Religious and Sacred Views

Religious beliefs influence attitudes toward nature and biodiversity. Just as there are many concepts of religion and what is considered sacred, there are many religious views of nature.

A recent ethnographic study of environmental values by anthropologists concluded that "it seems that divine creation is the closest concept American culture provides to express the sacredness of nature" (that is, Americans have a sense of nature that is linked to their ideas about the divine) (Kempton and others 1995). Survey research has also found links between religious beliefs and environmental concern (see, for example, Eckberg and Blocker 1996). But the links between religion and environmental concern take several different forms. Some find a religious basis for believing that there is order and balance in nature that deserves to be preserved; that can be extended to the idea that every species plays a role in the balance of nature. Some people's beliefs about nature derive from Genesis and its admonition that humans should make productive use of nature. Some of the writings of the transcendentalists and romantics grew out of the idea that people can find evidence in nature of a god as Creator.

The considerable range of religious views of nature (and of most other topics) points toward the difficulties in characterizing all or part of them as a single philosophy of value. But, it makes sense to recognize the possible importance of religious underpinnings of attitudes toward nature. (The committee considered including a discussion of non-Western views here, but that is beyond its expertise and probably of little relevance to most potential users of this report.)

Implications of Various Viewpoints for the Value of Biodiversity

Many people naturally and intuitively distinguish instrumental and intrinsic values—assigning value to something because is serves a valued purpose and because it is valued for itself. Many people ascribe intrinsic value to some aspects of biodiversity. Although there is fairly broad agreement among philosophical traditions about what is meant by instrumental value, there is much less agreement about what is meant by intrinsic value and about how seriously to take the idea that something like biodiversity might have intrinsic value.

If we accept for the moment that intrinsic value means what is ultimately valued, a utilitarian would ascribe intrinsic value to preference satisfaction and welfare; biodiversity would then have only instrumental value. A libertarian would ascribe intrinsic value to freedom, that is, the absence of coercion; again, biodiversity could have only instrumental value. A Kantian might (or might not) determine that respect for (some aspects of) the biota is a universal principle, thereby ascribing intrinsic value to it. A deep ecologist might well ascribe intrin-



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