As I have pondered, studied, discussed, and debated the various scientific, political, economic, and theological aspects of climate change, I have realized that the most important issue driving these debates is not science, politics, economics, or theology. As far as I can tell, the most important issue is trust. I have arrived at this conclusion via a number of discussions and comments, most recently a panel discussion at Following Christ 2008 in the Natural Sciences and Mathematics Track.
Of course, distrust and hostility flow in both directions. One need only read the works of Richard Dawkins or similarly-minded scientists to see that. From this perspective, conservative Christians (and religious believers generally) are irrational people who reject established or strongly demonstrated facts in favor of a comforting fantasy.
All of this has led to two entrenched camps that distrust and strongly dislike each other. I am a devoted Christians who has been convinced by the evidence for AGW, and this environment sometimes makes me feel like my brain is being sheared in two. It is tempting to join one camp or the other and launch angry tirades at those who disagree with me, especially when carefully thought out and respectfully presented arguments seem to have no effect.
However, false is the idea that Christians and scientists are mutually exclusive groups of people. Thus, joining the fray would perpetuate this false dichotomy between Christianity and science. I believe that one of the reasons God has placed me in this field is to rebuild trust between Christians and scientists and show that people can commonly be both. That is a fine and worthwhile goal; methods to achieve it have been mostly elusive.
The best bridge building I have encountered was in the form of a round table discussion between evangelical pastors and scientists from the vicinity of Columbus, OH; it was one instance of a projected called the Friendship Collaborative. Most of the scientists worked at Ohio State. One of the evangelical pastors who organized the event was Ken Wilson, pastor of the Vineyard Church of Ann Arbor, MI; he wrote about it on his blog. One of the organizers from Ohio State’s InterVarsity Graduate chapter also wrote a nice article. I pray that more events like this will continue to bring scientists and Christians together and, like Pastor Wilson, that the Holy Spirit will be present in them.
Humility is an important part of such gatherings and of building trust generally, which is a lesson I have sometimes learned the hard way. Humility includes the willingness to ask for and accept new ideas. So, do any of you have any ideas for how to build trust between skeptical Christians and climate scientists?