Project Augustine

Chapter 7: “Ethical Proposals and Conclusion” – Part II





Q: On page 124, Southgate advocates for “the possibility of human partnership in this process” of redeeming creation. This is in contrast to Holmes Rolston’s view that “this system does not stand in need of redemption” and that “our interaction with wilderness should be confined to its protection from anthropogenic (human induced) damage.” Do you agree or disagree with Southgate that (a) creation does need fixing and that (b) human beings are to take an active role in this fixing beyond simply humans “doing no harm”? Why or why not?  As an application, do you agree or disagree with Southgate’s example of curing a presumably naturally infected bighorn sheep at Yellowstone if the species was under threat of extinction, per page 126?



Yes, I lean with Rolston’s view that the system does not stand in need of redemption.  God set up a system that for the most part works, and I don’t think we should be thinking of changing it fundamentally.  That being said, I do think we have the right and duty to interact with it, more than just protecting it from anthropogenic damage such as with cultivating wild overgrowth into an ordered garden.  We were meant to be stewards and not simply bury our talent into the ground, so afraid of losing it that we don’t attempt to grow it.


I agree with Southgate’s example of curing presumably naturally infected bighorn sheep if the species were under threat of extinction.  We cannot possibly preserve all species, but we should try to respect it and maintain some sort of stewardship.








Q: Do you agree or disagree with Southgate’s proposal on page 125 to cut the rate of natural extinction? Is it humanity’s responsibility to do so, and how high do you think this should be on humanity’s priority list?  Or do you have other ideas in mind to set creation free, besides Southgate’s two proposals of vegetarianism and reducing extinction?  Perhaps help other human beings or creatures selve or practice ethical kenosis? Or grapple with human poverty, human overpopulation, or the way goods are currently distributed (125)?


Q: Given the 1000-fold increase in the rate of anthropogenic extinction compared to that of evolutionary development (125), is it even possible to envision human beings cutting this extinction rate? Isn’t our species really, per section 6.4, a “plague mammal” (99)? Or can we make our rationality useful in protecting creation such that this outweighs our plague–like behavior?  And can you provide examples of human civilizations practicing sustainable living? 




The root of the problem that these two questions try to address is simply this: human overpopulation.

Image result for human population growth graph


This graph simply sums up the rapid growth in overall human population since 1800.  Between 1900 and 2000, the global human population growth was threefold higher than the entire history of modern man on Earth.  Most of this growth is primarily attributed to improved health, the introduction of antibiotics, better medical technology and improved living conditions.  This rapid growth of the human population has come at an extreme cost: increased deforestation, reduction of natural habitation, worsening pollution, poaching, etc.  I do agree with Southgate that humanity should play a role in reducing the rate of extinctions around the globe, but the question will obviously be, how?  I won’t pretend to have an answer to that question, however I do believe we ought to stem the runaway growth of the general human population.  China’s one child policy may have been brutal, but it was quite necessary and I don’t care how many academics, policy makers, human rights activists, and politicians scream and shout about the fallacies of the program.  I don’t think they would want to see 2 billion plus Chinese consuming the same amount of raw materials as 300 million Americans, and don’t get me even started on India and sub-Saharan Africa.  I personally have no problems with the rapidly decreasing birth rates that we are witnessing in many developed countries.  In due time, the same will occur throughout the rest of the world.  The other solution of course would be to advance interstellar propulsion technology to enable humans to colonize other off-world habitats as portrayed in Ridley Scott’s 1982 flick, Blade Runner, but that probably won’t be realistic until well after the year 2200.  To create sustainable living, humans will need to drastically cut back on their consumption habits.  Unfortunately, the chances of that happening soon is even remoter than colonizing extrasolar planets.  Ultimately, future generations of humans will have to decide for themselves whether or not they should play a greater role in developing a balanced ecosystem that harmonizes the needs and desires of all living organisms on this planet.






Same question as Howard’s


 In section 1.7, Southgate defines the problem of creation as twofold:


  • Suffering of individual creatures – similar to Ivan Karamazov’s example of the torture of an individual child, the suffering of an individual creature may not be reconcilable with the idea of a loving God, even if evolution produces good results for the overall biosphere or for the species as a whole due to that suffering.
  • Extinction of an entire species – “Can the emergence of even one new species be said to justify the disappearance of a hundred others that are less gifted?” (15)


In my answer to the questions in Chapter 1 last March, I remember vigorously resonating with the horror brought about by Ivan Karamazov’s example.


But as I look at question (a) right now, I feel a bit numb to it emotionally.


Maybe it’s because I personally don’t know how my individual life matters or makes a difference. Hence, maybe it’s easier for me to feel that my life can count only insofar as it helps with the redemption as a whole of the biosphere.


As for question (b), I would think that human beings should take an active role in fixing creation, mainly because I think that there is no such thing as humans simply “doing no harm.” For one thing, human beings have perpetrated harm on creation for so long that I think it makes us responsible to save whatever’s left as much as we can – as long as it is tempered by expert knowledge, that it won’t do more harm than good overall.


