“The earth would survive our folly. Life would survive our folly. Only we think it wouldn’t.”
That line from the novelization of Jurassic Park tainted my thinking on this subject for years as an evangelical because, like so many others, I had the sources I clung to for information and never questioned their motives or the accuracy of their messaging. I'm Spider...
...and tonight we are tackling the subject of climate change and we are doing it from the perspective of counter-apologetics and knowing how to respond to evangelicals and those who think like them about this subject. And yes, it's quite likely that this planet would be able to survive anything we throw at it. That much is true... but there's one huge problem with that equation that we will address later on. Right now... Virtual worship (hold the virtue), let's just... talk about the bible, and no one promised me a rose garden either. It's CBB: displaced logic edition.
My first story today is hard to categorize: A denver megachurch is closing its doors due to the pandemic. The Potter's House, a 32 acre megachurch headed by Pastor Toure Roberts, says they're closing their doors soon because of “lack of interest” and “declining revenue.” This from a church with over 500,000 YouTube subscribers to their channel and 6,000,000+ in their 'social family'.
“COVID-19 forced every church in America to rethink how to best serve their parishioners and the broader community,” Roberts said. “Due to the inability to gather and the economic instability of the pandemic, our church, like many other churches in the nation, experienced declining donations.”
Instead of trying to do upkeep on an “old building that needed significant repairs,” he said, Potter’s House decided to remain fully virtual.
“We decided that the best way forward would be to sell the property, continue our online offering that had proven a successful alternative and maintain our hands-on community outreach operations, which includes our food bank that feeds thousands of families per year,” Roberts said.”
While the phrase “inability to gather” seems to be putting the blame on the government, the telling part of this is that “donations are on the decline.” The most devoted and active givers of the church didn't care to send their donations in at the same rate as before the pandemic. As Hemant Mehta says, “If your church’s revenue depends on peer pressure and people giving money primarily because the people next to them are doing so, you’re running a scheme, not a decent business.”
Still, this is a positive move for everyone involved. The church will sell the property and go virtual, the money going to strengthen it's online presence and maintaining actual services that they provide: the food bank that thousands of families depend on. “It’s positive for the people who may soon own the land, too. The proposed plan is for a developer, DHI Communities, to build homes, apartments, and a five-acre public park in that space.”
Of course there are objectors...the ones clinging to traditions. But if that's all your church has going for it, then it deserves to close down.
And in “give em an inch, they'll take a mile” news: An oklahoma law, passed in 2010, allowed public school districts to offer high school students an elective course teaching students about the Old Testament, New Testament, or both. The newly created Section 11-103.11 of Title 70 made clear that such a course would abide by “religious neutrality” rules and “not endorse, favor, or promote, or disfavor or show hostility toward, any particular religion or nonreligious faith or religious perspective.” In English, that meant this was not church. Teachers could not say the Bible was true. The focus was on the Bible’s content and impact on culture. That wiggle room made it harder to go after in court and several states have similar statutes on the books.
While there have been difficulties working to create classes like this, now it seems that the state senator George burns has decided that the 2010 law doesn't go far enough. He wants to amend this law to provide for several things, none of them good:
“[to]require an elective Bible course to use only the King James Version of the Bible while also expanding the possible teachers for this course to include clergy members who have no background in education. It would also require any school offering this course to have a copy of the KJV Bible in its library...Burns wants to create a pathway for Christian fundamentalism specifically to make its way into public schools.”
There's no reason to make these changes. They don't make their classes better or their teachers more knowledgeable. “It’s also the logical conclusion of having this kind of Bible-as-an-elective type of class at all. Whenever they’re proposed, church/state separation advocates are quick to warn about how the classes are part of a larger right-wing plan to inject religion into the school system.” And this is precisely how it starts.
“Also worth noting is that Burns is a member of Lukfata Baptist Church, which says very clearly on its website that “The King James Version of the Bible shall be the official and only translation used by this church.” Burns isn’t proposing his bill because it’d be good for the students; he’s doing it because it’d be good for his church.”
The Bible is not good literature for children, personally I feel it should be an elective in college not in high school!
Pastor Stewart-Allen Clark of First General Baptist Church in Malden, Missouri told his congregation recently that divorce should be avoided at all costs — including if you’re unhappy in your marriage. He described divorce as part of a “Babylonian scheme to break down the family.”
