Religion and Science Converge: Developing Environmental Ethics

by Margaret Antonio


“The glory of the human is becoming the desolation of the earth.” These words spoken by Fr. Thomas Berry, a Passionist priest and scholar of religion and ecology, resonate today amongst the global issues of climate change and environmental desolation. John Grim and Mary Evelyn Tucker, both lecturers at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmentalism and the School of Divinity, have spent years conducting research and dialogues seeking to reconcile these seemingly contrasting realities of human ambition and the preservation of the earth. On October 16, they presented a lecture at the Heights Room on The Alliance of Religion and Ecology, sponsored by the School of Theology and Ministry’s Church in the 21st Century Center.

According to Mary Evelyn Tucker, the dialogue begins with asking, “What are the values from these cultures and traditions that will contribute to an environmental ethic that is indigenous to those parts of the world?” Finding common ground in religious values and cultural traditions is essential in constructing an ethic for this emerging issue of environmental degradation.


Religious leaders, including Popes Francis and Benedict XVI, have spoken of the importance of our responsibility for the earth. Furthermore, there is a need to reevaluate the scriptural meaning of stewardship and man’s “dominion,” as depicted in Genesis. According to John Grim, the development of an environmental ethic, however, is not anti-anthropocentric as though equating man with a tree or the soil, but rather highlights the responsibility man has in caring for the natural environment.


The scientific reality, the speakers stressed, is that humans, animals, and plants are highly dependent on the earth as an energy source for survival. The threat to the environment today is not an ice age or asteroids, as in previous periods, but the threat of man’s actions. “We have a biodiversity loss of immense proportions,” says Tucker. “Scientists say we are in the midst of a sixth extinction period, where species are going extinct due to anthropogenic causes.”


Creating an alliance between religion and ecology is not only for the sake of plants, animals, and the physical earth, as many assume. “People commonly separate nature and Catholic social teaching,” says Mary Evelyn Tucker. However, social justice for human beings and social justice for the environment are intrinsically linked. The speakers emphasized that there are millions of climate refugees around the planet as a result of climate change. In the past years alone in the United States, there were numerous droughts and hurricanes, including Katrina and Sandy. “This,” says Tucker “is due to our actions.”


As scholars and activists, John Grim and Mary Evelyn Tucker have been working emphatically on engaging scientists and religious leaders and intellectuals in dialogue through forums, conferences, and publications. In the last decades, these two fields have been polarized by disagreement and are seemingly drifting further apart. However, there is great hope in the prospect of an emerging alliance between religion and science for the sake of the preservation of the earth and the sacredness of life.


“What is BC doing for religion and ecology?” asked Mary Evelyn Tucker. The speakers presented a challenge to the Boston College community and academia to grow in awareness of their daily impact on the environment, to look for ways in which they can be a grassroots movement for the environment, and especially to push for more classes on the convergence of ecology and all fields of study. Currently, BC only offers two courses on ecology and religion out of the aproximately 80 courses offered in the theology department.


“It’s not easy, but it needs to be done,” says Mary Evelyn Tucker. “We need to be partnering in the study of ethics, law, politics, economics, and religion.” Already, through reanalyzing the convergence of the values of religious traditions and the concerns of scientific research, religions are returning to areas of thought that were at one time exclusively given over to the scientific community, says John Grim. “In many ways, religions are beginning to return to this question and they are in dialogue now with the scientists, rather than one trumping the other.”


For more information on John Grim and Mary Evelyn Tucker and their work with Religion and Ecology, visit their website at


The full video of the lecture will be available on the Church in the 21st Century website in mid-November.


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