Saturday, August 21, 2010

Dominion over Wildlife: Book Review by Rolf Bouma

Rolf Bouma of the University of Michigan published a review of Dominion over Wildlife? An Environmental-Theology of Human-Wildlife Relations (Wipf and Stock, 2009) in the March 2010 issue of ASA Perspectives in Science you can read his review at

As seems to happen so frequently with readers of my book, Bouma simply misses the point.

Here is my response which was finally published in the September issue of the Journal. I sent a copy of my response to Rolf Bouma in early April, 2010, but never received a response.

I appreciated Dr. Rolf Bouma’s willingness to review my book, Dominion Over Wildlife? An Environmental-Theology of Human-Wildlife Relations (Wipf and Stock, 2009) published in the March 2010 issue of Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith (p.62). Reviews constitute a gift of time and as such are to be treated with respect.

By the same token, reviewers have a responsibility to be sure their comments are accurate and in accordance with the goals of the book under review. Unfortunately, some of Dr. Bouma’s statements failed to inform readers of the contours of my argument as well as the volume of evidence presented in support of my view on human-wildlife relations. I will highlight a few examples. First, he insinuated that I was unfair by calling my description of the Christian animal rights position, a “caricature.” That is quite a claim given that I engaged the Christian animal rights activists’ evidentiary appeal to three separate intellectual domains, namely Scripture, ethics, and science. In which section(s) did I mischaracterize their view? Unfortunately, Dr. Bouma did not say nor did he provide one specific instance. Second, his assertion that I failed to appreciate Linzey’s “the greater serves the lesser” argument completely missed the point of my findings (which involved a detailed analysis of his interpretation of Scripture), namely that Scripture provides no support for such a position. In fact, I go to great lengths to show that Christ, the perfect example of what it means to be a Godly and obedient human, never served animals in a manner Linzey suggests. Third, Dr. Bouma’s final paragraph leaves the reader with the impression that my Shepherdist position does not countenance limits on the human use of animals (despite mentioning previously of my support for protecting species viability). Such is clearly not the case as anyone who reads the final chapter would understand (cf. p.172). I contend that Christians are obligated to treat animals in a way appropriate to their owner, namely Christ. Ultimately Dr. Bouma’s suggestion that I engage the thought of Rolston’s theocentric view failed to consider that if my exegesis, ethical reasoning, and use of scientific evidence was correct, then obedience to God’s will as revealed in Scripture and nature is about as theocentric of a view any Christian could hope to obtain.

Regrettably, Dr. Bouma seemed to have been caught up in reacting to theological labels rather than assessing my treatment of the Biblical evidence, the only infallible source for Christian doctrine. Maybe that is why he considered my book more of an apologia rather than a theology. Apparently, he skipped chapter 1 (p.14f), where I explained why the book focused on the consumptive uses of wildlife on account of a. it avoid anachronisms and speculation because the bible mentions on these activities, and b. if humanity’s consumptive use of wildlife violates God’s perfect will, as the Christian animal rights activists claim, then a whole host of human uses of animals are in danger of being immoral as well. To my knowledge, very few environmental-theologies provide such a sustained review of the morality of a concrete, real-world practice (i.e. hunting, trapping, and fishing) followed by suggestions on how Scripture’s answer to consumptive use of wildlife may provide guidance on how humans should utilize the environment. Dr. Bouman certainly has a right to disagree with my evaluation of Scripture, ethics, and science (the last of which he offered no comment), I just wish he took the time to provide some concrete examples of where he saw error.

Stephen M. Vantassel

University of Nebraska-Lincoln

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