God's Wilds

John Muir's Vision of Nature

978-1-58544-143-3 Cloth
6.125 x 9.25. 264 pp. 7 b&w photos.
Pub Date: 02/13/2002
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In "God's wilds" John Muir found beauty, inspiration, and the courage to battle governmental powers for the preservation of natural landscapes. Through his writing and his activism (he was the founding president of the Sierra Club), countless others have also found a call to enjoy and preserve the natural world. In a profoundly intriguing, original view of Muir, Dennis Williams shows him as a fundamentalist about nature, who learned his passion, his way of organizing the world, and his moral principles in the demanding world of nineteenth-century Calvinism.

Muir, still one of the most popular American nature writers, was instrumental in the creation of Yosemite National Park and other western parks. For years, environmentalists have used him as a bellwether for their objectives, making him into a wilderness man, a pantheist, and an ascetic. Williams, unlike other interpreters, suggests that Muir's ambition to save nature from development emerged out of his commitment to the assumptions of pre–twentieth-century evangelical Christian theology.

Yet, Williams shows, Muir and his followers were forced to render their metaphysical beliefs in terms that made sense to post-Darwinian America. As his public writings increasingly adopted the language of the new sciences, his private journals continued to express an evangelical view of nature as a revelation of the character of God. Nonetheless, Muir's secular terminology offered a relatively transparent disguise for his spiritual beliefs, as his prose continued to exude his enthusiastic natural theology.

Embodying the uneasy relationship of metaphysics and natural science in his culture, Muir offers insight into the complex evolution of preservationist thought and politics. It is the melding of these two visions, Williams suggests, that continues to make his work appealing and gives it power to fuel nature appreciation, environmental activism, and an alternative vision of the spiritual value of the environment in the modern world.

Environmental History Series

Published by Texas A&M University Press