He goes on to say: “Now I know what the Bible says, but I hear people saying, “Well, he, she, don't make me happy, and I — I deserve to be happy!”
I tell you what. You know what I did before I got married? I read my vows, because I wanted to know what I was getting into, and here's what they said: “I, Stuart-Allen, take you, Melinda, to be my wife. To have and hold from this day forward, for better or for worse, for rich or for poor, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, from this day forward until death us do part.”
I don't see anything there about me being happy!”
I'd like to take a little moment to say Happy Valentines Day to Pastor Stewart's wife Melinda. Good luck. Such a romantic you have there.
There's no reward for staying in an unhappy marriage—you can just ask kids whose parents should have divorced—some people should get divorced so that everyone including the children can be happier. This is just bad advince.
And it's not the only bad advice this guy has given. In March of this past year, he said that keeping a marriage strong required the wife to look 'hot'. The example he gave is Melania Trump. Lose some weight! Submit to his every sexual whim! If you don't it's going to be your fault that he strays!
“Everyone can't be trophy wives but you should at least look like a participation trophy wife!” Can't you just hear the crowd chuckling?
It's great to know that nothing, even professional counseling, changes any of his opinions—and they're all horrible.
PROMO – Azusa Street: The Start of a New Error OR The Disassembly of God OR The Farce Awakens OR Tongues For the Memories... all working titles
In 2015, Pew Research asked American adults, of varying religious faith traditions, their view on climate change. They were divided into four groups: those who believe climate change is caused by human activity, those who believe it’s being caused by natural phenomenon, those who believe there’s no solid evidence the Earth is getting warmer, and those who aren’t sure.
Of white evangelicals surveyed, 37 percent said they believe there’s no solid evidence the planet is getting warmer — this is higher than all other religious groups polled.
So let's start out with the solid evidence...
I knew I needed a credible source or twelve for this one, not just bloggers. So I decided to steer my attention first to the organization that spends the most time observing global climate trends. So here's what NASA has to say...
They start off by making the statement that most evangelicals pick up and run with before recognizing (or caring) that this is only the first part of the equation. Here's what they say about global trends and how climate has changed over time...
“Earth's climate has changed throughout history. Just in the last 650,000 years there have been seven cycles of glacial advance and retreat, with the abrupt end of the last ice age about 11,700 years ago marking the beginning of the modern climate era — and of human civilization. Most of these climate changes are attributed to very small variations in Earth’s orbit that change the amount of solar energy our planet receives.”
I think it's worth noting here that not only is NASA a de-facto credible source, they even cite their own research in the footnotes of this article. This isn't even one scientific body's opinion. It's something that has widespread agreement along credible, academic, peer-reviewed lines.
“Well, just because a bunch of people say they agree with something doesn't make it true.” Yeah. Evangelicals should take a leaf from that book. Other religious people, too. But, to be fair, they're right. It's possible that a large group of people can develop and perpetuate an elaborate ruse on an unsuspecting public. It's happened before. The Council of Nicea is a prime example. I'm just sayin'...
But when a bunch of people make the same observations and can provide independent data and proofs of their positions, it becomes harder and harder to just dismiss... but that's precisely what climate deniers of every ilk do. They dismiss the data, decide that this is a global conspiracy, and indoctrinate the shit out of anyone who will listen – or are forced to listen (like Christian school students) – until there is enough forward momentum for the idea to create a firm enough barrier between belief and science.
Let's pause for just a minute here and have a look at the most important process in the entire climate change argument: scientific method. This applies to literally everything they deny from young earth theory to creationism to climate change, but the method doesn't vary from one scientific body to another and if it does, it gets tossed out in peer review. Scientific method is a rigid form of collecting and analyzing data. It leaves very little (if any) room for variables and when those variables exist, they are all tested and found to be either sound or errant in the overall construction of a scientific theory. The system is set up to flatly deny the opportunity for one person or organization to drive thought on a single subject or idea. Here is how it works:
Encyclopedia Brittanica describes scientific method as: “mathematical and experimental technique employed in the sciences. More specifically, it is the technique used in the construction and testing of a scientific hypothesis.”
Ask a question
Analyze results and come to a conclusion
When these steps yield measurable, observable results what often emerges is a new scientific theory. But it goes even further. Before a new theory is adopted, reputable scientists will then apply every possible variable to the question for the express purpose of disproving the findings. Yes, people work for years proving hypotheses only to have other smart people roll up behind them and vigorously attempt to prove them wrong.
