Pope Francis: Destroying Environment a “grave sin”.

October 31, 2014

The New Pope’s namesake, Francis of Assisi, is considered the patron saint of the environment, and the green movement. Artist Unknown

Pope Francis made an impact this week with a ringing defense of science, and the environment.
Ever since the Galileo thing, the Catholic church has been a little self-conscious on the science stuff – but there is a rich history of connecting spirituality with the natural world, that resonates strongly today for many Christians, and people of many traditions.

It’s a big story, because whatever one thinks of the Pope, or of religion, it plays a large role in shaping the world view of most of the world’s people. To be effective communicators, scientists, and science advocates, must aIways consider how to speak with this these perspectives in mind.

If nothing else, from a political perspective, big impact in developing nations, and on US hispanics – who are already strong on environmental, green, and climate issues. (maybe some clues on that below..)

Not insignificant in a number of midwestern states as well.

Raw Story:

Pope Francis said the theory of evolution did not contradict the Bible or church teachings, as creationists claim.

“God is not a divine being or a magician, but the Creator who brought everything to life,” the pope said. “Evolution in nature is not inconsistent with the notion of creation, because evolution requires the creation of beings that evolve.”

Catholic teaching has not traditionally been opposed to evolution, unlike evangelical Christianity in the U.S., although a close associate of Pope Benedict XVI criticized the scientific theory in a 2005 opinion piece published in the New York Times.

Pope Francis made the speech while unveiling a bust of Benedict, his predecessor.

The pope said biblical teachings gave humans the responsibility to care for the earth and its inhabitants.

In the Book of Genesis, God commanded Adam “to name everything and to go ahead through history,” Pope Francis said. “This makes him responsible for creation, so that he might steward it in order to develop it until the end of time.”

He warned that it was a “grave sin against God the creator” to destroy the environment, and scientists held a special responsibility to protect God’s creation.

“Therefore the scientist, and above all the Christian scientist, must adopt the approach of posing questions regarding the future of humanity and of the earth, and, of being free and responsible, helping to prepare it and preserve it, to eliminate risks to the environment of both a natural and human nature,” Pope Francis said. “But, at the same time, the scientist must be motivated by the confidence that nature hides, in her evolutionary mechanisms, potentialities for intelligence and freedom to discover and realize, to achieve the development that is in the plan of the creator.”

CBS News:

Francis said the poor need land, a roof over their head and work, and said he knew well that “If I talk about this, some will think that the pope is communist.”

“They don’t understand that love for the poor is at the center of the Gospel,” he said. “Demanding this isn’t unusual, it’s the social doctrine of the church.”

Francis has already been branded a Marxist by conservative U.S. commentators for his unbridled criticism of capitalist excesses, for his demand that governments redistribute social benefits to the needy, and his call for the church to be a “poor church, for the poor.”

His speech Tuesday broadened his concerns to include the environment, the rights for farmers to have land, and for young people to have work. He promised that the concerns of the poor would be highlighted in his upcoming encyclical on ecology and the environment.

“Today I want to unite my voice with yours and accompany you in your fight,” he said.

Among those in the audience were Argentine “cartoneros,” who sift through garbage looking for recyclable goods. As archbishop of Buenos Aires, then-Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio was particularly close to the cartoneros; as pope he has maintained his support for their plight.

Francis had an informal meeting Tuesday with Bolivian President Evo Morales, who was part of the delegation.

A reader sent a link that fits about here.

And then that got me thinking about  the item below.

Read this, then  click on the link and watch the video there. I’ll wait.


Bolivia is set to pass the world’s first laws granting all nature equal rights to humans. The Law of Mother Earth, now agreed by politicians and grassroots social groups, redefines the country’s rich mineral deposits as “blessings” and is expected to lead to radical new conservation and social measures to reduce pollution and control industry.

The country, which has been pilloried by the US and Britain in the UN climate talks for demanding steep carbon emission cuts, will establish 11 new rights for nature. They include: the right to life and to exist; the right to continue vital cycles and processes free from human alteration; the right to pure water and clean air; the right to balance; the right not to be polluted; and the right to not have cellular structure modified or genetically altered.

Controversially, it will also enshrine the right of nature “to not be affected by mega-infrastructure and development projects that affect the balance of ecosystems and the local inhabitant communities”.

“It makes world history. Earth is the mother of all”, said Vice-President Alvaro García Linera. “It establishes a new relationship between man and nature, the harmony of which must be preserved as a guarantee of its regeneration.”

The law, which is part of a complete restructuring of the Bolivian legal system following a change of constitution in 2009, has been heavily influenced by a resurgent indigenous Andean spiritual world view which places the environment and the earth deity known as the Pachamama at the centre of all life. Humans are considered equal to all other entities.

