Natural Law and Ecological Responsibility: Drawing on the Thomistic Tradition
William C. French, Natural Law and Ecological Responsibility: Drawing on the Thomistic Tradition
Natural Law and Ecological Responsibility: Drawing on the Thomistic Tradition
William C. French 0
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RESPONSIBILITY: DRAWING ON THE
WILLIAM C. FRENCH*
We live in dramatic times. History has accelerated in the modern
period as the human population has surged and our scientific and
technological powers have produced an expanding juggernaut of production
and consumption, which have had an increasingly vast and often damaging
impact on most ecosystems around the globe. Just when we have most
needed attention concentrated on humanity's relationship with the natural
world, the dominant schools of modern western philosophy and Christian
theology have become so fascinated with human subjectivity, historical
* Loyola University of Chicago. Thank you to the University of St. Thomas School of Law
and its Symposium, Peace with Creation: Catholic Perspectives on Environmental Law.
agency, value and interests that they have problematically come to view the
human as sharply separated from the rest of the natural world.
Humanity's powers of action have advanced to such an extent that we
can, and do, transform natural habitats into monocrop agro-ecosystems,
clear jungles into ranches, and increase endangerment and extinction rates.
We now burn so much fossil fuel in the advanced economies (Europe,
North America and Japan) and the surging economies of the developing
world (China, India, Latin America and the Middle East), that we threaten
to change the long-standing climate patterns on which whole ecosystems
and their species depend. As this has occurred throughout the last century,
the major schools of modern western philosophical and theological
movements have also separated humanity from nature. They became
human-centered in their focus and assumptions and functionally fell silent
regarding humanity's close relationship with, and growing responsibility
for, the rest of the natural order. Yet, precisely because of humanity's
surging population growth and burgeoning technological and industrial
powers, we need careful reflection on our complex and potent relationship
with the rest of the natural world.
I argue that the rise of ecological sciences and our awareness of the
scale of environmental problems in the last forty years has offered us a
great gift in opening our eyes to the need for a fundamental paradigm
shift-a shift in our thinking about the human condition, human
responsibilities, our relationships to the rest of nature, and God's
relationship to humanity and the rest of the non-human world. Increasingly,
ecological findings suggest that our "modern" human and history-centered
Catholic and Protestant forms of theological expression are inadequate,
which is to say that we need to embrace "postmodern" views.
Which "postmodern" views? Two, quite distinct, postmodern options
exist. The first option, the "social construction of reality," attracts the most
attention and conversation in university circles, and is highly human
centered and stresses cultural differences. It is anti-foundationalist and
holds an anti-universalist epistemology that acknowledges how all truth
claims are thoroughly perspectival. It also encompasses a deep sensitivity to
the plurality of valid truth-claims rooted in the plurality of disciplines and
the world's diverse cultural and religious histories and traditions. This
dominant stream of postmodern deconstructionist thinking centers its
attention on the categories of "culture," "history" and "texts," and rightly
foregrounds the radical differences between and among the diverse human
cultures, histories and textual traditions. However, across this same period
of the ascendancy of postmodern deconstructivist views and across various
sectors of the intellectual world, there arose a divergent stress on the shared
ecological grounding of all human cultures. Whereas postmodern
deconstructionist views place sharp emphasis on the differences between
human cultures, the second option of "ecological postmodernism"
[Vol. 5: 1
highlights species- and planetary-wide ecological histories, needs,
vulnerabilities and threats by locating human cultures within a commonly
shared planetary frame. 1 In short, postmodern deconstructionism centers its
understanding of the human condition in history-in the diversity of
humanity's historical agency in culture-building-whereas ecological
postmodernism understands that human history is sustained within a
planetary order of ecosystems that have a complex and evolving history of
their own. Both attend to the dynamism of human history and agency, but
they relate this focus to different frames of reference.
These two postmodernist views diverge strongly. Postmodern
deconstructivist views tend to distrust pre-modern philosophical and
theological traditions as arrogant in their affirmations of a dominant
metanarrative, which asserts its universal privileged world-picture or
metaphysical account. Ecological postmodernism, however, critiques
modernism with its robust anthropocentrism and affirmation of unlimited
technological and industrial progress. Ecological postmodernism instead
finds much wisdom in pre-modern traditions across the globe because they
tend to understand the human condition in a nature- or cosmos-centered
frame, rather than the history-centered frame favored by the modernist
In short, as ecological postmodernists critique the modernist industrial
and technological assumptions hard-wired into much discourse about
scientific, human and economic progress, they feel a strong affinity with
pre-modern communities living in utter dependency on the natural
environment.2 What postmodern deconstruction dismisses as archaic and
quaint, ecological postmodernism engages with deep appreciation: people's
historic ordinary practices to sustain themselves in their local environments.
From the perspective of ecological postmodernism, the dependency of
human communities on the natural order has changed little across the
millennium. We, today, and they, long ago, were and are sustained by an
environing planetary ecosystem. Only the scale of human numbers,
resource demands and scale of degradation of the planet's ecosystems have
changed and, in the last two centuries, changed massively. In this respect,
both ecological postmodernism and most pre-modern thought-forms share a
deep appreciation for a nature-centered frame for understanding the
condition of human history, agency and moral responsibility.
It is an exciting time in which we live. We have a range of the most
current scientific studies about how life is sustained on Earth, and these
studies push us to appreciate many of the same values and perspectives of
many pre-modern understandings of life within the planetary natural order.3
While many postmodern deconstructionists bristle in angry reaction to
notions of this normatively weighty "natural law," for most ecological
postmodernists the language of "nature's law" seems appropriate, serious
and quite relevant.
THE RISE OF CHRISTIAN ANTHROPOCENTRISM AND
THE RECOVERY OF CREATION
Some follow Lynn White Jr. in arguing that Christian thinking, since
its very first centuries, has been anthropocentric and dominationalist in its
stance toward the non-human natural world.4 Others, like Elizabeth John
son, have noted that the historic record is more complex. They hold that
while Christianity has privileged the intrinsic value of human life over that
of animals, plants and the rest of nature, it has balanced this with a robust
affirmation that human life remains a part of God's creation. As such,.it
needs to be understood within a nature-based or creation-centered frame. 5
I argue that the rise of modern science, with its mechanistic account of
the nonhuman natural world, was a major factor in focusing Christian think
ing around humanity's fundamental separation from nature due to its dis
tinctive rationality, agency and SUbjectivity. Core streams of western
philosophy and Protestant, and later Catholic, theology came to accept a
picture of a bifurcated universe divided between a sphere of persons and a
sphere of things. This dualistic metaphysical picture came to concentrate
Christian theology and ethics more robustly on the value of the human,
while ceding the nonhuman natural world over to the purview of the natural
sciences. However, even as important streams of twentieth-century Protes
tant and Catholic theology and ethics became vigorously anthropocentric,
the emergence of the ecological sciences began to highlight humanity's ev
olutionary heritage rooted in the natural order; our ongoing dependency on
the well-being of natural ecosystems; and our rising destructive impact on
these ecosystems and their myriad anjmal and plant species.
If the rise of the modern mechanistic world-picture was, in part, re
sponsible for the fundamental separation of Christian thinking between hu
manity and the natural world, then the rise of the ecological world-picture
in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries holds promise of renewing appre
ciation for much creation-centered Christian thinking. In short, if a key the
ological and ethical problem arose in our modernist assumptions about the
"thingification" of the natural world, then post-modern ecological aware
ness might be the catalyst for engaging the pre-modern Catholic heritage
with its natural law traditions, monastic theologies and practices, and Medi
eval giants of theology and piety-Aquinas, Bonaventure, Francis and
Claire, Hildegard, Eckhart and the rest-with fresh excitement and new
eyes. An engagement with contemporary ecology can guide a most helpful
recovery of nature- and creation-centered pre-modern philosophical and
theological reflection. Ironically, a retrieval of medieval creation-centered
thought-forms could prove to be a crucial catalyst in helping to mobilize the
global Catholic community toward a commitment to genuine ecological re
sponsibility. The work of Aquinas offers powerful inspiration in this histori
cal bridge-building work. His powerful vision arose out of his courage to
embrace both traditional theological commitments and the very best science
of his day. If we wish to follow in his lead, we need to similarly place our
religious, ethical, legal and economic reflection in light of the best and most
relevant science of our day, namely the ecological sciences-those sciences
that are trying to save our planet.
Catholic reflection on environmental law can directly recover many
critical insights and moral perspectives of the medieval natural law, which
may be quite helpful for advancing our ecological responsibilities. How
ever, the recovery of natural law is complicated by the view of many Catho
lic theologians and ethicists that natural law is primarily a set of
affirmations about the structures of human reason. While some highlight
Aquinas's hierarchical and human-centered perspectives,6 these are strongly
balanced out by his over-arching, theocentric and creation-centered vision.7
His system starts and stops with God; God is the prime mover and ultimate
end. We instead need to recover the robust physicalism of the "Great Chain
of Being"- a vision of reality with ancient and Medieval roots holding that
all levels of Being are good, related one to another, and together make up
what Aquinas called "the perfection of the universe."s This is a profoundly
6. See FRANCISCO J. BENZONI, ECOLOGICAL ETHICS AND THE HUMAN SOUL: AQUINAS,
WHITEHEAD, AND THE METAPHYSICS OF VALUE 4-5,41-74 (2007).
