Earlier this year I looked at the first several chapters in Elaine Ecklund’s new book with Christopher Scheitle: Religion vs. Science: What Religious People Really Think. After looking at the issue of creationism and evolution it moved to the back burner. It appears timely to return, however, and look at the next chapter “Religious People are Climate Change Deniers.” Certainly evangelical Christians have this reputation in at least some circles.
The statement is not true, although it is necessary to dig a little deeper to unpack the truth. First, even among evangelical Christians some 70% believe that climate change is real and that human are at least partly responsible although only 29% agreed that humans are a significant cause. For other groups (Catholics, Mainline Protestants, Jews, Non-Western Religions, and Atheist, Agnostic and Unaffiliated) the percentage falls between 80% and 90% with a significantly higher percentage agreeing that humans are a significant cause. It is also true that evangelical Christians are significantly more likely to be climate change deniers (10.4% while for the other groups the percentage ranges from 3.9% to 6.3%). Clearly most evangelical Christians are not climate change deniers – although some are. As a group they (we) are more skeptical than the other five groups studied by Ecklund and Scheitle.
Second, and perhaps most importantly, accepting the reality of climate change doesn’t lead to consensus on the appropriate response. One reason is a conviction that God is in control and will intervene if necessary to protect his creation. A belief that we as humans could destroy God’s creation amounts to a denial of his sovereignty. I struggle with this reasoning because it seems clear from my reading of the Bible that God will allow us to go far astray and to reap the consequences of our actions. He may well act to preserve a remnant, but that doesn’t negate the great harm that occurs beforehand or eliminate the responsibility of those who went their own way. Selfishness has consequences.
Others expressed the opinion that God is going to bring about a new heavens and earth anyway – so we shouldn’t worry too much about climate change. This is also theologically troubling – our vocation is to be God’s image on earth and let God act in his time, not to speed things up as we pursue our convenience and pleasure. Continue reading