Seminary professors contest global warming alarmism
December, 2009Two professors from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary have weighed in on the heated debate that recently sparked conflict between former Vice President Al Gore and former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin.
Professors Craig Mitchell and Benjamin Phillips contributed to a document criticizing global warming alarmism. The document, titled "A Renewed Call to Truth, Prudence, and Protection of the Poor," was published by the Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation and released during a Dec. 3 meeting of evangelical scholars at the Heritage Foundation in Washington, D.C.
Mitchell, an assistant professor of ethics at Southwestern and lead author of the theology, worldview and ethics portion of the document, participated in the panel discussion at the Heritage Foundation. He insisted that worldviews inform the alarmists' stance on climate change by determining what data they accept as valid, as well as their interpretation of that data.
According to the worldview of many global warming alarmists, the earth stands in a delicate balance that humans can easily upset, Mitchell said. They often consider humans to be parasites on the earth. On the contrary, the Christian worldview teaches that the earth's climate and ecosystems are "robust."
"God created the earth to support life in general and human life in particular," and God endowed humankind with "authority over this earth," Mitchell said. This "robust creation" is not "some weak, delicate thing that man can destroy, because this earth is going to be here as long as God wants it to be here, not one second less. It is going to serve His purposes."
Global Warming, Energy and Morality
The Heritage Foundation held its conference on climate change amid debates in the U.S. Senate concerning cap-and-trade legislation and in anticipation of the United Nations' Dec. 7-18 summit on climate change in Copenhagen, Denmark.
Church-going voters within the United States "are going to unleash disastrous economic forces upon themselves and upon others" if they heed global warming alarmists and support cap-and-trade legislation, said Mitchell, who is currently adding a master's degree in economics to three other master's degrees and a Ph.D. in Christians ethics.
This legislation is an attempt to decrease carbon-based forms of energy, such as coal and natural gas. According to Mitchell, "carbon is the cheapest, most efficient way to produce energy," and the United States has an abundant supply of coal and natural gas, alongside its reservoirs of oil. Some scholars suggest that this supply of fossil fuel could last hundreds of years. While global warming alarmists attempt to decrease the use of carbon-based energy sources, the energy needs in the nation increase on an annual basis.
"The growth of the economy largely requires the growth of the country's energy supply," Mitchell explained. "And so, if you are continually cutting the means of energy production, the result is that you are going to hurt a country's economy. And as you do that, there is going to be increased unemployment in this country, and a host of other problems are going to follow that."
Within the United States, cap-and-trade legislation may, "as a minimum, cost the nation $200 billion a year in increased taxes." It will also increase the cost of electricity, possibly doubling it for everybody in the country. In developing nations, however, such legislation based on global warming is a matter of life and death.
In many of these countries, the poor spend much of their time chopping wood and finding human and animal dung to burn in their homes for lack of more advanced forms of heating. The smoke produced by this burning wood and dung contributes to health problems, such as tuberculosis, among women and children. If applied to these nations, cap-and-trade legislation could prevent the development of affordable, cleaner forms of energy that would prevent such health issues.
In the theology, worldview and ethics chapter of "A Renewed Call to Truth," evangelical scholars insisted that, "while laws should protect the environment, they should never do so at the expense of human life and well-being." The document then notes that "reductions in energy use (caused by mandated shifts from fossil fuels to more expensive alternatives) would consign about two-thirds of the human population to added decades or even generations of severe poverty and the attendant high rates of disease and premature mortality."
According to Mitchell, the scientific data collected by global warming alarmists do not justify such economic and human costs of hasty legislation.
Climategate and the Ethics of Science
In fact, Mitchell argues that the data used to support global warming has been in debate from the beginning. Around the world, people have questioned the scientific support of global warming, especially since the emergence of Climategate, the scandalous release of e-mail correspondences implying that scientists have doctored statistics to support global warming. According to Mitchell, this scandal raises serious ethical issues and illustrates the limitations of science.
"There is a kind of morality associated with science, and to do science correctly, to do it morally, means that you not only look at everything, but you report everything," said Mitchell, who has degrees in engineering and has worked as a "rocket scientist" for the United States Air Force, testing ballistic missile systems, as well as air- and spacecraft.
People often imagine scientists as "cold and analytical" researchers "who are just pursuing the truth," Mitchell said. But he noted that philosopher of science Thomas Kuhn, in his widely read book, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, dismisses this popular view of scientific practice.
"Kuhn says many scientists are people who are really after power," Mitchell said, "and you know what, the sad truth of the matter is that, at least with that part, he is right."
In his book, Kuhn also suggests that a community of scientists working within an accepted framework (i.e., "paradigm") will ignore contradictory data (i.e., "anomalies") until they are forced to change their paradigm. In the climate change debate, Mitchell said, there are no anomalies.
"There are just major holes that they have ignored," he said. "I don't think that this really amounts to the model that Kuhn talks about ... because there is not just a little hole here and a little hole there that people are poking into the existing paradigm. You are talking about thirds and fourths of the paradigm. The thing can't stand its own weight."
Science itself has limitations, Mitchell added. As an "empirical, inductive approach to knowledge," science cannot guarantee certainty even when it is done correctly. Philosophers of science recognize, for example, that "for any given set of data, there are an infinite number of interpretations of that data." For this reason, scientists must continually test the data and change their theories based on the results of those tests. Ultimately, a scientist's worldview will determine the way he uses and interprets the data he gathers.
"Your worldview," Mitchell said, "drives your agenda, drives your morality and drives how you look at the data, or how you don't look at the data."
Christians and the Environment
Despite his skepticism toward cap-and-trade legislation and human-caused climate change, Mitchell said that Christians must not ignore the environment. The biblical worldview requires that humans responsibly and productively care for creation.
"There was a time," Mitchell said, "when there really was an issue of air pollution in this country. People took action, and in most places in the country, the air is far cleaner than it was. You look at the Great Lakes, which at one point were incredibly polluted, but things have turned around. There is a legitimate concern for the environment that we should have."
Mitchell said that Christians can learn more about the environment and the global warming debate by accessing the resources provided by conservative organizations: For example, the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) of the Southern Baptist Convention; the Cornwall Alliance; and the Heritage Foundation.
The Cornwall Alliance's statement on global warming may be accessed on their Web site, www.cornwallalliance.org. Video and audio recordings of the Dec. 3 panel discussion at the Heritage Foundation may be accessed online at www.heritage.org.
Benjamin Hawkins is a writer for Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (www.swbts.edu/campusnews).
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