Recently at a Ride for Refuge bike-a-thon (where I and others rode our bikes for 25-100 km to raise money for those in need) I met an evangelical, nice guy, who joked about how stupid the idea of global warming was. I wasn’t able to laugh heartily along with him, and I politely challenged him to explain to me what the problem with the idea was. He had gathered eventually that I was Catholic, and not evangelical, but seeing as he presumed a certain measure of common ground between us, he presented the following (vague) argument. He suggested that if God is in control, then the world wouldn’t end except with his say-so, and it therefore wouldn’t end in the way these radical leftists/liberals are suggesting it will if we don’t seriously address this (imaginary) problem of global warming. The kind of dystopia predicted by the story of global warming just doesn’t match up with a Christian eschatology. I challenged him, in return, with the following points. First, I said that if that were true, it would be a good argument for not trying to avoid a catastrophic nuclear war (now that I think of it, I wonder if this is why American Republicans are uncomfortably comfortable with having and keeping mass stock of nuclear weapons, but that’s a speculative digression). Clearly, however, there is no way to argue from the truth of Christianity to the impossibility or even implausibility of a catastrophic (even if not apocalyptic) nuclear war, or, for that matter, a catastrophic loss of life worldwide due to global warming. In passing, I’m not sure that Christian eschatology is so clear and conspicuous on the details of the end of the world that if global warming did occur (perhaps in conjunction with other events) it couldn’t be the/a cause of the end of the world (on pain of Christianity’s being falsified), but even if global warming couldn’t be the cause of the end of the world on a Christian eschatology, all that gives you is the conditional ‘if global warming is happening, then it will not entirely wipe out all human life‘ but that’s quite trivial. The same could be said of a zombie apocalypse (or, I suppose, a non-apocalyptic zombie epidemic). Nothing follows from that about whether we ought to be concerned about the issue, or what we ought to do (or not do) about it.
“Suppose” I asked him “that global warming occurs, and within about a hundred years from now the earth’s population drops to something like 100,000 people; what would follow from that?” I suggested that no argument can be made from this, for how would that argument even go? Something like this probably: there are 100,000 people alive on the earth at present, therefore Jesus of Nazareth did not rise from the dead. Clearly not an impressive argument. But perhaps instead the argument would go like this: the earth has become considerably less inhabitable, therefore God does not exist. That can’t be right. Perhaps this: the integrity of the infrastructure of the Christian Church has been greatly compromised, therefore Jesus never existed, or the doctrine of the Trinity is false, or God does not have all the superlative attributes. Aren’t all these arguments absurd? None of these scenarios purchase any argument against Christianity’s truth. Moreover, what of this suggestion that God is in control? What does one mean by God being in control? Perhaps it means that God is providentially overseeing the course of human history. However, does that imply that global warming will not occur, or even that it ‘probably’ will not occur? I can see no reason to think this. If global warming is occuring then all it will mean, interpreted through the lens of Christian theology, is that mankind’s sin has damaged the integrity of creation, but isn’t that part and parcel of a Christian worldview in any case? In fact, it’s practically a truism on the Christian worldview. In fact, it is a truism on the Christian worldview.
Perhaps the argument is supposed to be a conditional probability of the following kind: the probability of God’s being in control, on Global warming, is extremely low. That can’t be right, since if the catastrophe predicted by global warming did occur it wouldn’t insinuate anything about God’s providence. Indeed, if that conditional probability were true, then it is a wonder that the following wouldn’t be true: the probability of God’s being in control, given the existence of sin the effects of which compromise the integrity of creation, is very very low. Clearly, whatever else that is, it isn’t something which sits well with a Christian story about the world. In fact, since global warming would just be one example of sin the effects of which compromise the integrity of creation, it’s hard to see how one could affirm the first without affirming the second, but the Christian story will not allow one to affirm the second, or at least the Christian story insinuates that the second isn’t true.
