Climate Change and Trust

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.

In all of these sources, those who are skeptical of climate change (or a wide variety of scientific claims) simply do not trust scientists and vice versa. Thus, no amount of evidence or argument will be persuasive because the source is considered untrustworthy. This distrust can take on a political or religious cast, and the two are usually intertwined.
From the political perspective, the title of the film Global Warming or Global Governance speaks for itself. A similar argument is made in The Great Global Warming Swindle, which accuses scientists of committing fraud by falsely claiming evidence of anthropogenic global warming. The purpose of this fraud, so the argument goes, is to advance the agenda of anti-capitalists to increase government control of the economy and the world’s citizens.
From a more religious (specifically Christian) perspective, the most important Biblical passages for understanding skepticism are those that contrast divine with human wisdom, such as I Corinthians 1:25-27 and I John 4:5. Distrust then allows any evidence for anthropogenic global warming (AGW) can be dismissed as a fraud (as described above), regarded as fatally flawed human “wisdom” that God is putting to shame, or both.

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?

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7 Responses to Climate Change and Trust

  1. Darius says:

    If scientists showed they could be trusted, that would help a lot. But when one study says one thing and the next study says the opposite, people are rightly going to be quite skeptical. Plus, as is the case with AGW, even many global warming scientists are now admitting that we’re in for 30 years of cooling. They can’t explain it, but they still claim that it is related to global warming. I would point them to all the scientists who predicted cooling 5-10 years ago and attributed it to sun spots. They are now looking pretty smart while the AGW folks look pretty incompetent. Even the World Meteorological Organization admits that warming stopped 11 years ago. It’s time for the AGW scientists to catch up with the science and stop sticking to what has become more and more obviously a religious-like faith to them.

    How do you still believe AGW in the face of all the evidence to the contrary? James Hansen from NASA is pretty much considered a buffoon by most scientists.

  2. Gary says:

    Luke,

    Peggy and I have been having an ongoing conversation with Ellen Mosley-Thompson and (to a lesser extent) her husband Lonnie…our hope is to have them over for dinner as a next step for us in the “Friendship Collaborative” effort. We agree that the trust issue is big and hope that as we develop a relationship with the Thompsons that God will open up opportunities to “spread the trust.” The problem we face is Lonnie’s schedule–he is rarely in town. So a prayer request would be that a dinner date can be set.

    ps Both the Thompsons have been very cordial–they seem to be great people!

    pps James Hansen is considered a buffoon by most scientists? Why do I doubt that is true??

  3. Darius says:

    Gary, if you bother to read scientists who don’t tow the line on this issue (and there are thousands of them), then you will see what I mean. Hansen is considered by many to be a political sell-out at best and a liar at worst. It’s sad to see so many scientists selling out their credibility for a little popularity or grant money.

  4. Gary says:

    If you know of thousands, then give me the names of just three that you think are the best(in the field–not physicists, not mechanical engineers etc)

    I have met James Hansen and heard him speak and know his story…he is not a liar and I doubt (based on documented political attacks that have hurt his career) that he is a political sell-out.

    There is always some controversy when scientific findings are published…this is normal.

    Final question–do you know any scientists personally? Any in this field (either pro or con?)

  5. Darius says:

    Seriously, you’re asking for names of scientists in the field that don’t tow the line??

    Well, a good place to start would be the signatories from this letter to the U.N.: http://www.nationalpost.com/news/story.html?id=164002

    Or, more specifically, Dr. Lindzen from MIT or Dr. Gray from Colorado State (Gray is the top hurricane forecaster in the world). The list goes on forever… the science is undeniable, the earth hasn’t warmed in 11 years and is in fact now cooling. Even global warming nuts admit that it’s cooling while still somehow claiming that it’s because of AGW.

    It’s amazing how irrational so many scientists have become. The earth cools and warms on a cyclic basis (primarily due to the sun). That’s not new. And as many scientists have pointed out, even a basic elementary education will teach you that CO2 is not a pollutant but an essential part of life on Earth. Some scientists have seemingly forgotten this fact. Furthermore, as a geophysicist recently had to point out, “CO2 is a greenhouse gas, yes, but it absorbs only a very small portion of the infrared spectrum and its capacity to do so declines exponentially with concentration. It’s a fact of physics that the CO2 molecule radiates almost none of the heat it can absorb. Moreover, it is such a trace gas that this effect is negligible, and even less so at the low pressures and cold temperatures high in the atmosphere.”

    “I doubt (based on documented political attacks that have hurt his career) that he is a political sell-out.”I laughed out loud at this statement. You can’t be serious?!? His career has not been hurt by AGW, quite the opposite. He is given a podium all over the world along with the Goracle because of this issue. It’s a joke to believe that his career has been hurt YET (he’s going to lose face as the real scientific data continues to pour in to undermine his political views).

    Hansen has been caught repeatedly in bad science or outright fabricated data. And every time his “science” has been proven wrong, he just ignores it or claims that it doesn’t affect his irrational views. Which I guess is true when one doesn’t base one’s views on evidence or logic but just feelings. Thankfully, at least some scientists are still rational.

    No, I don’t really know any scientists personally in this field on either side. I don’t know how that matters, unless you intend to name-drop all the other Hansen followers you know.

    Truth is truth, science is science, making it up as one goes is neither. It is indeed an inconvenient truth that the Earth is not as fragile as some would want it to be.

  6. Gary says:

    “If scientists showed they could be trusted…” were the first words in your initial post on this topics.

    I’ve found that when people make blanket statements like this (especially when it concerns science/scientists) it is not unreasonable to assume they don’t have a personal acquaintance with those they are accusing.

    This not name-dropping (I do not know Hansen, just met him once); but I’m glad to say there are a number of scientists I consider my friends and who can definitely be trusted.

    So my question was just an attempt to understand where you are coming from.

    It sounds like you are very angry–or possibly hurt or both. I wonder if there is a deeper issue, something that can’t be addressed between strangers using only the internet.

  7. Darius says:

    Nope, not angry or hurt at all. Just worried about the long-term damage that the global warm-mongers will do to both our world and to the public image of science (though perhaps some tarnishing of science would be beneficial since it’s basically a god today, even though many on the Left choose to ignore it when it suits them). As numerous scientists and scholars have shown, the so-called remedies to AGW climate change (if there was such a thing) are quite dangerous to humanity, especially the third world. As a Christian, I am quite concerned about anything that will further hurt the most impoverished among us. The hysteria and politicization over AGW is clearly an evil that those with a Biblical worldview need to and must fight, much like the last generation had to resist Communism.

    Furthermore, I rather dislike illogical or unsound science or thinking masquerading as truth. Even lefties admit that Gore’s movie is utter trash when it comes to actual facts. But in our postmodern world, feelings and views trump truth or evidence, so they don’t mind.

    Please check out the posts on my blog with the “Global Warming” label for more information on the bad science involved here.

    Thanks.

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