But the abstract new laws are not expected to stop industry in its tracks. While it is not clear yet what actual protection the new rights will give in court to bugs, insects and ecosystems, the government is expected to establish a ministry of mother earth and to appoint an ombudsman. It is also committed to giving communities new legal powers to monitor and control polluting industries.


26 Responses to “Pope Francis: Destroying Environment a “grave sin”.”

  1. tildeb Says:

    The Catholic version of evolution is euphemistically called theistic evolution because although it allows for changes to life over time by certain natural processes it denies the most basic tenet of evolution as understood scientifically, namely the mechanism of natural selection when it comes to humans. This theistic belief is incompatible with the explanatory model we call evolutionary theory. At the core, some version of intervening divine creationism resides within all religious views and this acts only to pollute the theory with some kind of Oogity Boogity utilizing the mechanism of Poof!ism. This is not ‘acceptance’ of science by any stretch of the imagination but a belief contrary to its methodology.

    • jpcowdrey Says:

      “… some version of intervening divine creationism resides within all religious views …”

      I would suggest, evolutionary acceptance is a problem arising mostly from monotheistic religion. Not necessarily from creation mythology, as much as literalist fundamentalists cling to such beliefs, but from the implied threat to traditional doctrines of the perfection of God and inerrancy of Scripture. Buddhism, Taoism, and various indigenous religious traditions like the above cited Quechua beliefs, not so much.

      I would further suggest, religion at its ‘core’ does not generally concern itself with acquiring empirical objective knowledge of the material world, as science does; but in establishing and maintaining a cultural tradition of spiritual practice, and/or ritual observation, for coping with the purely subjective experience of existing as a vulnerable and mortal, conscious entity in a material world seemingly indifferent to one’s innate desire to avoid suffering and secure happiness.

      In this context the OggityBoogitiness of religion has little to do with material reality, but with reining in the uncontrolled dream-like transience (Poof!) of our subjective thoughts and emotions.


      • tildeb Says:

        jp, this may all be true, but theistic evolution is a material causal claim subject to arbitration not by belief – as those seeking accommodation would have us think is all fine and dandy and oh-so-tolerant – but by reality… a rather brutal judge. Investigating how reality operates and by what mechanisms is the purview of science and therein lies the incompatibility. The faith of a Pope is no different in methodology than the faith of a climate change denier: a method that imposes one’s belief on reality and then claims it represents it. All the rest – notions that the religious method in its proper place produces all this comfort, spirituality, metaphor, meaning – is just blowing smoke over the claim that an interactive causal divine agency actually creates stuff and affects evolution. That’s the papal claim and it is empty of knowledge value.

        • jpcowdrey Says:


          Theistic evolution is not a monolithic theological construct. Not all varieties invoke causal divine intervention in the material universe. Some merely suggest divine origination and material causality as divine intent. The deist position going back to Newton, Liebnitz, et al. is one such. The scientific problem is not with physics or biology, but cognitive science. As far as I’m aware, there is no robust scientific definition of consciousness.

          Faith is not an attribute of empirical knowledge. It is an attribute of self knowledge. Ignoring the affective dimension of sentient existence in favor of some mythical belief in pure reason is a crippling dysfunction in that regard.

          • tildeb Says:


            If all creationists did was suggest that maybe, perhaps, possibly, the universe and all it contains was a “divine intent” we wouldn’ be having this conversation. What are facing is specific material claims of causation presented by fiat as if equivalently as explanatory and reasonable and accommodating with evolution. It isn’t. That’s utter nonsense and no sophisticated tweaking of terms will make it so.

            I have no problem with people believing whatever they want. (And yes, science has a lot to say to help us better understand why mind is what the brain does… a rather “robust scientific definition”in matters of biological function that produces the emergent property we call ‘consciousness’.)

            But I do have a problem with people – especially people in positions of religious authority like the Pope – who cross the boundary you insist they respect with the incredible assertion that faith is not an attribute of empirical knowledge! Well, jp, tell that to the Pope!

            Let’s be very clear here: when someone MAKES an empirical claim about causal effects in the real world on the justification of faith, then they present it as if it were an attribute of empirical knowledge. Don’t blame me for taking the Pope at his word. I’m just the one saying, “It is not an empirical claim that has any knowledge value and we shouldn’t treat it as if it had any.”

            You’re the one excusing this blatant incursion and pretending its merely it’s an “attribute of self knowledge.”


            The world’s press didn’t jump on this claim as if compelling reasons to accept climate change were suddenly available; they reported on it because the Pope suddenly pronounced it to be theologically acceptable… the very worst possible reason to accept the explanatory model of how we are changing our climate. I suppose we should be ever-so-grateful that it didn’t take the papacy another 400 years to come around to accommodate the scientific consensus in its Oogity Boogity.

