The modern day philosopher Mary Midgley has helped me understand how western perceptions of nature have fluctuated over time through reading her book ‘Science as Salvation, A Modern Myth and its Meaning’. Moving away from the awe and wonder the ancients felt for the physical world, I am particularly interested in the imagery used by modern science describing nature as “a seductive but troublesome female, to be unrelentingly pursued, sought out, fought against, chased into her innermost sanctuaries, prevented from escaping, persistently courted, wooed, harried, vexed, tormented, unveiled and unrobed”. (Midgley, 2013, p77) Words such as ‘penetrated’, ‘pierced’, and ‘vanquished’, are used about nature at this time, which immediately strikes me as overly brutal and destructive. Midgley suggests that the reason for such sexist and violent language among the early modern scientists was that “the pioneers of modern science had an image of themselves as different from most earlier learning in being more workman like, more suggestive of physical violence, this physicality together with the fact that they really did want to make big changes, led them to revel in drastic language.” (Midgley, 2013, p79) I feel this may pinpoint when our modern western view of nature began to develop and when our respect and awe turned to disregard and defilement.
I feel that these feelings of ownership and sovereignty over nature can also be traced back to our Christian roots. The bible says; “Then God said, let us make man in our image, in our likeness and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the Earth and over the creatures that move along the ground’… God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.” (Genesis 1:26 and 28) Here are direct commands to ‘subdue’ nature and to ‘fill the Earth’ both of these we have certainly accomplished. Here God tells us that we are rulers of Earth, giving us dominion over nature and all creatures, for us to act as we see fit. I believe that this perception of ownership and ruling has led us along a path where we now see ourselves as above and separate from nature , resulting in many of the environmental problems we face today.