Inherit the wind: the bipartisian war on science by climate change denialists and religious conservatives

Who shall inherit the wind?

As one dives deeper into the literature of the denial movement, you come across the same names and arguments. What is even more striking is the deep links between creationism – a movement denying evolution – and climate change  denial.

Not only do these two anti-science movements share a disdain for science, but a similar world view. As I have noted previously the denial movement is very much centred in the US, and that many of it’s most prominent members are conservative Christians.

Roy Spencer is an example of someone on record for doubting both evolution and climate change. “Sceptical” bloggers such as Andrew Bolt and Jo Nova “import” a great deal of this material by republishing it on their own sites.

As it’s been demonstrated time and time again, both movements have a deep antipathy towards science, particularly it’s emphasis on methodological naturalism. Methodological what you ask?

Simply put science assumes only natural phenomena can explain the workings of the universe around us. It explicitly excludes supernatural phenomena as a means to explaining “how things work”.

Let’s take one example: earthquakes. In order to explain *why* earthquakes occur we must understand geology and plate tectonics. We don’t assume a god, or gods, got angry and shook the earth. There are good reasons for taking this approach which has a great deal to do with epistemology and the scientific method.

Let’s just say, it’s easier to guess how the earth’s continental plates may shift than try to divine the intention of an angry Earth god or goddess.

Inherit the wind: the conservative religious backlash against climate science

For some – not all, and I’d stress this – religious people methodological naturalism removes the need for a “creator” who “watches over” the world and individual human beings. It’s a deeply threatening position to take, as one cannot explain events by saying “This god did it”.

Whether that be the movement of continental plates or the creation of the universe, the default position of science is to remove a deity from any hypothesis. For some conservative Christians, the science of climate change is as deeply threatening as Darwin’s theory of Evolution. The reasons why conservative Christianity are “opposed” to climate science are complex, but it boils down to two reasons.

Firstly it implies God is “not in control”. Thus for some Christians it’s an almost existential fear: how could God allow the climate change and cause massive suffering without intervening? Better to believe the climate is not changing. Theodicy has never been able to explain away why a good God allows “evil things” to happen. Climate change is “an evil” almost beyond comprehension, and seriously calls into question God’s omnipotence. [2]

A perfect example of this line of thinking is Illinois Republican John Shimkus who blatantly states “only God can destroy the Earth”:

The earth will end only when God declares its time to be over. Man will not destroy this earth. This earth will not be destroyed by a flood.

Secondly, this antipathy to climate science is a by-product of the “culture wars” in the US, in which science and scientists are perceived as godless liberals, hostile to Christian beliefs. Therefore, anything scientists have to say on a topic should be treated with deep scepticism.

So, what does this diversion into the philosophy of science and creationism have to do with the denial movement?

Well, as I like to say “Everything”. [wink]

A great deal of the material produced by the denial movement is authored – and aimed for consumption by – conservative Christians.

Want further evidence? Let’s look at a recent example of this on Jo Nova’s blog where she promotes a recent publication by conservative Christian, Art Robinson.

Jo Nova: net importer of conservative religious propaganda

When the results of science don’t agree with your politics, there is only one thing to do: declare all science “corrupt”. Not just climate science, but all science. In her ironically titled post “The truth shall make you free” West Australian denier Jo Nova cites a recent publication by Art Robinson a well-known climate change “sceptic”.

The thrust of article is that science has been corrupted by government grant money, allowing a small group of non-scientists to control the outcome of scientific research:

“A relatively small group of fourth-rate scientists, who would never be scientists at all under the standards that prevailed 50 years ago, have received huge grants of research funds and extensive mainstream media notoriety by – there is no polite way to put this – lying about climate science in order to provide political cover for the U.N. political agenda. By all objective standards of inquiry, the hypothesis they promote is not just unproved; it is definitively disproved by the experimental and observational research record…”

This is the standard conspiracy claim made by most of the denial movement – it’s the classic “follow the money” argument. We’ve heard this many times before, both from the movements “official” spokespersons and the foot soldiers who plague Internet forums and the comments section of online newspapers. Robinson’s paper itself contains barely any citations, is strictly an opinion piece and is largely incoherent.