    • jimbills Says:

      You don’t approve of their methodology, and that’s fine. But if you think they’re going to change that methodology, you’re smoking something pretty fierce. I know a lot of these people. They’d rather die than give up their faith. It’s an essential part of how they view themselves, others, and the world.

      So, when a leader to over a billion people (1/7th the entire human population) – http://www.pewforum.org/2013/02/13/the-global-catholic-population/ – says it’s wrong to harm the environment, for whatever his personal reasons, I’ll freaking take it. I won’t gripe about how he got there.

      • tildeb Says:

        Understanding why it’s important not to degrade the environment is not furthered by pretending the Pope’s reasoning is compatible with respecting science. It isn’t. It’s in conflict with it. Just because a broken clock may be accurate twice a day is not a very good reason for pretending it accurately depicts the passage of time. Just because this Pope assures us that we are the caretakers of his god’s creation, which btw just so happens to be compatible with evolution when it isn’t, doesn’t mean that’s a good reason for taking care of it. There are much, much better reasons to do so that are not attached to superstitious belief and we do not help promote those better reasons and respect for how they arrived at by pretending supernatural beliefs are our allies in the gaining of applicable and practical knowledge about how the world operates and how to address problems we are creating in it.

        You also assume this leader actually represents a significant portion of the human race when every indication is that this is a very, very thin veneer advertised by the Church. For example, 10% of self-identified Catholics in Ireland – a most Catholic of countries – don’t even believe in God! (survey).

        Should we treat the environment with respect? Sure. Should we do it for good reasons? Yes. Should we teach these reasons to the next generation? Yes. The tool to accomplish this is not religion. And we don’t accomplish teaching these reasons by pretending someone who believes in actual demons and the effectiveness of exorcisms is an equivalent voice worthy of respect to those of earth scientists who strive to gain knowledge of how the world works and by what natural mechanisms.

        • jimbills Says:

          The Pope is one of the most influential people on the planet. Sure, Catholics are a mixed lot, and not everyone agrees with him. The point, that he carries significant weight on this planet, doesn’t change:

          The goal here should be to change our cultural outlook in regards to how we interact with nature. I happen to agree that there are a lot of elements of Christianity that make this goal VERY difficult, if not impossible.

          But you’re not going to change their entire approach, or methodology. I think it’s pointless, and rather insane, to try and change these people on that sort of level. You don’t reach people by treating them like the enemy. They’ll only view you in the same way, and if anything they’ll react more strongly against you. That’s just the way people work.

          When someone of such significant influence starts speaking to these people in a language they can relate to, I don’t care what that language is as long as the message is right. They’re still getting the message that we have to change how and what we’re doing on this planet. It’ll carry a million times more influence than comparing them to a prostitute from the Dominican Republic:

          • tildeb Says:

            jb, you write, But you’re not going to change their entire approach, or methodology. I think it’s pointless, and rather insane, to try and change these people on that sort of level. You don’t reach people by treating them like the enemy. They’ll only view you in the same way, and if anything they’ll react more strongly against you. That’s just the way people work.

            Au contraire.

            The evidence all points in one direction, namely, that by criticizing bad reasons with better reasons the next generation chooses more wisely. What you perceive as treating religious people as the enemy is, in fact, treating bad ideas with better ones. And that method works. The level of religiosity in younger people is dramatically lower in First World countries because they see these better reasons on display here on the internet (where religions come to die). Countries that do not privilege religious belief are by far the most socially and economically advanced. The US is an outlier, and it there where religious belief in magical solutions runs the most interference in recognizing that real world problems require real world solutions. And that starts by respecting real science more than magical thinking. That recognition is where real solutions must begin and if the religious are offended by the tone of criticism then that’s a very small price to pay. We haven’t got time for such niceties.

          • jimbills Says:

            I would concede that the internet (in its current form) has a democratizing effect that does spread alternative and competing worldviews, but there are several other reasons for the decline of religion in the first world, too.

            I tend to view these trends as impermanent. I think the internet is going to lose its democratizing aspect as time passes, and I believe unstable economies (which I think is a certainty with time) will draw people back to religion.

            Also, I live in the heart of the Bible Belt. The thought that people around me are going to change because of internet debate is pretty funny to me.

            What I think we don’t have time for is 100% conversion to a sort of intellectual purity. Our environment doesn’t give two flips what we think. I’d rather have a fervent evangelical thinking we’ve got to start taking care of our approach to the environment for their own reasons than try to change their entire outlook. I don’t think it’s possible for one thing, and I don’t think we have the time to reach that kind of result.

          • tildeb Says:

            As for the term ‘Oogity Boogity’, I use it in this sense… another term for woo-woo.

        • dumboldguy Says:

          You over-intellectualize here. Take it down to the level of an illiterate peasant whose priest says to him “The Pope says that we should not chop down the tropical rain forest, or kill all the fish, or pollute the water—-because it’s bad for the planet”. That’s a bad thing if he listens to the Pope?

