Most people think of science and theology as standing on opposite ends of the spectrum when it comes to things such as climate change and evolution. But in a lecture on Thursday titled “Climate Change as a Consequence of Human Presence: A Dialogue between Anthropology and Biblical Studies,” Carol Newsom explained how the two are not as opposed as people believe.
Newsom is the Candler Professor of the Old Testament and the Hebrew Bible in the Candler School of Theology at Emory University. She is known for her work translating the Dead Sea Scrolls and challenging long-held assumptions about women in the Bible. This lecture was part of the annual lecture series given in honor of Rev. Richard J. Clifford, S.J, sponsored by the by School of Theology and Ministry and supported by the Kitz family.
Newsom then discussed climate change’s relationship with theology. In her interpretation, the creation story of Genesis 2-3 is not against the theory of evolution but instead supports it.
Newsom elaborated, saying that when God first created human beings, they did not have rational thought and were on the same level as other animals. When Adam and Eve ate from the Tree of Knowledge, they gained rational thought that was meant only for divine beings. Newsom likened this transformation to evolution.
Newsom also cited Adam and Eve eating from the tree and gaining rational thought as the driving force behind why humans speed up climate change.
Newsom spoke about the impact that climate change has on people’s lives. In the past few years, the World Bank, the Pentagon, and other organizations have published reports that predict a bleak future for Earth’s climate, showing that the global temperature has gone up 1.5 degrees celsius, approaching the 2 degree Celsius point which has been regarded as the critical temperature.
She also talked about how scientists have said that the earth is currently in the beginning stages of the next mass extinction. This man-made extinction is different from the first five mass extinction events in the earth’s history, which were caused by natural events.
Over the past 250 years, the Industrial Revolution and growth of technology has sped up climate change exponentially, but humans have altered the world around them long before then. Since the time of hunting and gathering, humans have contributed to the extinction of prey species, and because the prey species would die, so would the predators that would hunt them.
The biodiversity, the vast amount of biologically different species, on earth has been able to exist because of the separation of different ecosystems. Before humans were able to migrate easily from one continent or country to another, these ecosystems existed apart from each other without any contamination. When humans began to migrate to other parts of the world, they brought new species to ecosystems and these ecosystems were not able to adapt quickly enough and were harmed.
“This is a time of immense change for the earth, but this is also a time for change for us as the human species and I hope that we’ll be more self aware, more humble, more wise than we have been,” she explained
Human beings have rational thought but do not wield it correctly, according to Newsom. She explained how the knowledge from the tree that Adam and Eve ate from was only meant for divine beings and, in human beings, it leads them to make decisions that harm the environment. The rational thought that makes human distinct from other species is that same thing that makes us incompatible with the earth and its biodiversity.
Newsom talked about reasons to be hopeful. She explained that along with research into the degree of damage done to the earth so far, there are also a positive things that are being discovered, like cheaper and more efficient ways to harvest wind and solar power.
“While there are reasons to be optimistic, we have to realize that not everything will be saved,” she said. “The world that comes after this century will be very different than the one that existed before … but I don’t see it in dystopian terms.”
The realities of climate change are very serious, but Newsom holds hope in human being’s ability to reverse or lessen its effects.
“The resources of both science and our religious traditions offer us ways of living with an understanding of who we are, with seriousness of purpose and yet with humility, that our actions, successful or not, are involved in a process that will incorporate them into a larger story of this marvelous world and God’s intentions for it,” she said.
Featured Image by Jake Catania / Heights Staff