The Intersection

Nisbet has reproduced it but I’ll do so here as well. Note that the letter comes from a biologist and a theology professor at the University of Portland:

Science 27 April 2007:

Vol. 316. no. 5824, pp. 540 – 542

DOI: 10.1126/science.316.5824.540c

Letters

Science, Religion, and Climate Change

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 (1). Lynn White Jr. proposed in these pages in 1967 that (2) “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” (6 Apr., p. 56), 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 (3), 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 (4) 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.”

Additional reflections on climate change have come from numerous religious traditions. They are listening carefully to the science. Scientists ought to be in dialogue with them.

Steven A. Kolmes
Department of Biology
University of Portland
Portland, OR 97203, USA

Russell A. Butkus
Department of Theology
University of Portland
Portland, OR 97203, USA

References

1. N. Oreskes, Science 306, 1686 (2004).
2. L. White Jr., Science 155, 1203 (1967).
3. Global Climate Change: A Plea for Dialogue, Prudence, and The Common Good (United States Catholic Conference, Washington, DC, 2001) (available at www.usccb.org/sdwp/international/globalclimate.htm).
4. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Climate Change 2007, Summary for Policymakers, Contribution of Working Group I to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (2007) (available at www.ipcc.ch).

I couldn’t agree more that scientists ought to be in dialogue with religious leaders on climate change. However, the conversation with the Catholic Bishops isn’t going to go quite as well when it comes to something like stem cells….

Comments

  1. #1 matthew
    April 27, 2007

    “I couldn’t agree more that scientists ought to be in dialogue with religious leaders on climate change. However, the conversation with the Catholic Bishops isn’t going to go quite as well when it comes to something like stem cells….”

    Exactly Chris. And what if tomorrow said Bishops changed their minds about trusting the climate scientists? Do they also trust the climate scientists that utilize dating techniques that show their samples to be a lot older than some of those Catholics believe the universe to be? This all makes me very suspecious and I certainly wouldn’t want to count on this type of public promotion and awareness to help change minds for the long run.

  2. #2 Matthew C. Nisbet
    April 27, 2007

    But a dialogue by way of the media has gone well with Catholic citizens. Due to the successful framing campaign of research advocates, public support for stem cell research among Catholics has moved 20% points since 2001, to 60% support.

    http://www.csicop.org/scienceandmedia/stem-cell/2007.html

  3. #3 Dano
    April 27, 2007

    A-men brudder.

    It is important, Chris, when searching for common ground to stand on the common ground first. When you’re dry you can dip your toe into other waters.

    Best,

    D

  4. #4 thetumtumtree
    April 27, 2007

    dating techniques that show their samples to be a lot older than some of those Catholics believe the universe to be

    matthew, you’re confusing Catholics with Fundamentalists. Fundamentalists will be the first to tell you not to do that (they think we’re pagans). I will admit that there are a few high profile confused Catholics who think they are fundies too, but you’re not going to see The Church make a statement on the age of the Earth. Catholics don’t take the Bible literally, and we learned our lesson (albeit slowly) from Galileo. The Holy See doesn’t make dogmatic statements about the physical world anymore and we sure as heck aren’t Young Earthers.

  5. #5 matthew
    April 27, 2007

    thetumtumtree,

    Thank you, I recognize that not all Catholics believe in a young Earth and I was using the term “fundamentalist” liberally as it often is these days. My point is that I would not be surprised if climate science is rejected by any religion based on a perceived conflict with something important to said religion such as moral laws in the case of stem cells.

  6. #6 gerald spezio
    April 27, 2007

    When Fritjof Capra hooked his physics to a religious *frame* with The Tao of Physics, he became a literary celebrity with some crippling mumbo-jumbo metaphysical baggage.
    Physicist, scientist, and renowned science writer, Jeremy Bernstein, took great offence at Capra’s literary license. Said Bernstein and I am paraphrasing; “The last thing I would want to do is link science to any religion.”
    As far as I know Dr. Bernstein struggled along explaining and discussing science without ever studing framing science.

  7. #7 Jim Ramsey
    April 27, 2007

    There’s also a very strong Christian movement that holds that the Earth isn’t ours. We are only acting as God’s stewards. There’s a threat that God will return and demand an accounting. Determining that we have made a thorough mess of His creation is not likely to be pleasing to him.

