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Climate Hustle

Climate Change and the Weightier Matters: a Christian view on global warming

Posted on 13 September 2012 by John Cook

The Centre for the Study of Science, Religion and Society at Emmanuel College are running a series of presentations on Science, Religion and Society. I was honoured to be invited to talk about a Christian view on climate change, which I presented on 03 August 2012. Here is a video of the presentation, with an introduction by Stewart Gill, principal of Emmanuel College.

The talk goes for 50 minutes as I cover climate science, an investigation into a  Biblical view of social justice and why climate change is an important issue for Christians. Then I debunk misinformation from the Cornwall Alliance. If you're time compressed and want to jump to a particular section of the talk, here are the key bookmark points:

I've uploaded the slides for this presentation in PDF format (2.9Mb). Anyone is welcome to use any of the slides from my talk in their own presentations (except the graphics I don't have the rights to such as the Simpsons screenshot or the cute sheep/goat photo). I've also compiled public talks I've given in the past that have made it onto YouTube, available at http://sks.to/talks.

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Comments 1 to 27:

  1. As an atheist I find that we have a lot more in common than you think John Cook. I too have worked out that trashing our only home is a very dumb move. It is all about what we do now to stop this decline in our planet's health to sustain us all. It is my birthday today. When I was born there were less than three billion people on our planet. It was 1949. I do not care for myself. I have children and grandchildren. The saddest thing in life is getting a hold on 'all' knowledge just before you croak and then realising that it would have been really handy for the journey!
    Bert
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  2. Very interesting video. I was disappointed not to see the questions, can you give us a rough and anonymous outline of the response?

    Interesting that you found the term 'dominion' so prominently featured in the Cornwall document. Their website subhead is 'For the stewardship of creation'. The two dominant views of creation care in Christian theology are dominion vs stewardship, with the former tending to be climate skeptical. They seem to be trying to claim both sides at once.

    Did anyone come back at you on theology? It's impossible to build a systematic theology of social justice in 5 mins. Some of the academics might have expected a citation to such a work instead of some, well, 'cherry picked' texts, but I don't think anything you said was exceptionable.

    I'm not sure I actually understood your Cornwall cherry-picking example, or wasn't there one? A quick scan of the Cornwall document didn't reveal an obvious candidate. They might have consciously tried to avoid cherry-picking and eliminated any obvious examples.
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    Response: [JC] Typically, cherry picking involves selecting pieces of evidence that in isolation convey the desired message while ignoring the rest of the evidence that paints an undesired message. In this case, I chose a quote from Roy Spencer that ignores *all* the evidence that humans are causing global warming - albeit an extreme form of cherry picking.
  3. Excellent talk. In addition to social justice, I would put truthfullness as a core Christian value, so even if AGW had no effect on the poor we should still have an aversion to specious rhetorical reasoning and on our guard against self-deception.

    BTW I note that I must be part of the conspiracy as I have a handlebar moustache! ;o}P
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  4. The Cornwall Alliance is an excellent example of rejecting the findings of science in favor of ideology out of a religious, dogmatic approach. It seems that the signatories take it as an article of religious faith that humans can't wreck God's planet, because God wouldn't have allowed it. It's similar to the dogmatic, faith-based rejection of common descent by Creationist anti-evolutionists. It's telling that Roy Spencer is both, and has signed the statement of faith from the Cornwall Alliance which basically pins their beliefs about the climate to matters of sectarian religious belief rather than scientific evidence.
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  5. I have a couple of questions for John C. I apologize if they were addressed in the video - I haven't had time to watch the whole thing.

    1. Are you post-millenial?

    2. Are you an "Old Earth" Creationist?
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    Response: Sorry to disappoint you but I've never really taken the time to investigate eschatology and pre/post millenial theology. As for the age of the earth, this blog post should make my views clear.
  6. villabolo - odd question (what on earth is a "post millenial"). Why do you ask? Its not clear to me why this would be relevant.
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  7. Scaddenp @6

    "villabolo - odd question (what on earth is a "post millenial"). Why do you ask? Its not clear to me why this would be relevant."


    My apology for posting such an odd sounding question. I was in a rush and I thought that John would understand but I should have taken the time to explain it to a general audience.

    I asked those questions because John’s beliefs are at odds with the beliefs of most (not all) Evangelicals here in the U.S. (I don’t know Australia’s religious demographics).

    A particular theology has a lot to do with a persons' world view and different theologies affect how a Christian would view the environment as it relates to "stewardship" over the Earth (i.e. responsibility).