7. See William French, Subject-Centered and Creation-Centered Paradigms in Recent
Catholic Thought, 701. RELIGION 48-72 (1990).
8. ST. THOMAS AQUINAS, 1 SUMMA THEOLOGICA 124, q.22, aA (Fathers of the Eng. Dom.
Province trans., Benziger Bros. 1947-1948); see also OLNA BLANCHETTE, THE PERFECTION OF
THE UNIVERSE ACCORDING TO AQUINAS: A TELEOLOGICAL COSMOLOGY (1992); ARTHUR O.
LoVEJOY, THE GREAT CHAIN OF BEING: A STUDY OF THE HISTORY OF AN IDEA (Harper & Row
important perspective for an age facing planetary-wide and severe ecologi
HIGHER AND LOWER PULLS ON THE GREAT CHAIN OF BEING
The history of western philosophy and Christian theology is filled with
efforts to define the human against what we are not-namely "animals" or
"angels." When the range of the created order is understood as arrayed in a
"Great Chain of Being," it is quite easy to understand each level of being by
concentrating on the features that distinguish it from the level of beings
above and below. Aristotle played an important role in shaping Western
thought in this grand classification effort. In his writings he tended to define
the human by that capacity that differentiates us from other living species.9
Thus, even though he classified the human as the "rational animal," his
concentrated attention to humanity's essential unique capacity provided
backing for others across the centuries to enshrine in Western thought a
high concentration of philosophical and religious attention to humans' dis
tinct "rationality," not our "animality."l0 Indeed, though Aristotle's defini
tion of the human as "rational animal" was nicely balanced-attending to
both that we share with, and distinguishes us from, other animals-over the
centuries the balanced emphasis came to be replaced by a heightened con
centration to that which differentiates us from animals. 1 1
As Christian theology developed in the Middle Ages, its dominant
schools tended to balance both strong emphases on the doctrine of creation
even as they stressed a hierarchical vision of the "Great Chain of Being,"
which privileged beings with rational souls-angels and humans-over
those with animate or sensate souls or mere vegetative sOUIS. I2 Medieval
Christian theologians following the great focus of the Hebrew Scriptures
(especially Genesis, Exodus, Deuteronomy, Job and the Psalms) could not
help but understand the human as part of the great expanse of God's
crea9. ARISTOTLE, 1 NICOMACHEAN ETHICS 16-17 (Martin Ostwald trans., 1962); see also
MARTHA C. NUSSBAUM, THE FRAGILITY OF GOODNESS: LUCK AND ETHICS IN GREEK TRAGEDY
AND PHILOSOPHY 287-93 (1986).
10. ARISTOTLE, supra note 9, at 16, § 1098a; see also NUSSBAUM, supra note 9, at 264-89
(providing a superb account of Aristotle's ethics); MARTHA C. NUSSBAUM, ARISTOTLE'S DE MOTU
ANIMALISM 24-55, 59-106 (1978) (providing a helpful analysis of Aristotle's method of species
11. PETER SINGER, IN DEFENSE OF ANIMALS 1-10 (1985) (noting the rise of Western anthro
pocentrism); see also MORRIS BERMAN, THE REENCHANTMENT OF THE WORLD 27-132 (Bantam
Books 1984) (1981); ANNA L. PETERSON, BEING HUMAN: ETHICS, ENVIRONMENT, AND OUR
PLACE IN THE WORLD (2001); White, supra note 4; H. PAUL SANTMIRE, THE TRAVAIL OF NATURE:
THE AMBIGUOUS ECOLOGICAL PROMISE OF CHRISTIAN THEOLOGY (1985).
12. Aristotle, Politics, in 2 THE COMPLETE WORKS OF ARISTOTLE § 12561b (Jonatlran Barnes
ed., 1984); see also AQUINAS, supra note 8, at 247, q.47, a.2 (following Aristotle's hierarchical
ranking of the human above all other creatures); LOVEJOY, supra note 8, at 58-59 (discussing
Aristotle's broad influence regarding the hierarchy of being); GEORGE LAKOFF & MARK TURNER,
MORE THAN COOL REASON: A FIELD GUIDE TO POETIC METAPHOR (1989).
tion, all of which, of course, is held as "good" and indeed directly willed
into being by GOd. I3 However, this prominent affirmation of the centrality
of the creation doctrine was wedded to an equal and sometimes stronger
emphasis on the hierarchical character of humanity's privileged status by
virtue of our unique capacities of reason and agency.I4 If the authority of
the Hebrew Scriptures required an affirmation of humanity's participation
in the community of creation, then potent neo-Platonic, Stoic and Aristote
lian traditions leant great authority to those who privileged humanity over
the rest of creation due to our unique rational agency.I5 Indeed, this stress
on the uniqueness and superiority of humanity over nature was supported
throughout the centuries by sustained appeal to the passage in Genesis I,
which holds that humanity has been given "dominion" over all of the rest of
creation and indeed has been charged to "subdue the earth."16
The historic reification of a hierarchical vision was given great impe
tus by a gradual association of "humanity" with "rationality" and "animals"
with "beasts"-the untamed, the wild, the uncontrollable. 17 Indeed, a domi
nant understanding of the human self found in the writings of Plato, Kant
and others depicted the self as torn between pulls "upward" by our rational
and angel-like nature and "downward" by our animal-like propensities. I8 In
this perspective, humanity is the microcosm that reflects the macrocosm of
the "Great Chain of Being." We are the center that conjoins the class of
beings with rational souls-angels and humans-with the class of beings
who have physical bodies. I9 Indeed, the greatness of humanity lies in our
serving as the critical link between the sphere of rational souls and the
ma13. See ST. AUGUSTINE, 1 THE LITERAL MEANING OF GENESIS, 117-118, 162-163, 172-176
(John Hammond Taylor trans., 1982); see also CREATION IN THE OLD TESTAMENT (Bernard W.
Anderson ed., 1984); WENDELL BERRY, THE GIFT OF GOOD LAND 267-281 (1981); GOD AND
CREATION: AN ECUMENICAL SYMPOSIUM (David B. Burrell & Bernard McGinn eds., 1990).
14. See AQUINAS, supra note 8, at 993-1161, q.90-114; see also AUGUSTINE, supra note 13,
at 96, 193 (emphasizing that humanity "surpasses the brute beasts" by virtue of humanity possess
ing rationality and being uniquely created in the imago Dei); JAMES M. GUSTAFSON, 1 ETHICS
FROM A THEOCENTRIC PERSPECTIVE 87-113 (1981); William French, Christianity-Roman Catholi
cism, in THE ENCYCLOPEDIA OF RELIGION AND NATURE 328-332 (Bron R. Taylor ed., 2005).
15. See GUSTAFSON, supra note 14, at 87-113; see also SANTMIRE, supra note 11.
16. 2 Kings 1:26-28; see also Theodore Hiebert, The Human Vocation: Origins and Trans
formations in Christian Traditions, in CHRISTIANITY AND ECOLOGY: SEEKING THE WELL-BEING OF
EARTH AND HUMANS, supra note 5, at 135-51.
17. MARY MIDGLEY, BEAST AND MAN: THE ROOTS OF HUMAN NATURE 25-49 (1978); see
also CLAUDE LEVI-STRAUSS, 1 THE RAw AND THE COOKED: MYTHOLOGIQUES (John & Doreen
Weightman trans., U. Chi. P. 1983) (1969) (noting the tendency to structure thinking into dualized
18. See Psalm 8; see also PLATO, 9 REpUBLIC 571 (G. M. A. Grube & C. D. C. Reeve eds.,
Hackett Pub. Co. 1992) (360 B.C.); IMMANUEL KANT, LECTURES ON ETHICS 164 (Hackett Pub.
Co. 1963) (1930) (stating that "sexuality, therefore, exposes mankind to the danger of equality
with the beasts"); MIDGLEY, supra note 17, at 37-47.
