Similar to arguments against evolution, the Bible is often cited as evidence behind the attitude that man is the “ecological dominant” over all other species of beings on the planet. Genesis 1:26 has been used to justify all manner of behaviors on the part of humans, and to excuse many of the most egregious of them. Personally, I subscribe to the notion that human beings are distinct from the other animal species of the earth (by virtue of many differences, including our unique capability for speech, as well as our propensity for pondering what makes us different from other animals), yet no more valuable to the system than the entire rest of the web of life.
In “The Flamingo’s Smile: Reflections in Natural History“, Stephen J. Gould writes, “We have become, by the power of a glorious evolutionary accident called intelligence, the stewards of life’s continuity on earth. We did not ask for this role, but we cannot abjure it. We may not be suited to it, but here we are.” This perspective, I think, is reconcilable with the Biblical view (referring to the “stewards of life” part, not the “evolutionary accident” part, obviously), because it still recognizes us as supreme (which seems to be the issue of great importance), but it spins that authority in a much more positive direction. Even if we are to acquiesce to the idea that we are “dominant”, dominant does not have to mean destructive. If we see our dominance as a responsibility, rather than a divine license to act without conscience, we can actually accomplish more in the way of healing the earth, and thereby reduce – and perhaps eventually reverse – the destructive effect we have had to this point. This concept of dominance can be used to inspire “right relationship” with the earth and all her creatures, rather than to dismiss it.
We are privileged to be the “dominant species”, and part of our moral responsibility is to take that privilege seriously.
Now, what are we going to do about it?
The Words of Wisdom? is a publication of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Gwinnett.