Philip Kitcher in the LA Review of Books:
SIXTY YEARS AGO, Anglican children used to sing, with some gusto, a hymn extolling the beauties of the Earth, from “Greenland’s icy mountains” and “India’s coral strand” to other examples of the Creator’s artistry. Two lines, however, suggested a glitch in the divine plan: our planet is a place where “every prospect pleases, / And only man is vile.” Caught up in our singing, we paid little attention. Few of us were budding deep ecologists.
If humanity were originally charged with the stewardship of a wonderfully designed world, as the story in Genesis claims, then it is easy to think we have failed in our responsibilities. We have modified the Earth’s surface — as well as the oceans and the atmosphere — in all manner of unattractive ways. But then, so have other species. Beetles have devastated elm trees around the globe. Ants have altered the vegetation and topography of regions they have invaded. Ivy, gypsy moths, and beavers have wrought their own kinds of devastation. Perhaps we have acted on a vaster scale than other species, but it seems unfair to charge Homo sapiens as uniquely vile.
If the idea of stewardship is taken seriously, it must be rethought.