19. LoVEJOY, supra note 8, at 79 (labeling humanity as the "middle link"); see also AQUINAS,
supra note 8, at 375, q.76, a.3.
terial universe?O Humanity pays a price for this central position, however,
in our struggle between the pulls of rationality and the "animal-like" pur
suits of physical pleasure.21
Historically, hierarchical vision of a "Great Chain of Being" suggested
that the origin of evil arises when humans gave into their "beast-like"
side.22 Sinfulness and evil were depicted as occurring when our rational
nature fails to discipline and control our "beast within."23 This "beast"
threatens to be unleashed through sexuality, drunkenness and gluttony
animal-like or "bodily" drives and lusts.24 This Western understanding of
the human can be seen both in ancient and many contemporary accounts.25
It has potent staying power. As Mary Midgley rightly observed, this tradi
tion over the centuries came to employ the category of "animality" and
"beastliness" as a conceptual foil for "humanity," "humaneness" and ra
Though Aristotle once defined the human as the "rational animal,"
over the centuries the term "animal" came to be associated in dominant
philosophical and theological traditions with disorder and sinfulness?7 Sim
ilarly, the "Great Chain 6f Being" vision affirmed, following the most an
cient affirmations of the doctrine of creation, the fundamental goodness of
creation all the way down; yet, over the centuries the fundamental goodness
of "animals" and "beasts" came to be associated with violence, uncleanli
ness and unbridled lusts?8 In this way, a tension developed within the no
tion of "animality." On one hand, the "Great Chain of Being" affirms the
fundamental goodness of animal life and plant life.29 However, as "animal
ity" over the centuries became a categorical foil for defining humans by
what we are not, it is not surprising that over the centuries a strong bifurca
tion between the "human" and the "beast within" came to reify a sharp
20. ANNE PRIMAYESI, SACRED GAIA: HOLISTIC THEOLOGY AND EARTH SYSTEM SCIENCE
122-131 (2000); see also Gerald Verbeke, Man as a 'Frontier' According to Aquinas, in AQUINAS
AND PROBLEMS OF HIs TIME 197, 215 (G. Verbeke & D. Verhelst eds., 1976) (providing a treat
ment of the human as microcosm in the work of Thomas); POPE JOHN PAUL II, LABOREM Ex
ERCENS (ON HUMAN WORK) 10-13, 55 (1981) (describing the human activity of work as the
action of subjects shaping and working on the natural world, or a field of objects, and finding that
human work allows humans to participate as "co-creators" in the divine work of ongoing
21. See KANT, supra note 18, at 163-64.
22. MIDGLEY, supra note 17, at 25-49.
23. ld. at 40-45.
26. ld. at 25-49.
27. lei. See also KEITH THOMAS, MAN AND THE NATURAL WORLD: A HISTORY OF THE MOD
ERN SENSIBILITY 36-41 (1983).
28. See William C. French, Beast-Machines and the Technocratic Reduction ofLife: A Crea
tion-Centered Perspective, in GOOD NEWS FOR ANIMALS?: CHRISTIAN ApPROACHES TO ANIMAL
WELL-BEING 24-43 (Charles Pinches & Jay B. McDaniel eds., 1993).
29. See LOVEIOY, supra note 8, 45, 55-59, 82; see also AQUINAS, supra note 8, at 229-256,
----~--------- --- --------~~-~ ~----------.
dualism between the sphere of humans and the sphere of animals and
Medieval giants such as Thomas Aquinas, Francis of Assisi, Bonaven
ture and Hildegard of Bingen present a complex array of theological affir
mations. They generally affirm the expansive goodness of all of creation,
the location of humanity as a part of the created order, and a stress on
humanity as having a unique and distinctive value-uniquely created in the
image of God, uniquely having rational agency, and uniquely charged by
God in Genesis to hold "dominion" over all of creation.31 They combined a
creation-centered frame for understanding the human with a strong empha
sis on the hierarchical aJ.Tangement of creation and humanity's unique posi
tion of superiority, and based on the human's unique rationality and rightful
In this historical context, it is not surprising that the bulk of theological
and ethical attention has come to concentrate on the distinctiveness and
value of the human. Humanity's numbers were low and our technological
and industrial impact was relatively weak; the order of nature seemed im
perturbable by comparison. The expanse of the average human life in Eu
rope during the Medieval period was short and the natural order-the Alps
and the great Pyrenees, the forests of what is now Germany, the great rivers,
the Atlantic and Mediterranean waters-seemed so vast and firmly estab
lished that they were understandably taken as immense "givens.'>33 With
human life obviously vulnerable and the surrounding natural order seem
ingly so dependable, over time theological and ethical attention began to
take the order of creation for granted and concentrated concern and atten
tion on the distinct value of the human.
THE RISE OF MODERN SCIENCE AND THE CONCEPTUAL SEPARATION
OF HUMANITY FROM NATURE
A significant historical factor in the further attenuation of the Christian
theological and ethical concentration on the doctrine of creation occurred
during the rise of early modern science in Europe. For three quarters of its
history, Christianity had predominantly understood human existence in a
creation-centered frame. 34 Surely the stress on our participation in a great
community of creation was balanced by a potent and sometimes stronger
emphasis on our hierarchical superiority to the rest of creation.35 However,
the authority of the "Great Chain of Being" world-picture became attenu
ated in the face of the rise of early modern science in western Europe, pro
pelled by the creative genius of Isaac Newton, Galileo, Francis Bacon and
others. 36 They collectively established a new paradigm for understanding
the non-human natural world and humanity's relationship to that world?7 In
place of the "Great Chain of Being" with its affirmation of fundamental
goodness and continuous ontological linkages, the Newtonian scientific
world-picture established a new portrait of the non-human natural world as
a vast mechanistic sphere, the movements and behavior of which could be
explained by the regularity of physical forces in motion.38 This Newtonian
description of the non-human physical world as a vast machine strongly
reified the sense of a fundamental divide between the human and the non
human world in dominant philosophical and theological movements in the
early modern and modern periods.39
In the writings of Isaac Newton, Descartes, Francis Bacon and Kant, a
conceptual wall was erected between the physical world-understood as a
mere machine, a thing, dead, mere matter in motion-aild the world of
humans-self-directed via rationality and enjoying freedom, subjectivity
and agency.40 Increasingly, this perceived divide between humanity and the
rest of nature became described by a whole series of polarized metaphysical
dualisms.41 Humanity is said to have "rationality," "agency," act in "his
tory," and be thus a "subject," a "person;" for Kant, an "end-in-itself."42
Animals, plants and ecosystems, by contrast, are said to lack rationality and
hence "agency."43 The animal behavior is said to be determined by in
stincts, with plants and the rest of nature determined by "natural cycles,"
mere physical and biological forces.44
35. See French, supra note 14, at 328-29; see also Johnson, supra note 5, at 3-21.
36. See CAROLYN MERCHANT, THE DEATH OF NATURE: WOMEN, ECOLOGY, AND THE SClEN
TlFIC REVOLUTION 192-215 (1989); see also BERMAN, supra note 11, at 69-132; WILLIAM LEISS,
THE DOMINATION OF NATURE 45-82 (Beacon Press 1974) (1972).
37. MERCHANT, supra note 36.
38. [d. at 275-89.
39. See id. at 192-252.
40. JOHN HERMAN RANDALL, JR., THE MAKING OF THE MODERN MIND 253-81 (1940); see
also IMMANUEL KANT, FOUNDATIONS OF THE METAPHYSICS OF MORALS 46 (Lewis W. Black
41. RUETHER, supra note 30, at 72-92.
42. KANT, supra note 40, at 46.
43. MARY MIDGLEY, ANIMALS AND WHY THEY MATTER: A JOURNEY AROUND THE SPECIES
BARRIER 45-73 (1983); see also BERNARD E. ROLLIN, ANIMAL RIGHTS AND HUMAN MORALITY
44. See BERNARD E. ROLLIN, THE UNHEEDED CRY: ANIMAL CONSCIOUSNESS, ANIMAL PAIN
AND SCIENCE (1989); see also MIDGLEY, supra note 17, at 51-82; French, supra note 28, at
IV. NATURE'S FRAGILITY AND NATURE'S POWER: ECOLOGICAL
STABILITY AND GLOBAL SECURITY
Our core ecological problem lies in humanity's widespread refusal to
commit, nation-by-nation and people-by-people, to tangibly restraining our
widespread practices of production and consumption that are so disruptive
to the planet's ecosystems, its array of animal and plant species, and its
climate system and weather patterns. While, of course, we must applaud the
real leadership of Norway, Spain and other countries on wind power ad
vances, and many European nations for their imposition of significant fossil
fuel taxes, and Iceland for its advances in geothermal technologies, most
nations give far greater priority to economic growth and military security
than ecological protection.45 For deeply entrenched historical reasons, the
peoples of most countries still view ecological issues as separate and dis
tinct from either economic well-being or national security.46
However, as ecologists have been arguing for three decades now, eco
nomic growth may only be sustained by channeling it in ways that respect
the basic structures and physical dynamics of the planet's various ecosys
tems and food-chains.47 In short, human economic well-being depends on
respecting and defending the integrity and stability of ecosystems. Eco
nomic well-being in the middle-range and long-term depend on ecological
well-being and stability.48 Sadly, short-term profit and market share con
cerns are forceful incentives that lead many corporations to discount con
cerns about the long-term.49 In the United States, the powerful lobbies of
auto manufacturers, oil companies, highway construction companies, the
American Automobile Association, and others have together encouraged
policies of widespread highway construction, low gas taxes and suburban
sprawl patterns that have helped undercut funding for public transit and
trains and locked many Americans into a daily life pattern requiring long
commutes and the world's highest per capita appetite for fossil fuel use.50
Likewise, the history of the United States and that of many other na
tions has shaped us to be on guard against any hostile powers' military
threat and to see our insurance policy as lying in massive "defense" spend
ing.51 Sadly, history has so concentrated national attention to potential mili
tary threats, and now terrorist threats, that ecological concerns continue to
be squeezed out of most discussions at the White House, the Pentagon,
Wall Street and Main Street regarding what counts as genuine national se
curity needs.52 Accordingly, Americans in general have grown quite accus
tomed to accepting the argument made decade after decade for the need for
vastly high military spending, while at the same time becoming enraged if
any governmental leader dares to call for increased gas tax hikes to help
promote incentives for Americans to cut back on our fossil fuel consump
tion and reduce global warming and climate change potentials.53
Many ecological scientists have been arguing for the last twenty years
that ecological threats need to be understood as genuine national and global
security threats so that policies of environmental protection and climate sta
bilization can be understood as genuine top national priorities. In the last
few years, the arguments of the ecologists are beginning to be heard.54 Af
ter Hurricane Katrina's devastation of New Orleans, it is harder for Ameri
cans to ignore how global warming may be increasing the violence of
hurricanes and how floodwaters and high winds can cause massive harm to
the health and well-being of American communities. Likewise, AI Gore's
book and documentary coupled with a new report from the United Nations
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change have similarly helped create a
new widespread respect for the gravity of climate change issues.55 Indeed,
this summer's remarkably unprecedented retreat of Arctic ice has given rise
to new concerns that global climate change is occurring more quickly than
most models predicted.56
In attempts to mobilize people to protect the planet, environmentalists
often stress nature's increasing fragility and the vulnerability of many
animal and plant populations and wilderness ecosystems. This is in contrast
to a portrait of striding human strength.57 Let us not be fooled, however.