Even the person or group asserting the hypothesis goes through an exhaustive process of trying to prove it wrong before ever even making an assertion that it's right. This isn't a game or a competition. It's a necessary part of the process. So yes, there have been and continue to be, groups of people out there who look at every facet of things like climate change whose goal and purpose is to find chinks in the armor or report that there are none. And scientists the world over agree on at least the foundational arguments for climate change.
So to put in in perspective, when a scientific body comes out and says climate change is real, they present their argument like this (and this is VERY over-simplified)...
1. We notice that there have been changes in the global climate
2. These changes don't jibe with any natural processes that we have been able to observe by way of things like geology and meteorology. We've checked.
3. Our exhaustive research shows that human activity is the cause of this acceleration in climate change
4. We have worked tirelessly to come up with other causes and nothing we've observed points to anything else
5. We can observe the world is getting warmer
6. We can observe the effects of this rapid warming trend
7. These are the specific things that are causing it and it's humans who are doing all of them
8. This is what we need to do to slow or reverse the process if we don't want the planet to eventually drown itself and us with it
When an evangelical launches his or her counter argument it usually begins and ends with “Genesis 9:11 says that the world won't be destroyed in a flood again so back off.” The “smart” ones will then pull out the first foundational statement that NASA presents and form their entire argument around that, not even considering all the data that the foundation supports or confirms.
The NASA article continues with: “The current warming trend is of particular significance because it is unequivocally the result of human activity since the mid-20th century and proceeding at a rate that is unprecedented over millennia.1 It is undeniable that human activities have warmed the atmosphere, ocean, and land and that widespread and rapid changes in the atmosphere, ocean, cryosphere, and biosphere have occurred.”
They then go on to explain how they've collected the data. One of the biggest tools they have is satellite technology. We are able to literally look at the planet and see what's going on and we have decades of data to observe and learn from at this point.
Science has also been aware since at least the mid nineteenth century (that's the 1800s, folks...)
And here's what they provide in the footnotes:
In 1824, Joseph Fourier calculated that an Earth-sized planet, at our distance from the Sun, ought to be much colder. He suggested something in the atmosphere must be acting like an insulating blanket. In
1856, Eunice Foote discovered that blanket, showing that carbon dioxide and water vapor in Earth's atmosphere trap escaping infrared (heat) radiation.
In the 1860s, physicist John Tyndall recognized Earth's natural greenhouse effect and suggested that slight changes in the atmospheric composition could bring about climatic variations.
In 1896, a seminal paper by Swedish scientist Svante Arrhenius first predicted that changes in atmospheric carbon dioxide levels could substantially alter the surface temperature through the greenhouse effect.
We learned all this before we had cars and refrigerators and the average white evangelical still has the audacity to cry Genesis 9:11 over the mountain of research that has come after.
In 1938, Guy Callendar connected carbon dioxide increases in Earth’s atmosphere to global warming.
In 1941, Milutin Milankovic linked ice ages to Earth’s orbital characteristics. Gilbert Plass formulated the Carbon Dioxide Theory of Climate Change in 1956.
And over time, there have been other observations. Some have been made to directly prove that climate change is real, while others emerged as elements of other research.
We know that earth's climate responds to changes in greenhouse gas levels by way of ice cores drawn from sources in Antarctica and Greenland. We can look back in time and find evidences of climate change in things like tree rings, coral reefs, ocean sediments and sedimentary rock formations. By looking at how the planet functioned in the distant past, scientists have been able to determine that the planet's current warming trends are roughly ten times that of the normal recovery warming trends that follow a typical ice age. They can also observe that carbon dioxide generated by human activity (and not just breathing) is increasing TWO HUNDRED AND FIFTY TIMES FASTER than it did after the last ice age.
And I've heard the “well there are a lot more people now and we all exhale carbon dioxide” line before too. But... that's where photosynthesis comes in. We aren't just exhaling CO2 into the atmosphere and sending it up to insulate the planet. Vegetation, under natural circumstances, is more than capable of regulating that part of the equation. So it's not the fault of mouth breathers or farting cows. That's another one I find amusing. It's the fault of carbon emissions and that is something we have direct control over.
But let's not forget that the average evangelical looks at the planet as expendable in the first place. Before we manage to kill it, God is going to destroy it and make a new one for us anyway. At that point why does global warming even matter?
