Poisonous Berries

Does creation exist for the sake of humanity?  Some say it exists for itself.  Others say it exists for God’s pleasure.  Still others deny the possibility of an answer.  But many have held that the purpose of creation is to be used by people, that God made it for us.  A friend once told me that God put the oil reserves under the ground for us, and so of course we should use them.  This belief acts as a sort of manifest destiny doctrine: You don’t have to worry about moral subtleties when you’re on a mission from God.

But is this plausible?  Some simple observations strongly suggest that the world was not created for us.  Take the existence of poisonous berries for an example.  What does it mean to think that poisonous berries were created for us?  Sweet, attractive, promising, lethal.  If God made them for us, then He must have been trying to kill us.  Or perhaps just teach us not to trust Him.  Consider some other parts of nature–brightly colored, little snakes and glowing rocks, each especially attractive to children and ready to cause a lingering death.  Besides these harmful things, there are multitudes of creatures and elements that seem to serve no purpose for us at all.  Just how does God expect us to use tens of thousands of species of beetle?

However, if the berries aren’t meant for us–if creation has more purposes than human use–then it is not such a big deal that some berries are poisonous to humans.  The birds eat them just fine.  God isn’t trying to kill people, just feed the birds.  The snake’s venom serves the snake’s purposes very well, if we allow that the snake exists for its own sake.

Maybe fossil fuel is just another poisonous berry.

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About dghenderson

David Henderson teaches environmental ethics in the Philosophy and Religion Department at Western Carolina University. He has a Ph.D. in philosophy and and M.S. in wildlife and fisheries sciences from Texas A&M University.

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