Re: [asa] Theology of AGW WAS The Climate Science Isn't Settled

From: Michael Roberts <>
Date: Thu Dec 03 2009 - 10:02:59 EST

An extract from my book Evangelicals and Science 2008 - note it is 2 years out of date



As I write this there is immense controversy over global warming. The consensus of most scientists is that warming has been increasing since the 60s and the future is dire. The causes of warming are mixture of natural effects e.g. solar fluctuations and a general warming of the climate, and also the effect of human technology especially the use of carbon fuels. However global warming has its critics, who are often either right-wing Republicans or from the religious right (lower case) many of whom are evangelicals. This is often accompanied by charges of junk science. Yet one of the ironies is that evangelicals are well-represented on both sides.

            Global Warming was presented as a threat to the planet in the 1980s, hard on the heals of warnings of a nuclear winter following an atomic war. The basic thesis is that not only has the earth been warming since about 1820, but is now warming at a greater rate due to human activity and above all the emission of greenhouse gases. Suffice it to say that initially the thesis was questioned, but since the early 90s few scientists have doubted it. It has been a concern of many throughout the world of all faiths and none. Even so, the Republican Senator James Inhofe has called Global Warming "the greatest hoax" and tried to ensure that the Bush Administration will regard it as such. According to Mooney (Mooney, 2005, 78f) he has been fairly successful, and as we will see has the support of numbers of Evangelicals.

            The evangelical interest in global warming is that it has caused polarisation in the evangelical community. Evangelical environmentalists have been proactive in their taking up of the cause and have been forceful in their attempted persuasion of the large American evangelical constituency. One of the leading scientists on global warming over the last decades has been Sir John Houghton, an evangelical. After being professor of Atmospheric Physics at Oxford was director-general of the Meteorological Office from 1983-91. He was Chairman of the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution (1992-8) and Chairman of the Inter-Governmental Panel of Climate Change (IPCC) from 1988. He has published widely on the subject including a popular book for Christians Global Warming (Houghton 1994). As a result he has been involved at the highest level on an international scale, including the Kyoto agreement.

            Alongside his international and scientific activities Houghton has strived both to make Christians aware of environmental problems and the reality of global warming and has spent much of his "retirement" travelling the world either for international environmental groups or for church groups[1]. Without undervaluing the work of evangelical environmentalists in the U.S.A., Houghton was probably instrumental in persuading many in the NAE (National Association of Evangelicals) of the dangers of global warming.

The "Evangelical Climate Initiative" of February 2006 has already been mentioned. It has divided the 30 million strong NAE as it stated that "as evangelical leaders, we recognize both our opportunity and our responsibility to offer a biblically based moral witness that can help shape public policy in the most powerful nation on earth and therefore contribute to the wellbeing of the entire world... Many of us have required considerable convincing before becoming persuaded that climate change is a real problem and that it ought to matter to us as Christians. But now we have seen and heard enough." This aptly describes how many, including Cizik, rejected Global Warming for many years. The statement made four claims:

  1.. human-induced climate change is real;
  2.. the consequences of climate change will be significant and will hit the poor the hardest;
  3.. Christian moral convictions demand our response;
  4.. and, governments, businesses, churches and individuals all have a role to play in addressing climate change - starting now.
Given the whole nature of American Evangelicalism this was a remarkable turnabout and document and now some two-thirds of evangelicals now accept global warming and that they as individuals have a responsibility because of their faith. A reaction was inevitable and soon the report was challenged by the Interfaith Stewardship Alliance as they consider that global warming will lead to increased agricultural productivity and that the poor would suffer most from attempts to slow climate change.

            Since then evangelicals is the ISA have been very combative in opposing the "junk science" of global warming. One of their chief spokesmen is Calvin Beisner who gave Oral Testimony to the Environment and Public Works Committee of the United States Senate on October 20, 2006, despite having no relevant scientific training. In early 2007, James Dobson and others made representation to the NAE to stop the support for global warming. As well as those, evangelical and otherwise from the Acton Institute and the Interfaith Stewardship Alliance (, who warn readers of "Scientific orthodoxies and politicized science, like those encountered in the global warming debate, make for dangerous waters, and evangelicals who want to swim in them should look carefully for rocks and riptides and be well prepared before they dive in". Beisner and the ISA have also had support from several leading anti-evolutionary groups, notably Answers in Genesis, Institute of Creation Research (ICR), the Discovery Institute and the Access Research Network (ARN), headed by Paul Nelson. Dembski's blog Uncommon descent often contains strident articles criticizing global warming. On July 25, 2006 the ISA responded with An Open Letter to the Signers of "Climate Change: An Evangelical Call to Action"...and Others Concerned About Global Warming, signed by more than 130 scholars, theologians, scientists, economists, and other leaders, including James A. Borland, D. A. Carson, Guillermo Gonzalez, Wayne Grudem, James Kennedy, Michael Oard, Joseph A. Pipa, Robert L. Reymond, and Jay W. Richards.

            The simplest interpretation is to conclude that there is a very strong correlation between Creationism in any form and rejection of global warming and creation care. That was the case until a few years ago. Many of the signatories of An Open are creationist and I cannot identify any who are not, but when one considers the signatories of Evangelical Climate Initiative, "non-creationists" are highly represented but a good number are creationist and even YEC. What has happened is that some "creationists" have now made common cause over the environment with mainstream scientists, who maybe Christian or not.

            This division of opinion among evangelicals was clearly seen in the Senate hearings on "An Examination of the Views of Religious Organizations Regarding Global Warming." on Thursday, June 7, 2007[2]. Although this was clearly a purely American event, it actually reflects the worldwide issue over global warming from a religious perspective. Most contributions were Christian, though there was also Jewish submission but no Muslim one. All shades of Christian opinion were presented. There was a contribution from the Roman Catholic Bishops appealing for action, which was shared by that of the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, which included statements from several mainstream protestant churches. The consensus of all these was that Global Warming was a reality and must be urgently addressed.

            Against one Catholic, one Protestant and one Jewish depositions there were four by evangelicals. Three were essentially global warming deniers and only one was convinced of its reality. This was the Revd Dr Jim Ball president of the Evangelical Environmental; Network, which essentially re-iterated the concerns of the Evangelical Climate Initiative of 2006, and in basic agreement with the mainstream churches. The three other evangelicals, Russell Moore, Dean of Theology at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, David Barton and Dr. James Tonkowich, all present the case against global warming and largely based their presentations on Beisner's work. Moore included a new article by Beisner in his submission, and Senator Inhofe referred to him favourably.

            The result of this is that submissions to the Senate hearing were even balanced between the two sides, but reflecting the partial shift by evangelicals. Also in June 2007 President George Bush also warmed to global warming in what must be seen as a step towards Kyoto.

            As the significant events on evangelicals and global warming have occurred only in the last eighteen months as I write this, it is not possible to predict the outcome of the present dispute. As there are many powerful evangelical lobbyists on both sides, the controversy is set to continue. Part of the resolution may come after the 2008 Presidential Election. Global warming is clearly a storm centre for evangelicals at present and contains some very far-reaching implications for evangelicals and their relationship to science, not only in the USA but throughout the world.[3]



[1] In the late 90s I heard him speak at an evangelical church in Oswestry, where the minister was YEC. It is interesting to see him put up overheads of temperature variations over the last 100,000 years.


[3] The way this unfolds will most likely be on the web and one should be able to follow it by putting words, like Beisner, Cizik, and the various evangelical environment groups into a search -engine.


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Received on Thu Dec 3 10:03:43 2009

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