Fundamentalist Suspicion Toward the Scientific Community Dies Hard

Assessing The Cornwall Alliance’s “An Evangelical Declaration on Global Warming”

“An Evangelical Declaration on Global Warming” states,
“Some people claim repeatedly that melting sea ice, an increase in global-average temperatures, stronger storms, more floods, and more droughts are occurring due to humanity’s burning of fossil fuels. But how many of these changes are real versus imagined? And of those that are real, how much, if at all, can they be attributed to human activities? Indeed, there have been some significant climatic changes in recent decades. For instance, the normal summer melt-back of Arctic sea ice has increased in the 30 years during which we have had satellites to monitor this remote region of the Earth. There has also been a slow and irregular warming trend of global-average temperatures over the last 50 to 100 years—the same period of time the carbon dioxide (CO2) content of the atmosphere has increased.

But correlation does not mean causation, and there has been a tendency in the media to overlook research suggesting that these recent changes are, in fact, related to natural cycles in the climate system rather than to atmospheric CO2 increases from fossil fuel use. That changes occur does not mean human beings are responsible. There is good evidence that most of the warming of the past 150 years is due to natural causes. The belief that climate change is anthropogenic (human-caused) and will have catastrophic consequences is highly speculative.”

Notice that the Cornwall Alliance does not deny that “there have been some significant climatic changes in recent decades,” and they even talk about the spectacular melting of Arctic sea ice and the irregular warming trend of global-average temperatures over the last 50 to 100 years. But they dismiss that this is human-caused, even though this occurred at the same time the industrialized world provided major increases in carbon dioxide into the atmosphere through the burning of fossil fuels.

They suggest a different view of the data:
“Recent progress in climate research suggests that:
1. Observed warming and purported dangerous effects have been overstated.
2. Earth’s climate is less sensitive to the addition of CO2 than the alleged scientific consensus claims it to be, which means that climate model predictions of future warming are exaggerated.
3. Those climate changes that have occurred are consistent with natural cycles driven by internal changes in the climate system itself, external changes in solar activity, or both.

In fact, given that CO2 in the atmosphere is necessary for life on Earth to exist, it is likely that more CO2 will be beneficial. This possibility is rarely discussed because many environmental activists share the quasi-religious belief that everything mankind does hurts the environment. Yet, if we objectively analyze the scientific evidence, we find good evidence that more CO2 could lead to greater abundance and diversity of life on Earth."

I don’t claim to be a scientist, and I’m sure that the scientists that the Cornwall Alliance cites are reputable. However, it must be said (and this always gets the roll-of-the-eyes from those who side with Cornwall) that the overwhelming majority of scientists who specialize in this area have not only clearly documented the steady rise in global temperatures over the last fifty years, but they also project that the average global temperature will continue to rise in the coming decades and they attribute most of the warming to human activities. "Warming of the climate system is unequivocal," concluded the 600 scientists who were engaged in the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's report, Climate Change 2007 (AR4). There is at least a 90% likelihood that the release of greenhouse gases from the burning of fossil fuels is causing longer droughts, more flood-causing downpours and worse heat waves.

What is it with Evangelicals and their skepticism and even cynicism toward the scientific community? Perhaps it dates back to the Scopes Trial (1925), and the ongoing fight over Evolution being taught in the public schools. Over the past 85 years, evangelicals (and especially those on the more conservative side of the movement, what can be called, for the lack of a better term, the Fundamentalists) have been trained to have antagonism toward scientists.

And this cynicism toward them rears its head in the supporting document from Cornwall Alliance, "A Renewed Call to Truth, Prudence, and Protection of the Poor." In chapter 2, entitled, “The Science of Global Warming,” they write,
“While climate models have come a long way, and many of them do a reasonably good job of mimicking average aspects of today’s climate system, their ability to predict anthropogenic global warming and any changes associated with it has been overstated.

There are so many adjustable variables in climate models that the modeler must, at some point, decide that the amount of global warming produced by the model looks “about right.” Then, when modelers get together to compare results, there is peer pressure not to be an outlier—that is, the model producing the most warming or the least warming. This then causes the different models to converge to average—the result of ‘group think.’

Furthermore, scientists are people, and it is human nature to think we know more than we really do about our area of expertise. That tendency, combined with natural idealism—who wouldn’t want to be part of an international effort to ‘save the planet’?—suggests that there is ample opportunity for scientists’ biases to influence the results of scientific research. Climate models are indeed fairly spectacular inventions—but that does not mean they are up to the task of predicting the future state of the climate system.”

This is the same argument that those who advocate for Intelligent Design over against Darwinism have used: Scientists abdicate to “peer-pressure” and “group-think;” they get so caught up in being the experts and that they have already found the scientific truth, that they dismiss any contrary scientific evidence. I find this parallel very interesting.

And the recent scandal of hacked emails and documents from the Climatic Research Unit (CRU) at the University of East Anglia adds fuel to the fire that these scientists are ungodly people out for their own gain and the destruction of all that Americans hold dear.

But I think I agree with what conservative columnist Michael Gerson, George W. Bush’s former speechwriter, recently wrote in his Washington Post column,
“The hacked climate e-mails reveal a scandal, not a hoax. Even if every question raised in these e-mails were conceded, the cumulative case for global climate disruption would be strong. The evidence is found not only in East Anglian computers but also in changing crop zones, declining species, melting ice sheets and glaciers, thinning sea ice and rising sea levels. No other scientific theory explains these changes as well as global warming related to the rise in greenhouse gas emissions since the Industrial Revolution.”

Do All Evangelicals Hold to a Conservative Political Viewpoint on Economics?

