Global warming (or climate change): what is ‘the creationist view’?
3 January 2007
Photo by Lars Raun, sxc.hu
Now that anthropogenic (man-caused) global warming (AGW) has become a ‘hot topic’ (bad pun) many people ask us at meetings what Bible-believing Christians should think about this issue.
The short answer is, ‘It’s not for us to tell you what to think about it’. Apart from the fact that we have no special expertise in climate science, anyway, it’s one of those many issues that are not directly dealt with in Scripture. So it's inappropriate to try to prescribe a single, simple, one-size-fits-all answer that is somehow the only ‘kosher’ viewpoint which is binding on believers.
We call these sorts of things ‘wisdom issues’. Since the Bible does not address it directly, Christians are free to make up their minds on such an important issue based on the best understanding of the evidence, and guided by the Bible’s general moral principles (such as doing good and avoiding harm to others, etc.)
And on such wisdom issues, evidence can change as time goes on, and can vary case by case.
And in any wisdom issue, the evidence could shift back again the other way—there may have been a mistake in the reporting of the evidence, for instance. Or more facts are available that were not previously known. This is addressed briefly in a past editorial in Creation magazine: Hot potatoes.
For wisdom issues such as AGW, our general advice is as follows:
- attempt to stay abreast of all the evidence
- think the issues through carefully, using biblical principles where applicable.
- avoid the common traps of either
- Being anti-establishment for its own sake (at Creation Ministries International, we are not concerned with being anti-establishment, just pro-Bible). Just because a view is becoming suddenly popular with ‘the world’ does not necessarily mean that it is wrong, or part of some anti-Christian agenda, for example.
- Being swept along by popular bandwagons. For example, just because everyone is suddenly talking about an issue as if it is fact, does not necessarily make it so. That has to be established by other criteria.
A complex controversy
It is a fact that there has been a measured 20% increase in atmospheric CO2 concentration from 1958 to 2007, from 315 to 380 ppm (parts per million).1 Levels are currently some 35% or more above pre-industrial concentrations. Burning fossil fuels undoubtedly contributes. And everyone agrees that CO2 acts as a greenhouse gas,2 and therefore adding increased amounts of CO2 to the air should cause more heat to be trapped and warm the globe, all else being equal. But that does not suffice to resolve the other issues that are lumped together under the broad heading of ‘global warming’. (And all else is not ‘equal’.)
The irony … of those who fly around the globe on jets (which emit huge amounts of greenhouse gases) to lecture on why we should limit such emissions.
For example, even establishing whether the world is actually getting hotter is not as simple as it might at first seem. The air temperature can show an increasing trend, while the ocean shows the opposite (independent of whether or not ice is melting).
However, even consensus that the world is getting definitely warmer would not automatically resolve the other matters, such as:
Is any heating (or present climatic trends of any sort, e.g. droughts, hurricanes, etc.) actually caused by human activity?
Opinions vary on whether any trend is simply cyclical. Natural cycles might well swamp any human activity. Serious claims have been made for the linking of climate, and especially Earth’s temperature, to natural effects, e.g. sunspot cycles—although others have claimed that sunspot cycles can only account for about 20% of the recently measured warming trend.
- Would the effects of global warming on humanity be a net disaster, or a
For the individual, a particular climate change, if it occurred, could be a benefit or a liability. Simplistically put, if your great-great-grandchildren own beachfront property that disappears, they will be worse off, but if they were in a region that has been transformed into beachfront, they could benefit. If they live in Iceland and could soon plant vegetables where previously glaciers ruled, they might think it wonderful, but if in a subtropical region that becomes much more oppressively steamy with increased hurricane activity and climatic extremes of drought and flood, they will likely think the opposite.
The reality is that climate is so complicated that it is hard to predict with certainty what is going to happen to complex ecosystems from rising temperature. One person argues convincingly that rainforests will disappear from where they are at present, but an equally convincing argument might be made that with increased precipitation in a warmer world, there might well be lusher vegetation overall. The Sahara and central Australia may well teem with forests once again. Warmer oceans, contrary to intuitive expectations, might actually lead to an Ice Age, as they once did, provided the continents remain sufficiently cool—see for example Mammoth—riddle of the Ice Age. 3 So an important question on which it is hard to reach a definitive answer is: what is going to be the future balance of winners and losers?
- What, if any, efforts should be made to control emissions of CO2?
In addition to the arguments of moral responsibility, there are complex economic factors to consider. Some countries have argued that they, and the world in general, will suffer economically from radical attempts to control CO2 emissions. Others have claimed the very opposite, economic stimulus.