Robinson finishes his piece with a rather nasty revenge fantasy:

“…Are our best scientists blameless in this? Again, no. They have watched passively as their profession, which depends upon absolute honesty, is represented by dishonest people in public forums – and many have not spoken in opposition to these misrepresentations. If they permit this to continue, the inevitable backlash will eventually come. When that happens, the true scientists will suffer right along with the pseudo scientists – a reward they both will richly deserve.”

What “reward” Robinson hopes scientists to receive is not clear, though I’m pretty sure it involves fire and brimstone.

Who is the intended audience for Robinson’s paper?

This is not the language of science, or even reasoned political debate. It’s conservative Christian propaganda by conservatives for conservatives. It makes wild accusations without any references to the scientific literature.

There is little point taking apart the claims made by the paper. I have neither the time or inclination to correct it’s many factual inaccuracies (however at the end of these article I’ve explored one claim which is easily refuted). Reading Robinson’s paper one is immediately struck by the explicit references to God:

“In the second edition of the “Principia,” in which he published most of his discoveries in physics, Newton writes:

The true God is a living, intelligent, and powerful being. His duration reaches from eternity to eternity; His presence from infinity to infinity. He governs all things.

Newton wrote only three books – the “Optics,” the “Principia,” and “Observations upon the Prophecies of Daniel and the Apocalypse of St. John.” Averaged over the course of his life, he divided his time equally between his physics and his Bible, believing that his physics was a biblical ministry. To Dr. Bently he wrote, “When I wrote my Treatise about our System [the “Principia”], I had an Eye upon such Principles as might work with considering Men, for the belief of a Deity, and nothing can rejoice me more than to find it useful for that Purpose.”

Science is a search for truth among the things that man can see. The Bible teaches that there are things that man can see and those that he cannot see – “faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” and “we see through a glass darkly.” It teaches that “the truth shall make you free” – the truth about both things seen and things not seen.”

And this is the opening paragraphs.

When I first read the paper I was surprised by how heavily it was influenced by a religious outlook: “Is this paper serious?” I asked myself. But then I was able to make the connection between conservative Christianity’s rejection of a great deal of science.

Right from the beginning Robinson is citing biblical authority over science. I’m not criticising Robinson’s spiritual beliefs – these are his own – but in science explicitly putting faith before empirical evidence is a major red flag. The scientific method is built around methodological naturalism, the very opposite of Robinson’s approach. In addition to the above, Robinson’s paper is sprinkled with religious references. Here he is talking about the “golden age” of science during the 1940’s and 1950’s:

Most American scientists of that era held to strong Judeo-Christian principles. The majority were dedicated Christians and Jews, with the remainder largely following the custom and culture of those principles. Most were politically conservative. They had just fought and won a great war against government tyranny and did not think tyranny could ever come to their country.

The import of Robinson’s argument is clear: science was good when most scientists were dedicated Christians and Jews”. Today there are less Christian and Jewish scientists, ergo there is a problem with science. Can anyone else see the glaring non sequitur?

The paper contains numerous links to WorldNetDaily (WND), a “news service” with very strong evangelical Christian leanings. Indeed it not only questions climate science but evolutionary science. The WND is well recognised as a the home for all kinds of fringe beliefs, including musings on the apocalypse, the Antichrist and other “end times” subjects. Amongst the science community it is a recognised vehicle for all kinds of wackiness.

Throughout Robinson’s paper there many links to WND articles clearly demonstrating it is intended to be consumed by an evangelical audience.

Why would Nova promote such a piece?

Many of the sceptics I’ve encountered are horrified to associated with creationism. They can’t see the similarities between the two anti-science movements, however they have enough sense to recognise that creationism is a fringe belief.

