Man should rule over all the Earth’s creatures?

Genesis 1:26-28 says:

Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over [g]all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. Then God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that [h]moves on the earth.”

Many people have interpreted these passages as (a) an unlimited license to exploit the Earth and all its flora and fauna as well as (b) a guarantee that nothing can go wrong, since God said it was ok.

Ignoring the Bible’s origins as the writings of (self-serving) human males, rather than the literal word of God, let’s look a bit deeper, via God’s guidance on vows:

When you vow a vow to God, do not delay paying it, for he has no pleasure in fools. Pay what you vow. It is better that you should not vow than that you should vow and not pay. Let not your mouth lead you into sin, and do not say before the messenger that it was a mistake. Why should God be angry at your voice and destroy the work of your hands? — Ecclesiastes 5:4-6

So it seems important to keep your promises, especially to an all-mighty, all-seeing God.

But Adam and Eve did not do that in the Garden of Eden:

Genesis 3:22-23:

Then the Lord God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of Us, to know good and evil. And now, lest he put out his hand and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live forever”— therefore the Lord God sent him out of the garden of Eden to till the ground from which he was taken.

So, let’s recap:

  1. God gave everything to Adam and Eve, with the condition that they not eat of the Tree of Knowledge.
  2. Adam and Eve ate of the Tree (I’m not going for the misogyny of blaming Eve).
  3. God punishes them by exiling them from Eden and condemning them to go get their own food (“to till the ground”), which — IMO — also voids God’s gift of dominion “over every living thing…”

My one-handed conclusion is that believers (and the rest of us) have NOT (since around week 2 of the universe’s existence ;)) had (a) an unlimited license to exploit the Earth and all its flora and fauna or (b) a guarantee that nothing can go wrong. Or, to put it differently: We’ve over-reached in both our rights and our security… and look where that’s got us:

I heard that “humans and food for humans” takes up 97% of the Earth’s biomass, meaning that only 3% of the biomass was still “wild.” Based on this post, I looked at the data, which shows that “humans and food for humans” compose 95% of the “land creatures” with the remaining 5% going to wild animals and birds. If you include fish, mollusks, worms, spiders, etc., then the share of “humans and food for humans” drops to 5%. Such a switch is not good news, IMO, since (a) our 95% share of “land creatures” was much lower (say 50%) 100 years ago, when populations and meat eating and land clearance were all lower, and (b) we are also impacting worms, fish and other species that will go extinct in the Anthropocene.

Who in God’s name will save the Earth from its “guardians”?

Addendum (8 Oct): We should all go vegan, to reduce agriculture’s footprint by 70 percent — thus feeing land for nature, ecosystems and biodiversity.

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Author: David Zetland

I'm a political-economist from California who now lives in Amsterdam.

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