Saturday, February 11, 2006

The Left Screws Up on Global Warming

This past week, 86 Christian evangelicals issued a statement acknowledging the abundance of evidence that global warming is real, and that mitigating action should be taken. The response from the left was pretty predictable: Lauding this development and trumpeting its support for the cause. The instinct behind this reaction is understandable. Acting on it is stupid and short-sighted.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not one of those people who rejects any endorsements from the right, or from religious people, for the causes I favor. Hell, I agree with some of their positions. And in the past, I've specifically argued that the left ought to applaud right-wing nutjobs when they see the light on any particular issue. In that case, I was talking about Rick Santorum, who is, whether we like it or not, due to his office, involved in every issue. But, in general, I was referring to the kinds of issues that are, essentially, subjective matters of public policy. The kinds of issues on which everyone has a voice.

Global warming is not such an issue. Global warming is science. It's very new science, and it's very complex science, and it's very uncertain science. But it's still science. That's why the correct response to 86 evangelicals, or 8600 evangelicals, should be the same as if they had weighed in on the fine points of brain surgery, or the principles of building a suspension bridge. The only correct response is: Who gives a fuck what you say?

Yes, it's tempting to say that we serve a greater good by hailing this announcement and praising the evangelicals who made it. After all, that could, in theory, help lead to some positive policy changes. But it would also be helping to perpetuate the same dynamic that has allowed religion to hobble science for, well, always.

Why? Because religion -- most notably Christianity -- has been at odds with science since day one. And religion has virtually always done whatever was within its power to stifle any scientific advances that challenged its tenets or its power or its authority. Only at those junctures when empirical evidence is so overwhelming that broader society has stood up to defend science has science (i.e., rationality) been able to prevail.

And the only reason religions have managed to withstand these challenges is that they -- with unwitting irony -- evolve new adaptations that enable them to survive. When their anti-Copernican cosmology became untenable, for instance, they revised their claims about what the Bible says about Earth and the heavens. Religions have consistently retreated when faced with common-sense evidence of scientific reality -- in order to avoid the jeopardy to their credibility that would ensue if they maintained their opposition.

When you praise the recent evangelical announcement as meaningful, let alone laudatory, you're essentially helping to perpetuate their hold over people who should be looking to the scientific community, rather than the religious community, for guidance about scientific issues. When you appeal to evangelical worshippers to support environmental progress because their evangelical leaders do, you're perpetuating the power those evangelical leaders have to dictate scientific policy not just now, but in the future. In fact, there's a very easy way to determine how much this announcement is genuinely about seeing the light on science, and how much is about maintaining their own credibility and power. How?

Well, if they are sincere in their intentions, and sincere in wanting to remedy their past wrongs (i.e., their vocal support for anti-environmental politicians), they would say the following: We were wrong to stake a claim to leadership on scientific issues; we hereby renounce any and all authority on empirical matters and we urge those in the evangelical community to turn in the future to the scientific community for guidance and leadership on such issues. But that would mean giving up their power.

So, we're left with the absurd spectacle of allegedly "green" evangelicals battling it out with the old-school evangelicals. That's right, such stalwarts as Colson, Wildmon and Dobson released their own manifesto in response to the 86. You can read it here, but please don't bother. The idea that anyone is going to listen to what either side of this supposed debate believes their magic book tells them about planetary climatology is almost obscene. Throughout history, scientific and medical advances have been delayed and thwarted by the forces of religion. Imagine how much further humanity might have advanced by now if religions hadn't opposed advances in astronomy, physics, germ theory, evolutionary biology, genetics, psychology, dissection, reproductive medicine, stem-cell research, etc. Imagine how much better your life would be. Speculate for a minute on how many years of scientific progress have been lost to religious interference. One? Ten? A hundred? Who would still be alive if not for religion? How much longer would you live, and with how much greater a quality of life? How much pain will your children endure, thanks to the scientific progress religion has impeded? When you suggest that evangelicals have a credible voice on global warming, you become a part of this problem.

In each and every field, religions have retreated only when evidence became so overwhelming that their opposition became untenable. When we endorse the notion that evangelical Christians have a place in the field of climatology, we perpetuate a cycle that has been detrimental to humanity throughout history.

When religions get on board with the latest scientific advances, it's not evidence that religions are somehow improving. Religions have always survived by flexing enough to accomodate prevailing notions of reality. The Christianity of the year 100 A.D. could never survive today. It would have to redefine itself to conform to modern notions of reality in order to survive. That's all these evangelicals are doing: Surviving long enough to keep fucking up our future, just as their predecessors survived long enough to elect the anti-science politicians determined to fuck up our present.

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