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In Defence of Cal DeWitt
and his Song of a Scientist

Andrew Basden
Professor of Human Factors and Philosophy in Information Systems, University of Salford.

Calvin DeWitt has published Song of a Scientist, in which he poetically and beautifully expounds his belief that the Creation is wonderful and we are given responsibility to bless it. (It is very similar to my developing New View in Theology and Practice.)

Cal Beisner, of the Cornwall Alliance, has written what he calls a review article of Cal DeWitt's book. The first part, of 8 pages, of the review is full of praise, but in the rest, 19 pages, Beisner not only tries to undermine DeWitt's view, peddling Beisner's own version of hostility to what is so important to DeWitt. I want to defend Cal DeWitt, and will do so by considering several of Beisner's main points. Also, at the end, I will say some things directly about Beisner.


1. On Environmentalists Mentioned by DeWitt

Cal DeWitt points out that of five key environmentalists over the past two centuries -- George Perkins Marsh, John Muir, Theodore Roosevelt, Also Leopold and Rachel Carson -- four had deep Christian roots in the Reformed tradition. With this, DeWitt is trying to point out that the roots of environmental thinking are Christian / Biblical, rather than Humanist. It is the Biblical view, rather than the Humanist view, that the rest of creation is valuable under God, and not just there for human exploitation.

Beisner tries to undermine DeWitt's argument here by arguing that none of these was a "Biblically informed Christian". According to him, Rachel Carson followed Albert Schweitzer's reverence for life rather than orthodox Christianity. He claims that John Muir apparently went away from the Presbyterian emphasis on original sin, and found God via nature rather than the Bible [But see Note 1 on Beisner's treatment of Muir.].

DeWitt has written a book intended to be readable by non-Christians. In 1975 Lynn White published a suggestion that CHristianity is to blame for the environmental crisis, and Christians have felt this sting ever since. One thing that DeWitt is trying to do is to counter that suggestion by showing that the Christian Gospel and Biblical worldview are in fact responsible for environmental concern and action.

Even though DeWitt's five might not be the kind of evangelical Christians we know today, able to sign our current doctrinal statements, in no way does Beisner's argument undermine DeWitt's main point. DeWitt argues for indirect as well as direct impact of the Gospel and Biblical Worldview.

The indirect impact works as follows: When God gave His only Begotten Son so that those who believe in Him should not perish but have everlasting life [John 3:16], God's reason for doing this was love for the world [see also below]. Those in whom the Spirit dwells, act and live among others in the way Jesus would, and this affects those others. God's people act as role models, and through them the mindset of society is changed and the whole creation experiences blessing.

Psalm 104 tells me that God delights when his creation works well together, and that includes people whether evangelicals or not. So if environmentalists are stimulated to do what is right in God's eyes, then is that not something to welcome?

Whether John Muir was one of those with "everlasting life" and indwelled by the Holy Spirit, or was one of those affected by this, his actions and motivations had their source in the Gospel and the Biblical worldview. Thereby God is glorified and His Creation is loved and protected more by humanity than it otherwise would have been. Why should Beisner criticise DeWitt for citing John Muir?

It is incontrovertible that God works through those who are not necessarily personally saved -- Cyrus being a key example among many. So why cannot God work through John Muir, Rachel Carson and others? I believe that is the point that Cal DeWitt was trying to make, and which Cal Beisner refuses to consider.

Moreover, I have discovered that many who come to Christ from outwith a Christian culture are attracted via those whom we evangelicals might consider 'dodgy'? It seems the Holy Spirit is less fussy in choice of role models than Beisner is.

For more Biblical exposition of the role of God's people in this process, see Representing God.

2. On Scriptural Texts

Cal DeWitt makes use of interpretations of some verses that I too have discovered and believe to be important -- yet I too long ignored. Cal Beisner goes to enormous lengths to try to undermine these interpretations, but his arguments are shaky.

John 3:16

John 3:16 tells us that the reason God sent His Only Begotten Son was because God so loved, not just human beings, but "the world", Greek kosmos. Cal DeWitt argues that salvation is for the whole world not just human beings; Cal Beisner argues that it means only human beings.

The mechanism behind the logic of saving the entire world is that God chose to love the world via His people who would represent Him in his world, rather than only directly. This occurs because those who believe, are indwelt by the Holy Spirit. As the Spirit's fruit grows, and they live a Spirit-filled 'eternal' life, and become as mature sons (Gk hious) of God -- those who will treat the Creation as God their Father would: with love, joy, peace, patience, and so on [Romans 8:14,19-23, Gal 5:22-23]. See exposition of this.

