Anti-creationists, cloaked in “eco-friendly” green, often scoff at the book of Genesis, blaming many of our environmental problems on the dominion mandate (i.e., God gave mankind dominion over the earth and its creatures) found there.1 Such criticisms by the popular culture echo an ancient hissing sound (i.e., disparaging God’s Word and following the Edenic serpent’s precedent in Genesis 3). But a careful reading of the text proves that such finger-pointing is both illogical and inexcusable because the critics are only attacking a “straw man” caricature of what Genesis actually teaches.
So what is the truth about the dominion mandate, and how does it apply to mankind’s use and care of the earth? For a proper picture of this application in the real world—an illustration of the biblical principle of creation stewardship—we can learn from some Alaskan sled-dogs in the middle of a life-and-death crisis.
Siberian Huskies and Their Drivers Showcase the Dominion Mandate
The crisis was a diphtheria epidemic in Nome, a town on the Bering Sea coast of Alaska, during the winter of 1925. The diphtheria antitoxin in Anchorage needed to be delivered to Nome immediately because townspeople were dying of the disease, but the community was unreachable by air, boat, train, or motor vehicle.
A group of 20 mushers (dogsled drivers) and about 150 sled dogs rushed marathon-style in relay teams across blizzard-blown trails—and even over a dangerous shortcut across a frozen part of a Pacific Ocean inlet called Norton Sound—spanning the 674 miles in five and a half days to deliver the precious vials of life-saving serum to a waiting physician in Nome. For dogsledding, this was the most heroic achievement in history, with speed and distance records set (and still unbroken) and helpless hundreds of quarantined Nome residents saved from the lethal diphtheria epidemic.
One surviving Nome resident was eight-year-old Sigrid Seppala, the only daughter of a Norwegian immigrant, Leonhard Seppala, a well-known musher. His nonstop leg of the cross-country relay covered the worst stretch of terrain, plus the frozen Norton Sound sea-ice that broke up only hours after his dog team traversed it with the serum! Guiding lead dog Togo, Seppala confronted gale-force winds and subfreezing temperatures (‑30OF with a windchill of -85OF) day and night, covering 91 miles—more than twice the distance of any of the other mushers.2 Sigrid and many others sick in Nome were saved by the antitoxin serum.
Fulfilling the dominion mandate surely includes such safeguarding of human lives, many of whom later were fruitful and multiplied, advancing human progress toward filling the earth to God’s glory. God’s dominion mandate was advanced as humans literally “harnessed” the service of well-trained animals.
In light of this positive illustration of the application of the mandate, let us now scrutinize the allegations of Genesis critics who blame the dominion mandate as the root of the world’s environmental abuses.
Critics Blame the Dominion Mandate
In 1967, Lynn White, Jr., a UCLA historian, spoke to an evolutionist audience, accusing Christian theology as the underlying cause of the world’s ecologic crisis. White’s speech was later published in the evolutionary journal Science.3 When analyzing the relationship between biblical Christianity and modern environmental problems, Francis Schaeffer critiqued White’s essay:
In [White’s] article he argued that the crisis in ecology is Christianity’s fault… [saying that, supposedly] Christianity presents a bad view of nature, and so this is carried over into the present-day post-Christian world…bas[ing] his allegations of a “bad view of nature” on the fact that Christianity taught that man had dominion over nature and so man has treated nature in a destructive way.4
Was Schaeffer unfairly critical of White’s assignment of blame to Christianity for mankind’s ecological prodigality? No. Consider White’s own words:
To a Christian a tree can be no more than a physical fact. The whole concept of the sacred grove is alien to Christianity and to the ethos of the West. For nearly two millennia Christian missionaries have been chopping down sacred groves, which are idolatrous because they assume spirit in nature.5
Notice White’s misleading “straw man” attack on Christianity. Either intentionally or negligently, White ignored the Bible’s forest stewardship standard mandated in Deuteronomy 20:19-20, which forbids wanton deforestation as sinful waste.
Because White disliked the environmental impacts that he attributed to Genesis’ dominion mandate, he recommended that it be abandoned. For the sake of environmental values, White advised a substitute—a more eco-friendly religion such as Zen-Buddhism, or a redefined (radical) form of Christianity promoting Zen-like “one-with-nature” harmony (i.e., eco-friendly Franciscan mysticism).
