Theological Reasons for Protecting Biodiversity

Saturday, February 13, 2016: 10:00 AM-11:30 AM
Coolidge (Marriott Wardman Park)
William Brown, Columbia Theological Seminary, Decatur, GA
While the irreversible loss of biodiversity continues to mount, the crisis remains largely underappreciated by the general public, including people of faith.  Ever since Lynn White’s influential claim that Christianity is the most anthropocentric religion to emerge in human history (Science 155 [10 March 1967] 1203-1207), it is commonly assumed that the Bible offers little justification for protecting nonhuman life from extinction.  To the contrary, the Bible provides compelling reasons for sustaining the earth’s biodiversity.  It affirms, for example, God’s love for all creation and acknowledges humanity’s inextricable connection with the nonhuman animal world.  Consequently, faith-based communities are beginning to act with urgency, and theological education is being revised to reflect a greater ecological consciousness.

            For theology students, the high value placed on biodiversity in the Bible and theology often comes as a surprise, since their focus, at least to begin with, is primarily on the relationship between God and human beings.  They soon discover, however, that the biblical vision of life is far more inclusive.  At Columbia Theological Seminary, we have hosted a number of educational events, many of them funded by the “Science for Seminaries” program administered through DoSER (, that have helped students broaden their view of God’s love for creation and humanity’s responsibility for the natural world. 

            Field trips that provide theology students opportunity to witness biodiversity firsthand has proven to be an effective way of cultivating an environmental consciousness for faith-based communities.  In addition, public lectures given by scientists and informed theologians have shared some of the science of biodiversity and humanity’s evolutionary kinship with all of life.  Also new multimedia resources are being developed for classroom use that extend the biblical catalogues of animal life by including references to endangered species as objects of God’s care.  Lastly, collaborative work between theological schools and Interfaith Power and Light ( is exploring effective ways to inform people of faith about species extinction and what to do about it.  These are only a few of the ways institutions that prepare faith-leaders are stressing the value of biodiversity and its importance for humanity.