Planetary ecosystems may be vulnerable in certain ways, but, given human
society's dependency on the well-being of nature's support systems, we
need to understand that nature also contains a potent awesome strength. If
we continue to push climate change potentials and the sixth great planetary
extinction event, then we run the danger of unleashing a whirlwind of
forces-ecosystem degradation, species extinction, extreme weather events,
ocean rise-that will surely redound to human detriment.58
In order to make peace with creation, Barry Commoner and other ecol
ogists have argued that we first need to acknowledge that some of our dom
inant human practices are functionally making war with the planet.59
Stewardship responsibilities require that we make "peace with the planet"
through the prudent restraint of human practices that irreparably damage
global ecosystems or destabilize climate patterns.60 The Catholic Church,
the members of which comprise roughly one-sixth of humanity, bears a
heavy burden of responsibility for calling its members to engage, in a sus
tained and serious manner, in these globally shared ecological challenges.61
ECOLOGY AND THE MORAL EQUIVALENT OF WAR
William James, in his 1910 essay "The Moral Equivalent of War,"
called for the eradication of war because of the rise of horrific new weap
ons, but he wanted to sustain what he called the "manly virtues" of courage
and self-sacrifice that he saw as positive outcomes of humanity's warring
past.62 His solution was to secure peace among nations by having them
draft their young people into a common crusade against a common foe,
namely nature.63 He envisioned an international conscription of young peo
ple to join in "the army enlisted against Nature.,,64 Their pride and
dence would be enhanced in what James celebrated as the "immemorial
human warfare against Nature."65 It is clear that James held a Newtonian
vision of nature as a vast and stable realm, a grand and solid "given," and a
passive field that cannot strike back at human incursion. 66
However, we know today (in ways James could not) that nature is not
a passive realm but a potent, dynamic field of forces and system of vast
energy that reacts in complex and sometimes destructive ways to human
practices that disrupt ecosystems, species and climate patterns. Where
James envisioned a war against nature with no human casualties but only
benefits accruing to humanity, the ecological sciences remind us that such a
posture of "warring on nature" will generate, much like a real war, poten
tially massive numbers of human and nonhuman casualties.67 We know that
such a war against nature is folly, for we depend upon nature's well-being
for our own.
For too long governments and societies have said that ecological sus
tainability is important, but they have regularly allowed other priorities to
trump environmental concerns. This is, in part, because environmental
threats have not yet been broadly accepted as posing serious national and
global security threats.68 .
If the planetary ecosystem is recognized a vast "superpower," then re
spect for the seriousness of the security risks posed by ecological threats
can be mobilized. How is nature a superpower? This term derives from the
discourse of strategic theory and international relations developed to de
scribe the distinctive power of the United States, Great Britain and the So
viet Union during World War II. The term quickly came to be employed
again during the Cold War to highlight the historically unique raw powers
posed by the American and Soviet nuclear arsenals. 69 Nature, the planet's
ecosystems, can also be understood as a superpower. In the positive sense,
nature is a superpower because all the goods and services of the world's
economies are derived from its environmental resources, food chains and
energy flows. However in the negative sense, nature is a superpower
because it holds a potent "retaliatory capacity" against human abuse.70 Nature
does not, of course, have a command center to launch a nuclear strike, but
nature surely has potent reactive capacities to human actions that impinge
upon it. These kick-back capacities can severely damage human communi
ties-all societies, all national economies, and future generations.
Two MODERN TURNS: THE TURN TO THE SUBJECT AND HISTORY
Though the dominant worldview of pre-modern peoples was promi
nently shaped by attention to the surrounding natural order,71 modernity has
shifted its understanding of the human from a nature-oriented frame to a
history-centered one. The ancient vision of a vast "Chain of Being" high
lighting humanity's participation in, and relatedness to, the entire fabric of
the cosmos has been turned on its side and historicized into a "March of
Progress" marked by societal and intellectual advances across the genera
tions.72 For societies that experienced the rise of modern science with its
attendant advances in technology making possible both the industrial
revolution and rapid population growth, it is not surprising that their
thought-forms would come to concentrate increasingly on the dynamism of
human agency and historical change-not on the stability and cycles of the
environing natural order.
A similar repudiation of "nature" and turn in emphasis to "culture" and
"history" can be found in the rise of dominant streams of modern Western
philosophy and Christian theology. Many followed Immanuel Kant's "turn
to the subject," which concentrated attention to the distinctiveness of human
reason that sets us apart from all other life forms and gives us distinct pow
ers of agency and intentionality.73 The rise of phenomenology, existential
ism and personalism in the first half of the twentieth century in privileging
the focus on human subjectivity and agency similarly concentrated attention
on the human subject, our culture and our history.74 Increasingly in the
humanities and the social sciences after World War II, the main emphasis
centered on humanity's powers of historical action, cultural "construction"
and societal development.75
THE MODERNIST NARROWING OF JUSTICE AND THE NEED FOR A
RECOVERY OF METAPHYSICS: THE VIEW OF JOHN RAWLS
If a major characteristic of Western modernist thought is its focus on
both the human subject and our historical agency, then emerging ecological
concerns are calling us to embrace a postmodern frame that understands
human subjectivity and agency within a frame of reference that acknowl
edges an evolution sustained by the planet's natural order and energy flows.
It should thus be no surprise that if the modernist notional separation of
humanity from nature is a key philosophical and religious problem, then
critical postmodern thinking distancing itself from those inadequate mod
ernist assumptions finds important convergence with much of the nature
centered pre-modernist thinking employed to understand the general con
text of human life, agency and history.
John Rawls, in his magisterial A Theory of Justice, illustrated the
ongoing intellectual force of modernist human-centered assumptions. He
worked out a social contract model articulating the obligations of justice,
but only on page 512 of his tome did he engage the questions of justice
owed to animals and to nature?6 He stated that his theory would not suggest
that we owe strict duties to creatures that lack a sense of justice, yet he felt
we have moral obligations not to be cruel or to wipe out a whole species.
This latter act he dubbed a "great evil.'>77 While he held we have "duties of
compassion" and "humanity," he believed that these issues lay outside the
theory of justice.78 He then concluded:
A correct conception of our relations to animals and to nature
would seem to depend upon a theory of the natural order and our
place in it. One of the tasks of metaphysics is to work out a view
of the world which is suited for this purpose . . . . How far justice
as fairness will have to be revised to fit into this larger theory it is
impossible to say.79
Rawls here clearly illustrated the range and impact of the metaphysical
dualism sustained by the continuing influence of the Newtonian world-pic
ture that so shaped Enlightenment discussions of justice and the "rights of
man." This strong legacy of the Enlightenment held that the center of mo
rality lay in contracts "made by rational consent between articulate, self
interested, contracting parties who are equals in power.,,80 Following this
Enlightenment view of ethics, Rawls concentrated his contract theory of
justice in the relationships between and among free human agents. Given
the authority of his starting assumptions, it is not surprising that Rawls ex
pended little attention on humanity's relationships to other species or our
76. JOHN RAWLS, A THEORY OF JUSTICE 512 (1971).
80. MIDGLEY, supra note 43, at 51.
- - - - _....
--_.sustaining ecosystems.8 ! Why? Because they-in this view-lay as deep
"givens," non-problematic and thus relatively ethically uninteresting until,
that is, page 512 and then only for one paragraph. Admirably, he acknowl
edged the limits of his approach to thinking about justice by his recognition
of the need for a "larger theory" or ethical framework. Sadly, he spent al
most no energy in even sketching out how this expanded attention to "the
natural order and our place in it" might require a correspondingly similar
expansion of our sense of the obligations of justice.
