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March 9, 2004

Biodiversity, Climate Change.
 
 

Calvin College will provide an early Earth Day present to West Michigan when it hosts renowned British biologist Sir Ghillean Prance (pronounced GILL IAN PRANS) on Tuesday, March 30 for a 7:30 p.m. talk at the Great Hall in the Prince Conference Center.

The talk is a result of a grant to Calvin from the John Templeton Foundation and the American Scientific Affiliation, part of a program to bring better understanding to the areas where faith and science intersect.

Prance, says Calvin professor of biology Hessel Bouma III, provides a stellar example of how science and faith can be combined.

"He is," says Bouma, "both a world-class scientist and a committed Christian. His talk will be a terrific opportunity for anyone interested in learning more about environmental and ecological concerns and our responsibilties as Christians to be good caretakers of our world."

Prance, 66, was educated at Oxford University and then began his career as a biologist at the New York Botanical Gardens, rising to senior vice president for research. He returned to his native England where he became director of the Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew, where he eventually was knighted by the Queen. After his recent retirement he turned his attention to two pet projects: the National Tropical Botanical Garden in Hawaaii and The Eden Project in Cornwall, England, the latter a massive undertaking to convert an abandoned quarry into conservatories (one the largest in the world).

While at Calvin, Prance also will present a seminar on The Eden Project. That will take place on Wednesday, March 31 from 12:30 to 1:30 p.m. in Science Building 010.

On March 30, Prance will address two critical issues in a talk titled: "Can We Allow Climate Change and Biodiversity to Become Extinct?"

In a recent talk about biodiversity, Prance called Hawaii "the extinction capital of the United States," adding that the list of native species of plants that have become extinct number nearly 100, while the same has happened to the native birds of Hawaii.

"Both habitat destruction and introduced alien species of plants and animals are the cause of species loss there," he said.

Prance believes that the world's biodiversity crisis is directly impacted by two important factors: the rising human population numbers and the unequal distribution of wealth. Climate change - global warming, specifically - is also a result of those two factors.

But Prance also believes that the crises in biodiversity and climate change can not be addressed solely through economic appeals. "There is a realisation," he says, "that the crisis is a moral and ethical one and that scientists and ecologists alone will not be able to solve it."

So is there a Biblical basis for saving biodiversity or for becoming more involved in environmental issues.

Prance answers with an emphatic yes.

And in building a case for that answer he hearkens all the way back to Genesis 1 where God said: "Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness, and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth."

Dominion, says Prance, is a word which has often been misunderstood.

"It implies caretaking," he says, "to act as stewards of God’s own purposes. It does not imply the establishment of a competing reign, which is what the fall has led to. Dominion is not domination without justice, but rather responsible rule that does not exploit. The dominion was not God’s authority to use up all the earth’s resources for human needs alone. A problem in the western world has been that many Christian people have taken God’s command of dominion as a divine authorization to exploit the Earth with no thought for the welfare of other cultures, other creatures, the landscape, the mineral resources, the oceans or the atmosphere."

Prance points too to the Biblical story of Noah and the flood as a concrete example of God's will for creation and his charge to its human caretakers. In Genesis 9, he notes, God said to Noah and to his sons: "As for me, I am establishing my covenant with you and with your descendants after you, and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the domestic animals, and every animal of the earth with you, as many as came out of the ark."

"Clearly," Prance says, "God’s covenant was not just with Noah and his descendants, but with the animals. It is quite obvious that it is not God’s will that the animals perish or become extinct. Regardless of their value or perceived value, all species were saved in the ark and to be protected through the covenant. Here is the real biblical basis for the preservation of biodiversity."

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Contact Phil de Haan
616-526-6475 (v)
616-526-7069 (f)
dehp@calvin.edu