Conservation Biology

Thursday, July 20, 2006


David Orr. 2005. Armageddon Versus Extinction. Conservation Biology 19 (2): 290-292

In this essay David Orr spells out the differences between conservation biologists and right-wing evangelical Christians as he sees it. His views are based on the current situation in the USA, where he perceives that right-wing evangelical Christians and the State are becoming more and more intertwined. He postulates that because these so-called Christians believe that the end times are near, they are careless stewards of the world’s natural resources, which suits the Bush administration, as it “legitimizes” their total disregard of universal environmental concerns.

David Orr puts it rather bluntly: “… by becoming an active force on the extreme right wing of U.S. politics, conservative evangelicals have made an unholy alliance with the vendors of fossil fuels, climate changers, polluters, sellers of weapons, the military, imperialists, exploiters, political dirty tricksters who assume that the ends they’ve chosen justify whatever means they use, spin artists, those willing to corrupt scientific truth for political gain, and those for whom law and the Constitution are mere scraps of paper… conservative evangelicals are now complicit with the political forces sweeping us toward more terrible violence and avoidable catastrophes of climate change and ecological ruin.” (Orr 2005, page 291)

I can fully identify with David Orr’s concerns. Time is a luxury we do not have, increasing the responsibility of influential world leaders to provide visionary leadership and act towards the common good of all the world’s inhabitants. However, I do believe that he oversimplified some of the issues and painted a caricature picture of ‘evangelical’ Christians in general. There are ‘evangelical’ Christians out there who do care and who are very involved in conservation efforts. They propose constructive engagement of faith communities rather than Orr’s confrontational approach, which will alienate these groups even further. ‘Conservation Theology for Conservation Biologists – a Reply to David Orr’ in the December 2005 Issue of Conservation Biology 19 (6): 1689-1692, is a response that was put together by an international group of Christians from five continents; all professionals in various conservation-related disciplines. They state that although they do agree with many things Orr said, they certainly do not agree with all his opinions. Firstly they feel that he misunderstands the nature of science and religion. Secondly he uses “right-wing conservatives” and “evangelical Christians” synonymously and thirdly they feel that his over-generalized some of the issues. Their strongest objection is that adopting a confrontational approach will do no good, in fact it may only cause more damage and reduce the influence of environmentalists on decision making in general.

They give four reasons why a confrontational approach would be a mistake. It could alienate evangelical Christians worldwide from conservation efforts without changing their beliefs. Presently there are many existing initiatives where Christians and conservationists are working together and these Christian conservationists need the support of the wider conservation fraternity. Christians have an existing network across the world that should rather be used to spread the conservation message. Working together with evangelical Christians, developing this message, is a much wiser option than fighting them. Lastly they feel that Christian theology can provide hope in an otherwise bleak environmental situation!

Read both essay and response and make up your own mind! (There were a few responses to David Orr’s essay as you will see in the December 2005 issue of Conservation Biology.) I have linked the Blackwell Synergy site with the references below, but you wont be able to access the articles unless you are on campus or have a password!


Orr D. 2005. Armageddon Versus Extinction. Conservation Biology 19 (2): 290-292

Various contributors. 2005. Conservation Theology for Conservation Biologists – a Reply to David Orr. Conservation Biology 19 (6): 1689-1692

Karen Marais
BCB Hons NISL student
University of the Western Cape
Private Bag X17