Beisner does not like this. From his anti-environmentalist writings elsewhere, it is clear that he wants to find only the traditional human-centric view in the Bible, that all the rest of creation is there solely for our use as resources. To defend his view, Beisner tries to argue for the tradional Humanist / Scholastic interpretation of John 3:16, that salvation is only for humans and not for the rest of Creation (ignoring Romans 8 saying clearly that the Creation itself will also be set free).

Beisner's view owes more to Scholasticism and Humanism than to the Bible, even though many Christians might hold it. Scholasticism treats Nature as inferior and of little value except to serve 'sacred' offices. Humanism holds humanity to be the centre and origin of all meaning, and that all should serve humanity's wishes.

Beisner argues that kosmos has a wide semantic range and criticises DeWitt for selecting just one interpretation in that range. Indeed it does. The semantic range of kosmos includes: the ordered universe, surface of the earth, world system, system of practices of society, people associated with such system, adornment, totality, etc. However, Beisner does exactly what he accuses DeWitt of, dogmatically selecting just one interpretation. Indeed, Beisner does worse than Dewitt in that, while DeWitt is happy to embrace all the interpretations, Beisner denies all those that do not suit him.

If a word has a wide semantic range, should we not take up the possibility that the word as used in a particular verse might in fact have at least connotations of that range. If God had wanted the verse to be as clearly restricted to human beings as Beisner wishes, would not John 3:16 have used a different Greek word instead, one which unmistakeably denotes only humanity? In addition, would it not be more reasonable -- and also more glorious -- to see Christ's salvation aimed at all these: salvation aimed at the totality, both human and non-human?

Why does Beisner have a problem with God saving the entire creation? It may be that DeWitt over-emphasises one of the meanings in this range (salvation for the non-human). But is this is not justifiable in that what has long been overlooked deserves special emphasis? DeWitt might thus have an excuse for over-emphasis of one meaning. But Beisner has no such excuse! The meaning he over-emphasises is one that has long been dominant (salvation for humans alone) and needs no such special emphasis. Again, is Beisner more influenced by Humanism and Scholasticism than by the Bible, despite his knowledge of Biblical texts; see [below]?

Revelation 11:18

Revelation 11:18 finds the angels calling upon God to "destroy those who destroy the earth" as well as vindicating God's people. Here the Greek for earth is ge -- from which we get 'geology'. Cal DeWitt suggests that climate change might fit this meaning and that it concerns God; this is the clear meaning of Rev 11:18 for today. Cal Beisner however wants to deny climate change is a problem (see his Renewed Call), so he tries to find a way of explaining this away.

Beisner's attempt is as follows. He claims that "ge in Revelation "not always but frequently" denotes 'God's people'". He gets this from a commentator, not by going directly to the verses and checking them. Looking through the more than 70 occurrences of ge in Revelation recorded in Young's Concordance, I can find not one in which ge means God's people. On the contrary, all of the occurrences can refer to the physical earth. Beisner's view is false.

Is it possible that DeWitt's interpretation of Rev 11:18 is one that is meant specifically for today, by the Holy Spirit of God? This interpretation had long been overlooked, probably because we did not understand until relatively recently that humanity could "destroy the earth". Was not Daniel told that some prophecies have their meanings hidden until a later time? Only later would their meaning would become clear. Perhaps, now that humanity is at the stage that it has population and power to damage entire planetary systems like the seas and the climate, the meaning of Revelation 11:18 is being revealed.

Jeremiah 2:7

Jeremiah 2:7 says "I brought you into a plentiful land ... you defiled the land and made my heritage an abomination." Cal DeWitt interprets this as referring to pollution of soil and water and to over-use by intensive farming. Cal Beisner does not like the idea of environmental sins, so counters this by pointing out that what defiles the land are things like idolatry, forsaking Jahweh, rejecting God's prophets, fraud, etc. Beisner actually lists over two dozen of these sins from Jeremiah, and none is an 'environmental' sin.

I mainly agree with Beisner here -- but I take a different implication from that which Beisner takes. Environmental damage might not be mentioned as a sin in itself in Jeremiah (though it is mentioned in a few other places as a sin). However, environmental damage is a result of the many kinds of sins of people. Hosea 4:3 also makes that clear:

"Because of this [their sins listed in verse 2] the land mourns and all who live in it waste away, the beasts of the field and the birds of the air and the fish of the sea are dying."

The mechanism that operates here is that, how humankind behaves will affect the rest of Creation. After all, humankind is meant to be God's representatives to the rest of creation, so everything that humanity does will affect the rest of creation. Does not God have compassion on all He made [Psa 145: 9,13]? If so, He would be angry with our destruction of it, just as He is angry with idolatry. Indeed idolatry and destruction of the earth go together. In Beisner's own nation do we not see the idolatry of money, idolatry of technology and idolatry of power, all of which result in damage to the world? [see an expansion of this].