    Let's start of with "eschatology" 101 (end-times theology), I'll try to keep it painless.

    There are two basic worldviews as they relate to a Christian's view of the world and whether such Christians sees himself as responsible for the physical environment. It gets complicated but the basics are:

    1) Pre-millennial:

    The belief that we are living in “the last days” in an unredeemable world that is not worth fixing. Christ will come at any moment to take his church away then all hell will let loose socially and environmentally.

    After the Earth is destroyed it will be turned into a ‘paradise’ which will last a thousand years i.e. “millennium.”

    This worldview assumes it is pointless to fix anything in the here and now. An analogy to their attitude would be: “Why paint the house when it has been condemned and will be torn down and rebuilt by the Landlord any day now?”

    This theo-ideology fits hand in glove with the non-religious ideology of the Political and Financial elites, hence the symbiotic relationship between the two in American politics.

    2) Post-millenial:

    The complete inverse of the above. According to this belief it is Christians who are in charge of restoring the Earth and society before Christ comes.

    I assumed that John has this or a similar point of view since his Christian viewpoint clashes with that of most (not all) American Evangelicals.

    3) Theistic Evolution:

    As to the question on John’s concept of Creation, I was wondering if John was a “theistic evolutionist.” Theistic evolutionists believe in the process of evolution - it does not clash with their Christian perspective.

    Many Evangelicals however – at least in the U.S. – are strict creationists with no concept of the Earth’s geological ancientness. They would make poor paleo-climatologists since one needs to have an evolutionary view to understand how climate is rooted in Earth’s history.

    I could tell right off that John does not ascribe to that view. I could also understand why the Christian Right, particularly in the U.S., would slander him as they have in the past.

    Again, I apologize for the seemingly bizarre nature of these questions but my curiosity about John’s Christianity was peaked.
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  8. villabolo - Apologies for being a grammar/vocabulary stickler, but "peaked"/"piqued"?
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  9. KR,

    I don't mind being corrected on my grammar or even punctuation; English is my second language. :-)

    It seems that "peaked" is a very common misspelling, Thanks for the correction.
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  10. villabolo - Not a problem: English is the language of exceptions, and homonyms (words with the same pronunciation, but different meanings and spellings) do not help matters...
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  11. And if you've been bitten by an angry North American alpine critter who's angry at its rapidly changing habitat, you've been pika-ed.
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  12. @ DSL, Gentlemen, let's not get started ;-).
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  13. Well only John can answer for John, but I'd say for many main-line and non-evangelicals Christians here, the answer would be "Huh?". How about neither? Is eschatology on topic for this thread do you suppose?
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  14. scaddenp @#13

    No, that's the last thing I would desire as a topic under ordinary circumstances. We have enough to worry about the potential apocalypse of Global Warming without adding mysticism to any rational discussion.

    But.....

    Since John spoke from a Christian perspective I thought it would be instructive to point out that there are other perspectives from others who consider themselves Christians. The importance of their opposing beliefs lays in the fact that they are politically powerful in the U.S. Their irrationality is becoming the basis of our public policy.

    These ‘Christians’ have been demonizing environmentalists and us 'alarmists' and have even slandered John.

    It's good to know where your opponent is coming from - how he thinks. Know thy enemy.
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  15. As a conservative Christian raised in the evangelical tradition I feel compelled to respond in brief to this.

    Not all Christians are fundamentalist in the sense that underlies much of today's Republican Party in the US. For those raised under the principles of stewardship, we are governed by the mandate to live our lives under the knowledge that we will one day stand for a final performance review of our lives. And that an accounting will be made for everything that we did do...and everything that we didn't do.

    For Christians, it is given to none of us to know the day, time or hour; we carry the charge of remaining ready. In that sense, it matters little whether one is Pre-Millennialist or Post-Millennialist. Because under the principle of stewardship, the distinction doesn't matter.
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  16. DB, I agree. I would say the principle of "on earth as it is in heaven", and frankly the large body of teaching in Gospel on what the reign of God as opposed to a human king would look like, is at severe odds with what Villabola characterises as "pre-millenial".
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  17. Villabolo: Can you present evidence that
    a) Most US evangelicals are pre-millenial.
    b) Most US evangelicals are climate skeptical.

    Even in the 2007 Pew Forum report, the latter was not the case, and things have shifted since then, see for example the Evangelical Climate Initiative. US Baptists (the largest contingent) are split on the issue. SBC seminary staff are certainly predominantly premillenial, although it is not clear if this is reflected in the church as a whole.

