ABSTRACT

This article traces the formation of a (self-)critical discourse around human environmental agency in early Enlightenment Europe, focusing on the Swiss naturalist Johann Jakob Scheuchzer (1672–1733) and the Royal Society milieus to which he was connected. In manuscript and printed writings, and particularly in his beautifully illustrated Physica sacra (1731–1735), Scheuchzer used a combination of biblical exegesis, thought experiments, and ecological insights to reflect about the relationship between God, humankind, and nature. Against claims that the tradition of natural theology in which Scheuchzer belonged “prevented and delayed the acknowledgment of the earth as vulnerable” (Kempe 2003b, p. 166), the article shows how different thinkers could use the Bible to support competing claims regarding the role of humans as agents in God’s creation. While some authors enthusiastically upheld contemporary ideologies of environmental ‘improvement’, others—including Scheuchzer himself—called for greater self-restraint and developed a biblically-grounded form of precautionary environmental ethics.

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