Rawls, I would submit, pointed out directly the distinct limits of the
modernist stress on the unique agency, value and dignity of the human, and
the need to recover the more expansive frame for understanding humanity's
place within the broader order of nature. In his brief reflection on this issue,
he highlighted how overcoming the limits of these modernist assumptions
about the separation of the human from nature requires engaging some of
the shared perspectives found in pre-modern traditions of Western meta
physics that frame the human within the larger "natural order."82
MODERN THEOLOGICAL HUMAN-CENTERED EMPHASES
Powerful currents of theological and philosophical interest have pulled
dominant streams of modern Catholic and Protestant theology towards em
phasizing the human person and humanity's dynamic history and away
from more traditional emphases on the doctrine of creation and the natural
In the nineteenth and first half of the twentieth century, main currents
of Protestant theology shared a general human-centered focus and an under
standing that the nonhuman natural world is best understood as a sphere of
objects in contrast to the human sphere of subjects.84 This stress on human
subjectivity, agency and history is seen in a host of major Protestant theolo
gians of that era-e.g., Ritschl, Raushenbusch, Barth and Bultmann.85 As
Joseph Sittler, a prominent American Lutheran theologian, stated in his
1972 critique of this human-centered emphasis, the view of a "fundamen
tally dis-graced natural world" led theologians to constrict God's opera
tional sphere of activity and will to the sphere of history, not God's
providential sustaining action in the sphere of nature. 86 As Gustaf Wingren
stated a year later, much of contemporary Christian theology was engaged
in a strong "flight from creation."87
Likewise, a similar movement arose in twentieth century Catholic cir
cles, inspired by Karl Rahner, Bernard Lonergan, Bernard Haring and many
others, of turning to "the subject" and history.88 Neither of these turns nec
essarily needed to be developed using the natural order as a conceptual foil
for understanding human subjectivity, our "dignity" and the dynamism of
historical action, but with great frequency the category of "nature" was, and
in many quarters continues to be, so employed. 89 Gustavo Gutierrez spoke
for many Catholic thinkers across the 1940s, 50s, 60s, and 70s when he
boldly announced that "[o]ther religions think in terms of cosmos and na
ture: Christianity rooted in Biblical sources thinks in terms of history."9o
Indeed, the long pontificate of Pope John Paul II tended to enshrine a
personalist-centered view stressing human subjectivity and history. This
Pope's views were strongly shaped by his doctoral dissertation's emphasis
in the phenomenological movement's understanding of the human. 91 This
concentration is well captured in the title of one of his major books, The
Acting Person. 92 His clear embrace of the Newtonian world-picture was
vividly displayed in his encyclical Laborem Exercens, where he described
"human work" as an activity of subjects who dominate and transform the
natural sphere of objects and thus "humanize" it and bring it "dignity"
through this transformative process.93 He cited to Genesis 1:26-28 to reiter
ate the legitimacy of humanity's dominion and even "domination" of the
natural order through our work.94 Work, in his view, makes us "co-cre
ators" with God as we exert our sovereignty in the natural order.95
Similarly, we see this emphatic Catholic concentration on "the person"
in one of the major recent efforts by Catholic philosophers Germain Grisez
and John Finnis to articulate a "revised natural law theory."96 Many schol
ars have noted that this project sustains a new basis for a universalist ethic.
However, this ethic is so grounded in the structure of practical reason that
many scholars hold it owes more of a debt to Kantian insights and perspec
tives than to the breadth of Thomistic themes.97 In Grisez's and Finnis's
approach, even natural law thinking is pulled into an accommodation with
the Newtonian dualism that shapes Kant's thought. In this fashion, it is
pulled far away from the creation-centered frame found in a number of
Aquinas's treatises. As Lloyd Weinreb stated, Grisez's and Finnis's attempt
to recover the natural law tradition resulted in the development of a "natural
law without nature."98 There is surely some irony when Catholic thinkers
now try to appropriate the mantel of the "natural law" tradition even as they
concentrate intense focus on human subjectivity, historical agency and free
dom, and pay scant attention to how the human is conditioned and sustained
by an environing natural order.
Across the last twenty years, mainstreams of both Catholic liberal and
conservative thinking have tended to engage natural law thinking with an
anthropocentric set of assumptions stressing the universal order of human
reason-not the global order of creation.99 Sadly, this has pulled attention
away from the Medieval natural law heritage, which holds a deep apprecia
tion for the order of creation and thus enjoys significant resources for en
gaging current ecological concerns. This is a grave shortcoming for a
religious community that holds the allegiance of roughly one billion people,
or approximately one-sixth of humanity. The Catholic Church now bears a
heavy burden of responsibility to help its people across the globe realize the
significance of the ecological threats we, and our children's generation,
ECOLOGICAL LAWS AND THE RECOVERY OF NATURAL LAW:
NATURAL LAW IN STOIC AND CATHOLIC REFLECTION
The ecological grounding for an emerging global ethic closely paral
lels a number of the perspectives and themes dominant in the natural law
tradition of Western ethics-a tradition that in the last few centuries has
been most closely associated with the Roman Catholic Church. This natural
law tradition was grounded in ancient Greek and Roman Stoic notions that
FINNIS, NATURAL LAW AND NATURAL RIGHTS (Clarendon Press 1982) (1980); JOHN FINNIS,
MORAL ABSOLUTES: TRADITION, REVISION, AND TRUTH (1991).
97. See RUSSELL HITTINGER, A CRITIQUE OF THE NEW NATURAL LAW THEORY 8-9, 28-30,
98. LLOYD L. WEINREB, NATURAL LAW AND JUSTICE 97-126 (1987); see also HITTINGER,
supra note 97, at 192-95.
99. See RICHARD M. GULA, S.S., REASON INFORMED BY FAITH: FOUNDATIONS OF CATHOLIC
MORALITY 235-49 (1989); GALLAGHER, supra note 73, at 203-22, 257-59.
the universe itself should be viewed as a great City, a "cosmopolis," in
which all peoples are Citizens of a common whole. 100
While the origins of Greek political philosophy concentrated attention
on the human within the frame of a particular City-state, the polis, Alexan
der the Great's conquests gave rise to a vast multicultural empire that re
quired a broader philosophical frame for understanding human
community.lOi These concerns of the Hellenistic age gave impetus to the
Stoic philosophers' vision of the universal community of humanity, which
was based on our common rationality and partiCipation in the life of the
universe-a great polis writ large. 102 Stoic thought emphasized the breadth
of humanity's partiCipation in the broader community, but it distinctly af
firmed humanity's privileged status above animals, plants and the rest of
nature because of our unique rationality.103
Not surprisingly, many Roman thinkers were drawn to Stoic views
when reflecting on their own multicultural empire. As Marcus Aurelius, a
Roman emperor and philosopher, noted in The Meditations, "[a]ll things are
interwoven with one another, and the bond which unites them is sacred;
practically nothing is alien to anything else, for all things are combined with
one another and contribute to the order of the same universe."104 Stoic eth
ics flows directly from this affirmation that each jndividual is a part of that
great Whole. Our task is to promote the common good. 105
Stoic thinking, along with the neo-Platonic cosmology of the "Great
Chain of Being," shaped dominant streams of Medieval Christian theol
ogy.106 In an influential synthesis, Thomas Aquinas gave expression to this
cosmology in his "On Creation" and "The Divine Government" in his
Summa Theologica. 107 He believed that the doctrines of creation and of
God's ongoing governance of the created order marked a moral order, the
lineaments of which we humans can discern via reason. lOS An affirmation
of the unity of the human speCies grounded Aquinas's articulation of a
uni100. A.P. D'ENTREVES, NATURAL LAW: AN INTRODUCTION TO LEGAL PHILOSOPHY 25-27
(2nd ed. 1970); see MARCUS AURELIUS, THE MEDITATIONS 3, 11 (G.M.A. Grube trans., 1983); F.
H. SANDBACH, THE STOICS (2nd ed. 1989).
101. SHELDON S. WOLIN, POLITICS AND VISION: CONTINUITY AND INNOVATION IN WESTERN
POLITICAL THOUGHT 77-82 (1960).
102. Id.; see Alan J. Holland, Fortitude and Tragedy: The Prospects for a Stoic Environ
mentalism, in THE GREEKS AND THE ENVIRONMENT 151, 151-166 (Laura Westra & Thomas M.
Robinson eds., 1997).
103. Id.; see also AURELIUS, supra note 100, at 69. .
104. AURELIUS, supra note 100, at 79; see Stephen Toulmin, Nature and Nature's God, 13 J.
RELIGIOUS ETHICS 37, 37-52 (1985) (discussing how some ecologically-informed thinkers are
developing perspectives similar to the overall Stoic vision).
105. AURELIUS, supra note 100, at 77-78, 91, 98, bks.8.23, 9.22, 10.6.
106. See RALPH MCINERNY, ST. THOMAS AQUINAS 75-87,105-126 (1977); SANTMIRE, supra
note 11, at 75-119.