    The millenial obsession is primarily a US one: I expect that outside the US few evangelicals could define their position. In the UK evangelicals are spread across the political spectrum, and views on climate are most strongly shaped by political rather than religious views. Creationism is also a minority view among evangelicals over here.
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  18. This is one of those discussion areas into which I'm chary to wade: As I'm a 'Frisbeeterian," I'm agnostic on the whole topic.

    IMHO, it only clouds the issue and in the end (game) the only really significant difference is...do we destroy that which was given to us, whether by some omnipotent FSM, or simply a planet on which life evolved to us, now, or in 1000 years?

    I'm doing all I can to stave off disaster as far forward in the future as that future might exist.
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  19. Kevin C @17

    My question to John was out of curiosity. IMO post-mil was, at one time, the most pre-disposed to social/environmental concerns. Things have changed radically throughout the past 30 years. (Off topic but worth reading)

    An example of American fundamentalist thinking on the environment can be found here and this jewel from the Cornwall Alliance.
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  20. @John Cook #5

    "...I've never really taken the time to investigate eschatology and pre/post millenial theology. As for the age of the earth, this blog post should make my views clear.

    I know realize that was a silly question, I guess I got up too early in the morning. :-)
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  21. "An example of American fundamentalist thinking on the environment "

    I suspect most of this is post-hoc rationalization of a position, where actual views on the environment formed from other influences. (eg. distaste for environmentalistists/Al Gore, perception that environmental care restricts freedom, distaste for taxes etc).
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  22. John, Thanks for this. I often get students claiming that a scientific viewpoint and a religious viewpoint are incompatable, and that topics like climate change and evolution force one to choose between one or the other. It's nice to have an example of someone using science to act upon moral principles. It should generate some interesting discussion.
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  23. Scaddenp @21

    "I suspect most of this is post-hoc rationalization of a position, where actual views on the environment formed from other influences."

    Yes, it began that way but now, particularly with a new generation being brought up on denialism, it's become an integral part of their religious views.
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  24. villabolo: I couldn't find any kind of international survey on eschatological views, which was a surprise, but does support my impression that the different kinds of millenialism are mainly a US concern.
    But your analysis at @23 seems very plausible to me.
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  25. John,

    Thanks for this post. As a conservative evangelical christian (originating from Sydney Diocese - good heavens!) stuff such as what the Cornwall Alliance produces dismays me.

    It seems to me that the Cornwall Alliance is attempting to use language to push the buttons of various christian groupings within the evangelical spectrum but that they don't quite make it (thats apart from the theological holes large enough to fly a jumbo through). That maybe a cultural thing as they are North American based, but I can still see how it could catch some christian groups other than in North America. I suspect amongst evangelicals this might be the people who tend to view science and scientists as a distinct ideological grouping

    On pre-millenial, post-millenial, lets-do-the-hokey-pokey, I like the answer given during a talk I attended by a lecturer from Regent College in BC who when asked what position he took said he was a 'pan millienist', "i.e. it'll all pan out in the end".

    On creation and Gen 1 to 3 if anyone is interested, christian or otherwise, and has the time the book, 'In the beginning' by theologian Henri Blocher is a brillaint but dense read. I doubt such a well argued piece of theology will appeal to those who drafted the Cornwall Declaration. Don't knock this if you aren't a christian theist, the best way to answer creationists is via theology and you will find good theology bats away stuff like the Cornwall Alliance material.

    Finally, along with John there are other evangelical christians who as scientists have been very vocal in talking about the dangers of AGW including Dr Katherine Hayhoe and of course Dr John Houghton who has been instrumental in talking directly to American and other evangelical leaders on this topic.
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  26. Thanks John, I really appreciate that you did this talk and hope you get more opportunities to speak in church circles. I have much to say on this topic and will perhaps contact you directly in a few months once I'm getting closer to return to Australia.

    One tiny typo on one of your slides: "non sequitur", not "non sequitor".
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  27. PS A brief comment to others on this thread. I am a Christian ethicist working on a PhD in climate ethics (and ecological ethics more generally) and have spent years studying both climate and theology. I can attest that Villabolo's question about eschatology, while seeming obtuse, is actually very highly relevant since it shapes/illustrates a number of the most basic assumptions about the world and its future held by different groups of Christians. Though I'd point out that there are more than two camps and in my experience a very large number of evangelicals in Australia fall into neither of the two categories above but would be amillennial (which isn't too far from the "pan millienist" mentioned by Jeremy in #25).
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