The Theological Approach to Climate ‘Science’

by Bill Chameides | November 12th, 2010
posted by Erica Rowell (Editor)

Permalink | 4 comments

Mr. Shimkus is of course entitled to his beliefs and is free to study the climate in any way he so chooses, but there’s a bit of a problem to his approach to technical issues like climate and energy.

One member of Congress uses a unique approach to the study of climate change.

There are lots of ways to understand the world. From my point of view, regardless of your faith, you’ve gotta be impressed with the scientific method.

Case in Point — My Morning:

  1. The alarm clock on my smart phone woke me up;
  2. I turned on the lights;
  3. I zapped my breakfast in the microwave, boiled water in an electric kettle for my French-pressed coffee — old school, I know — and grabbed the coffee from the freezer;
  4. Colored pixels form the words I’m typing on my computer for this post;
  5. When I e-mail it to TheGreenGrok staff, data packets will flow through the Internet’s servers, cables, routers, and switches to get it to them;
  6. My GPS-equipped rental car will get me to the location of the conference in Albuquerque where I’ll be speaking later today; and
  7. To show my PowerPoint presentation at the conference, I will use a liquid crystal display better known as an LCD projector.

All this was and will be made possible by technology — technology that to someone from the 19th century suddenly plopped down into our world might conclude is magic. But that someone would of course be wrong. Our technology is far from magic; it is governed by fundamental scientific principles that were painstakingly worked out over many, many years by scientists and engineers using a specific approach — an evidence-based approach we call the scientific method.

Now, no doubt many if not most of those scientists and engineers held to some sort of faith-based religion. Still, their work, which led to the great technological marvels we mostly take for granted today, did not come from a contemplation of their faith but from the application of their expertise as scientists and engineers.

For me, the study of the climate is a scientific issue, one best understood using an empirical approach that seeks to understand what we observe using the laws of physics and then uses that understanding to predict what might happen in the future. I’d put the understanding of how to produce the energy we need to drive our economy as another one of those scientific endeavors.

Not Everyone Agrees

Take for example a gentleman by the name of John Shimkus. Mr. Shimkus is an evangelical Christian who believes in using a “biblical perspective” when it comes to climate change. And as a result, Mr. Shimkus is not that concerned about climate change. Why? Because according to Genesis 8:21-22 God promised, post the Noah flood, not to destroy the world, and according to Matthew 24:31, the end will only come when God so decides.

Mr. Shimkus is of course entitled to his beliefs and is free to study the climate in any way he so chooses. Members of my tribe may have a bit of a problem with that bit from Matthew, a book that does not appear in our Holy Book, but what’s an Old and a New Testament between friends? And it should be noted that Shimkus’s way of applying the Bible to climate is not shared by all evangelicals. (See also this ad .)

But there’s a bit of a problem to Mr. Shimkus’s approach to technical issues like climate and energy. Mr. Shimkus is not just anyone. He is a Republican member of the House from Illinois, and more importantly he has thrown his hat into the ring to chair the House Committee on Energy and Commerce.

What’s worse, he’s not the only rep contending for the committee chairmanship who rejects (see here and here) or questions (see here) the science of climate change. To the best of my knowledge, however, these other Congressmen do not use passages from the Bible to justify their positions.

Our nation has, I think we can all agree, a lot of serious problems, and energy has got to be pretty close to the top of the list. I’m just a scientist, so what do I know? Maybe a biblical perspective will solve our energy problems. I remain highly, to borrow a word, skeptical and I’ll tell you what: if Mr. Shimkus takes over the House committee that sets our nation’s energy policy, I for one will be doing a lot of praying.

filed under: climate change, energy, faculty, global warming, policy, politics, science
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  1. Ken Towe
    Nov 16, 2010

    Mr. Shimkus seems unconcerned about the survival of the world (God decides?). Because he seems to equate that with the survival of our species he makes a mistake. The world will survive but we may not. But is his approach really unique? Does, in fact, only a fine line separate GREEN GROKS from GREEN CHRISTIANS (or even Green Atheists)? “Green Christians point out that the biblical emphasis is on stewardship, not ownership. As a result of the doctrine of stewardship, Christian environmentalists oppose policies and practices that threaten the health or survival of the planet. Of particular concern to such Christians are global warming, renewable energy and all other practices that contribute to climate change or threaten to deplete natural resources. Many Christian environmentalists have broken with conservative political leaders as a result of these positions.” SOURCE: (11/16) Except for the ‘biblical emphasis’ part, what’s the difference? Surely both desire an evidence-based approach. And that’s where the problem for climate change lies… the evidence. The scientific evidence is unclear that “we” are THE problem. “We” may just be a part of the problem.

    • Bill Chameides
      Nov 19, 2010

      Ken: It is a bit presumptuous of you to equate theGreenGrok with ‘Green Christians.’ I for one am not even a Christian. And I find that there are very practical reasons for concern about the environment that have nothing to do with religion or politics for that matter.

      • Ken Towe
        Nov 22, 2010

        Sorry Bill. Didn’t mean to imply that you (or any others at Duke University… a Methodist school?) might be a ‘green’ Christian. My point was that it seems that all of us (who give a damn) are concerned about our environment and have many of the same or similar goals, irrespective of biblical emphasis or religious belief. Just green? However, there are some who argue that there are climate scientists whose ‘religion’ is global warming, e.g., Mr. Shimkus is clearly ‘off-the-wall’ and that is a bit scary.

  2. Andrew Frenette
    Nov 14, 2010

    I am neither a climate scientist nor Biblical scholar, just a concerned citizen of the world, and if I’ve interpreted the following passages correctly, then Evangelicals, like Mr. Shimkus, better be more concerned and start trusting the science: “The land is mine and you are but aliens and my tenants. Throughout the country that you hold as a possession, you must provide for the redemption of the land.” Leviticus 25:23-24 “I brought you into a fertile land to eat its fruit and rich produce. But you came and defiled my land and you made my inheritance detestable.” Jeremiah 2:7

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