107. See AQUINAS, supra note 8, at 103-119, q,44-64.
108. Id. at 1009, q.94, a.2.
- - - - - - - - - - - - -
-versal ethic.109 Human reason is able to discern the basic natural inclina
tions and ends of the natural order, thus human reason is able to bridge
across cultural differences in a meaningful way due to our common human
inclinations and capacities for right reason. 110 Certain basic themes of the
natural law heritage, such as the priority of the "common good" over that of
the individual, remain quite pertinent for informing a viable global ethic for
our own age. 111
While Aquinas developed a reason-centered approach to the natural
law, his dominant frame for understanding human life and experience was, I
believe, creation- and God-centered. Whereas modern philosophies and the
ologies focus more on the distinctive sphere of human culture and history,
pre-modern philosophy and Christian theology, like Aquinas's, framed their
understanding of human life within an account of the general ordering of
the created world. 112
In Catholic circles, the allegiance to the natural law approach has
waned in the last fifty years as Catholic personalist-oriented theology, Lib
eration Theology, and the transcendental Thomists-Karl Rahner and Ber
nard Lonergan-have influenced many to believe that the natural law
claims are too rigid and need to be discarded in favor of more dynamic
understandings of the individual's relationship with God. 113 Bernard Haring
gave influential expression to this when he noted that God's call and our
response are more central in the moral life than any attention to fixed natu
ral law findings grounded in appeal to static notions of reason and
Richard Gula helpfully noted the existence of two historic strains of
interpretation of the natural law tradition, which he calls the "order of rea
son" and the "order of nature" approaches. 115 Both Stoic and Medieval ex
pressions of the natural law highlighted humanity's participation in the
community of creation and also our participation in a universal human com
munity whose members are capable of right reason and thus able to affirm
common moral truthsY6 Most Catholics who sustain an interest in the natu
rallaw today follow the "order of reason" view, which states that the natu
rallaw is primarily about the common structures of human reason by which
all persons-regardless of culture or nation-are able to affirm and be
guided. 117 However, the commonality of the power and structures of reason
seem to pull much Catholic discussion towards an ethics closer to a Kantian
vision of a universal human community than a Thomistic one, wherein the
stress on humanity's common reason was also balanced by an overarching
emphasis on humanity's participation within the community of creation.
A growing number of ecologically-oriented thinkers are finding in
triguing the creation-centered frame of pre-modem, natural law thinking for
. its strong family resemblance to today's ecological sciencesYs Environ
mentalists today, like Stoic and Medieval thinkers before, wish to tum at
tention to the priority of the global common good-a good or whole more
expansive than just the good or whole of humanity-even as we ponder the
general wisdom of conforming human life and action in some way (and
with important qualifications) to the general order of nature. 1l9
CREATION-CENTERED THEOLOGY ACROSS THE CENTURIES: THOMAS
AQUINAS AND THOMAS BERRY
This new and remarkably moving and tragic story of humanity's in
creasing degradation of the Earth offers us a great gift by jolting our eyes
open. I believe that Thomas Berry, a Catholic priest, and other religious
thinkers have it right in believing that the ecological sciences are giving
today's generations a remarkable gift of a grand new narrative of begin
nings. 120 Though scientists appropriately articulate this story with no resort
to God-talk, there is nothing inappropriate about religious believers-Chris
tian, Buddhist, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu or Indigenous-seeing this evolu
tionary, ecological account as a resource for reflecting on God's (or the
Gods') ways of creating and sustaining the world, its plant, animal and
human communities, and on humanity's loyalties and moral responsibilities
of planetary care. In this way, the traditional Christian affirmations of the
doctrines of creation and providence can be re-appropriated and invigorated
in an ecological way. Indeed, Berry and others rightly suggest that both
Christian believers and believers in other religious traditions may not dis
miss the world of scientific studies as distant from theology, religious
stance or "faith."121
Berry appeals back to the great Christian theological tradition spoken
of by Augustine and others throughout the centuries as the "Two Books of
Revelation.'>122 This tradition holds that God as Creator and Sustainer is
revealed not only in Scripture, but also in the natural order of God's crea
tion. 123 This physical realm is also honored as a sacred book, disclosing
something of God's intentions for the world and God's ways of sustaining
it. 124 From this perspective, it would seem that from the stance of faith,
there can be no truly secular disciplines. 125 For theists, all disciplines ex
hibit something about how God creates and sustains both human and non
human life-forms in the world we know. 126
Berry is right, I believe, when he stated that the faith communities are
being offered a great gift of a "new creation story"-like Genesis, only
better-in that the new story is empirically grounded, transculturally devel
oped, and truly universal in its histories of the world's peoples.127 This eco
logically-informed world picture provides the roughly two billion
Christians living today with an important, new hermeneutical lens for read
ing the Hebrew Bible, New Testament, and other theological classics of the
Churches from throughout the centuries. Muslims, too, are equally being
given a new lens through which to read the Koran, and Jews, of course, now
can enjoy an invigorated creation-centered and scientifically-informed read
ing of the Hebrew Bible. Hindus, Buddhists, Jains, and indigenous peoples
are all given a new way of reading and appropriating the materials of their
traditions with eyes opened to new concerns, new senses of the embodied
expanse of the sacred, and new appreciation for the radical giftedness of
being alive on Earth.
As James Nash, a Protestant ethicist, rightly argued, the historic natu
ral law emphasis on "following nature" coheres closely to the emphasis
121. [d.; THOMAS BERRY, THE GREAT WORK: OUR WAY INTO THE FUTURE (1999); see also
GUSTAFSON, supra note 14, at 25, 53-62.
122. BERRY, supra note 121, at 13-14; see AUGUSTINE, supra note 13, at 117, 162-163,
172-176; CHRISTOPHER KAISER, CREATION AND THE HISTORY OF SCIENCE 61-62, 138, 282
(1991); A.R. PEACOCKE, CREATION AND THE WORLD OF SCIENCE 1-49 (1979).
123. See GUSTAFSON, supra note 14, at 92-113.
124. See JAMES M. GUSTAFSON, A SENSE OF THE DIVINE: THE NATURAL ENVIRONMENT FROM
A THEOCENTRIC PERSPECTNE 42 (1994).
125. GUSTAFSON, supra note 14, at 92-113.
126. [d.; see also GUSTAFSON, supra note 124, at 21-53.
127. BERRY, supra note 120, at 123-37.
given by ecologists and environmentalists on the folly of those who ignore
the norm of "ecosystemic fitness or compatibility."128
The controversies around the Vatican's moral appeal to the natural law
tradition to condemn both artificial birth control and gay sexual relations as
intrinsically evil by virtue of being "unnatural," have led many moderate
and liberal Catholics to pull back from the natural law mode of moral argu
mentation. 129 Many liberal Catholic ethicists have critiqued the Vatican's
ongoing condemnation of birth control as "physicalist," namely trying to
derive directly moral values from biological facts.130
Thus, we have an ironic situation. Catholic liberals, who are interested
in ecological concerns, tend not to be interested anymore in listening to
natural law appeals. 13I Conservative Catholics, who generally do affirm the
natural law heritage, tend not-as yet-to be interested in ecological con
cerns. The potential for applying natural law perspectives to guide reflec
tion of environmental policy and law has not yet been widely actualized.
My own view is that the liberal critique of Vatican thinking as physi
calist is misplaced. The problem, I believe, is not that recent Popes have
been too physicalist in their reasoning, but rather quite the opposite. I would
submit that they' have been insufficiently physicalist. If you want to see
physicalism, read Medieval theologians on the doctrines of the Incarnation
and Creation. Read in Thomas about how God sustains each existent entity
and living being in each moment. Read in Francis's Canticles and other
writings how he names a wolf and the sun "Brothers" and the moon, water,
and "Mother Earth" as "Sisters."132
It would seem that we need to distinguish different streams of physi
calist thinking and debate about which are more or less adequate. If ecology
has taught us anything, it is that there is nothing wrong with physicalism.
We humans may enjoy rationality, but we should not forget our "animal
ity"-our primate-ness. We humans may be agents in history, but we
should not· forget our dependency on ecosystems, climate patterns, and
water and oxygen cycles. The modern Catholic Church has too long
stressed history, not nature. It has too obsessively concentrated on con
forming our actions to the "order of nature," narrowly focused on the dy
namics of sexual reproduction. However, Thomas Aquinas's emphasis on
God's will being discerned across the breadth of nature suggests that it is
128. Nash, supra note 118, at 243-45.
129. See GUSTAFSON, supra note 124, at 42.
130. CHARLES E. CURRAN, THE CATHOLIC MORAL TRADITION TODAY: A SYNTHESIS 152-155
(1999) [hereinafter CATHOLIC MORAL TRADITION]; see also CHARLES E. CURRAN, TRANSITION
AND TRADITION IN MORAL THEOLOGY 30-37, 52 (1979).
131. CATHOLIC MORAL TRADITION, supra note 130, at 73-86.
132. FRANCIS AND CLARE: THE COMPLETE WORKS 38-39 (Regis J. Armstrong, O.P.M. &
Ignatius C. Brady, O.P.M. eds., Regis J. Armstrong, O.P.M. trans., 1982); ROGER D. SORRELL, ST.