    Thus, man is seen as the caretaker of God’s creation and ought to take good care of it.

  8. #8 Dark Tent
    April 27, 2007

    Actually, I suspect that the popularity of Capra’s book had much more to do with the spiritual/mystical nature of Taoism (Taoism the philosophy) than it had to do with Taoism the religion — for the simple reason that few Americans even know what the Taoist religion is about, and even fewer belong to the religion and/or practice its teachings.

    When Capra released his book, there was a large group of Americans who had already bought into many Taoist-like mystical ideas (Crystal healing and the like).

    And, unfortunately, Capra did bring along a lot of completely superfluous and actually counter-productive cosmic-mystical-holistic-mumbo-jumbo baggage that turned off many (if not most) scientists who read his book (myself among them).

    Once you get people thinking that mysticism is compatible with science — or, worse still, that science actually explains mysticism — watch out! You are going to have a very difficult time separating the two in the future.

    In addition to eastern mysticism, lots of people believe in astrology too, but that does not mean it’s a good hook for teaching people science — other than to teach them what science is not!

  9. #9 gerald spezio
    April 27, 2007

    Yessir, Dark Tent. Just how do we deal with astrology is directly on point in this framing flap. Let’s suppose that we use astrology as our focus group. How do the flim-flam framers *manage* the astrological community?

    My small California community is filled with astrological charts and rampant astrological nonsense.

  10. #10 Tibor Kiss
    April 27, 2007

    It takes hundred of years for the Earth to re-establish the O2-CO2 balance, but maybe we are not late.

  11. #11 PZ Myers
    April 28, 2007

    I have an objection to the “frame” here.

    Religious leaders have been wrong. Their theology has been destructive. It is not time for scientists and the religious to join forces — that gives too much credit to the godly fools, as if they are equals.

    It’s actually past due that religious leaders come crawling to the people abjectly, begging forgiveness for their follies … or better yet, for them to just go away. That sometimes Catholicism fortuitously aligns with science for all the wrong reasons is not a reason to give them an “attaboy, good work”.

    This is not a matter of confusing Catholics with fundamentalists. It’s a deeper object to scientists of any kind trying to find support in “religious traditions.”

  12. #12 Chris Mooney
    April 28, 2007

    “It’s actually past due that religious leaders come crawling to the people abjectly, begging forgiveness for their follies … or better yet, for them to just go away.”

    Don’t hold your breath….

    My apologies if I sound flip, but PZ, I have to say that I sense an utter lack of pragmatism in your comment here.

    Politics works by compromise and by establishing alliances. To get action on climate change, bringing on board religious leaders and adherents is a very important step.

    Are we really supposed to reject potential allies and stand on principle while the world is heating up and we needed strong policies yesterday to curtail greenhouse gas emissions?

    Can we really afford such purity, such idealism?

    I don’t think so.

  13. #13 Trinifar
    April 28, 2007

    Religious leaders have been wrong. Their theology has been destructive.

    Of course the same could be said of science. False generalizations like these are worse than useless.

    Would you say science minded people should not have joined the civil rights movement in the 1960’s? How is the mitigating climate change any different? Or would have us all baking in a warmed world as long as the religious people kept to their side?

    I wrote a post called religious atheism speficially to shed some light on the foolishness of the “atheists against the world approach”.

  14. #14 Jon Winsor
    April 29, 2007

    This post by political blogger Barbara O’Brien has a nice rundown of commentary, quotes, and links on fundamentalist atheism. The idea that we ought to drop every problem we have and just go after “the religious,” and refuse to make alliances with reasonable, educated people is silly, closed-minded, and arguably dangerous. Not everyone is going to march lock-step with Daniel Dennett’s brand of scientific materialism, nor should they. And Richard Dawkins needs to study his subject matter more closely.

  15. #15 miko
    April 30, 2007

    “Politics works by compromise and by establishing alliances.”

    First, you are assuming that everyone’s goal is to engage in a certain type of American politics. Second, that’s not always true. It was not possible to compromise with segregationists, for example, and in many places civil rights legislation had to be enforced by the government against the wishes of large majorities. Throughout US history, progressive minorities have dragged reactionary majorities forward.