          Actually, you sound like you are simply anti-Catholic, which I have no problem with. I was born and raised Catholic, but fell away many years ago. That doesn’t mean I can’t recognize when the church as a whole or a particular Pope does something praiseworthy.

          • tildeb Says:

            Sustainable policies are not made by such peasants but by literate and educated policy makers. These are the folk who need to pull their heads out of their collective… respect for religious beliefs and stop lending credence to ignorance clothed as piety and start lending much more credence to the scientific community on issues of environmental sustainability.

            Yes, I’m very much anti-theism when it comes to making informed causal claims about the reality we share but don’t mistake that for being anti-theist. We’re all on the same boat here, Mother Earth, and we all face the same long term causal effects from environmental degradation. But respecting the kind of captaincy that parrots the navigator’s concerns while plotting a course onto the well-charted reef is the kind of foolishness that religious leadership excels at.

            And for those who criticize those of us who point out the dangers of respecting the self-appointed captain’s supposed navigational expertise, please reconsider your priorities. The ship is in danger and the solution isn’t to bolster the captain’s ego or massage the loyalty of the crew. It’s to change course and allow respect for the real navigator to guide us in setting a better one.

        • lesliegraham1 Says:

          “The tool to accomplish this is not religion.”

          If we are prepared to accept ‘help’ from an organisation of disgusting deluded bronze-age mythologists who have been responsible for some of the worst crimes against humanity in the history of the world and even now act as a front for an international peadophile ring then there is no hope.
          Even being remotely associated with this regressive, oppresive and explotative anti-scientific corporation is to lose all credibility.

          They are part of the problem and always have been.

      • dumboldguy Says:

        “When a leader to over a billion people says it’s wrong to harm the environment, for whatever his personal reasons, I’ll freaking take it. I won’t gripe about how he got there”.

        I agree, and rather than continue to try to wrap my head around jpc’s very literary metaphysical musings (I’m just a dumb old guy), I’ll just throw in my two cents.

        “Religion” began back when primitive man was simply scared s**tless by a world he did not understand and could not control. He invented “gods” to explain what went on around him, and gave them human attributes—-he attempted to propitiate those gods, and some humans became “priests” in the “religions” because they were able to sling BS better than others. As the true nature of man appeared, “religion” was used to control groups of humans and get them to slaughter their fellow man in the name of “god”. When science finally made enough progress to offer alternative and rational explanations for many of the things that scared people, the most evolved humans on the planet began to question “religion” and think for themselves. Unfortunately, the least evolved humans turned into bible-thumping fundamentalists, fascists, capitalists, free-marketers, corporation executives, and Republicans, and they are wreaking havoc on all of mankind and every living thing on the planet. (The gospel according to DOG).

        • anotheralionel Says:

          You may, or may not, like this bookmark 1Mb which I put together a few years ago, the words express the sentiment rather succinctly I think and the other images are self explanatory. Designed to be placed repeatedly side by side across an A4 landscape sheet for printing and separating.

  2. dumboldguy Says:

    The Bolivians (and Ecuadorians) get it. Why don’t we?

    • Isn’t Bolivia also going strong for natural gas extraction?

      Fine sentiments can go astray many ways.  We’ll see if these stay true until they get to where the rubber meets the road.

      • greenman3610 Says:

        indeed. it would be great if they can come up with some kind of magic bullet answer. time will tell.

        • rayduray Says:

          The Bolivians already own the magic bullet of the battery age. Lithium reserves in abundance. However, there seems to be little will or expertise to exploit this resource.

      • dumboldguy Says:

        Bolivia is just about the poorest country in S. America, and does make a lot of money (for them) from exporting natural gas to Brazil and Chile (and Argentina maybe?). The country has been exploited by outsiders for centuries, particularly by silver and tin miners, and much of the wealth went into the hands of foreign corporations and the rich.

        They have been in “power to the people” mode for a couple of decades and we shall see if they can carry through. I wouldn’t expect them to forego the pittance they make (compared to us) from fossil fuels because we want them to, but they ARE at least talking a good game.

  3. […] Pope Francis made an impact this week with a ringing defense of science, and the environment. Ever since the Galileo thing, the Catholic church has been a little self-conscious on the science stuff…  […]

  4. indy222 Says:

    I thank tildeb for telling it like it is, uncompromisingly. Don’t let the temptation for a Kumbaya moment take away from the ultimate truth of things. Still, it’s a good thing for the future that the Pope’s back-pedalling so furiously. It’s about time – 400 years after Galileo.

  5. […] front in The Enviro Show Echo Chamber we find the Pope making it absolutely clear it is a “grave sin against God the creator” to destroy the […]

  6. […] week Pope Francis stood up for a scientific world view, including defending evolutionary biology (that is, uh, well ..biology) and the importance of a […]

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