Atheistic environmentalism seems to perpetuate the view that nature is perfect just the way it is. It acts as a kind of secular “dogma”. With this as a base premise, we can see the logic that concludes the following…any unnatural interference or manipulation of nature for the benefit of man is a deprivation of nature’s perfection, and a good definition of evil is just that—a deprivation of perfection. Therefore, defending anything in nature against man is intrinsically “good” and promoting man’s industrialization and expansion is intrinsically “evil”.
From a Catholic perspective, we live in a fallen world. The harmony and order of creation has become disordered because of Original Sin. I have always felt that evils like natural disasters, disease and even some of the brutality of animals are the result of Original Sin. Paragraph 400 in the Catechism says “Harmony with creation is broken: visible creation has become alien and hostile to man. Because of man, creation is now subject ‘to its bondage to decay’” Scripture also gives us a hint, “…that creation itself would be set free from slavery to corruption and share in the glorious freedom of the children of God. We know that all creation is groaning in labor pains even until now;” (Rom 8:21-22). In the Catholic view, the evil found in nature mirrors the evil in the human heart.1
Another atheistic, and perhaps environmentalist “dogma” is that people are merely smart animals. Observed differences between people and animals are only a matter of “spectrum”, meaning that any human behavior can be found in the animal kingdom, albeit from a lower end of the evolutionary scale. I have yet to hear a good Darwinistic reason as to why humans wear cloths (even in the hottest climates), appreciate the arts, and have a longing to worship something greater than themselves, but I digress.
With humans fundamentally the same as animals as a base premise, we can see the logic that concludes the following…any basic right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness granted to people should apply to animals too (intelligent animals at the very least). Also, if we truly want to learn more about ourselves and understand what it means to be fully human, why bother studying philosophy, theology or Church teaching? We must study animals; especially intelligent animals that have never been corrupted by things like "religion".
Consider dolphins. We all know how cute, smart and playful dolphins are. Maybe we’ve seen or heard of shows like “Flipper” and movies like “Dolphin Tale” or the kind of endearing antics dolphins do at SeaWorld and other marine animal shows. Dolphins are undeniably and absolutely wonderful, are they not? I thought this too until I saw a documentary about the dark side of dolphins. Aside from some violent attacks on humans, I was quite surprised to learn that male dolphins have a kind of “rape culture”.
Here is a clip (consider it PG-13):
These highly evolved and intelligent mammals will sexually assault not only adult females, but under aged males and females as well. There also seems to be a lot of kidnapping going on. Groups of males will work together to keep a harem of females captive. The video called them “sex pirates”!! They also showed a team of two males trapping one female for themselves. They take turns guarding and raping the female while the other hunts for food.
What does this have to do with us? Thinking means connecting things and what we think leads to what we do. If nature is perfect just as it is, and animals are part of nature, and humans are merely smart animals, how can we present ethics in any coherent way? Can dolphins be immoral? Do dolphins have rights? If yes, could we not argue for a moral obligation to protect the innocent animals and punish or rehabilitate the guilty ones? If intelligent animals have no moral culpability, how do we separate the dark side of dolphins from the dark side of humans…and what makes it “dark” to begin with? After all, boys will be boys.
Remember that defining our idea of “right” vs. “wrong” depends on the beliefs we hold, and since we all believe things we can’t prove, it’s essential to drill down to the base premises for those beliefs to clarify exactly what they mean and where they come from. We seem to be forgetting that ideas have consequences.
1. Fr. Greg Shaffer, CW Catholic Q&A [Website], “Natural disasters - from God or because of us?” (15 October 2010), Site address: http://gwcatholicforum.blogspot.com/2010/10/natural-disasters-from-god-or-because.html