Allah’s Vice-Regents And The ‘Anthropocene’ Age – OpEd


The Qur’an teaches us that, unlike all other species on Planet Earth, Adam/Homo Sapiens was created to be Allah’s Vice-regents on planet Earth; (2:30, 7:11, 35:39, 38:26) and a species with God’s spirit within.” (Qur’an 15:28-9). The Torah of Musa also teaches us that Adam/Homo Sapiens was the one species on planet Earth created by God to be in His image ( be God’s vice-regent Genesis 1:27) 

And the Zabur of David poetically adds: “What is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them? You have made them a little lower than God (and above all the angels) and crowned them with glory and honor. You made them rulers over the works of your hands; you put everything under their feet” (Psalm 8:4-6) 

In other words, “when your Lord said to the angels, “I will create a human being out of clay from an altered black mud and when I have proportioned him and breathed into him of My [spirit] soul, then fall down to him in prostration.” (Qur’an 15:28-9)                        

All those who study the Bible and the Qur’an have always been aware that this special status of mankind is primarily in the moral and spiritual arena. However a secondary, but still very important aspect of mankind’s special Vice-Regent status, is our impact on planet Earth.

Of the millions of species on this planet, only one can consciously have an impact on the evolution of life. That species is Homo Sapiens human. The simple proof of this is that while some wolves may have domesticated themselves by natural selection, most of the 400 or so dog breeds we know today have only been established by human breeding in the past 200 years.

Religion provides guidance and direction to enable humans to be good Vice-regents (agents of God) rather than destroyers of society and exploiters of nature. The Qur’an also teaches that we should be able to see majesty in God by seeing that God has created humans in different, successive stages (71:14) and has caused us to grow from earth like a plant. (71:17)  If for some reason we do not want to see God’s majesty in the evolution of life in general, and human beings in particular; there is something wrong with us. (71:13)

Now a major analysis of the fossil record shows a deep pattern in nature, that remained the same for over 300 million years, was disrupted about 6,000 years ago. “When early humans started farming and became dominant in the terrestrial landscape, we see this dramatic restructuring of plant and animal communities,” said University of Vermont biologist Nicholas Gotelli, an expert on statistics and the senior author on the new study.

In the hunt for the beginning of the “Anthropocene” — a new geologic era defined by human direct influence on planet Earth– this research suggests we need to look back farther in time than human-caused climate change, nuclear radiation, genetically modified food, urbanization or the industrial revolution.

“This tells us that humans have been having a massive effect on the environment for a very long time,” said S. Kathleen Lyons, a paleobiologist at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History who led the research. The study, published in the journal Nature by a team of 29 scientists, studied plant and animal datasets from both modern ecosystems and the fossil record stretching back to 300 million years ago.

Examining thousands of pairs of species, the scientists looked to see how often a particular pair of plant or animal species was found within the same community. Analyses of modern communities of plants and animals have shown that, for most pairs of species, the presence of one species within a community does not influence whether the other is present or absent.

But some pairs of species tend to appear together in nature, more often than one would expect by chance — like cheetahs and giraffes who both live in savannah habitats. Other species are “segregated,” meaning that when one is found, it’s unlikely the other species will be there too — like two species of woodpecker that compete for the same insect prey, being driven apart by different habitat needs or fierce competition, so that they occur together less often than would be expected by chance.

For modern communities of plants and animals, studies show segregated species pairs are more common than aggregated ones. But when the team investigated the composition of ancient communities using data from fossils, they were surprised to find the opposite pattern: from 307 million years ago to about 6,000 years ago, there was a higher frequency of aggregated species pairs. Then, from 6,000 years ago to the present, the pattern shifted to a predominance of segregated species pairs. A very ancient rule of nature had changed. 

“The pattern of co-occurring species remained stable through the evolution of land organisms from the earliest tetrapods through dinosaurs, flowering plants and mammals,” said Anna K. Behrensmeyer, a paleobiologist with the Smithsonian’s Museum of Natural History and a co-author of the study. “This pattern didn’t change because of previous mass extinctions, or ancient climate variability, but instead, early human activities 6,000 years ago suddenly began resetting a basic property of natural communities.”

Perhaps this is the reason that the rabbis during the second century CE, began calculating the beginning of the Jewish calendar year epoch (now 5778), with the exit of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden, to work and till the soil. (Genesis 4:23)

One might think that a religious epoch calendar should begin with God’s creation of the world. That is the way of the oldest pagan epochal calendar; the Mayan long count “Great Cycle” calendar, which started on August 11, 3,114 B.C.E, lasted for 5,125 and 1/3 years, and then ended and recycled on 12/12/2012. The Mayan calendar is the second oldest epochal calendar in the world; beginning only six and one half centuries after the Jewish epochal calendar.

But the epochal calendars of the three Abrahamic religions all start with a human vice-regent prophet. Humans have caused the biggest change in a very basic pattern of nature, in over 300 million years. As the Qur’an says: “Do you not see that Allah has made what is in Heaven and Earth subservient to you; and made complete to you His favors outwardly and inwardly? (31:20)

For those who believe in and frequently study their sacred scriptures, these new scientific discoveries are just more evidence that within our sacred scriptures there is great wisdom to help us understand the rapidly changing modern culture we live in. Now is the time to consciously accept our responsibilities as vice-regents in the image of God to manage our impact on nature and protect nature from greed and arrogant exploitation. 

As the Qur’an says: It is He who has made you (His) khalifas on the earth: he raised in ranks some (leaders) above others: that he may test you in the gifts (of nature) He has given you; for your Lord is quick in punishment; yet He is indeed Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful. (6:165) Some believers may find the concept of Khalifa as giving to much opportunity to humankind to influence God; but for the rabbis the examples of Prophet Abraham, who negotiated with God to save the non-Jewish people of Sedom, and Prophet Moses who convinced God not get rid of Banu Israel after the golden calf transgression were inspirational.  

The Midrash Exodus Rabbah 43:4 offers a good example of the daring closeness of Prophet Moses (and later Rabbis) to the God of Abrahan, Issac and Jacob, when it states: Another explanation of “But Moses implored the Lord his God.” What does this (implore) mean?…That he [Moses] absolved his Creator of His vow. While one cannot nullify one’s own vow another one can nullify it for the first one. How? When Israel made the Calf, Moses began to entreat God to forgive them; but God said: “Moses, I have already taken an oath that ‘Whoever sacrifices to a god other than the Lord alone shall be killed’ (Exodus 22:19) and I cannot retract an oath from My mouth.” 

Moses said to him: “Lord of the Universe! Didn’t you grant me the power of annulment of oaths by saying, ‘If a man makes a vow …he shall not break his pledge’ (Numbers 30:3); that is, he himself cannot break his pledge, but a (rabbinic) scholar can absolve his vow.” So (Moses our rabbi) said ‘Do you now regret (your vow)?’ God said ‘I regret now the evil I said I would do to My people.’ When Moses heard this, he said: ‘It (the vow) is absolved.” For Muslims this closeness is as shocking as the Qur’an use of We when God speaks is to Jews. Parents have to love and discipline children; grandparents just love them up. 

Rabbi Allen S. Maller

Allen Maller retired in 2006 after 39 years as Rabbi of Temple Akiba in Culver City, Calif. He is the author of an introduction to Jewish mysticism. God. Sex and Kabbalah and editor of the Tikun series of High Holy Day prayerbooks.

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