Science and Religion, getting along at last?
A moment of agreement has arrived for scientists to join forces with religious groups on issues of climate change. This is signaled by the summary for policy-makers from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)'s Fourth Assessment Report, the AAAS Board's consensus statement on climate change, and the unanimity of scientists. Lynn White Jr. proposed in these pages in 1967 that "we shall continue to have a worsening ecologic [sic] crisis until we reject the Christian axiom that nature has no reason for existence save to serve man." In their Policy Forum "Framing science", M. C. Nisbet and C. Mooney mention the more contemporary and less divisive efforts of some evangelical leaders to frame "the problem of climate change as a matter of religious morality."
As faculty members at a Catholic university, we know the strong stance of Catholic documents on good science as the foundation for discussions of climate change. Two recent examples from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) make IPCC findings their scientific basis. The IPCC Third Assessment Report led to the USCCB's Global Climate Change: A Plea for Dialogue, Prudence, and the Common Good, which states: "Global climate change is by its very nature part of the planetary commons. The earth's atmosphere encompasses all people, creatures, and habitats."
The scientific Summary for Policy Makers of the Fourth Assessment Report was addressed by the chairman of the USCCB's international policy committee. He said in a letter to congressional leaders that the IPCC "has outlined more clearly and compellingly than ever before the case for serious and urgent action to address the potential consequences of climate change as well as high-lighting the dangers and costs of inaction."
While I agree that religion should work together with science, I don’t think they’re going to. Remember, Genesis says that the world was created by God for man, and gives man dominion over it. Saying that we’ve screwed up the world and we need to fix it now runs contrary to this, and contrary to the notion that the world is eternal and unchanging (which seems to also flow from the dominion thing). There’s a reason that global warming deniers are largely religious, just like evolution deniers are largely religious.
I also want to say that scientists can’t pander to the religious and kowtow on certain points to get their help, if we do that then we lose our integrity. But if the Catholic church genuinely wants to help stem climate change, then great. I have absolutely no idea what they can actually do (just like I have no idea what most people could really do), but they should go for it. Maybe they’ll learn to stop worrying and love science (I’m sorry, I couldn’t help that reference).