Other posts of interest on "Global Warming:"
Evangelicals Divided Over Climate Change

Things We Can Affirm in Cornwall Alliance's Declaration
Imago Dei is More than "Dominion"
Cornwall Alliance's Denial of the Power of the FallCornwall Alliance’s “Christian Worldview”: Free Market Capitalism


Ted M. Gossard said...

Wishful thinking on the part of The Cornwall Alliance. I wish we American Christians (true of conservative evangelicals, anyhow) would simply have creation care as a priority amidst our priorities, but alas, we do not!

Ted M. Gossard said...

Don't mean to be so impersonal, Bob. Good posts! You're tackling a difficult subject, one I'm fearful of treading on.

Bob Robinson said...

Oh, Ted! You are so IMPERSONAL! That's what I hate about you ;-)

Thanks for commenting and for your friendship!

Byron Harvey said...

What is it with evangelicals' skepticism over things like "global warming" and evolutionary fundamentalism? Maybe it's that we're reacquiring that long-lost/lamented Christian mind:

"A peculiar quality of the Christian mind is that, knowing the weakness of human nature, it...assumes that the powers of evil will exploit every possible occasion for drawing men into the mental confusion of blurred concepts and twisted values. There is about the Christian mind a peculiar hardness--a refusal to be surprised at evil and depravity; an inability to be overcome by shock; an expectation that evil will be at large where God is not. Hence its cultivated suspiciousness of that which currently passes muster, in any powerful worldly circle, as the right thing...it knows how evil grows."

Harry Blamires, The Christian Mind, p. 102.

Bob Robinson said...

Yes, I think that this quote is very appropriate. We definitely need a "cultivated suspiciousness of that which currently passes muster in any powerful worldly circle."

So here's the rub on this particular issue:

We have in one corner the scientists who strive to grow and/or maintain a certain kind of "power," and in the other corner we have the libertarian capitalists who strive to grow and/or maintain another kind of "power."

How do we discern who has the "power" that we need to be suspicious toward? How often do the "blurred concepts and twisted values" of evangelical Christians warp their ability to see clearly the facts and to act accordingly?

We have evangelical Christians who accept global warming - and they are not immune (just because they are Christians) of succumbing to evil and depravity in their seeking to do something about global warming (including the head of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Sir John Houghton, who is a believer).

But is it just as possible that the Cornwall Alliance has such a strident ideology that they are unwilling to accept the science? Is it not very likely that Cal Beisner is so enmeshed in a Christian/Capitalist syncretism that he cannot see the facts clearly?

Bob Robinson said...

Also, I believe that suspicion itself can be a manifestation of sin.

I run into this all the time - an arrogant suspicion against anything intellectual, anything scientific, anything that our educational institutions has to offer the world.

This presumptuous attitude that "they must be wrong" since they are "evil and depraved" underestimates the Common Grace of God. (And it is a slap in the face of Christians like Houghton who have dedicated their Christian lives to the betterment of the world.)

An arrogant suspicion also severely limits our ability as Christians to impact the culture when everything is viewed through the "us vs. them" lens. I'd like to see Christians engaged in all the forms of culture-making, including science. But we cannot do so very effectively if we have the fundamentalist attitude that if a person is not a born-again Christian, we have to be suspicious of their intellectual work. How can we honestly engage in culture-making with such an attitude?

Cal Beisner said...

It's difficult to understand why you would characterize the Cornwall Alliance as suspicious of science when the science chapter of our Renewed Call to Truth is by a NASA climatologist (Roy W. Spencer) and a U. Delaware climatologist (David Legates) and was reviewed by eight other scientists, and our chief complaint against advocates of anthropogenic global warming alarmism is that they rely not on science but on faulty science. Well, perhaps a few of your readers will get curious and decide to read the RCTT for themselves and see whether your characterization was accurate.

Bob Robinson said...

Thanks for taking the time to comment here. I certainly do hope that my readers will get curious and decide to read the RCTT for themselves and see whether my characterization is accurate! As I said in my first post in this series, "The debate inside the evangelical camp is good, and we need to keep it up."

The reason I characterize the Cornwall Alliance as suspicious of science is that, much like the Young Earth / Anti-Evolution wing of Fundamentalism, the Cornwall Alliance promotes a suspicion toward the prevailing scientific consensus.

I see a parallel between your group and those in the Young Earth / Anti-Evolutionist camp. Because of their specific narrow understanding of Genesis 1, they have recruited scientists to write articles and books that counter the prevailing scientific consensus.

It seems to me that the Cornwall Alliance is driven by a specific narrow ideology that puts Man (especially redeemed Christians) in charge of all things, thus allowing us to do what we feel is right to the earth's resources. I see these three serious flaws theologically that flows from this ideology: (1) A narrow understanding of the imago Dei, shrinking it down to merely "dominion," (2) An over-confidence that fallen humanity cannot cause harm to God's good creation, and (3) A slant toward free market capitalism as defining a Christian worldview.

Help me understand this: It seems to me that this ideology is foundational to what you're trying to accomplish. So, just like the Young Earth / Anti-Evolutionists, the Cornwall Alliance alligns itself with scientists that agree that AGW is false. They have the Discovery Institute and the Institute for Creation Research, both filled with scientists that seek to rub against the grain of the majority scientific consensus; you have the scientists that are willing to write your statements as well.

I do certainly believe that the Cornwall Alliance truly believes that it is doing the will of God. I believe that you really are seeking to help the poor through your work. I don't doubt your heart-felt desire to do what's right. I praise God for that!

But what concerns me is the Cornwall Alliance's deep-seated ideology that seems to have major flaws and which seems to be driving the fight against the prevailing scientific consensus.