FRANCIS OF ASSISI AND NATURE: TRADITION AND INNOVATION IN WESTERN CHRISTIAN ATTITUDES
TOWARD THE ENVIRONMENT 133-134 (1988).
quite appropriate to open up questions about the "natural laws" of ecosys
tems' well-being and sustainability, laws about species vitality and climate
change, and laws about ecological degradation. 133
Conservative Catholics, I believe, tend to miss an important point that
planetary care is not distant from core conservative Catholic views. Acting
for conservation should be understood pretty readily as a good conservative
practice. Liberal Catholics tend to feel Rome asserts too many natural laws.
However, I and other ecologically-oriented thinkers look forward to the day
when Rome will begin to recognize the moral and theological significance
of the broad array of "natural" or ecological laws that govern the flourish
ing of humans and ecosystems-laws that impinge on our everyday life
practices in a whole range of spheres of human action and practice. Rome
would do well to listen more closely to voices in Manila, Guatemala City,
Rio, Cairo, New Orleans, Benaras and others who know firsthand how
human well-being is inextricably tied to ecological sustainability.134 Sexual
and medical concerns are surely important spheres deserving close theologi
cal and moral reflection, but so are the spheres of transportation, energy
production and consumption, urban planning, zoos, farming and food
chains, habitat destruction, climate change, species loss, coral reef bleach
ing, deforestation, snow cap melting, soil run-off, aquifer depletion and
over-fishing. What about reflection on the value of future generations, both
human and nonhuman? What about a sustained attention to imminent and
massively tangible environmental trends, the impacts of which are begin
ning to be felt by human and nonhuman communities across the globe?
The Catholic heritage has deep resources for reflecting on "natural
law," the order of creation, and the global common good. These need to be
mobilized more robustly. Rising ecological concerns suggest that the
Church now needs to embrace its responsibilities to promote practices of
ecological responsibility and planetary care, and to call upon the world's
other great religious communities to join forces in this great work. 135
3. See SEYYED HOSSEIN NASR , RELIGION & THE ORDER OF NATURE ( 1996 ) ; see also William French, Common Ground and Common Skies: Natural Law and Ecological Responsibility, 42 :3 J. ECUMENICAL STUD . 373 - 88 ( 2007 ).
4. Lynn White Jr. , The Historical Roots of our Ecologic Crisis , 155 SCI. 1203 - 07 ( 1967 ).
5. Elizabeth A . Johnson, Losing and Finding Creation in the Christian Tradition, in CHRISTIANITY AND ECOLOGY: SEEKING THE WELL-BEING OF EARTH AND HUMANS 3-21 ( Dieter T. Hessel & Rosemary Radford Ruether eds., 2000 ); see also JAMES A. NASH, LOVING NATURE: ECOLOGICAL INTEGRITY AND CHRISTIAN RESPONSIBILITY 68- 92 ( 1991 ).
30. See Rosemary Radford Ruether , Men, Women, and Beasts: Relations to Animals in Western Culture, in GOOD NEWS FOR ANIMALS?: CHRlSTIAN APPROACHES TO ANIMAL WELL-BElNG , supra note 28, at 12-21; see also ROSEMARY RADFORD RUETHER, SEXISM AND GOD-TALK: ToWARD A FEMlNIST THEOLOGY 72- 92 ( 1983 ).
31. See AQUINAS , supra note 8 , at 229-324, q. 44 - 64 ; see also BONAVENTURE, The Soul's Journey Into God, in THE CLASSICS OF WESTERN SPIRITUALITY 59-78 (Ewert Cousins trans ., 1978 ) ( 1259 ).
32. See French, supra note 14 , at 328-33.
33. See NORMAN F. CANTOR , THE CIVILIZATION OF THE MIDDLE AGES 478 ( 1993 ) (noting that the average life expectancy was in the thirty-year range for medieval Europeans) .
34. Johnson, supra note 5, at 3-21.
45. MAX OELSCHLAEGER , CARING FOR CREATION: AN ECUMENICAL APPROACH TO THE ENVIRONMENTAL CRISIS 43- 198 ( 1994 ) ; see also AL GORE, EARTH IN THE BALANCE: ECOLOGY AND THE HUMAN SPIRIT 8-326 ( 1992 ) ; LESTER R. BROWN , Eco-ECONOMY: BUILDING AN ECONOMY FOR EARTH 3-23 ( 2001 ).
46. GORE, supra note 45, at 182-196; BRUCE RICH, MORTGAGING THE EARTH: THE WORLD BANK , ENVIRONMENTAL IMPOVERISHMENT , AND THE CRISIS OF DEVELOPMENT ( 1994 ) ; ERIC A . DAVIDSON, You CAN'T EAT GNP : ECONOMICS AS IF ECOLOGY MATTERED ( 2000 ). On the slow awareness of ecological problems as security concerns, see PAUL KENNEDY, PREPARING FOR THE TWENTy-FIRST CENTURY ( 1993 ), and Jessica Tuchman Mathews, The Environment and International Security, in WORLD SECURITY: TRENDS & CHALLENGES AT CENTURY'S END 362- 380 (Michael T. Klare & Daniel C. Thomas eds., 1991 ).
47. See BROWN , supra note 45, at 4-23; HERMAN E. DALY, BEYOND GROWTH : THE ECONOM . ICS OF SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT 1-44 ( 1996 ).
48. See LESTER BROWN , PLAN B 3.0: MOBILIZING TO SAVE CIVILIZATION xi-xiv, 3 - 23 , 265 - 87 ( 2008 ).
49. See PAUL HAWKEN , THE ECOLOGY OF COMMERCE: A DECLARATION OF SUSTAINABILITY ( 1993 ); BROWN, supra note 45, at 3-14, 21 - 23 ; GORE, supra note 45, at 182-96.
50. See JANE HOLTZ KAy , ASPHALT NATION: How THE AUTOMOBlLE TOOK OVER AMERlCA AND How WE CAN TAKE IT BACK ( 1997 ) ; William French, The Auto and the Earthly City: Gas Taxes and Civic Renewal, 5:1 THEOLOGY & PUB . POL'y 15 , 15 - 28 ( 1993 ).
51. See Michael T. Klare , Deadly Convergence: The Arms Trade , Nuclear/Chemical/Missile Proliferation, and Regional Conflict in the 1990s , in WORLD SECURITY, supra note 46 , at 170-96.
52. See KENNEDY , supra note 46, at ix-x, 3 - 20 , 129 - 34 .
53. See Editorial , Lame-Duck Budget , N.Y. TIMES , Feb. 5 , 2008 , at A22 (arguing that President Bush's proposed 2009 U.S. military budget of $515 billion does not include the cost of prosecuting the war in Iraq or the conflict in Afghanistan); Michael Janofsky, Democrats Eager to Exploit Anger Over Gas Prices , N.Y. TIMES , Apr. 21 , 2006 , at AI.
54. Walter Gibbs & Sarah Lyall, Gore Shares Peace Prize for Climate Change Work , N.Y. TIMES , Oct. 13 , 2007 , at AI.
55. AL GORE , AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH: TI-IE PLANETARY EMERGENCY OF GLOBAL WARMING AND WI-IAT WE CAN Do ABOUT IT ( 2006 ) ; INTERGOVERNMENTAL PANEL ON CLIMATE CHANGE , CLIMATE CHANGE 2007 : IMPACTS, ADAPTATION AND VULNERABILITY: CONTRIBUTION OF THE WORKING GROUP II TO THE FOURTH ASSESSMENT REPORT OF THE IPCC ( 2007 ), available at http://www.ipcc.ch/ipccreports/ar4- wg2 . htm; see also Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Summary for Policymakers , in CLIMATE CHANGE 2007: SYNTHESIS REPORT 1-22 ( 2007 ), available at http://www.ipcc.ch/pdf/assessment-reportlar4/syr/ar4_sycspm.pdf.
56. Andrew C. Revkin , Arctic Melt Unnerves the Experts , N.Y. TIMEs, Oct. 2 , 2007 , at Fl.
57. See Bn.L McKiBBEN , THE END OF NATURE (2nd ed . 1999 ).
58. See RICHARD LEAKEY & ROGER LEWIN, THE SIXTH EXTINCTION: PATTERNS OF LIFE AND THE FUTURE OF HUMANKIND ( 1995 ); BROWN, supra note 48, at 48-105.
59. BARRY COMMONER , MAKING PEACE WITH THE PLANET ( 1990 ).
60. See UNITED STATES CONFERENCE OF CATHOLIC BISHOPS , GLOBAL CLIMATE CHANGE: A PLEA FOR DIALOGUE, PRUDENCE, AND THE COMMON GOOD ( 2001 ), available at http:// www.usccb.org/sdwp/intemational/g1obalclimate.shtml.
61. See MARTIN E. MARTY , THE CHRISTIAN WORLD: A GLOBAL HISTORY ( 2008 ) (discussing Christianity's two billion members).
62. Wn . LIAM JAMES , The Moral Equivalent of War , in WAR AND MORALITY 4 , 7 - 11 , 13 (Richard A. Wasserstrom ed., 1970 ).
63. [d. at 12-13.
64. [d. at 12.
