Date of this Version

January 1999

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Details

Harrison, Peter (1999) ‘Subduing the Earth: Genesis 1, Early Modern Science, and the Exploitation of Nature’, The Journal of Religion 79 (1) pp. 86-109.

© 1999 University of Chicago Press

Access The Journal of Religion homepage.


[Extract] : In a short paper which appeared thirty years ago in the journal Science, historian Lynn White, Jr., suggested that in "the orthodox Christian arrogance toward nature" may be found the ideological source of our contemporary environmental woes. The Christian doctrine of the creation sets the human being apart from nature, advocates human control of nature, and implies that the natural world was created solely for our use. The biblical text that best exemplifies this view is Gen. 1:28: "And God said to them 'Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.'" In the Christian Middle Ages, according to White, we already encounter evidence of attempts at the technological mastery of nature, and of those incipient exploitative tendencies that come to full flower in scientific and technological revolutions of later eras. All of this is attributed to the influence of Judeo-Christian conceptions of creation. Christianity, White concludes, "bears a huge burden of guilt for environmental deterioration."



This document has been peer reviewed.


To view the content in your browser, please download Adobe Reader or, alternately,
you may Download the file to your hard drive.

NOTE: The latest versions of Adobe Reader do not support viewing PDF files within Firefox on Mac OS and if you are using a modern (Intel) Mac, there is no official plugin for viewing PDF files within the browser window.