Nov 10 2013

Widening Our Circle of Compassion

“God made the wild animals according to their kinds… And God saw that it was good.”  Genesis 1:25

_CES1181Yesterday I was part of two conversations that had a similar theme.  I went out to Henderson Sloughs Wildlife Management Area to photograph the birds that are starting to migrate into the region.  I spent about an hour photographing a number of different species from a stand overlooking a pond.  When I climbed down and was loading my equipment into my car a man in a truck drove up, stopped, rolled down his window and said “Glad there aren’t more snow geese out there.”  I actually thought at first he had said he “was glad to see some snow geese out there” but he went on to say “There were so many of them last year that they ruined our refuge.  We didn’t have many waterfowl to hunt.”  He then drove off.  I was amused by the conversation because just a few minutes earlier I was giving thanks for having some snow geese to photograph.  I also found it ironic because I’m getting ready to spend a good bit of money to go out and photograph thousands of snow geese at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge in New Mexico.

_CES0461Later in the evening I was at an event and was sitting at a table enjoying a meal.  I had my iPhone with me and showed some people the squirrel image you see here.  I took the picture earlier in the week at a local park.  When one person saw the squirrel she said “I don’t like squirrels.  They eat all my bird feed.”  Once again I was amused.  I have very few good squirrel pictures and was thrilled to get this one.  Having just had the conversation with the stranger about snow geese an hour before I couldn’t help but marvel at how selective we can be about which creatures we like and dislike.  Rob Sheppard has written at this site before about how people tend to like animals, such as bears and whales, that capture our imagination, but find other creatures, like spiders, appalling.   Part of me can understand why some people might like bears over spiders (I’m one of those people) but here we are talking about the difference between species of birds on the one hand and two common backyard species that are fun to watch on the other.  Still, sharp lines were drawn.  One species was considered better than the other.

eCES8248Are some species better or more important than others?  It might pay us to ponder this question but before we answer it we would have to figure out from whose perspective would we be making the distinction.  Do you get to make the call or do I?  In the end, I would suggest, the answer is neither.  That is God’s call.  Perhaps God would say some creatures are better or more important than others.  Then again, perhaps not.  Being their Creator God may have an equal love and appreciation for all the creatures He has made.  Regardless I do believe that we should try to look at all species from a broader perspective than our own.  I also would suggest that since God made all species that we should try to learn to grow in our appreciation of every one of them.  Albert Einstein once wrote, “Our task must be to free ourselves by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature and its beauty.”   I encourage you to take seriously that task.  Ask God to help you widen your circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures.  Doing so could make a huge difference in how you see the world and your Creator too.  It might also make a difference somewhere down the road on the survival of some species.  This makes our task an important one indeed.


Sep 5 2010

Science and Religion

AK-Denali-NP-Denali-and-Wonder-Lake-This past week there was a good bit of news coverage about Stephen Hawking’s new claim that Spontaneous creation is the reason there is something rather than nothing, why the universe exists, why we exist. It is not necessary to invoke God to light the blue touch paper and set the universe going.”  Hawking has apparently moved to the point where he sees no need to posit a Creator.

I certainly respect Hawking’s intelligence and contributions to science but when he makes such a claim I realize this is simply his opinion.  He can no more prove that God was not behind Creation any more than I, or anyone else, can prove that God was.  In the end, both conclusions are faith statements.  They are what we have come to believe based on our observations and experience.

Ironically, on the same day that news of Hawking’s statement broke I received in the mail a new book by William P. Brown called The Seven Pillars of Creation: The Bible, Science, and the Ecology of Wonder.   In this book Brown seeks to show how theology and science are not mutually exclusive and that both benefit from the other.  He recognizes that both disciplines “represent independent fields of inquiry” but that they also have “common points of interest.”  One common point of interest is wonder.

In the introduction to the book Brown writes: “Is science really hell-bent on eroding humanity’s nobility and eliminating all sense of mystery?  Not the science I know.  Is faith simply a lazy excuse to wallow in human pretension?  Not the faith I know.  What if invoking God was a way of acknowledging the remarkable intelligibility of creation?  What if science fostered a ‘radical openness to the truth, whatever it may turn out to be.’  The faith I know does not keep believers on a leash, preventing them from extending their knowledge of the world.  The science I know is not about eliminating mystery.  To the contrary, the experience of mystery ‘stands at the cradle of true art and true science,’ as Albert Einstein famously intoned.  ‘Whoever does not know it can no longer wonder, no longer marvel, is as good as dead.’”

I realize that many Christians today see science as the enemy but I concur with Brown that we need both theology and science.  I believe that he is on target when he says, “The God in whom ‘we live and move and have our being’ (Acts 17:28) has all to do with the world in which we do indeed live and move and have our being.  The world subsists in God even as God remains present in the world.  It is, admittedly, a mystery.  But through science we become more literate in the mysteries of creation and, in turn, more trustworthy ‘stewards’ of those mysteries.”

Even though I disagree with the conclusion Stephen Hawking has come to, I’m glad that it has gotten people thinking once again about the relationship between science and religion.  In my humble opinion, when it comes to “seeing Creation” fully it will take both.


( I took the image of Mount McKinley and Wonder Lake shown above at Denali National Park in early September a number of years ago.)