Attitudes Towards Nature It is hard to understand the medieval attitude toward nature


Francis was born in Assisi in 1181, son of a rich dry-goods merchant



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  • Became a soldier for Assisi, fought against Perugia, later joined the army of Pope Innocent III

  • Had a vision in 1207, Christ appeared from an altar and called him to do God’s work


  • Gave his possessions to the poor, gave his money to the church

  • Father demanded the money for himself, Francis appealed to the bishop, renounced his family and worldly goods, offered his life to the church


  • Good deeds attracted a dozen disciples, formed the nucleus of a new monastic order

  • Francis was so generous that his fellow monks had a hard time keeping him clothed


  • In 1210, Francis asked the Pope for permission to start a formal order of friars, dedicated to good deeds and a lifestyle of poverty


  • Francis died in 1226, at the age of 45, worn down by his sacrifice and hardships

  • Two years later the Roman Catholic Church declared him a saint

  • Francis is an important figure in biology because of his great love of birds and animals

  • He was more like a Buddhist than a Catholic

  • Felt that man needed to practice humility not only as an individual but as a species


  • Francis felt that animals had souls, and that nature should be treated with love and respect

  • Church moved quickly after his death to stamp out these wild ideas


  • Lest we single out Christianity as the ecological villain, we should look at the ecological devastation caused by earlier humans

  • Pleistocene extinction during the last Ice Age, 75% of the large mammals disappeared (mammoths, sabre-toothed tiger, giant cave bear…)


  • Another mysterious disappearance of the inhabitants of Easter Island

  • They destroyed their ecosystem by cutting down their forests

  • Couldn’t even build boats to sail away…


  • Consider the ancient Mayans, masters of Mesoamerica

  • Mayans may have destroyed themselves by turning their rain forests into agricultural fields to feed rapidly expanding populations


  • Many native populations, on the other hand, have shown a deep connection to the natural world, and an abiding respect for other species

  • Cherokee medicine men never picked more than one or two plants from a clump, always said a prayer to the Earth and left a bead in the hole as compensation for the plant





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