There I stood at the Columbus Zoo, looking through the glass at a bonobo, or pigmy chimpanzee. Her eyes and facial expression conveyed a welcome as the bonobo stood up in a human-like posture as if to greet me. Another one appeared, possibly her mate. I watched their behavior, at times entertaining, at other times showing respect for one another–touching, cuddling, nurturing.
As I observed their form and behavior, I reflected on the claim by many in our culture that Homo sapiens are simply one of several species of upright primates. What’s more, thanks to gene mapping, we now know that bonobos and humans have more than 98% of their DNA in common. Like humans, these chimps are capable of making and using tools, and both species live in families and form social bonds involving sexual behavior.
Although human rational ability surpasses that of the bonobo, the striking genetic, morphological, and social resemblances have led many to believe that humans are simply the most advanced product of a long evolutionary process. If this is true, how is it that humans should claim superiority or moral authority over other animal species?
In the August 29 entry, we emphasized that at the heart of our hypothetical course “Dominion 101" is the belief that God occupies a distinctly different “category of being” from His creation. If God’s distinctness from His creation as taught in Scripture is denied, there is no basis for His ownership of and dominion over creation.
Another foundational teaching of Dominion 101 is that God gave humans the right to exercise dominion over the other creatures. The psalmist, David, wrote:
When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers,
The moon and the stars, which You have ordained;
What is man that You take thought of him,
And the son of man that You care for him?
Yet You have made him a little lower than God,
And You crown him with glory and majesty!
You make him to rule over the works of Your hands;
You have put all things under his feet... Psalm 8: 3-6.
According to this and other Scriptures (e.g. Genesis 1:26-28), humans clearly have a unique place in God’s rule over creation. But humans have not generally exercised benevolent rule over the rest of the creation as befitting one who has been crowned with “glory and majesty.” Indeed, many environmentalists, in effect, call for a ban on the course, Dominion 101 because they reject the Judeo-Christian concept of “dominion.” Instead, they call for humans to learn to live in unity and harmony among the other species so that no one species can take advantage of other species.
Pantheistic teaching fits the bill for many environmentalists who see “categories” and “dominion” as the cause of the environmental crisis. Pantheism is often accepted as he solution for the “environmental crisis” because it denies categories and teaches peace and harmony between humans and nature which are both seen as part of a divine unity.
Albert Schweitzer was highly respected by those who sought this pantheistic unity and equality among the plants and animals. However, as Francis Schaeffer, in Pollution and the Death of Man: The Christian View of Ecology (Tyndale House), pointed out, “a pantheistic stand always brings man to an impersonal and low place rather than elevating him. At the end of his life, Schweitzer’s pantheism, instead of going toward a higher view of those among whom he worked, went toward a lower view.” If this assertion is true, humans cannot truly value and care for nonhuman species by abrogating our position of dominion and returning to the forest or meadow on an equal level with the other species such as the bonobo. Instead, “true environmentalism” requires that humans be humans, taking responsibility for dominion as God intended it– being image-bearers of the Almighty God and Glorious King of all creation. But how can we accomplish this?