The interesting question for me is why would Nova promote such a piece? In the extracts she cites from the paper she explicitly removes all references to God: she tones down the heavy religious overtones of Robinson’s paper. Is that she didn’t read the paper in full? I ploughed through it in fifteen minutes, and understood very clearly the authors world view.

Perhaps it is a case of “the enemy of my enemy is my friend?”.

Perhaps. Or is it possible that Nova herself has some sympathy with the more conservative Christian values as many of the deniers in the US? Hard to say as I can’t find any references to Nova’s religious beliefs. Of course, one is entitled to their own beliefs about God and the origin of the universe. But, if your religion clouds your understanding of science, and you spend your time trying to discredit climate science then it is a legitimate question to ask.

However, whatever her motivations are, one thing is very clear.

Robinson’s paper, and Nova’s promotion of it to the denial movement in Australia, makes it very clear both movements will happily wage a bipartisan war against science to further their own interests.

Appendix: Robinson claims there is “no observational proof” for climate change

Robinson puts forward on the most common denialist assertions on pages 8-9 of his “report”:

“Promoted by United Nations projects, primarily the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and related activities, and funded by tens of billions of dollars in “research” funds, the “climate change” business is now in full swing. Astonishingly, there are no experimental or observational facts that support the hypothesis of catastrophic human-caused global warming – not even one. This hypothesis is supported entirely by computer models that do not conform to experiment…”

This is a disingenuous claim. The science behind climate change is not reliant upon computer models. Indeed, there is a wealth of observational proof. To pick but one example, see the CSIRO’s recent “State of the Climate Report” which utilises historical data related to rainfall and temperature stretching back over 100 years. There are thousands of good quality research papers out there that also confirm that climate change is directly attributable to human activities. I’d suggest starting with this list of papers from AGW Observer.

Notes to article

[1] SourceWatch notes Robinson as a “…conservative Christian”

[2] I’m familiar with the problem of evil and debate around the issue, please don’t bombard me with statements about how contemporary philosophy treats the issue of “evil”.

4 thoughts on “Inherit the wind: the bipartisian war on science by climate change denialists and religious conservatives

  1. JM says:

    Yeah, well Jo just banned me (for the second time) for drawing a parallel between denialists and creationists.

    She’s refusing to un-ban me until I agree with her that denialism is a “logical fallacy” and can’t possibly exist.

    I’m not sure if this is just cover for her being afraid I’ve caught her two favorite “scientists” – Richard S. Courtney and Brian G. Valentine – arguing mutually contradictory lines (and also individually wrong and internally inconsistent – I don’t know how it’s possible to argue with these people, they never take a consistent or comprehensible position. It’s like wrestling with jellyfish).

    • Mike says:

      Ditto mate – I got banned early, though not for that. But Dunning-Kruger “experiment” put me in the black books 😉

      Honestly, you’ll never win an argument with these individuals, as they are deeply committed to their position. The one’s we are concerned about are the “undecided” and “unsure”. Most people don’t pay attention to the debate, and if they do are confronted with to very different and partisan positions (AGW is happening! No its not!). We need enough info out there in the market place of ideas to counter their claims. And not just science, but an explanation and description of how they actively mislead and misinform.

      • JM says:

        Unfortunately, you can’t talk about “actively mislead and misinform” without impugning their motives – aka calling them liars – at which point they just go postal on you.

        Which means I think all you can do is try and figure out what they’re trying to say and shoot holes in it. Which is difficult, because with these guys it feels like you’re in a hall of mirrors. Their arguments actually refute their conclusions, but they use the argument – which is in the case of these two guys, semi-valid – as evidence of the correctness of their totally bogus conclusions.

        Unfortunately, it appears they’re not willing to give you time to nail their position down before they get on their high horse and start up some distraction about ‘civility’ or some such.

  2. […] both creationists and the denial movement are now working together and share the same tactics is no […]

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