Well... because bad things are happening, they're happening faster than many people realize, and, well, Jesus remains AWOL after two thousand years. The 80s was supposed to be the last decade. Let's not forget that. And here are just some of the evidences that NASA has observed recently:
Rising global temperature – The planet's average surface temperature has risen about 1.18 degrees Celsius since scientists began observing warming trends in the 1800s. Most of that increase has occurred in the past 40 years. The last seven years have been the warmest and 2016 and 2020 are tied for the warmest year on record. Many scientific bodies, as well as the UN, have put a cap of a 1.5 degree rise before truly catastrophic consequences emerge. To put it in perspective, we are a scant .32 degrees celsius away from that threshold right now.
And just to be clear, catastrophic change is already here. Where we live in Massachusetts didn't see tornado activity in over 70 years until June of 2011. There have been at least 30 tornadoes and microbursts that have occurred here since.
“On June 1, 2011, a total of six tornadoes touched down in both western Massachusetts and western Maine. The most violent was a long-track, high-end EF3 tornado that caused significant damage to the city of Springfield, Massachusetts as well as several adjacent cities and towns. By the end of the day, three people had been killed, at least 200 were injured, and greater than 500 families were left homeless.”
Extreme weather events – There are clear links between record high temperatures, drought, extreme precipitation, hurricanes, tornadoes, and wildfires and climate change. Fire season isn't something I grew up with. Parts of the American south have been experiencing drought conditions for the last twelve years now.
Warming Oceans – The first 100 meters of the world's oceans have warmed .33 degrees celsius since 1969. The ocean has absorbed a huge amount of the increased heat from global warming. That's OK news for humans but terrible news for lots of forms of marine life, particularly coral and numerous species of ocean vegetation.
Shrinking Ice Sheets - The Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets are decreasing in mass. Data from NASA's Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment show Greenland lost an average of 279 billion tons of ice per year between 1993 and 2019, while Antarctica lost about 148 billion tons of ice per year.7
Glacial Retreat – This is what happens when a glacier's terminus does not extend as far downvalley as it previously did. Glaciers may retreat when their ice melts or ablates more quickly than snowfall can accumulate and form new glacial ice. This is happening all over the world. The Andes, Alps, Himalayas, Rockies, and glaciers in Alaska, and Africa are all affected.
Decreased snow cover - Satellite images show the amount of spring snow cover in the Northern Hemisphere decreasing over the past five decades. Snow is also melting earlier than it used to. This is bad news for areas whose water supplies depend on run off from melting snow.
Rising Sea Levels – Sea levels have risen about 8 inches in the last century, but the last two decades have seen the sharpest increase at about double the rate of the past century. The seas rise slightly every single year.
Decreasing Arctic Sea Ice – The thickness and extent of arctic sea ice has been decreasing significantly over the past several decades.
Ocean Acidity – Since the beginning of the industrial revolution, surface water acidity in the world's oceans has increased by nearly 30 percent.
Why Evangelicals Deny Climate Change
1. They don't believe that God will let it happen
2. We're getting a new heaven and a new earth
3. Climate change is a sign of the end times
4. God charges people to “subdue the earth” (how do you do that by making tornadoes and hurricanes?)
5. It's a “liberal hoax”
6. Climate change denial is part of their politics
7. They are products of Christian education
8. They have never and will never require proof for anything
10. When they do seek evidence, they latch onto the wrong details or they adopt the last opinion they heard from the pulpit or from their favorite politician. It's never “this study says...” it's always, “this person says...”
11. It hasn't touched their lives in a significant way OR they've convinced themselves that God is behind things like decade-long droughts and massive hurricanes. It all has “purpose.”
Countering Popular Arguments
“It sure is cold this winter... so much for climate change!”
There is a difference between climate and weather
The north has seen a lot less of an effect as of now (droughts, proliferation of pests destroying crops, floods, etc. are big problems in the South)
“Climate change is natural. The earth goes through warming and cooling phases naturally.”
This is true, but when you compare the fluctuations and the amounts of time involved with a purely natural cycle between ice ages and those that involve human influence, the differences are obvious.
“Scientists disagree when it comes to climate change.”
Like hell they do. Show me a source that isn't your pastor on that one and when your pastor hits you with it, demand he cite HIS source.
