groups of people. “Conservatives” do this about “liberals” and the other way around.

    Climate change is responsible for harm to humans too, after all: drought, famine, disease, natural disasters, etc.

  3. But what about the murderous obscenity that is industrial farming? What about animal lives that are created only to be destroyed? Genesis 9:1-3 usually serves to justify mere gluttony, and to deny animals mercy.

  4. I have no expertise in the field of climate “science”, but since the 1970s I have heard that the world was going to become barren…in 20 years. And 20 years pass, and again in the 1990s I heard that the world would become barren…in 20 years.

  5. Thank you so much, Msgr. Please, let me allow to speculate that the poor remain the hope of humankind. In the sense that if love of money is the root of all evil, then it is the smallest of personal sins, being cause of all other sins. Although an objection to this claim is that it probably depends on how much money is loved. But the poor have no money, so they are most close to original sin, and so it is they who carry on humankind’s pristine blessings for the future. Politics is rich people wasting our time.

  6. The author is not even aware that he has raised arguments against his own illogical beliefs. He seems to think that if the world were created for humans, then it is ours to rape and destroy, “all good”. He said himself humans were charged with the responsibility to take care of it. Does he think that a ruler is a good leader if he takes so much from those he rules over, that several groups (species) are driven to extinction? Is destroying those you are to be a steward over considered “bringing order”? Apparently, he thinks that is just fine. The question is not “are humans intruders?” What they are behaving like is destroyers. And we freely choose to do so. The real questions are …Why are humans treating a gift like disposable garbage? Why is the only animal created with the ability to care for all the others NOT doing just that? Why is the author so blindly self righteous and afraid of environmentally minded people? Could it be because they are technically doing a much better job than him at doing what God told humans to do? I’m sure his God is so proud of him for acting like a corrupt politician. (Trying to project his own failures onto the other side so that THEY get called the bad guys by the masses of people who are not aware of what logical means at all- surely if humans are the ones capable of logical thinking, then God would EXPECT it of us. It is an insult to God to not use your brain. Pretty sure corrupt leaders, laziness, lying, evading responsibility, and destroying a gift are frowned upon in that book you think you are living by. Perhaps all those things are harshly punished in the bible, correct? And here he is doing all of those things. And a few silly people who don’t know how to think leave comments here as if they think the author makes sense.

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    [BLOG ADMINISTRATOR COMMENT – As part of the moderation process, much thought was given in deciding whether or not to post this comment. Objections and righteous criticism of Monsignor Pope, high Church officials, or the Church herself – even forceful criticism – is all fair game. Hostile, insulting tone and derogatory words are not. The latter rarely advances a discussion and for that reason (among others) usually does not survive comment moderation. Reasonable people should be able to engage in discourse with others reasonably. That said, I’ve decided to post this. The commenter and his concerns, however, might deserve more consideration if his views were not presented with so much ad hominem and venom. As it is, he sets a poor example of those who subscribe to the man-caused climate change theories. In responding, please observe all proper decorum and respect.]

  7. I’m an old woman with only a high school education. It seems the more I read, the less I know. God made us for his created world, and we are to be the caretakers. We are blessed beyond our comprehension by being provided with all we need. But extreme weather is frightening, and so I must conclude it’s because of climate change. That just may be a natural occurrence over time. I don’t know, but I suspect it is. If we are in fact causing it, we could remedy it, I’m sure. It’ll never happen as long as it’s a matter run by politics and the super wealthy who have agendas other than ours, the little people of God’s earth. I’ve been so depressed by news reports (I should know better) and truly appreciate your providing me with another way of thinking about this situation.

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