Why are American Christian fundamentalists waging a war on science? They wage war against the science of climate change. They battle stem cell research. They fight the teaching of the theory of evolution in public school science classes, treating Intelligent Design as if it were a credible science. They even challenge medical autopsies about brain death—as they did with Terri Schiavo, who was found to be blind and to have irreversible brain damage.
A few days ago, a Southern Baptist Convention official repeated yet again his claim that the earth was cooling. If he were alone, one could dismiss his comment as another half-baked claim.
But he is not alone. The leadership of the largest Protestant denomination in the United States reacts with bobble-headed agreement. No Southern Baptist university science professor offers objections. No Baptist environmental scientist protests. No seminary ethics professor warns about speaking falsehood.
Just because an anti-science cleric claims a cooling earth and 16 million adherents nod in agreement does not mean the earth is cooling.
Scientists agree that the earth is warming.
Climatologists—real scientists—at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies said in late February that “the ten warmest years on record have all occurred between 1997 and 2008.”
They reported that while 2008 was “the coolest year since 2000,” 2008 was “the ninth warmest year since continuous instrumental records were started in 1880.”
January 2009 was the seventh warmest January since records have been kept, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
The National Climatic Data Center said that “based on preliminary data, the globally averaged combined land and sea surface temperature (for February 2009) was the ninth warmest on record for February.”
The Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research reported in February that glaciers in Antarctica were melting faster and more widely than expected.
Real scientists are reporting on empirical facts. Anti-science clerics are denying these facts.
What explains why Christian fundamentalists and many evangelicals reject what scientists are saying?
Is it ignorance—they just don’t know what scientists are saying? Or is it arrogance—they just know more than scientists or have special revelation that trumps scientists? Or is it sloth—they just don’t care what happens to the poor who will be harmed first and hardest by global warming?
Or it is inbred decades of hostility toward science? From the Scopes Monkey Trial to faith healing, fundamentalists have framed the relationship between science and religion as an either/or choice. One believes either the Bible or science. One believes either the preacher or secular scientists.
Whatever the reason, American Christian conservatives are waging a war on the science of global warming. Their war marginalizes the Christian faith among educated, intelligent people. Moreover, it creates collateral damage in faith communities that hold both a deep respect for the Bible and a high view of science. Fundamental extremism smears the pro-science commitments of other Christians.
And worse than that, the conservative Christian war against the science of climate change is morally unfaithful to God’s call to care of the environment. The Bible is a profoundly green book that repeatedly prioritizes earth stewardship. And Christians may be running out of time to hear the will of God and to do it.
“The climate is nearing tipping points. Changes are beginning to appear and there is a potential for explosive changes, effects that would be irreversible, if we do not rapidly slow fossil-fuel emissions over the next few decades,” wrote James Hansen, director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, last month.
“Our planet is in peril. If we do not change course, we’ll hand our children a situation that is out of their control,” he said. “One ecological collapse will lead to another, in amplifying feedbacks.”
Robert Parham is executive editor of EthicsDaily.com and executive director of its parent organization, the Baptist Center for Ethics.