Southern Baptist leaders welcomed a newspaper article quoting scientists who believe former Vice President Al Gore overstated the immediate danger of global warming in his Oscar-winning documentary “An Inconvenient Truth,” saying it would dispel “some–but not all–of the myths of catastrophic global warming.”
The quote is from Wednesday’s lead story in Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s official news service. BP described a March 13 story in the New York Times quoting some scientists who regard Gore’s claims in the film “exaggerated and erroneous” and accuse him of “alarmism” as the first of more than 60 stories and editorials the newspaper has published this year on global warming that raises serious criticism of Gore’s views on human-induced climate change.
That pleased Barrett Duke, vice president for public policy and research with the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. He told Baptist Press few conservatives would have thought the New York newspaper “would help bring out significant and broad-based scientific opposition to some of the points of the human-induced climate change agenda,” especially when preached by “one of their favorite people.”
“We’ve been looking at this issue for several years now out of our desire to practice stewardship of the environment, to care for creation, but we have not been able to find the level of consensus Gore claims on global warming or consensus about how it will affect the world,” Duke said. “The report is potentially very damaging to Gore’s notion of climate change, and also potentially damaging personally, to his credibility.”
The New York Times article says Gore has strong support among leading scientists, who commend his effort to communicate the science of global warming in language that lay people can understand. While not a scientist, the article says, Gore relies heavily on the authority of science, and for that reason some scientists are sensitive to the film’s details and claims.
The question for most is not over Gore’s central claim that man-made heat-trapping gases are contributing to global warming, but whether his portrayal of catastrophic effects and imminent danger go beyond the scientific evidence.
Citing no particular time frame, for example, Gore envisions sea levels rising up to 20 feet and depicts parts of New York, Florida and other heavily populated areas sinking below the waves. The International Panel on Climate Change, which last month went further than ever before in saying that human activity was the main cause of current global warming, portrayed it as a slow-motion process, predicting seas in this century would rise no more than 23 inches.
Experts say even small rises in sea levels could create problems of increased coastal erosion, higher storm-surge flooding, loss of property and coastal habitats, increased flood risk and potential loss of life, impacts on agriculture and aquaculture and loss of tourism, recreation and transportation.
Gore’s supporters in the scientific community concede “imperfections” and “technical flaws” in some of the film’s points, but say it is fundamentally accurate.
“On balance, he did quite well–a credible and entertaining job on a difficult subject,” Michael Oppenheimer, a Princeton geoscientist who advised Gore on his film and book told the New York Times. “For that, he deserves a lot of credit. If you rake him over the coals, you’re going to find people who disagree. But in terms of the big picture, he got it right.”
The Baptist Press story also quoted Wayne Grudem, research professor of Bible and theology at Phoenix Seminary, who said he is not surprised that Gore’s “wild and unsubstantiated predictions are being called into question by a large number of scientists.”
“The method he uses is really a ‘cherry-picking’ of isolated facts to support a very dubious theory-–a highly destructive dubious theory,” Grudem said. “It is one that allows the government to take our freedoms and our property, or least the right to use them as we wish.”
Grudem is part of the Interfaith Stewardship Alliance, a religious group that argues on its Web site that science is not settled about the cause or effect of climate change and discourages Christians from taking political stands without first examining what it calls “biblical principles” about God’s creation and preservation of the earth.
Grudem told Baptist Press that Gore’s environmental push runs contrary to what the Bible says about man’s relationship to creation. Genesis 1:28 says he is to rule over it. It also, he said, contradicts what the Bible says about God’s wisdom in Proverbs 3:19-20. “By his wisdom the Lord laid the earth’s foundations, by his understanding he set the heavens in place; by his knowledge the depths were divided, and the clouds let drop the dew.”
“I find it highly doubtful that the Lord would set the earth up in such a way that we would destroy it by obeying His command,” Grudem said. “And yet, that’s exactly what the alarmists would have us think.”
Robert Parham of the Baptist Center for Ethics said it is fundamentalists who “cherry-pick” biblical texts to “back up their anti-scientific worldview.”
“Fundamentalists misuse the Bible when they cherry-pick texts to back up their anti-scientific worldview,” he said. “That’s what Grudem has done when he cites Proverbs 23 as a text that speaks against global warming. Authentic Christianity believes that God created the entire created order, which Proverbs 23 underscores, and that human sinfulness marred and mars creation, which is what man-made global warming does.
“Christians would do well to think theologically about their moral responsibility to care for the earth and how human sinfulness, manifested by greed, sloth and pride, has distorted the environment.
“Genesis 1:28 uses the word ‘dominion,’ which fundamentalists translate as domination to justify their disregard for the environment, their greed-based desire to exploit the earth. The word ‘dominion,’ however, means just rule, not endless assault. The dominion or rule of a good king results in justice and peace, not conquest.
“From Genesis 2:15 through Exodus 20 to Psalm 24:1 through the prophets to Matthew 22:39 to John 3:16 through Romans, the biblical witness attests to our moral obligation to protect the earth and to the value God assigned to creation. We are to be caretaker not corporate raiders.”
Duke warned that uncritical acceptance of Gore’s arguments could end up costing governments billions of dollars on a “global warming abatement industry” driven by fear of human-induced climate change.
“Governments should be spending their money trying to protect their people from the effects of global warming, rather than trying to stop what is an unavoidable part of the earth’s natural cycle,” Duke said.
The BP story also argues that attempts to curb greenhouse gases will hurt developing countries by denying them cheap and abundant fossil fuel that wealthy nations used to become wealthy.
“It will condemn them to added generations of rampant disease and early death,” said Cal Beisner, co-author of the Interfaith Stewardship Alliance study, A Call to Truth, Prudence, and Protection of the Poor: An Evangelical Response to Global Warming. “And that, consequently, makes those policies morally hideous.”
Beisner’s paper represents one side of a rift developing among evangelicals over global warming. The other, a group calling itself The Evangelical Climate Initiative, concludes that “human-induced climate change is real” and that consequences of global warming will most harm the poor.
“Millions of people could die in this century because of climate change, most of them our poorest global neighbors,”86 signers said in a statement last year titled Climate Change: An Evangelical Call to Action.
The debate has heated up recently, with evangelical leaders including James Dobson and Rick Scarborough calling on the National Association of Evangelicals to remove a staff member they blame for dividing conservative Christians over global warming.
Moral Majority founder Jerry Falwell, who has worked for decades to involve conservative Christians in politics, said recently the debate over global warming is a tool of Satan being used to distract churches from their primary focus of preaching the gospel.
Parham suggested opposition to Gore from the Religious Right is motivated by politics and the critics’ problem is they read from a “small Bible, which emphasizes a few moral issues while ignoring larger issues like poverty and creation care.
“From Falwell to SBC fundamentalists, there is an unfathomable fear and visceral loathing of Al Gore and his work on global warming,” he said. “Like Terri Schiavo, intelligent design and the Iraqi war, their fear blocks them from seeing the facts and their anger chokes off their hearing of the big Bible’s message.”
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.