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Deep Faith and Climate Change

May 26th, 2017 · No Comments

This guest post from AstroCook is from just before Donald Trump took over the Oval Office but that timing is fundamentally irrelevant to the core of the discussion: an example of the challenge of leaping divides to spark changed thinking on climate science (and climate-science denial) even in a ‘civil’ conversation. From it:

http://hospitableplanet.com/

“Faith, action, and climate change …”

“God gave us brains and the ability to learn about the environment around us, and we’d only have ourselves to blame if we fail to use them to protect the only planet we can live on.”

This was essentially the end of the conversation, as it did not progress beyond FoF’s reply that God will decide when the world will end, not humans.

I tried pleading, “But God made all the scientists too .. and they are here to understand the warning signs, so why dismiss them? Maybe God is giving us the people we need to help save ourselves.”

No answers here about how to solve/resolve bringing such a divide in weltanschauung but an interesting perspective.

 

So I want to share a story of a discussion that took place over Facebook the other night between my self, a friend and his friend.

16003298_1555495291128878_5476904722162348038_n.jpg
the meme that started it all

I’ll start at the beginning. Pretty simple actually. My friend posted the meme on the right saying goodbye to Pres. Obama, and that we will miss him. I don’t think many [that I typically deal with] would disagree with that sentiment especially given what is about to happen in a few days.

I was the first to comment on my friend’s post. I said “We’ll miss him, we’ll miss sanity, we’ll miss adults, we’ll miss rational thought, we’ll miss equality .. so many things to miss.” Again, I don’t think many here would disagree.

The friend of my friend (FoF hereafter) said, and I’ll paraphrase here because of the many gross grammatical and typographical errors, that she was glad and thankful that he is leaving because he has done much damage to this country.

So being the kind of person who sees this as an invitation for a conversation, I ask for more details regarding the damage Obama has allegedly done. I provided some of his greatest achievements (saving the economy and auto industry, expanding healthcare, marriage equality, helping dreamers). What followed was a civil, although sometimes muddled, discussion between myself, my friend and FoF. As it turns out the FoF is a relative of my friend that he didn’t know harbored these views. FoF also claimed to live by the bible and Jesus Christ .. just to give you a sense of where we are starting here.

Anyhow, the FoF didn’t like a number of things including Obama’s vacations, said he’s a Muslim, allowing refugees to come here, denies climate change, Obamacare .. a long, long list of things, most of which I would dismiss as originating from right-wing news sites that the alt-right love. Giving this long laundry list, I chose a singular topic to challenge the FoF .. and that was climate change. Between her first reply and my next reply, my friend and FoF were also responding on another issue. But I could see from their discussion how her love of God really guided her thinking.

As I disclosed to the FoF, I shall disclose to you .. I have a PhD in astrophysics. This is not something I am very comfortable disclosing because in my experience when I do, I always feel like I’ve just said “I’m smarter than you, and therefore better” and that makes me feel very uncomfortable. I may have an advanced degree in this one subject, but it does not immediately make me an expert on the world. But, because I have this degree, it means that I’ve got a number of friends and colleagues in astronomy, physics, math, geology, engineering etc. This is the bubble I live in and not a single one of them would deny the fact that humans are causing climate change. In fact, many are quite concerned about it. So I tell FoF this.

But given all her previous responses to my friend, I know this argument will not resonate with her. I have to relate the issue to God. This made me think of a book I read a few years back called Fool Me Twice: Fighting the Assault on Science in America” by Shawn Otto. A fictional story in the book sees a man refusing various forms of help to rescue him from his roof after his house and town get flooded and the waters continue to rise. He says God will save him. But after refusing the rescue workers, he dies.  Once in heaven, he asks St. Peter why God didn’t help him when he asked for God’s help. St. Peter says, that God did help by sending the man all those forms of help (boat, helicopter). It was the man’s own stubbornness that lead to his death.

So trying to use Shawn Otto’s story as a base, I say something like, “God gave us brains and the ability to learn about the environment around us, and we’d only have ourselves to blame if we fail to use them to protect the only planet we can live on.”

This was essentially the end of the conversation, as it did not progress beyond FoF’s reply that God will decide when the world will end, not humans.

I tried pleading, “But God made all the scientists too .. and they are here to understand the warning signs, so why dismiss them? Maybe God is giving us the people we need to help save ourselves.”

FoF’s reply was that warnings about climate change are a scare tactic. For which I just shake my head and wish everyone a “good night, and good luck.” I failed. I could not move the needle one iota. There was no clear path to opening the door to understanding the danger we’re in by ignoring the warning signs. In my opinion, FoF’s solution is to pray away the problem and let God sort it out. And the scary thing is that she isn’t alone in thinking like this. How are we ever going to move forward as a nation if some fraction of people deny climate change because of their faith? I am at least partly restored when I think of several friends who are both very religious (church weekly, clear evidence they love God through crosses and such at home) and acknowledge our role in climate change. So perhaps FoF’s view is shared by a shrinking population.

My friend, for what it is worth, stands on the side that climate change is caused by humans. He is not a scientist, but maybe one day he will become one. He is actually the son of a former neighbor and I was so very impressed with his ability to have a very adult discussion. I certainly could not have done that at his age. I even struggle at this age. There were so many snarky lines that I wanted to say, but deleted before posting, noting that such attitude does not help advance a dialog, but shut it down.

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Tags: guest post · religion and global warming · SciComm · Science Communication