Why Many Believers are Uncomfortable with Global Warming

Climate science is the study of all the many combined influences on the earth’s climate. And it turns out, not surprisingly, that the human race, with over 7 billion persons on the face of the earth, has a substantial influence on the climate. In recent decades (or perhaps generations), our influence on the climate has had the overall effect of increasing the average global temperature. This effect is called global warming. The world has become warmer in recent decades, provably. One major cause of that warming, though perhaps not the only cause, is the activities of 7 billion humans all over the earth.

Now, all of the above should present no problem to a religious believer, to a faithful Christian (conservative or liberal or whatever). It’s non-controversial science.

Of course, it’s not of necessity that the influence of humanity on climate should result in warming. Suppose, hypothetically and terrifyingly, there were an all-out nuclear war. Science is clear that a nuclear winter would likely result, causing severe global cooling. Or, in a milder scenario, suppose that there were several major volcanic eruptions in the same year. A cooling effect would prevail, for a brief time overwhelming humanity’s warming influence.

But why, then, do so many conservatives and so many believers reject global warming? Is it not scientific fact? Well, it started as scientific fact.

But climate science is complex. There are many influences on weather and temperature. Humanity has a major influence, but it is not so simple to evaluate and quantify which activities have how much influence, and how that influence combines with natural influences on climate. Every field of science is complex. That’s why it’s called science.

Then something happened. Cultural and political forces adopted global warming as a liberal cause. They took the complex science of climate change, and they vastly over-simplified it. Then the culture demanded adherence to this over-simplification. In that context, global warming ceased to be science. It became pseudo-religious dogma. And all who still treated climate science as complex and worthy of further study, were branded as heretics. What started as science became a false religion.

And then the feedback loop started. Climate scientists who do not deny that the world has been warming, but who wish to treat this field of science LIKE EVERY OTHER FIELD OF SCIENCE, as complex and open to further investigation, were treated as heretics. They were behaving now in a way that was counter-cultural. And our culture is totalitarian; it does not permit dissent. If you disagree with the majority view, or simply seek a more complex and subtle understanding, you are treated with contempt, ridicule, and rejection. This applies to scientists, to politicians, and more and more to ordinary Americans. Comply or suffer the consequences.

If you say that the world is warming, but that the causes and consequences are still worthy of further study, you have committed cultural heresy. You may NOT say anything beyond repetition of the dogma that the world is warming, that this is caused by humans, and its consequences will be exceedingly grave. You many NOT think or reason or question. Climate science has morphed into a bizarre socio-political dogma. What started as a legitimate scientific conclusion became a societal mantra, one that must be repeated without thinking. And this has affected climate science so that new research is restricted from considering any scientific possibility that the culture has rejected a priori.

Believers do not like it when the culture behaves like a religion, forcing any type of pseudo-dogma on them. The world is warming. But that fact should not be treated as an idol to be worshipped. It should not rule over politics and society to such an extent that all of our actions be guided by concern for our individual carbon footprint. Concern for the environment on God’s green and blue earth is compatible with the Christian Faith and I suppose with all religions. But that concern must take its proper place it the scale of values. It must not become an idol to be worshipped above all else.

I don’t reject the scientific conclusion that the world is warming. I reject treating that fact as a dogma or religion. I reject the use of global warming as a socio-political stick to beat conservatives and to force society to make a myriad of changes based on the scientifically unsupported claim that each and every such change will affect the climate. I reject idolatry of every kind. And I reject the current larger trend in culture to force the majority view, on every issue, upon each individual. Be wary of people who treat global warming as one simple idea, to be accepted without thinking, rather than as part of a complex scientific theory that requires further study.

Ronald L. Conte Jr.
Roman Catholic theologian and
translator of the Catholic Public Domain Version of the Bible.

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One Response to Why Many Believers are Uncomfortable with Global Warming

  1. warrenjwalker says:

    Speaking from a critical point of view, what many “lay” people do not realize is that, generally speaking, things that are usually published in the media concerning science are hypotheses. A hypothesis is different from a theory. I believe the textbook definition of a theory is probably something along these lines: A hypothesis that has been tested by many different scientists, a numerous amount of times, and has finally been proven through practice. The term proven is herein used loosely, because even something that is said to be proven could be radically disproved in the future because of new evidence. Hence, that is why science is always changing.

    I do not know much about global warming in and of itself, but speaking from the point of view of a biology major, I can certainly say that the field of environmental science is in a state of constant change. This is true of all biological sciences. But it is also true of other sciences as well; if not all of them.

    I believe you hit the ball home with your concluding statement.

    Overall, I enjoyed the read.

    Peace be with you,

    – Jacob

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