Acton Institute Powerblog

The Plague of Man

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Just in case you were thinking that the rabid anti-human elements of environmental movements had dissipated, take a look at the newest exhibit at the London Zoo.

Titled “The Human Zoo,” the exhibit features 8 people living in “natural” conditions over the course of three days, and is “intended to show the basic nature of human beings,” that is, our inherent animalism.

The world’s first ever human zoo exhibit is unveiled. Photograph: Gareth Cattermole/Getty

In the words of a London Zoo spokesman, “We have set up this exhibit to highlight the spread of man as a plague species and to communicate the importance of man’s place in the planet’s ecosystem.” One commentator notes, “We may be watching evolution in action.”

There are a number of important issues here. The first is the linkage of the view of humans as a “plague species” with the myth of unsustainability of the population explosion. This anti-human perspective is manifested in any number of policies and programs around the world, including PETA and things like the UN’s World Population Day. Now the London Zoo is joining the fray. For a literary movement embodying this position, go here.

Of course, another questions you have to wonder about is why an “ethic” based on a Darwinian philosophy of natural selection should be concerned about a “plague species.” Isn’t it just survival of the fittest?

This soft sentimentality and romanticism of the environmental movement isn’t based on philosophical rationality, of course. If we really are no different than animals, why should our behavior be held to a higher standard? The position is fundamentally self-defeating.

The only perspective that accounts for all of the complex realities of human existence and the rest of creation is one normed by the Bible. The creation accounts, along with the dominion and stewardship mandates, of Genesis 1 and 2 describe both the continuities and discontinuities between humans and the rest of the animal world and our resulting responsibilities.

The fall into sin gives us a basis for understanding how and why humans do negatively impact the world and fracture the created relationships. But the history of redemption gives us hope for a consummated new heaven and new earth…a hope that cannot be approached from a merely naturalistic worldview. It also gives us a reason to be concerned about stewardship of the world (rightly construed).

Jordan J. Ballor Jordan J. Ballor (Dr. theol., University of Zurich; Ph.D., Calvin Theological Seminary) is a senior research fellow and director of publishing at the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion & Liberty. He is also a postdoctoral researcher in theology and economics at the VU University Amsterdam as part of the "What Good Markets Are Good For" project. He is author of Get Your Hands Dirty: Essays on Christian Social Thought (and Action) (Wipf & Stock, 2013), Covenant, Causality, and Law: A Study in the Theology of Wolfgang Musculus (Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2012) and Ecumenical Babel: Confusing Economic Ideology and the Church's Social Witness (Christian's Library Press, 2010), as well as editor of numerous works, including Abraham Kuyper Collected Works in Public Theology. Jordan is also associate director of the Junius Institute for Digital Reformation Research at Calvin Theological Seminary.


  • David Michael Phelps

    Obviously, this exhibit is a self-contradiction; that is, this “human exhibit” was conceived, funded, and executed by humans themselves, thus proving that these ‘animals’ have something that seperates them from the others: reason. I have never seen a group of elephants organize a zoo of themselves to prove a political point…(Pachyderms of the World, UNITE!)

  • Yeah, the more I think about this, the less novel it really seems. After all, reality TV has been around for awhile now, and I can’t think of a better example of pop sociology…the observation of humans in the “state of nature,” where life is nasty, brutish, and short.

  • It’s been determined that the view of the human person at work behind “The Human Zoo” exhibit is best exemplefied by Agent Smith’s monologue from the original installment of “The Matrix.”
    “Do you hear that, Mr. A

  • Lyn

    Jordan, Thanks for your insight into the absurdity of the Human Zoo. There is a lot that is wrong in such a display. However, as humans, we do have a need to be on display and that need seeks expression, no matter how absurd the context. What most won’t acknowledge is that we were created to display the glory of God. This will in turn uplift the human species. And our Audience of One is pleased when that occurs. Lyn

  • Jon Miller

    I find it amusing that all the imagery i’ve found on the internet regarding this exhibit show the “subjects” acting like monkeys, when the intent, i believe, “…intended to show the basic nature of human beings.”

    i’ve considered that a more profound image would depict our captive humans consuming every readily available resource while fighting amongst each other…it’s what we do.

    I, myself, would much rather buy someone a latte than pick fleas from their scalp.

  • Where are the drag queens? I think not preenting “DQ’s” is discriminatory.

  • Topping today’s Science/Nature section at BBC News, “Population size ‘green priority’”, by Richard Black. The article focuses on the thoughts of Professor Chris Rapley, Director of the British Antarctic Survey, who contends t