“Life can adapt”
Not when the changes happen this fast it can't. Entire ecosystems are being thrust into chaos and the species that make them up absolutely cannot develop natural solutions to an unnatural problem like human-driven climate change.
“It's already too late.”
It's true that damage has been done but we can control whether or not we keep inching ever closer to that 1.5 degree celsius threshold or take steps to slow things down. The Paris Climate Agreement is all about this and despite what some idiot like 45 would like to tell you, it matters even if you aren't from Paris.
So just to leave you with a few parting thoughts... Remember, please, that you are never going to convince someone who is hopelessly drunk on the kool aid of anything reasonable, logical, or true. The point is not to convince. The point is to convey. Keep the truth in front of them. These people are big into the concept of sowing seeds. Well, play their game their way. Keep the information in front of them. Sow seeds of wisdom into minds that turned rocky to any “secular” concept years ago. Debate, but do not argue. That only firms their resolve to stick to their errant beliefs and narrow views.
I don't think I have to go into a big persuasive dissertation on why climate change is real, rehashing facts and figures and going over ground we've already covered and that has been common knowledge for decades (centuries if you want to look all the way back). I think most people listening understand that this is a thing and that we need to start being better humans if we don't want to lose our home. But to the former evangelical or to the one sitting alone in their car surreptitiously listening to us as you drive to church for what I can only hope will be one of the last times, I want to make a couple appeals to you.
Clearly what you're hearing is making sense or you wouldn't have listened this far. Clearly you have at least a surface desire to seek the truth even down a few uncomfortable avenues and I commend you for that. Your own book says that you will know the truth and the truth will set you free. I'm not taking the verse out of context. I'm merely suggesting that it applies in more than one. If this is a subject that worries you (and it should be), there are things you can do about it.
First, stop getting your information from politicians, preachers, and propagandists. Click on a few of the links above and go searching for more sources as you go. There is a wealth of information out there from credible scientific sources that will answer any and all questions that you have on this subject and not one of them will ever point a finger in the direction of a deity. Not one. Not one will lend deference to the opinion or will of a deity, and not one will agree even a little with anything you've been taught about this planet and how it functions from sources like Christian ed science textbooks, freelance YouTube videos, or the Bible.
They will, however, show you real numbers. They will, however show you pictures of what the planet looked like 30 years ago and how it looks now. Billions and billions of year of history, the endurance of this planet through ages and ages of natural changes that it has just rolled with for aeons, and we are taking it down in a matter of decades. That's not subduing the earth. That's destroying it. And we need to stop.
You can also stop voting for people who think like your pastor. You can stop electing Presidents who pull our country out of the Paris Climate Accord and who give industries license to amp up our carbon footprint to dangerous levels so the richest among us can keep making money... until there's nowhere left to spend it. You can be involved in the political process and put people in seats of power who have the capability of stopping the forward march into disaster that we are currently on.
Now a quick word to those who might be listening who still think their pastors and favorite politicians know more about this than NASA...
When your farm is hit with drought, when your pests destroy your crops, when the cost of the things you need to survive goes through the roof, there's a reason for it. There's a reason why we now have “fire season.” There's a reason why those hurricanes seem to be getting stronger, more violent, and more persistent. And if your god is in control, that means he has control over all of this. When do you start calling your god on his lies and demand that he make good on his promise to prosper you and not to harm you? Because, with all due respect, he's doing a singularly shitty job of that and not just in the case of climate either.
We all need to approach this subject from the perspective of fact and truth. We need to understand that we have the responsibility to be educated and to do what we can to save this planet from ourselves. Because no, Doctor Malcolm, it won't survive our folly or at a very minimum, it will punish us for it severely.
I remember Rush Limbaugh citing that quote from the novel Jurassic Park as a young evangelical and that being the thing that made me wave off the whole global warming thing. But just like most evangelicals I simply accepted that that was the entire message. The link to that segment in the book is in the show notes. Read that line in context and you learn instantly that if we keep trying to kill our planet, eventually it'll kill us back. IT will survive our folly, but WE will not. Understanding that is just another thing we need to steer our way away from the harms of religious thinking and toward real solutions to the crisis in which we're in. Because it's not just about freeing ourselves from the toxicity that comes with evangelical thinking this time. Our planet – our home, the only place in this universe we have to sustain us needs our help if *IT* is to have any chance of getting and staying Unbound.