The Wisdom Of Organic Farming?

Jun 11th, 2022 | By | Category: Culture & Wordview, Featured Issues

The mission of Issues in Perspective is to provide thoughtful, historical and biblically-centered perspectives on current ethical and cultural issues.

In 1988, Mother Teresa and James Lovelock, advocate of the Gaia hypothesis, got into an argument at Oxford University’s Global Forum for Survival. [The doctrine of Gaia, most famously represented in Rosemary Ruether’s book Gaia and God: An Ecofeminist Theology of Earth Healing, argues that male domination of women and male domination of nature are interconnected.  She defines  “sin” as wrong relationships among human beings and between them and the rest of nature that foster not just economic and political injustice and racism and sexism, but also the destruction of the entire created order.  The Gaia hypothesis centers on the thesis that the earth is a living creature.  The theory, in fact, imputes a kind of divine power to the Earth.  “She” is alive and respect for her is at the center of restoring the right relationships destroyed by male dominion.] Mother Teresa argued that if we take care of people on the planet, the Earth will survive.  Lovelock countered that if we take care of the Earth, humanity’s problems will be solved. In light of God’s Word, both are needed. There is the crying need for balance focusing on both humanity and the physical earth.  Both are important to God.  Christians must be at the forefront of the ecology movement so that God’s glory is not preempted by a narrow humanistic agenda nor an “antihuman” value system central to modern pantheism.  We must not conclude that the Earth is good and humanity evil.  Also, we must not conclude that being concerned about the environment makes one an advocate of some form of pantheism or the Gaia hypothesis.  The beauty and complexity of the Earth are God’s good gifts.  We must cultivate respect and honor for God’s physical creation.

 

Scripture implores humans to exercise good stewardship over the physical world because to do so demonstrates honor and respect for God’s created order.  The physical creation should not be exploited, because it is morally wrong to misuse God’s created order.  Having God’s perspective, we responsibly farm, we shun wanton destruction of animal life, we responsibly mine copper and we cease burning the rainforests because we respect and honor that which God has honored and respected.  We show honor to the physical world with which God has a covenant relationship.  Christians should, therefore, be the leaders in responsible environmentalism.  As God’s theocratic stewards, we represent Him when we honor His physical world.  But is there a theology for biblical environmentalism?  I believe there is and that theology distills down to three cardinal propositions:

  1. A proper biblical view of the physical creation begins with a proper view of God.  The challenge is to keep in balance God’s transcendence and His immanence.  God’s transcendence focuses on His radical separateness from creation; He is both above and beyond His physical world.  God’s immanence focuses on His presence in His physical world.  To stress His immanence at the expense of His transcendence is to land in pantheism where everything is god.  To stress His transcendence at the expense of his immanence is to see the physical world as insignificant and a tool for exploitation.  Neither is satisfactory nor God-honoring.  There needs to be a balance between both God’s transcendence and His immanence, between His intimate involvement in all aspects of his physical creation (see Psalm 139) and His radical distinction from  creation.  Where it is finite, limited, dependent; He is infinite, unlimited and self-sufficient.
  2. Second, is a proper view of humanity.  Human beings are both interdependent with the rest of creation and unique within it.  Humans alone bear His image and are given stewardship over the His creation (see Genesis 1 and 2).  Christians frequently forget our interdependence with the rest of God’s world:  Our daily existence depends on water, sun and air; there is indeed a global ecosystem.  It matters how we treat the water, the trees and the other animals.  If they are harmed so are we.  There is thus a vital, interdependent relationship that comes from the creative hand of God.

But the Bible also declares human uniqueness. No other physical part of God’s world can claim to be His image-bearers.  Humans alone have dominion status.  God declares in Genesis 1:26-30 that humans have the responsibility to rule (have dominion) over the nonhuman creation.  Tragically, this dominion has frequently turned to exploitation.  But we are to serve and watch lovingly, almost worshipfully, over God’s creation.  We are God’s stewards:  He has sovereignty; we have dominion.

