1. University of Virginia
  2. Arts & Sciences

From the Book of Job: Feeding the Lions andThe Conservation of Biological Diversityon a Changing Planet

The “Whirlwind Speech” from the Book of Job, a set of divine questions on the functioning of the planet and its natural systems, provides a starting point to discuss current global environmental issues. The first question from God to Job is, “Gird up your loins like a man, I will question you, and you shall declare to me. ‘Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me if you have understanding.’”[1] Having set a combative tone, God proceeds to interrogate Job as to what he knows of the planet’s creation, its environment, and its animals. Job says that he cannot answer any of these divine questions. One of these divine questions is, “Can you hunt the prey for the lion, or satisfy the appetite of the young lions, when they crouch in their dens, or lie in wait in their covert?[2] This seminar will discuss this astutely challenging question, which goes to the issue of whether humans have the knowledge to conserve planetary biological diversity. The issues discussed include what biological features make an assemblage of animals vulnerable to advertent or inadvertent human actions. Past ecosystem interactions with human cultures in North America, Australia, and the tropical islands of the Pacific reveal the potential for people to radically alter the floras and faunas of novel places. However, the interpretation of these cases is made complex by other factors such as climate change, introduced animals and land-use change. The ultimate question is whether humans can wisely manage the planet as our population reached 7 billion last week, or will reach 8 billion in 18 years, or … The Whirlwind Questions from Book of Job have a “man-in-nature” motif that is in sharp contrast with the “man-in-charge-of-nature” theme in the other creation accounts of the Bible. Certainly, past human history is not prologue for future enlightened environmental management. The past speaks to how difficult it has been for humans to shepherd the planet in past times. Can we care for the “lions.”

Event Date: 
Friday, 4 November 2011 - 1:00pm
H. Hank Shugart
Speaker Title: 
Professor, Department of Environmental Sciences, University of Virginia