“Plastic pollution” is all abuzz in environmentalist circles right now – the piles in our oceans and now the arctic. I don’t want to get wrapped up in the issue specifically right now. There is a situation that needs attention, but it is not nearly as dire as the environmentalists make it sound, nor do the solutions need to be as drastic as those being proposed. Rather I want to talk about the presumption that underlies all such talk – that the actions of mankind are somehow apart from and defiant of nature.
This presumption is reflected in most coverage, particularly of the plastic issue. If one finds a piece of plastic somewhere “pristine,” it is assumed to be pollution even if there is no harm done other than it being unsightly. This presumes man made is bad, unnatural and evil – that when man acts it is not a part of the normal order of things.
Have you ever thought about how destructive what is commonly consider “natural” truly is? There are natural disasters like flood, fire, hurricane, earthquake and volcano that even in the absence of human development can alter entire eco-structures and change the evolution of creatures. There are plants that push out all other flora in a region. If locusts did not destroy crops, they would still destroy natural grasslands – changing forever the fate of every other species in the region destroyed. Why do environmentalists greet such destruction with a shrug say “It’s natural,” but if a piece of plastic floats to the arctic it is a man-made disaster?
The answer, of course, is that they presume mankind to be apart from nature. That is an amazing presumption from people that also believe we evolved naturally. But whether you believe man evolved from ape or that man was created by the hand of God, we are a part of nature or creation, not apart from it. Thus our actions are also, by definition, “natural.”
So, does this matter or am I just playing semantics games? Oh, it matters.
If we believe we are apart from nature, then we are super-nature, then we are god.
That we are unique in nature is undeniable, but that is different than apart from it. Our actions are just as natural as those of any other living thing. Whether through evolution or creation we have come to be with the natural ability to manipulate the things around us – to process petroleum into plastic, to build structures, to burn fuel, to cultivate, to refine. These are not unnatural things we do, they are an expression of our nature which is a part of nature itself. Of course, we should endeavor to do them wisely, but part of forming the wisdom is to understand that they are natural acts.
To presume god-status is dangerous territory, even for the atheist, if for no other reason than it belies their atheism. Believers have a word for the presumption of god-status – “blasphemy.” That’s about as dangerous as it gets.