Francis Schaeffer argues that humans have two relationships–one upward and one downward.  The upward relationship accentuates the personal relationship humans might have with God, a relationship not enjoyed by the rest of the created order.  The downward relationship accentuates the “creaturely” relationship that humans share with the rest of the created order (see Genesis 2:7 and Job 34:14,15).  The struggle is to keep the two in balance.  We tend to so highlight the upward relationship to the virtual exclusion of the downward.  This leads to horrific neglect or ruthless exploitation of the physical world.  Or we tend to highlight the downward to the virtual exclusion of the upward.  This is the gross error of the evolutionary hypothesis, which sees humans as the product of the impersonal force of natural selection, not of God’s purposeful design.

  1. Third, the non-human creation is of great significance to God.  He created the physical world as a deliberate act.  God also takes pleasure in His physical world.  This is clear from the creation ordinance in Genesis 1 and 2 and from 1 Timothy 4:4: “For everything created by God is good and nothing is to be rejected, if it is received with gratitude.”   See also Psalm 104:31 where we see God rejoicing in His works.  The point is that if the physical world is of importance to God, then it must be to us–His creatures–as well (see also Job 39:1-2, Colossians 1:16 and Psalms 19:1-4).  As Ron Sider points out, it is likewise imperative that we note that God has a covenant, not only with humans but also with nonhuman creation.  After the flood, God made a covenant with the physical creation: “Behold, I establish my covenant with you and your descendants after you, and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the cattle, and every beast of the earth with you, as many as came out of the ark” (Genesis 9:9-10).  The physical world has dignity, worth and value quite apart from its service to humanity.  Incredibly, God’s plan for redemption also has a cosmic quality to it.  This fact provides a crucial foundation for building a Christian theology for an environmental age.  The biblical hope that the whole created order, including the material world of bodies and rivers and trees, will be part of the kingdom confirms that the created order is good and important.  Romans 8:19-23 demonstrates that at Christ’s return the groaning of creation will cease, for the creation will be transformed: “The creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.” [v. 21, ESV]

 

With this framework in mind, let’s consider the growing practice of organic farming.  Is this responsible stewardship?  Is this a wise and shrewd dimension of humanity’s dominion status before a sovereign God?  Bjorn Lomborg, president of the Copenhagen Consensus, posits several important arguments to help answer these questions.  His thesis is that “organic farming is ineffective, land hungry and very expensive, and it would leave billions hungry if it were embraced world-wide.”  He also contends that the rise in food prices—buoyed by increased fertilizer, energy and transport costs—amid the conflict in Ukraine has exposed inherent flaws in the argument for organic farming.  What is his evidence?

  1. Organic farming is inherently less efficient than conventional farming.  “Research has consistently shown that organic farming produces less food per acre than conventional farming.  Moreover, organic farming rotates fields in and out of use more often that conventional farming.”
  2. Organic farming produces between 29% to 44% less food than conventional methods.  It therefore requires as much as 78% more land than conventional agriculture and the food produced costs 50% more—“all the while generating no measurable increase in human health or animal welfare.”
  3. Organic farming rejects synthetic nitrogen fertilizer, but there is currently far from enough organic nitrogen to feed the world.  “It turns out that synthetic nitrogen is directly responsible for feeding four billion people, more than half the world’s population.”
  4. Lomborg proposes that “Policy makers and nonprofits must urgently focus on ways to produce more food for the world’s population.  Genetic engineering, better pest management and more irrigation would go a long way toward increasing yields.  Ramping up the production of artificial fertilizer, as well as considering removing regulation that makes its fossil-fuel inputs more expensive, will also help.  These simple, common-sense approaches can curb price hikes, avoid hunger and even help the environment.  Agriculture already uses 40% of the ice-free land on the earth.  Increasing its inefficiency will allow us to keep more land wild and natural.  Its time to let go of this self-indulgent obsession with organics and focus on scientific and effective approaches that can feed the planet.”

 

Lomborg raises important questions that highlight the dominion authority humanity has over God’s world.  Is the panacea for organic farming wise, efficient and effective?  Is organic farming the wisest method for feeding the growing population of planet earth?  Is organic farming good stewardship?  Lomborg has posed important questions.  Good stewards should take notice!

See James P. Eckman, Christian Ethics, pp. 109-120 and Bjorn Lomborg in the Wall Street Journal (8-9 May 2022);

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