And so, the better part of me would cure the bighorn sheep if it was under threat of extinction, simply because I feel somewhat guilty on behalf of humanity that we have been somewhat responsible for the bighorn having gotten to the point of extinction in the first place. But I defer to the experts – wildlife conservationists – because they would be able to give meaningful input on “doing more harm than good.”


I do recognize looking at overall good vs individual good could be construed as contradictory to part (1) of Southgate’s definition of the problem (as enumerated above). But my response to that would be that each bighorn sheep too has a responsibility to all of creation, not only to itself.


And so, in my view, the question ends up becoming about balancing the welfare of the group versus the welfare of the individual. And I don’t have an answer for that question.





 Same question as above.


In the beginning of Section 7.4 “The Ethics of Extinction”, Southgate sees the processes of evolution and natural selection, including extinction, as being integral with the emergence of “beauty, complexity, adaptiveness, and ultimately consciousness” within God’s creation.  Holmes Rolston believes that suffering (or travail) within creation “is the Creator’s will, productive as it is of glory.”  Furthermore, he advocates a non-interventionist position with the environment (both divine and human) in which he believes “contains within it its own processes of regeneration and therefore redemption.”  Southgate disagrees with Rolston’s views and sides with Jurgen Motlmann’s “understanding of Christ as evolution’s redeemer” along with “the possibility of human partnership in this process.”  He proposes that we, “as children of God” should start the process “to set free the whole creation… through a blend of prudential wisdom and scientific ingenuity, [to] cut the rate of natural extinction.”  As one can clearly see, Southgate advocates an interventionist view of both divine and human action when dealing with creation’s “groaning”.  Southgate mentions that, “The crux of our disagreement is that Rolston is still looking to the natural unfolding of the creation, whereas I regard this as the eschatological phase of history, in which humans should be looking to their own liberation and to the relief of creation’s groaning.”


Upon reading this section, my first gut reaction was to side with Rolston and let nature be as it is and have it take its course in terms of evolution, natural selection, and extinction.  It has been part of the world since the beginning (as far as we can infer from scientific evidence), and human effort to interfere or curtail their effects might actually do more harm than good to the overall well-being of creation as a whole.  However, one has to take into effect the overall impact and harm humans have caused on earth for at least the last 100,000 years.  As Southgate mentions biologist E.O. Wilson’s assessment that “fifty thousand years ago the rate of extinction was low, perhaps one species per million per year… Chiefly because of human activity, this rate now runs at over one thousand species per million per year.”  Southgate calls upon people (or at least Christians) to fulfill our calling to reduce, or better yet, eliminate, anthropogenic extinction.  Human beings do bear the responsibility of the harm, or at least impact, humans have caused upon the earth, and have the “moral imperative” to preserve as many species as possible that have been adversely impacted by human activity.



Though Southgate does not, to my surprise, mention the word “compassion” throughout his thesis in this chapter, I do believe that at its core, this is what he is advocating humans to do when preventing anthropogenic extinction.  Though other animals do have varying degrees of expressing compassion upon their own species or towards another, none can compare with the human capacity for compassion for all species, including plants, and other life forms.  One can argue that God has blessed our species with the cognitive ability to change and enhance our surroundings with technology that no other animal can, so we should bear the moral responsibility to prevent anthropogenic extinctions from happening as it is not only for the interest of creation itself, but also for our own self-interest as well, as Southgate points out.  I agree with Southgate’s somewhat realistic approach in this endeavor as he knows that it is impossible to save every single act of extinction moving forward “but we can see the healing of extinction as a calling to participate in the saving work of God.”  It is interesting to see Southgate’s view of people working side-by-side with God in bringing about this vision.  His vision is driven by personal eschatological convictions based upon the Cross and the Resurrection of Christ.  I believe that he is driven by his belief that Christ’s death and Resurrection radically and fundamentally changed the course of not only human history, but the entire cosmos’ history as well.  Creation might very well have gone the way of extinction and natural selection for billions of years, but with the Christ-event, a new paradigm entered into and disrupted the natural flow of the cosmos, so we must respond in an entirely new way.  Christ’s compassion for us by blessing us with grace and salvation should motivate us to be compassionate with non-human creation and by bearing its sufferings and bringing forth healing.  I am in agreement with Southgate that salvation should not be restricted or interpreted myopically to being only about the saving of human souls to heaven – it is more about the coming of the new heavens and the new earth (Isa 65:17; 66:22; 2 Pet 3:12-13; Rev 21:1).


In regards to Southgate’s example of the non-intervening in the possible extinction of bighorn sheep in Yellowstone due to a natural outbreak of conjunctivitis that decimated their population, I just don’t know enough about the scientific assessment and data scientists had in coming up with their decision to give an honest opinion on whether or not that was the best way possible to deal with that situation.  Southgate advocated for intervention only if the sheep had been threatened with extinction; however, it seems as if this was a natural outbreak of conjunctivitis, not caused by human interference, so he seems to contradict his own mantra to interfere only in instances of anthropogenic extinction. If it had been the case that the disease was caused by human negligence, then I think we would have the moral responsibility to interfere and save the species.


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