    Anyway, if some Christians feel a moral obligation with regard to climate change because of their mystical beliefs, ok, whatever, but they shouldn’t get some stamp of scientific credibility or moral legitimacy for it.

    “Not everyone is going to march lock-step with Daniel Dennett’s brand of scientific materialism…”

    Um, who asked you to? This is about methodological naturalism being at the core of science-related public policy rather. Again, I find it so ridiculous that anyone could possibly feel coerced by Dawkins/Dennett/PZ. No one’s saying indoctrinate kids about metaphysics of any sort, they’re just saying leave supernatural beliefs completely out of public education. I’m waiting for any example of a zealot atheist who threatens people with the equivalent of eternal damnation for not succumbing to their materialist cosmology. We argue for our position, but we don’t proselytize.

  16. #16 miko
    April 30, 2007

    “…public support for stem cell research among Catholics has moved 20% points since 2001, to 60% support…”

    woooo! maybe now we can get a majority in congress voting to fund stem cell research.

    oh, wait. it’s in that same period that the administration further restricted embryonic stem cell research. huh. maybe the communication skills (or lack thereof) of biologists and public opinion in general mean f*ck all when there’s a born again christian in the white house.

  17. #17 Jon Winsor
    April 30, 2007

    I think the comparison with segregationalists is a bit histrionic, even as an example.

    The thing is that the differences you have with people are often philosophical, not political. Take this post by PZ Myers, for instance:

    http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2007/03/spirituality_another_word_for.php

    PZ Myers never read a word by this guy. He probably never even checked out his Wikipedia entry:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Taylor_(philosopher)

    Yet, Myers thinks he can just dismiss him out of hand, and call him ridiculous without even *peeking* at any of the questions he deals with, let alone treating them with any respect. Nope, Taylor’s life’s work is just ridiculed as beneath contempt and dismissed out of hand. It doesn’t matter how his work is regarded by which of his colleagues. Just throw his stuff on the burn pile.

    So, I don’t know what “type of American politics” comes out of this way of thinking, but I suspect that they’re different than mine.

  18. #18 matthew
    April 30, 2007

    Jon Winsor said: “PZ Myers never read a word by this guy. He probably never even checked out his Wikipedia entry”

    How can you say this when PZ tells you, in the very article you posted, what he read and even linked said readings? Do you really blame him for probably not reading a wikipedia article? Is that where you think serious people should go for verfied factual information? Also, PZ never said anything about Taylors “life’s work”, he only reacted to the articles he linked.

  19. #19 Colugo
    April 30, 2007

    miko: “No one’s saying indoctrinate kids about metaphysics of any sort, they’re just saying leave supernatural beliefs completely out of public education.”

    I agree. In fact, leave metaphysics out of science education – and that goes for anti-supernaturalism (except as part of a methodology) as well as supernaturalism.

    Jon Winsor: “I think the comparison with segregationists is a bit histrionic, even as an example.”

    It’s not just histrionic, it’s preposterous, just like the suffragette analogy, the Chamberlain-Churchill analogy, and the theistic evolutionist = creationist claim.

  20. #20 Lance Harting
    April 30, 2007

    Climate change “believers” and theistic religious groups, a marriage made in heaven. Two “faith based” groups uniting in an emotion driven appeal to “morality” rather than hard science. Both demand that to be a good person you must adhere to the “faith”. Both have their heritics and “deniers”.

    The language of “climate catstrophe” is right out of the book of revelations “floods”, “droughts”, “plagues” “pestilence”, “war”. It is also attended by just as much self-righteousness and moral indignation as any fundie can muster.

    They are perfect for each other. Now they just have to meld Gaya and Jehova into one unisex deity, (Gahova?) and the union will be complete.

    Best wishes.

  21. #21 Jon Winsor
    April 30, 2007

    I’ll concede that PZ linked to two pages of Taylor’s writing that someone posted on the Internets, amounting to four paragraphs and a press release. And based on that, PZ tells us flatly that the work that won Taylor the Templeton award is “rubbish.”

    And he also tells us, “‘Spirituality’? Another word for lies and empty noise” without doing much to try to figure out what Taylor might mean by that word. I’m sure that Taylor has published enough that you could easily find out. But it’s almost like PZ assumes that a science degree means that he’s universally competent, and he can just make pronouncements that will trump anything written by a humanities professor.