- What conflicts of interest are involved?
Ideally, the issue should be settled by the evidence. But to complicate matters further, there are accusations of conflict of interest from both directions: e.g. some argue that AGW skeptics are mostly in the pockets of ‘Big Oil’, which has vested interests in the matter, while others argue that AGW proponents are beholden to ‘big government’ bureaucracies for their research funding. And it is in the AGW advocates’ interests to talk up the supposed problem to make their research seem more important (and get more funding, public kudos, etc.). These very human factors that influence the handling of data are not peculiar to the issue of AGW—an atheist cannot even entertain the possibility of the involvement of a Creator, no matter what the evidence. See this amazing admission.
Different opinions within Creation Ministries International
Given the complexity of this particular ‘wisdom issue’, it is not surprising (and even a healthy sign) that, while we agree on the broad principles above, there are differences of emphasis and opinion among us. So when we as speakers at public meetings comment on global warming, we’re always careful to emphasize that we are giving our personal opinions, not the position of the ministry as a whole (CMI has none on this issue). Also, our general principle is to avoid a ‘war on two fronts’, i.e. opposing the consensus on evolution while at the same time involving ourselves with the global warming issue, rather than concentrating on our ministry mandate.
The glacier Eyjafjallajökull on Iceland. To be able to predict the result of all effects of what would happen if glaciers and the ice at the poles would completely or partly melt is very difficult. However, everyone agrees that the sea level would rise.
We evangelical, Bible-believing Christians tend toward the cautious, conservative end of the spectrum in most things. That may have a lot to do with having seen how often the ‘trendy’ things in our society end up opposing God, and good. For me, I express that conservatism in wanting to minimize the risk that our profligate consumption of fossil-fuel energy might make it tougher on people in poorer countries one day. These people may not have the might or resources to protect themselves against radical changes in their surroundings.
Having said that, I’m not impressed with the one-sided and often inappropriate use of ‘statistics’ in scaremongering presentations that ignore all the counter-arguments. The environmental movement can, like so many other causes that could be positive, easily become a vehicle for a ‘religious’ passion, one in which reason is locked out, and the seemingly noble ‘end’ comes to justify all manner of ‘means’. It’s not hard to see it as a ‘substitute Christianity’ for some.
But I have to say I would still err on the side of caution; if a fair carbon tax or some other workable way of reducing emissions were proposed, I would be more than willing to live with some personal discomfort to support it.
On the other hand, some others in this ministry, like my valued colleague, Dr Jonathan Sarfati, though no less concerned for the poor, and no opponent of low-emission technology by any means, are inclined to take a more skeptical view on the whole issue (though all of us agree that evidence can potentially change our minds). Jonathan wonders whether those voices which promoted a global ice age in the 1970s deserve much credibility when promoting global warming today. And he points out the irony, if not hypocrisy, of those who fly around the globe on jets (which emit huge amounts of greenhouse gases) while lecturing in country after country on why we should limit such emissions. He also notes that in AD 1000, Europe was warm enough for Vikings to settle Greenland and wine grapes to be grown in Yorkshire. So Jonathan is not at all convinced of the doom and gloom scenarios of the AGW advocates. On a cost-benefit analysis, even if the present predictions about AGW turned out to be true, he feels it could turn out to be an economic positive, for the developing world as well.
In short, various CMI scientists have different emphases of opinion on various aspects of this whole global warming debate.
Results of global warming poll
The below three pie charts summarize the results of the online poll that was for many weeks featured at the end of this article when first published. The overwhelming majority of the many hundreds of respondents were Bible-believing Christians supportive of our Statement of Faith.
For further reading
- A document recently signed by many church leaders in Australia and America supporting action against global warming, to help the poor
- An alternative evangelical view, supported by many other church leaders, titled A Call to Truth, Prudence, and Protection of the Poor: An Evangelical Response to Global Warming. Includes an appendix of scientific dissenters.
References and notes
- Trends in Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide. Return to text.
- Indeed, we need this effect, otherwise the earth would be 30ºC cooler. Water vapour actually makes the strongest greenhouse contribution of all. Return to text.
- The cooler continents post-Flood were due to the effect of massive volcanic ash quantities partly blocking sunlight, something not happening on that scale today. Greater evaporation leading to greater cloud cover might reflect more sunlight back into space, but this is not straightforward either, with some types of cloud reradiating heat rather than reflecting it. Return to text.