Understanding Evangelical Climate Denial What are key arguments unique to evangelicals?
Understanding Evangelical Climate Denial: #1 God’s Sovereignty “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” - Isaiah 55:9 “Religiously unenlightened hubris” to believe humans can influence climate system “It does not seem likely to me that God would set up the world to work in such a way that human beings would eventually destroy the earth by doing such ordinary and morally good and necessary things as breathing, building a fire to cook or keep warm, burning fuel to travel, or using energy for a refrigerator to preserve food.” - Wayne Grudem, Cornwall Alliance (2006) Argument: Climate change is simply not possible Brian Webb
Understanding Evangelical Climate Denial: #2 Our Special Status Imago Dei “So God created humankind in his own image…” Gen 1:27 “Dominion” theology “God blessed them and said to them, ‘be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.’” Genesis 1:28 Anthropocentrism – our needs/wants trump ecological considerations Argument: If real, climate change doesn’t matter because we are more important than trees. Brian Webb
Understanding Evangelical Climate Denial: #3 End-Times Thinking (Eschatology) Premillenial dispensationalism “But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed with fire, and the earth and everything done in it will be laid bare.” – 2 Peter 3:10 Temporality of the earth Argument: Climate change is of no concern since the earth will be destroyed anyway Brian Webb
Understanding Evangelical Climate Denial: #4 Fear of Pantheism Christian exceptionalism – unique and extraordinary “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through me” - John 14:6 Environmental movement can have strong religious overtones (ex. Avatar) Argument: Climate change is a tool to get us to worship nature Brian Webb
Understanding Evangelical Climate Denial: #5 Distrust Scientists Climate change is a matter of trust Politicized atmosphere between faith and science communities, largely on account of the creation-evolution debate “But perhaps no result of the creation-evolution stalemate is as potentially disastrous as the way it has stymied courageous action on climate change.” – Andy Crouch, Christianity Today (2005) Evangelicals segment out (disbelieve) scientific claims that are perceived to conflict with religious beliefs (Evans, 2011; Carr 2012) Argument: Scientists are not trustworthy, so I can’t believe what they say about climate change. Brian Webb
Responding to Evangelical Climate Denial How can we engage evangelicals on climate change?
Responding to Evangelical Climate Denial: #1 Seek Common Ground Listen Look for areas of agreement Common interests/background/etc. Faith Shared “environmental” views Avoid arguments (not productive) Find allies; embrace evangelical efforts Brian Webb
Responding to Evangelical Climate Denial: #2 Consider their Worldview Evangelicals are a subculture Climate change is risky Use language strategically Good: creation care, stewardship Bad: mother earth, spirituality, Gaia Share your environmental “testimony” Brian Webb
Responding to Evangelical Climate Denial: #3 Make it a Moral Issue Focus on people and poverty Highlight humanitarian impacts Use specific examples/stories (narrative is powerful) Brian Webb
Responding to Evangelical Climate Denial: #4 Talk about the Science Promote dialogue (not debate) Explain why science is convincing to you and refer to experts (scientific consensus, NOAA, NASA, etc.) Initiate Faith-Science partnerships/forums/etc. Remember, evangelicals are not anti-science, but they are skeptical/hostile when there is a perceived conflict Brian Webb
Responding to Evangelical Climate Denial: #5 Engage the Theology When conversations turn political, divert back to theology or ethics Gain a basic understanding of key evangelical theological barriers & responses Brian Webb
Theological Responses to Evangelical Climate Denial Our Special Status counterargument: Biblical model of leadership (Phil 2:5-8) Earth belongs to God (Psalm 24:1); We are stewards (Gen 2:15) God called earth “good” (Gen 1); Do we want to destroy something he called good? Brian Webb
Theological Responses to Evangelical Climate Denial God’s Sovereignty counterargument: Does God control everything? Or are there decisions we can make on our own? And if so, might those decisions have consequences? Isn’t it possible that God might allow us to suffer the consequences of our own addictive patterns of consumption? Fear of Pantheism counterargument: This represents a tiny minority of those concerned with environmental issues Brian Webb
Theological Responses to Evangelical Climate Denial End-Times counterargument: Many theological interpretations that do not hold to a belief in a destroyed earth Even if the earth is destroyed, would it be our place to destroy it? Or should we leave it to God’s timing and methods? With extremists you may just have to concede this argument Distrust of Scientists: Where is the theological conflict with the scientific evidence of climate change? Brian Webb
Thank youThank you Brian Webb: firstname.lastname@example.org Resources: Young Evangelicals for Climate Action Young Evangelicals for Climate Action Evangelical Environmental Network Evangelical Environmental Network A Climate for Change by Katherine Hayhoe A Climate for Change Between God & Green by Katharine Wilkinson Between God & Green Global Warming & the Risen Lord by Jim Ball Global Warming & the Risen Lord Resisting the Green Dragon Resisting the Green Dragon Cornwall Alliance Cornwall Alliance Brian Webb