Religion and global warning denialism

The other day, I was watching some news story about climate change; it was mostly from the denialist point of view, but I was struck by what seemed to be almost the same arguments that the creationist folks say about evolution.  I began to wonder if there was a religious component to the global warming denialists, maybe at the same fundamentalist belief level as the creationists.

While I was digging through the Huffington Post’s Science Section (which publishes story about how homeopathy works or how a bug jumping on a camera lens is obviously a UFO chasing the powerful Chilean Air Force, I noticed a couple of articles by Victor Stenger, a world-renowned particle physicist who writes about scientific skepticism of religion and faith.  It’s possible that I’m too harsh about HuffPo’s general anti-science content, though Stenger only partially makes up for the rest of the anti-science articles on HuffPo.

Stenger penned two articles, Global Warming and Religion and The Folly of Faith, that strongly supports the connection between global warming denialism and religious fundamentalism.  He quotes a Pew Research Survey  that shows a distinct correlation between religious belief and global warming denialism:

Percentage that agree that there is solid evidence that global warming is human caused:

  • Total U.S. population 47 %
  • Unaffiliated with any church 58 %
  • White mainline Protestants 48 %
  • White, non-Hispanic Catholics 44 %
  • Black Protestants 39 %
  • White evangelical Protestants 34 %

 Percentage that agree that there is no solid evidence that the earth is warming:

  • Total U.S. population 21 %
  • Unaffiliated with any church 18 %
  • White mainline Protestants 19 %
  • White, non-Hispanic Catholics 22 %
  • Black Protestants 15 %
  • White evangelical Protestants 31 %

That’s a significant difference between those unaffiliated with any church (which does not mean that they’re necessarily atheists or agnostics) and those in what are considered fundamentalist churches.  Polling data, of course, are not strong evidence of anything more than correlation.  It is possible that it’s an education difference, with white evangelical Protestants have a lower rate of college and science education, whereas those with more advanced educational levels.  But Stenger brings the most significant evidence:

The role of religion in global warming denialism can be seen in the political battles over the teaching of evolution. In 2010 the Kentucky Legislature introduced a bill encouraging teachers to discuss “the advantages and disadvantages of scientific theories,” including “evolution, the origins of life, global warming and human cloning.” A similar bill was passed in Louisiana in 2008 and in 2009 the Texas Board of Education required that teachers present all sides of the evidence on evolution and global warming.

Not only has this happened in Kentucky, Texas and Louisiana, but also in Tennessee, with its Monkey Bill, Oklahoma, New Hampshire, Indiana, and Alabama.  Like the Kentucky bill, all of them link the evolution denialism (which is clearly religious in nature) to other science, usually global warming.  And most of these states, (except New Hampshire, which overwhelmingly rejected its creationist legislation) are Republican led, Deep South, Bible Belt areas of the USA.  Again, the correlation is clear, but we need more to confirm a causality between religious belief and global warming science.

John Shimkus, Republican of Illinois, is a member of the Energy and Commerce Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives. He has argued that climate change is a myth because God told Noah he would never again destroy Earth by flood (Gen 8:21-22). He is seen on a video as saying, “The earth will end only when God declares it’s time to be over. Man will not destroy this earth. This earth will not be destroyed by a flood. . . . I do believe God’s word is infallible, unchanging, perfect.”

That’s pretty clear to me, since some non-existent being says its so, it must be so.  But there’s more from Rep. Joe Barton, a right wing demagogue of the worst type: 

A lot of the CO2 that is created in the United States is naturally created. You can’t regulate God. Not even the Democratic majority in the US Congress can regulate God.

If you think greenhouse gases are bad, life couldn’t exist without greenhouse gases. . . . So, there is a, there is a climate theory–and it’s a theory, it’s not a fact, it’s never been proven–that increasing concentrations of CO2 in the upper atmosphere somehow interact to trap more heat than the atmosphere would otherwise.

Oh, the old “it’s only a theory” argument, which has been so thoroughly debunked, that the anti-evolution crowd avoids using it, since it makes them look pretty stupid and unknowledgeable about science.  If Barton thinks that CO2 has nothing to do with trapping heat, I’m willing to sponsor Barton traveling to Venus for a pleasant vacation.  

Then you have have to read the Evangelical Declaration on Global Warming:

WHAT WE BELIEVE

1. We believe Earth and its ecosystems–created by God’s intelligent design and infinite power and sustained by His faithful providence –are robust, resilient, self-regulating, and self-correcting, admirably suited for human flourishing, and displaying His glory. Earth’s climate system is no exception. Recent global warming is one of many natural cycles of warming and cooling in geologic history.
2. We believe abundant, affordable energy is indispensable to human flourishing, particularly to societies which are rising out of abject poverty and the high rates of disease and premature death that accompany it. With present technologies, fossil and nuclear fuels are indispensable if energy is to be abundant and affordable.
3. We believe mandatory reductions in carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions, achievable mainly by greatly reduced use of fossil fuels, will greatly increase the price of energy and harm economies.
4. We believe such policies will harm the poor more than others because the poor spend a higher percentage of their income on energy and desperately need economic growth to rise out of poverty and overcome its miseries.

WHAT WE DENY

1. We deny that Earth and its ecosystems are the fragile and unstable products of chance, and particularly that Earth’s climate system is vulnerable to dangerous alteration because of minuscule changes in atmospheric chemistry. Recent warming was neither abnormally large nor abnormally rapid. There is no convincing scientific evidence that human contribution to greenhouse gases is causing dangerous global warming.
2. We deny that alternative, renewable fuels can, with present or near-term technology, replace fossil and nuclear fuels, either wholly or in significant part, to provide the abundant, affordable energy necessary to sustain prosperous economies or overcome poverty.
3. We deny that carbon dioxide–essential to all plant growth–is a pollutant. Reducing greenhouse gases cannot achieve significant reductions in future global temperatures, and the costs of the policies would far exceed the benefits.
4. We deny that such policies, which amount to a regressive tax, comply with the Biblical requirement of protecting the poor from harm and oppression.

Setting aside the laughable lack of science in their statements (and their honesty in calling it denial), you have got to laugh at denial #4, because we know how much the right wing loves to protect the poor from harm and oppression.  The irony meter keeps breaking with these guys.

Stenger concludes in a very pointed commentary about global warming denialism:

Corporate greed is the primary motivation for global warming denial. However, the antiscientific attitudes of the Christian right are being exploited to prevent the government of the United States from taking actions that might be essential for everyone’s welfare, including the grandchildren of those industrialists, preachers, politicians, and scientists who now so vehemently oppose any action. 

So, corporate interests have manipulated the anti-science beliefs of the Christian right wing to create an unholy alliance that has done a remarkable job in setting the agenda of the United State’s lack of effort in tackling global warming.  Amusingly, most of the corporate management that has interest in blocking any response to global warming has nothing in common with the Christian right, except for this one issue.

If you haven’t read any of Stenger’s books, I’ve listed out a few of my personal favorites below.  I’m more into his science vs. religion books, so that’s what I’ve posted.

The Original Skeptical Raptor
Chief Executive Officer at SkepticalRaptor
Lifetime lover of science, especially biomedical research. Spent years in academics, business development, research, and traveling the world shilling for Big Pharma. I love sports, mostly college basketball and football, hockey, and baseball. I enjoy great food and intelligent conversation. And a delicious morning coffee!