As the discussion progressed we diverged away from global warming and into eschatology and exegesis, and eventually into evolution, and I won’t reproduce any of my thoughts or arguments on those topics here. Instead, I want to try to give one last argument for the anti-global-warming position and respond to it. This is something which was partly discussed in the course of our conversation as well, though it was glossed over and not elaborated into a full argument. Suppose that these wild leftist liberals proclaiming the disaster of global warming and giving it the status of a kind of secular apocalypse, are really 1) trying to insinuate that Christianity isn’t true, and 2) trying to manipulate Christians and others into political, economic and environmental moves with some kind of (no doubt pernicious) secularist agenda behind it all. Even if both of these were true, would it follow that we should argue that Christians shouldn’t believe in global warming, or that they shouldn’t take action, regardless of their belief, to redress the problem of global warming (real or imagined)? I don’t think so. First, as we just saw, if a secularist is trying to insinuate by global warming that Christianity isn’t true, then they are simply courting a bad argument, and that’s nothing for the Christian to get upset about. The proper response to that general attitude is to show by reason that the secularist has a bad argument on hand, and that redounds, in effect, to the reasonableness of the Christian witness. Second, suppose that those on the left are promoting global warming with some kind of agenda in mind, whether it’s implicit, sublimated or altogether subliminal, or not. Isn’t it the case that most people on the left do genuinely believe that global warming is a serious problem? I think they clearly do. Shouldn’t that be enough for the Church to act as a witness to Christ by acting so as to appease their sensibilities? I think so. Imagine by analogy that you were a missionary to some African tribe (I don’t know why ‘African’ in particular, but let’s just say it’s a tribe in Africa for convenience). This particular African tribe believes strongly that if they do not gather sticks together and place them in the center of the village, and then light them on fire, on a certain day of the month each month, then their tribe will be met with some calamity, either by illness or weather, or whatever. Now, you try to tell them that no such thing is the case, that there’s just no connection between gathering sticks and burning them in the center of the village, and the weather. However, since they earnestly believe it, they aren’t likely to listen to you witness the Gospel to them because, as they see it, your doctrine puts them and their families in dire danger. They see your message as a threat to their well being, and since their belief is deeply entrenched, they aren’t going to be able to take the Gospel you present to them seriously insofar as it is presented as mutually exclusive with their deeply entrenched belief about sticks and the weather. Since it’s such a secondary issue, of no real import for the Gospel, wouldn’t it be reasonable to put to one side your views about the weather, and help them gather sticks, placing them in the center of the village? Wouldn’t your helping them be a witness in action to how much you care about them, and about their families, and about the world in general? It doesn’t matter that there’s no connection between gathering and burning sticks, and the weather – the fact is they believe that there is a connection, and they are less likely to take your message seriously unless you demonstrate by your actions that you care about them enough to join them in helping to make the world a better place. Isn’t gathering sticks with them, offering them a helping hand, a rather acceptable price to pay to show them that you love them because of Christ? If you would gladly spend your days gathering sticks in order to share the gospel with an African tribe, why not spend a little energy addressing the concern of global warming in order to put yourself in the near occasion of Christian witness to the demographic of democrats? If your argument is that the economy can’t sustain indulging this delusion then at very least your argument (whatever its worth) is clearly well outside of the province of theology. My purpose, of course, is not to convince everyone that global warming is correct, but, more modestly, to demonstrate that there are absolutely no good theological arguments against global warming, so one cannot excuse being vaguely motivated by theological concerns in their opposition to the ‘global warming’ thesis.
Finally, I presented a fourth argument on which I ultimately rested my case against his suggestion that Christians shouldn’t believe in global warming given this argument from eschatology. I suggested that the argument that if Christianity is true, then global warming is a lie, was an intellectually worthless argument, and to the extent that it is intellectually irresponsible, it directly harms the Church’s witness to the world. In particular, there is this large demographic of people who would be open to considering Christianity, or at least taking it more seriously, if they saw the Church presenting arguments which were good, rational, reasonable and compelling, and yet who, because they see the Church giving bad arguments, are compelled to look with suspicion upon all the claims the Church makes about Salvation, God and what difference Jesus makes to the human situation. I suggested that even if Christianity is true, and global warming is a lie, and even if it’s somehow true (in some way I haven’t even considered) that Christianity’s truth entails that global warming isn’t true, to present the vague argument that Christianity entails that global warming is not occurring without any substantive argument behind the gesturing (which makes it mere posturing) is intellectually irresponsible, and veritably sinful. This, it is, regardless of the fact (as it seems to me) that the person who publishes such an argument is actually co-opting religious sentiment illegitimately to advance a political agenda (i.e., that it isn’t the ‘wicked’ liberals who are trying to manipulate us, but rather these wolves in sheep’s clothing who present these arguments). To give such a bad argument is unconscionably evil not only because it is manipulative, but because it damages the Church’s witness to the world, and compromises the Church’s integrity as a reasonable witness to eternal truths, for if we can’t believe the Church about earthly things, how shall we believe it about heavenly things?