There is a principle in Scripture that leaders -- those who have been given responsibility -- have the greater guilt [especially in Hosea, Micah, Hebrews and James]. Those who represent God have been given responsibility and so bear greater guilt if they fail to represent God properly. Human beings are given the role of representing God to the rest of creation, and Christians are given the role of representing God to the rest of the people. So will not Christians today bear a double responsibility for damage to the world if we side with those who damage it? Beisner and his Cornwall Alliance not only sides with them, but actively encourages them.

Genesis 2:15

Genesis 2:15 tells us that God put the man into the Garden to tend and care for it. Cal DeWitt argues that the Hebrew word abad has strong connotations of 'serving' and that the role of humanity is to 'serve' the rest of creation rather than dominate it; Cal Beisner does not like this, so expends a lot of exegetical energy on trying to show that the Hebrew words denote strong dominion and subduing.

DeWitt has looked at four versions of the Bible, and argues that the abad is variously translated 'work', 'till', 'guard', 'dress' and 'serve'. [See Note 2 on Beisner's passing sneer.] From this, DeWitt argues that humankind should serve, not exploit, the rest of creation.

It is a theme that I also have discovered, rejoice in and glorify God for; in my version, I argue that humankind is called to be, not mere consumers of the rest of creation, nor even mere stewards, but shepherds of the rest of creation. Our dominion is for the sake of the rest of creation rather than for our own convenience comfort or pleasure. Just like the shepherd's dominion over sheep is for the sake of the sheep, not for their own sake, as Ezekiel 34 makes clear. Just like the good shepherd's willingness to lay down his life for the sheep, rather than protect his own interests, as in John 10.

To counter DeWitt, Beisner fixes on the claim that only one translation out of 18 versions of the Bible translates abad as "serve". He also argues that radah, the word translated "rule over" in Genesis 1:26-28, refers to forceful dominion. "Why is this disagreement over translation so important?" asks Beisner, "Because on the foundation of his choice of translation, Cal builds the whole edifice of his understanding of man's relationship with the creation as one of service to the earth rather than dominion over it." Rightly said, Cal Beisner! And likewise, the whole edifice of your understanding is built on your view that abad cannot mean serve.

So, let us look at the use of abad throughout Scripture, and not just in Genesis 2:15. In the KJV, abad is translated:

The overall meaning of abad is clear: to undertake some formative action for the sake of the object, to develop or help the object. Is not Calvin DeWitt fully vindicated in holding that our relationship with the Garden is one of service? That the majority translation of abad is 'serve', seems to me a very sound foundation on which to build DeWitt's "edifice"? By contrast, Beisner's "edifice", which rests on his claim in Cornwall's Renewed Call, that abad should be linked with workship, which is of very limited and specific application, does not have such a strong foundation.

Beisner makes much of the Hebrew word radah in Genesis 1:26-28, which he says means forceful dominion. However, as I have argued in a page devoted Radah, it is much more likely to mean something similar to service. The same word radah is used in Ezekiel 34, where God condemns forceful dominion by the 'shepherds' over the sheep. The kind of dominion that God wants shepherds to have over sheep, is exercised for the sake of the sheep rather than for the sake of the shepherds. Does not the "good shepherd" have the attitude of laying down his life for the sheep?

3. Traditional Interpretations?

It may be that the Beisner's view is close to one that has traditionally been widely held. But is that an indication that it is what God wants, and especially what God wants now? The traditional view emerged from Scholastic view of the ultimate unimportance of nature, and the Humanist view of the absolute supremacy of humanity. In God's eyes, traditional views are usually wrong because, throughout history, God's people have misinterpreted God' word and misunderstood God's character and Plan -- from the people of Israel a few months out of Egypt, through their settled period, through the times of the prophets, through the time of Jesus, right up to the present day.

Because of this, God has often acted in such a was as to surprise us. God provided during the desert. God told the people through the prophets that justice and care with faithfulness were more important than religion. Jesus was entirely different from the kind of Messiah they expected. The Reformation came from small beginnings, as did the Wesleyan movement, the abolition of the slave trade, the Evangelical movements, the missionary movements, and the Pentecostal movements. All have been God's working, and each was different from previous ones.

At every turn, there have been those known as God's people who have resisted what God is doing anew. They have been found "fighting against God" and they have not prevailed. Is Beisner likewise "fighting against God". It does not behove us to stubbornly defend traditional interpretations as Beisner does, especially when they owe a considerable amount to Humanism and Scholasticism.

4. On Government Action and Climate Responsibility

Cal DeWitt sees some role for government action -- though nowhere near as much role as many do. Cal Beisner wants to minimise role for government. I myself am agnostic about it, but observe that anti-governmentism seems almost like a religion among many in the United States of America. I agree that big overweening government is bad, but so are big overweening corporations, big overweening insurance industry, and big overweening media; all seem evil to me, and are a result of sin. Arguably, their dominance results from God's people having withdrawn from public engagement into either antagonism or acquiescence for a hundred years.

