Science, Religion and Politics: How to Heat-Up Coffee Hour Happy Talk

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I recently stumbled upon this fascinating blog post by Richard Stuebi writing in the cleantech blog which I recommend to you as food for thought in the relationship between religion and the debate over climate change.

by Richard T. Stuebi

A fascinating article in Slate noted that 55% of scientists in the U.S. are Democrats, as opposed to 6% Republicans (with the remainder being independents or “don’t know”).  Since most Democrats favor action on climate change, so do most scientists.

The implication, as the Slate article says:  ”the results of climate science, delivered by scientists who are overwhelmingly Democratic, are used over a period of decades to advance a political agenda that happens to align precisely with the ideological preferences of Democrats.  Coincidence — or causation?”

The flip-side of this equation is religion.  Gallup has found that Republicans tend to be more religious than Democrats.  And, Republicans are generally more skeptical about the climate change phenomenon — (1) whether it’s happening at all, (2) even if so, whether human activity is causing it, and (3) even if so, whether it’s worth spending anything more than zero to do anything about it.

It also follows, then, that there is a negative correlation between religious belief and concern about climate change.  Put more simply, the more a person has religious faith, the less a person tends to worry about climate change.

If religious fervor can be quantitatively assessed, then it’s safe to say that evangelicals would get a high score, and it seems to be the case that evangelicals are especially adverse to the climate change issue.

As reported in the New York Times article “An Evangelical Backlash Against Environmentalism”, a non-profit evangelical organization called the Cornwall Alliance calls the environmental movement a “false religion”, and has issued an educational program titled “Resisting the Green Dragon” to warn Christians that the forces of radical environmentalism are seeking tyrannical control over all other beloved institutions such as God and country.

To make matters more confusing, a court in England ruled in 2009 that a belief in climate change can be considered a religion in itself.

With respect to climate change, the “Evangelical Declaration on Global Warming” is well worth reading in its entirety to get a flavor of the position of the Cornwall Alliance.  It’s a far cry from the “creation-care” movement that other less-strident Christians have embraced, using theology as a foundation for planetary stewardship.

It would appear that the ages-old schism between religion and science has therefore appropriated climate change as the newest issue over which to tangle.  Since the two U.S. political parties tend to cleave pretty neatly also alongside the science/religion divide, it makes the climate change debate particularly thorny and hard to untangle in either our churches or our legislatures, since strongly-held beliefs are always more emotionally powerful than facts.

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