65. Id . at 13.
66. See id.
67. COMMONER, supra note 59, at 17-18, 23 , 29 , 32 - 35 ; NORMAN MYERS, ULTIMATE SECURITY : THE ENVIRONMENTAL BASIS OF POLITICAL STABILITY 11-13 , 15 - 34 ( 1993 ). On past environmental regional collapses, and their implications for our present challenges, see JARED DIAMOND, COLLAPSE: How SOCIETIES CHOOSE TO FAIL OR SUCCEED ( 2005 ). For concrete examples of ecological casualties, see BROWN , supra note 45, at 7-14, 38 - 39 , 68 - 70 .
68. MYERS, supra note 67, at 10-13, 217 - 25 , 231 - 33 ; GORE, supra note 45, at 7-11, 269 - 75 , 325 , 347 .
69. See WILLIAM T. R. Fox , THE SUPER-POWERS: THE UNITED STATES, BRITAIN, AND THE SOVIET UNION-THEIR RESPONSIBILITY FOR PEACE ( 1944 ). On Cold War deterrence strategies, see GEORGE F. KENNAN, THE NUCLEAR DELUSION: SOVIET-AMERICAN RELATIONS IN THE ATOMIC AGE ( 1983 ).
70. See William French, Contesting Energies: The Biosphere, Economic Surge and the Ethics of Restraint, in THE CHALLENGE OF GLOBAL STEWARDSHIP: ROMAN CATHOLIC RESPONSES 123-24 (Maura A. Ryan & Todd David Whitmore eds., 1997 ).
71. See COSMOGONY AND ETHICAL ORDER: NEW STUDIES IN COMPARATIVE ETHICS 1-8 (Robin W . Lovin & Frank E. Reynolds eds., 1985 ).
72. LoVEJOY, supra note 8, at 242-87.
73. See JOHN A. GALLAGHER , TIME PAST , TIME FUTURE: AN HISTORICAL STUDY OF CATHOLIC MORAL THEOLOGY 151-61 , 169 - 81 ( 1990 ) ; Bernard Lonergan, The Subject , in A SECOND COLLECTION 69 -86 (William F. 1 . Ryan , S.J. & Bernard J. Terrell , SJ. eds., 1974 ).
74. GALLAGHER, supra note 73, at 140-83; see also French, supra note 7 , at 48-72.
75. See PETER L. BERGER & THOMAS LUCKMAN , THE SOCIAL CONSTRUCTION OF REALITY: A TREATISE IN THE SOCIOLOGY OF KNOWLEDGE ( 1967 ) ; see also IAN HACKING, THE SOCIAL CONSTRUCTION OF WHAT? ( 1999 ).
81. Id . at 49-51, 64 .
82. Id . ; see also N. MAX WILDIERS, THE THEOLOGIAN AND HIS UNIVERSE: THEOLOGY AND COSMOLOGY FROM THE MIDDLE AGES TO THE PRESENT (Paul Dunphy trans ., 1982 ) (providing a helpful treatment of how the general metaphysical world-picture tends to shape thinking in every age).
83. See French, supra note 7 , at 48-72.
84. H. Paul Santmire, Healing the Protestant Mind: Beyond the Theology of Human Dominion, in AFrER NATURE'S REVOLT: Eco-JUSTICE AND THEOLOGY 57 , 57 - 58 (Dieter T. Hessel ed., 1992 ).
85. Id . at 61-65.
86. JOSEPH SITTLER , ESSAYS ON NATURE AND GRACE 67 ( 1972 ).
87. GUSTAF WINGREN , THE FLIGHT FROM CREATION ( 1971 ).
88. See BERNARD HARING , MORALITY IS FOR PERSONS: THE ETHICS OF CHRISTIAN PERSONALISM ( 1971 ) ; Bernard Lonergan, The Transition from a Classicist World- View to Historical Mindedness, in A SECOND COLLECTION, supra note 73, at 1-9; see also JAMES M. GUSTAFSON, PROTESTANT AND ROMAN CATHOLIC ETHICS: PROSPECTS FOR RAPPROCHEMENT 108- 19 ( 1978 ).
89. See French, supra note 7 , at 48-72.
90. GUSTAVO GUTIERREZ , A THEOLOGY OF LIBERATION: HISTORY, POLITICS AND SALVATION 174 (Sister Caridad Inda & John Eagleson trans ., 1973 ).
91. GEORGE WEIGEL , WITNESS TO HOPE: THE BIOGRAPHY OF POPE JOHN PAUL I1122- 144 ( 1999 ).
92. CARDINAL KAROL WOJTylA (POPE JOHN PAUL II), THE ACTING PERSON (Andrzej Potocki trans ., 1979 ) ; see CHARLES E . CURRAN, THE MORAL THEOLOGY OF POPE JOHN PAUL II 91-124 ( 2005 ) (offering a helpful analysis of Pope John Paul Irs method of ethical reflection).
93. POPE JOHN PAUL II, supra note 20, at 6 , 9 - 10 , 25 .
94. Id . at 4-6.
95. Id . at 25.
96. GERMAIN GRISEZ , BEYOND THE NEW THEISM: A PHILOSOPHY OF RELIGION ( 1975 ) ; GERMAIN GRISEZ, 1 THE WAY OF THE LORD JESUS: CHRISTIAN MORAL PRINCIPLES ( 1983 ) ; JOHN
109. Id . at 993-996, q. 90 - 91 .
110. See ANrnONY J. LISSKA , AQUINAS'S THEORY OF NATURAL LAW: AN ANALYTICAL RECONSTRUCTION ( 1996 ) ; THE ETHICS OF AQUINAS (Stephen 1 . Pope ed., 2002 ); JEAN PORTER, NATURAL AND DIVINE LAW: RECLAIMING THE TRADmON FOR CHRISTIAN ETHICS ( 1999 ) (offering important recent works on Aquinas and the natural law tradition).
111. See HANS KONG , GLOBAL RESPONSIBILITY: IN SEARCH OF A NEW WORLD ETHIC ( 1991 ) ; DAVID HOLLENBACH, S.J. , THE COMMON GOOD AND CHRISTIAN ETHICS ( 2002 ) ; William French, Catholicism and the Common Good of the Biosphere, in AN ECOLOGY OF THE SPIRIT: RELIGIOUS REFLECTION AND ENVIRONMENTAL CONSCIOUSNBSS 177 , 177 - 194 (Michael Barnes ed., 1994 ).
112. See NASR , supra note 3; WILDIERS, supra note 82; COSMOGONY AND ETHICAL ORDER, supra note 71 , at 1-8.
113. See EMMANUEL MOUNIER , PERSONALISM (Philip Mairet trans ., 1952 ) (providing a classic expression of Catholic personalism). Rahner and Lonergan were prolific and widely influential theologians. See generally KARL RAHNER, FOUNDATIONS OF CHRISTIAN FAITH: AN INTRODUCTION TO THE IDEA OF CHRISTIANITY (William V. Dych trans ., 1978 ); BERNARD 1. F. LONERGAN, INSIGHT: A STUDY OF HUMAN UNDERSTANDING ( 1958 ).
114. See HARING , supra note 88; BERNARD HARING , C.Ss.R., THE LAW OF CHRIST: MORAL THEOLOGY FOR PRIESTS AND LAITY (Edwin G. Kaiser trans ., 1966 ).
115. GULA, supra note 99, at 231-- 49 .
116. See AURELIUS , supra note 100, at bk. 3 . 11 , 5 .8, 7 .9, 7 .55; see also GULA , supra note 99 , at 220-30.
117. GULA, supra note 99, at 231-49.
118. See Jame Schaefer, Valuing Earth Intrinsically and Instrumentally: A Theological Framework for Environmental Ethics, 66 THEOLOGICAL STUD . 783 ( 2005 ); French, supra note 111, at 177-94; James A. Nash, Seeking Moral Norms in Nature: Natural Law and Ecological Responsibility; in CHRISTIANITY AND ECOLOGY: SEEKING THE WELL-BEING OF EARTH AND HUMANS , supra note 5, at 227-50.
119. French , supra note 111, at 177-94; see also SEAN McDONAGH SSC , THE GREENING OF THE CHURCH 164-203 ( 1990 ).
120. THOMAS BERRY , THE DREAM OF THE EARTH 123-37 ( 1988 ).
133. See William French, Greening Gaudium et Spes, in VATICAN II: FORTY YEARS LATER 196 , 196 - 207 (William Madges ed., 2006 ).
134. There are a number of important National Bishops' Conference Pastoral Letters that are initiating the Church's response to emerging ecological concerns. See " AND GOD SAW THAT IT WAS GOOD " : CATHOLIC THEOLOGY AND THE ENVIRONMENT 223-243 , 275 - 293 , 309 - 318 (Drew Christiansen, SJ. & Walter Grazer eds., 1996 ) (providing the letters of the American, the Guatemalan, and the Filipino Bishops) .
135. See Thomas Berry, Christianity's Role in the Earth Project, in CHRISTIANITY AND ECOLOGY: SEEKING THE WELL-BEING OF EARTH AND HUMANS , supra note 5, at 127-34; BERRY, supra note 121.