What Beisner especially wants governments not-to-do is to take responsibility for climate change. So, in his attack on DeWitt, Beisner repeats tired old arguments against climate responsibility, which I have countered in my response to the Renewed Call.

Beisner tries to cite Abraham Kuyper against Cal DeWitt, who likewise likes Kuyper. I share a similar regard for Kuyper and the Reformational Philosophy movement that God used him to set going. However, though Kuyper was a genius used of God in the early 1900s, his views are by no means identical with God's revelation. Kuyper's view of sovereignty of each institution of society in its own sphere is helpful -- especially in guarding against a dominant economism that Beisner advocates in the Cornwall Alliance's Renewed Call.

5. Conclusion

Cal DeWitt's a beautiful Song of a Scientist does not need defending as such; just read it. However, he is under attack, because of his beliefs that God's people should take the lead in looking after the rest of Creation rather than exploiting it. My 'defence' has been to show that the attacker, Cal Beisner, is wrong in the attacks he makes.

In his first 8 pages Beisner seems to come with a smile on his face towards Cal DeWitt, but the 19 pages after that show malice in his heart. Beisner is chief spokeperson for the Cornwall Alliance, which has a website that wishes to resist "the Green Dragon" (environemtalism). Beisner is lead author of their infamous Renewed Call, which contains many flaws. However, in his attack on Cal DeWitt, his flaws are clear.

Beisner seems too keen to criticise DeWitt. DeWitt argues that Biblical attitude lies at the root of much environmentalism. He cites four environmentalists for whom this is true, but Beisner finds fault with them on the grounds that they are not full evangelicals. However, is it not the Plan of God that His gospel will, via His own people, have an effect on the behaviour of the people of the world, and that goodness will spread to the glory of Christ? (It also seems that Beisner has not read some of them directly, but relies on hostile commentators.) Both experience and Scripture both show that the Holy Spirit is less fussy in choice of people He uses than Beisner is.

DeWitt examines four Scriptures to show how, in Scripture, we find the environment important to God. Beisner tries to undermine that by arguing about Greek and Hebrew words, criticising DeWitt for selecting one interpretation rather than another. However, Beisner does exactly what he accuses DeWitt of, only worse, with both Greek kosmos and hebrew abad, whereas DeWitt selects the majority and wider meaning in both cases. Is the word hypocrite too strong to use on Beisner?

That Beisner has what has been the traditional interpretation of some of these does not mean he is right; throughout history, the establishment view has usually been wrong in God's eyes, and it is the establishment who have usually resisted the work of the Holy Spirit. The 'Christian' establishment view that God saves only humans and not the entire creation, owes more the Scholastic and Humanist presuppositions than to the Bible. DeWitt has done us a service in opening our eyes to what the Scripture really is saying.

Finally, where Beisner's heart really is, may be revealed by his trying to denounce DeWitt's acceptance that some government action might be necessary to limit climate change emissions. Where a person's treasure is, there will he heart be also, said Jesus. What Beisner seems to most 'treasure' is freedom from government action.

So the conclusion is: In view of these flaws, is Beisner worth listening to?

Notes & References

Calvin B. Dewitt. 2012. Song of a Scientist: The Harmony of a God-Soaked Creation

Note 1. Beisner does not cite much of Muir directly but rather an anti-environmentalist, Nelson, who tried to do a hatchet job on Muir. Citing Nelson, Beisner claims Muir did not believe in the atoning work of CHrist. If this is so, it is curious that Muir, in his Autobiography, cites Jesus Christ as dying for others.

Note 2. Beisner casts a passing sneer here: "That's curious, because that's five translations, not four -- and none offers serve." Actually, Cal Beisner, you are the foolish one: Cal DeWitt was not referring to translation of abad only in Genesis 2:15, but to translations of abad in all places where it occurs. There you will find five (and more) translations.

Houghton, J. Sir, Tavner G. 2013. In the Eye of the Storm: The Autobiography of Sir John Houghton. Lion Hudson plc, Oxford, UK.

This page is an expression of part of a project to understand the links between climate change, global economy and other matters including society's beliefs and aspirations. It is designed to stimulate thinking and discourse, but this page is unlike most of the others, in that it is more provocative. Comments, queries welcome.

This page is written on behalf of the CCGE Group by Andrew Basden, but the views expressed herein are his and not necessarily those of the other members of the Group. Written on the Amiga with Protext.

Created: 1 December 2014. Last updated: 21 July 2015 rewritten. 26 July 2015 conclusion.