Regarding Jerry Salyer’s “Leftists, Creationists, and Useful Idiots” (Correspondence, October), I will paraphrase the excellent letter from Richard Mastio (“Trump and the GOP,” Polemics & Exchanges) that opened the issue: Are conservatives so blind, so self-serving, so cavalier, so very arrogant as to believe that by ridiculing Answers in Genesis and elevating Francis Collins they are doing what is right and good? Are you and Salyer nuts? Or simply seeing it as “useful” to keep a leg in both camps as you rest on your “reason and experience”?
—Carol K. Tharp, M.D.
Mr. Salyer Replies:
As it happens, I too very much dislike it whenever someone tries to score cheap points or make himself look sophisticated by putting down fundamentalists. Most of the fundamentalists I know are hard-working, God-fearing people, and some of them are extraordinarily sharp to boot. Although it did not persuade me to adopt AIG’s approach toward the book of Genesis, my visit to the Creation Museum was genuinely thought-provoking, and I greatly appreciated the professionalism and hospitality of AIG’s staff.
So I do hope Dr. Tharp will believe me when I say I intended no disrespect, at least not to creationists, and regret any offense given. Insofar as my essay was meant to have a target, that target is the liberal hypocrite who sneers at creationists even as he himself blindly clings to unscientific egalitarianism.
Let me begin by thanking Chilton Williamson, Jr., for the many enjoyable hours spent reading his columns, which are always one of the highlights of Chronicles. His recent article “The Anti-Prometheans” (In Our Time, October) similarly has much to recommend it. I believe that it accurately perceives many of the keys to understanding our current environmental problems. Its root causes emanate out of Enlightenment intellectualism and the attendant nature of the Industrial Revolution itself. He is correct that technological tweaks do not represent a meaningful solution to a system that holds as its key tenets limitless growth and consumption. The article also gives a pithy diagnosis of why humans are particularly ill-suited to tackle a problem of this nature and scope. However, I would have to disagree with Mr. Williamson’s conclusions as he brings the discussion into the theological sphere, and to what I perceived as a somewhat dismissive appraisal of the problem’s spiritual import.
It is correct, as Mr. Williamson says, that Genesis states that man is to “have dominion” over Creation, but how is this phrase to be understood? Far from being a license to abuse that Creation (of which, in surveying it, the Creator proclaimed it “very good”) dominion is also a responsibility to maintain and safeguard. In any traditional agricultural or pastoral society this would have been implicit. Today, man is artificially and technologically insulated, but in previous eras the violation of natural laws brought a swift reckoning. Dominion without stewardship leads to inevitable ruin. That is part of natural law, which is really an extension of Divine Order operating within the world. Natural law is precisely what the Industrial Revolution is all about circumventing. There is no physical limitation (and, by extension, no moral, spiritual, or societal limitation) that cannot be swept aside in the pursuit of endless change and “progress.” The Industrial Revolution is the practical-minded sister of the Enlightenment, but both have the same goal: to make man his own self-sufficient god. The problem is that it is not really a choice between an autocratic, soul destroying, globalist “Green” regime on one hand, and a status quo of spiritually healthy but oil-burning mankind on the other. Unfortunately, a world of unrestrained consumerism and commercialism has already wrought nearly fatal damage to every institution necessary for man to live as he ought in this world. The family, the farm and independent business, the community, the churches, and the state have all been corrupted by the unholy religion of the spirit of the Industrial Revolution. The choice between the same basic dynamic clothed in a global bureaucracy and solar panels or nation-states with coal mines is merely a difference of window dressing. The Industrial Revolution has always embraced centralization and consolidation—because it is central to its nature, which knows no limit, no sufficiency. Globalization is certainly the enemy, but not the foundational sin of the age; globalism is but one of its most obnoxious children. It is also true that the Bible states that “this world is passing away.” However, I don’t agree that this observation gives humanity any absolution for hastening the world’s demise through our greed and pride. It might be just as accurate to state that I am, even at the tender age of 32, in the process of dying. However, were someone to accelerate the process by stabbing me in the chest, I think my family wouldn’t look at it with equanimity. Intent is important in ascribing guilt, and for humans knowingly to wreak havoc on Creation would seem to be a terrible sin of ingratitude. I would insist that it is up to God to decide the time and method of the world’s dissolution.
Even though the left has clothed the environmental crisis in the aura of a religious crusade, it may be that it truly is a religious vocation to attempt to close the Pandora’s box opened by the Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution. I think this attempt is important not just for the sake of the planet, wild animals, or people’s bodies, but also for the health of our souls; that our time on earth should sustain the honor of God, instead of dishonoring His Creation and our own natures.
Alfred Station, NY
Mr. Williamson Replies:
I agree with every word that Mr. Hyland writes. I’ve argued for 30 years now that God created man to be a steward of the natural world, and implied in my long-running column of rural Western life, The Hundredth Meridian, that human life divorced from nature, once the natural setting has been replaced by the industrial one, is fundamentally inhuman. But human existence under totalitarianism is equally inhuman. I am not against collaborative efforts to mitigate the ravages of industrialism—the opposite in fact. I do think it crucial to proceed cautiously in these efforts, recognizing the political danger international (or national, for that matter) collaboration in so gigantic a task entails.
As a Christian I am a metaphysical optimist. Also as a Christian I am an historical pessimist, largely because I have a very low view of unredeemed human nature, and the large majority of humanity, more so than ever before in this materialistic anti-Christian era, is very clearly unredeemed. In other words, I am extremely skeptical about the possibilities for human action to reverse climatic change (assuming this is not simply a cyclical thing) or the destructive history of two centuries of industrialization. I agree that we must try, keeping in mind the cautions I’ve referred to, but I think it far more likely that our efforts will be too little too late, and that civilization must prepare itself to suffer the consequences of its hubris, which may in fact amount to Divine retribution, richly deserved.