Environmental extremism at ETS?

Posted on 11/15/12 9 Comments

This year’s theme at the Evangelical Theological Society is “Caring for Creation”. And the first of four plenary speakers was Calvin Beisner, the “Founder and National Spokesman of the Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation.” Yesterday he spoke on the topic “Creation Care and Godly Dominion: The Search for a Genuinely Biblical Earth Stewardship.” Having heard Beisner before I knew I wouldn’t like what he had to say. But I also like to discipline myself to listen to others I think are crazy (or nearly so).

Beisner does make some interesting points and there is no doubting his intelligence. But that doesn’t change the fact that for the most part I find his views and his presentation of them deeply harmful. To give one example, Beisner eschews the term “environmentalism”. As he tersely explained, the word “environment” comes from a word that simply refers to one’s surroundings. But our surroundings are constituted by everything around us. As Beisner said, my environment includes everything from Alpha Centauri to the hairs on the back of your head. And what is the focus on everything? It is totalitarianism.

If you are confused by the leap in logic, you’re in good company (in other words, I’m good company). How you get from environmentalism to surroundings to totalitarianism I’m not sure. But having dispensed with the enemy, Beisner quickly led his audience from there to a more appropriate substitute term: “Godly dominion” (or some derivative thereof). And from there he went on to explain the insidious reach of the environmental movement, how it is driven by a spiritual philosophy of naturalistic status quo that all but deifies nature and is inherently misanthropic. A few times Beisner also raised the demonic specter of “big government” looming in the background with the threat of more regulation.

ETS has four plenary speakers this year, and Beisner is not representative of the views of all. Of that, at least, I am grateful. But I still wonder why ETS would bother to give him a platform at all.


  • epicurus

    “ETS has four plenary speakers this year, and Beisner is not representative of the views of all. ”

    Do you mean views of all the 4 speakers, or views of all at the conference?
    Beisner may not be representative of all, but has there been any votes or polls at ETS to see if perhaps he is representative of many, most, or some? What would be your guess. I’ve met many Christians who, mainly because of what they view as the nature instead of God view, disparage many aspects of the environmental movement. I notice it less now that we’ve had a decade or so of the media going hard on the environment, but back in the 90’s and 80’s, I heard some pretty vile anti environment rhetoric from some Christians.

    • http://www.randalrauser.com/ Randal Rauser

      Sorry for the ambiguity. Trivially Beisner doesn’t represent all attendees since I am an attendee and I disagree strongly with him. (Indeed, during the talk three guys in the row in front of me were grumbling audibly about Beisner.) I don’t know how many attendees of the conference would be sympathetic with Beisner but I am quite sure it would be a higher percentage than one would find in the general population.

  • christthetao

    I “disparage many aspects of the environmental movement.” I also think big government is indeed a “demonic spectre,” and often a lot more than just a spectre. But I agree Beisner can be a bit shrill. And I hug trees, though for better or for worse (I’m thinking different Lord of the Rings scenarios) they haven’t hugged me back, yet.
    Was there something more substantial you objected to in his talk?

    • http://www.randalrauser.com/ Randal Rauser

      If you want to identify “demonic spectres” you should look at the extraordinary power that private corporate interests exert over government at all levels from the small town courting Walmart to the lobbyists in Washington.

      I disagreed with Beisner’s claim that there is no consensus on climate change. I disagreed with his suggestion that the effects of climate change may be on the whole positive for biodiversity. I disagreed with his refusal to address the extraordinary levels of material consumption in the West. And I disagreed with his over-arching message that we’re just fine and we don’t need to change our behaviors. This is immoral advice when people in the poorest countries in the world tend to suffer the most as a result of our behavior.

      As it turns out, Richard Bauckham directly offered a response to Beisner and the Cornwall Alliance in his plenary talk. And on Friday morning (alas, when I already left) they were all having a panel discussion. So I feel much better now about the fact that Beisner was offered a place in the discussion given that ETS leadership intentionally set up a dialogue.

      • christthetao

        I think most of the concentration camps in the 20th Century were run by government employees, as were most of the missile silos. Scary as Walmart may be to some folks, I’m not prepared to compare selling cheap goods in a big retain store to the Killing Fields.

        I agree there is consensus on some particulars of climate change, but not on others. As for the poor suffering because of our behavior, how about the tens of millions of people who have been impoverished because of biofuels encouraged by inconsiderate environmental worryworts? Beisner seems concerned enough for them.


        Bauckham is good on the historical Jesus; it remains to be seen how good he is on glaciology and dendrology.

        • http://www.randalrauser.com/ Randal Rauser

          Biofuels have been a disaster.

        • http://www.randalrauser.com/ Randal Rauser

          By the way, I read Stewart Brand’s “Whole Earth Discipline: An Ecopragmatist Manifesto” last year. While nobody has greener credentials than Brand, he does a great job of defending nuclear power, cities, and GMOs (among other sacred cows slaughtered), and he does it based on the facts rather than ideology.

          On the issue of GMOs, from what little I understand of the science I am glad that California’s proposition 37 was defeated. This despite the fact that usually I think Michael Pollen is right on.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/gcwagoner Gerry Wagoner

    I think Beisner made several valid points, not the least of which is the internal connection between environmentalism and Darwinism.