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Remember the Scriptures

Remember Creation is another in a growing list of books by evangelicals calling for concern about the environment. The fundamental message that Christians have a responsibility to God for wise stewardship of creation is unassailable, and Scott Hoezee’s book artfully makes the case for this. There are, however, serious weaknesses that detract from the book’s usefulness as a source of sound understanding regarding environmental theology, ethics, and science.

A Scientifically Flawed Crisis Mentality

First, the book displays considerable bias in favor of a crisis mentality in the sources cited, a common problem of many evangelical writings on the environment. Of the seventy-eight endnotes, only eight come from sources critical of what one might call the “conventional wisdom”; seven of these are from one source and one from another. In the endnotes, twenty-six distinct sources specifically address environmental issues (whether science, ethics, policy, or other aspects); of these, twenty-four support the conventional wisdom, and only two are critical of it. This indicates a lack of familiarity with the substance of the various debates in this field, which seriously undermines the book’s credibility. Hoezee’s understanding of all aspects of the debate would have been greatly enhanced by his having treated, among others, such sources as Gregg Easter-brook’s A Moment on the Earth: The Coming Age of Environmental Optimism; Ronald Bailey’s (ed.) The True State of the Planet; and Julian Simon’s (ed.) The Resourceful Earth and The State of Humanity.

Second, the book’s brief acknowledgment that there even is debate about empirical states of affairs in the environment indicates lack of awareness of the extent and character of that debate, lack of understanding of how science operates, and lack of knowledge of the current state of the debate on specific issues. This lack appears most clearly, perhaps, in his one most direct statement about scientific debate: “Unhappily, it seems almost every environmental statistic is susceptible to manipulation both by those who wish to make the crisis appear more dire and by those who wish to minimize it.” Shortly he adds, “But as is often the case in such situations, even if the truth lies somewhere in between [emphasis added], God’s creation is still in trouble in ways that have seldom before been true.” There are several problems with such thinking.

One, it is part of the normal workings of science for scientists to attempt various ways of fitting data into theories. The more readily theories incorporate data, the more likely they are to be true; the more difficulty theories have incorporating data, the less likely they are to be true. There is nothing unhappy about this procedure, unless we simply want to abandon scientific procedures.

Two, in some instances it is not a manipulation of data that must be scrutinized but the assertion of conclusions wholly lacking in data. This, for example, was the case for quite some time regarding claims of species extinction rates.

Three, splitting the difference between competing data claims or competing explanations of data is not how science works. Frequently it turns out that the truth is nowhere near the midpoint between competing claims–and sometimes it is beyond one or the other end of the spectrum defined by the first competing claims.

And four, in some of the most serious instances of debate over environmental science, the question is not nearly so much over what data are accurate and how to interpret them as over a much more fundamental question about the nature of scientific endeavor. The debate is over whether scientists should give greater weight to theories or models, on the one hand, or to empirical observation, on the other hand. In the cases of controversies regarding overpopulation, resource depletion, global warming, rain forest reduction, and species extinction, a great deal of the disagreement hinges on this divergence. The crisis proponents in each of these cases tend to put greater stake in theoretical models (and their computer simulations) than in empirical observations; their critics tend to do the opposite. When the debate is over such fundamental questions, it must not simply be swept aside, and splitting the difference becomes utterly irrelevant.

Hermeneutical and Theological Problems

Finally, like most other evangelical writings on the environment, Remember Creation suffers from some hermeneutical and theological problems. First, Hoezee equates cultivating and tilling the Garden of Eden (Gen. 2:15) with subduing and ruling the earth (Gen. 1:28), despite clear textual and philological indicators that these address different actions with different objects. One example of this problem is his handling of my own book, Where Garden Meets Wilderness; in fact, Remember Creation is in many ways a direct response to it.

Space does not permit recounting Hoezee’s position on this point in full; suffice it to say that he concludes his arguments regarding the meaning of subdue and rule in Genesis 1 and of tend and keep in Genesis 2 in this way:

… “the earth” of Genesis 1 and “the Garden” of Genesis 2 can appropriately be seen as referring generally to the entire creation of God. Hence it is also legitimate and biblically correct to allow the tender images of Genesis 2 to qualify and enhance our understanding of the “rule and subdue” words we find in Genesis 2.

His arguments supporting this conclusion fail for a variety of reasons. Arguing that “‘the earth’ of Genesis 1 and ‘the Garden’ of Genesis 2 can appropriately be seen as referring generally to the entire creation of God” merely begs the question. Hoezee merely asserts but does not actually argue that the Garden is not separate from the rest of the earth. He argues in a circle by assuming that the clause the part stands for the whole properly applies to this situation. The statement might, if it properly applied, explain things, but it does not provide evidence for the conclusion. He also ignores contrary evidence. If the author of Genesis intended to use garden as synecdoche for earth, why do Genesis 2 and 3 distinguish garden from earth in many ways, as when God planted the garden after creating the earth?

In writing, “Hence it is also legitimate and biblically correct to allow the tender images of Genesis 2 to qualify and enhance our understanding of ‘rule and subdue’ words we find in Genesis 2 [sic],” Hoezee again begs the question and again ignores contrary evidence of the different linguistic ranges of the words in question; the distinction between garden and earth mentioned in the previous point; and the fact that the garden needed guarding before the Fall, which entails some qualitative difference between what was in and what was outside the garden.

Second, Hoezee gives no serious consideration to the doctrine of God’s curse on the earth. Hoezee writes that “… it borders on heresy to suggest that beyond the boundaries of Eden, Adam and Eve had to beat back and subdue a recalcitrant and imperfect creation lest it threaten the shalom of the Garden.” Hoezee poisons the well by associating the view against which he argues with heresy and using the emotion-laden words beat back and recalcitrant. He also misuses the word heresy by applying it to an issue on which there is debate among orthodox Christian scholars and on which there has never been any authoritative judgment by any Christian denomination, let alone by the Church catholic.

And he erects and attacks a straw man by calling the creation asserted by the view he attacks “recalcitrant.” I never wrote that the creation outside the garden was recalcitrant. Indeed, in discussing the effects of the Curse, I wrote, “Instead of submitting readily to Adam’s dominion, [the earth outside the garden] would rebel against him. Instead of producing abundant fruits for Adam’s sustenance, it would produce thorns and thistles. In other words, it would behave toward Adam as Adam had behaved toward God–a fitting punishment for Adam’s sin.” This assumes that apart from the Fall and the Curse, the earth outside the garden, though susceptible of being “transformed into greater glory,” would have yielded readily to Adam’s subduing and ruling.

In sum, Remember Creation is an aesthetically attractive but logically, hermeneutically, theologically, and scientifically flawed work. The question of our responsible care of God’s creation is a vital one; sadly, Hoezee commits serious errors in his treatment of it.