What we do about ecology depends on our ideas of the man-nature relationship. More science and more technology are not going to get us out of the present ecologic crisis until we find a new religion, or rethink (i.e., “reinvent” or “redefine”) our old one.…[White then commends the “one-with-nature” pantheism of Zen-Buddhism]…Zen, however, is as deeply conditioned on Asian history as Christianity is by the experience of the West [sic], and I am dubious of its viability among us.6
Notice that White doesn’t use truth as the norm for selecting a proper religion! But why does he argue that a dominion mandate-based mentality is the eco-unfriendly cause of our environmental problems?
White drastically erred by assuming that Genesis (and thus Christianity) is “anthropocentric” (i.e., the basic assumption that mankind is the center of reality), so the axiomatic idea of nature’s “anthropocentric” purpose needs to be rejected:
Especially in its Western form, Christianity is the most anthropocentric [sic] religion the world has seen.…Hence we shall continue to have a worsening ecologic crisis until we reject the Christian axiom that nature has no reason for existence save to serve man.…Both our present science and our present technology are so tinctured with orthodox Christian arrogance toward nature [sic] that no solution for our ecologic crisis can be expected from them alone.7
Yet the idea that ultimate reality is anthropocentric is never taught in the Bible, except when it quotes God’s enemies! Rather, the Bible teaches that “the earth is the Lord’s, and the fullness thereof”8,9 and that all of creation was made by God to display His own glory—not the glory of man.9,10
In other words, the whole wondrous biosphere was made by God to reveal what kind of glorious being He is. Mankind, God’s favorite part of creation, is given the privilege to live on the earth while learning to know and to glorify Him, and eventually the privilege (if not forfeited by unbelief) of enjoying Him forever.
God commissioned humans to cultivate the earth and to “keep” it (Genesis 2:15). But the earth is always God’s property; mankind is simply God’s steward (manager, trustee) of it, assigned the task of using and caring for it in ways that comply with God’s directives. Nowhere in the Bible is there any hint that mankind is to act unrestricted and unrestrained, to licentiously pillage and pollute the earth and its life forms, exploiting resources as “me-first” parasites and predators.11
An unbiblical, humanity-anchored attitude toward God’s creation is a sin as obvious as scarlet or crimson (Isaiah 1:18). Yet, such a disregard for God’s ownership of the earth may be cloaked in “green” eco-friendly jargon like a watermelon—green on the outside, but red (as sin) on the inside.
God has entrusted Adam’s race with the stewardship of the earth and its fullness, including Siberian huskies. It is our privilege and duty, as God’s trustees, to “harness” that property for God’s glory and mankind’s good, to advance both the dominion mandate and the Great Commission.
- The dominion mandate is so named because the second person plural imperative in the Hebrew text of Genesis 1:28 is translated by the English verbal phrase “have dominion over.” God renewed this creation stewardship mandate with slight modifications to Noah and his family after the Flood (Genesis 9:1-7).
- Salisbury, G. and L. Salisbury. 2005. The Cruelest Miles: The Heroic Story of Dogs and Men in a Race Against an Epidemic. New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 46-245. See also the interview of Jirdes Winther Baxter, 2002, in Alaska: Big America (The History Channel documentary).
- White, L., Jr. 1967. The Historical Roots of our Ecologic Crisis. Science. 155: 3758. The text of White’s essay was reprinted as an appendix to Francis Schaeffer’s book Pollution and the Death of Man (1970, Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House).
- Schaeffer, F. A., 1982. The Complete Works of Francis A. Schaeffer: A Christian Worldview, vol. 5, A Christian View of the West. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 5. (White’s essay is reprinted, pp. 57-69.)
- White, 67.
- White, 64.
- White, 68.
- Genesis 1:1 teaches that God created the heavens and the earth out of nothing, so they are His property; logically, it is a sin to abuse God’s property rights. God condemns arrogant abuse of His physical creation (2 Kings 19:23-28; Deuteronomy 22:6-7; Jeremiah 16:18; Revelation 11:18).
- “The first commandment given to men was to ‘have dominion over the earth’ and to ‘subdue’ the earth (Genesis 1:26-28), acting as God’s steward for the good of mankind and the glory of God, but instead men have destroyed the earth with wars and greed. This dominion mandate is still in effect, and God’s judgment awaits the earth-destroyers” (footnote to Revelation 11:18 from Morris, H. M. 2006. The New Defender’s Study Bible. Nashville, TN: World Publishing, Inc., 2013).
- Psalm 24:1, quoted in 1 Corinthians 10:26.
- Psalm 148; Revelation 4:11.
* Dr. Johnson is Associate Professor of Apologetics and Chief Academic Officer at the Institute for Creation Research.
Cite this article: Johnson, J. J. S. 2013. Siberian Huskies and the Dominion Mandate. Acts & Facts. 42 (6): 18-19.