    By the way, I haven’t read Taylor myself–but I’ve read some of his mentors and influences, enough to be interested in reading him some time…

    But my point is that this is uninformed, knee-jerk stuff (as David Weinberger and Barbara O’Brien point out in the links above). PZ assumes that he already knows, and all these guys are idiots.

    (BTW, for anyone not familiar with this blog, don’t feed the troll.)

  22. #22 miko
    May 1, 2007

    “I think the comparison with segregationists is a bit histrionic, even as an example.”

    Why? It’s simply pointing out that often there is no compromise to be had when people have inherently contradictory positions and goals. Racial minorities either are or aren’t inferior. Supernatural beliefs either should or should not inform public policy. Since these issues are subject to constitutional principles, majority public opinion about race and the supernatural mean very little. They are issues a secular minority can be pursue through judicial and legislative means, because they are right.

  23. #23 RickD
    May 1, 2007

    I’m curious: why, exactly, should scientists “be in dialogue with religious leaders” on the subject of climate change?

    Are religious leaders in “dialogue” with scientists on the subject of sin?

    Climate change is a purely scientific phenomenon. It has absolutely nothing to do with religion, except to the extent by which religious leaders feel that they need to have an interpretation and/or opinion about everything that happens in the world.

    From my perspective, statements like the one from Holmes and Butkus are purely political and not really scientific or theological. Churches have repeatedly found it threatening to have science undermine theological truth claims about the universe. The religious interest here is to say: don’t undermine us on this issue. Respect our authority. It’s always about preservation of the position of respect.

    While PZ’s comments may be seen as impolitic, they are essentially true. From a scientific standpoint, religious leaders have nothing of interest to offer on the subject of climate change. But religious leaders don’t want to hear that their opinions are completely irrelevant, so we see this move to keep up to the pace of intellectual developments while maintaining the position of authority. That’s all well and good as far as their business goes, but I don’t see why science should play along. Well, sure, there’s the politcal angle: religions hold sway over vast numbers of mind. But is that all that’s going on here? Science needs to play ball with religion for political reasons?

    Count me out.

  24. #24 Jon Winsor
    May 1, 2007

    Supernatural beliefs either should or should not inform public policy.

    It’s a bit silly to think that it’s so binary. All you have to do is look at one of the supreme court cases on this subject and you can see that there are plenty of shades of grey.

    I can definitely agree that there should be no big Cecile B. Demille 10 Commandments monstrousities in courthouses. And someone’s theology shouldn’t be the basis for halting stem cell research, or stopping women from making choices about their bodies.

    But if a politician finds that their ethics are informed by their sense of the transcendent, and they talk about it in public, personally, I’m not going to get hysterical.

    I think a lot of this has to do with different ideas about human nature that go back a long way. I don’t think we’re going to resolve these problems any time soon (if ever). In the mean time though, don’t we have some things to do, like deal with climate change, and make sure we don’t raise generations of scientific knuckle-draggers? I think that’s why people like E. O. Wilson try to reach across the divide.

  25. #25 miko
    May 1, 2007

    Jon, I see your point. I think RickD articulates how I feel better than I have.

  26. #26 Marco Ferrari
    May 2, 2007

    But before taking delight in possible dialogue between science and religion, read this:

    “VATICAN CITY, APRIL 27, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Scientists might not have human behavior to blame for global warming, according to the president of the World Federation of Scientists. Antonino Zichichi, who is also a retired professor of advanced physics at the University of Bologna, made this assertion today in an address delivered to an international congress sponsored by the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace. [and convened by the Pope himself, if I’m not mistaking]
    The conference, which ends today, is examining “Climate Change and Development.” Zichichi pointed out that human activity has less than a 10% impact on the environment. He also cited that models used by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) are incoherent and invalid from a scientific point of view. The U.N. commission was founded in 1988 to evaluate the risk of climate change brought on by humans. Zichichi, who is also member of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, showed that the mathematical models used by the IPCC do not correspond to the criteria of the scientific method. He said that the IPCC used “the method of ‘forcing’ to arrive at their conclusions that human activity produces meteorological variations.” The physicist affirmed that on the basis of actual scientific fact “it is not possible to exclude the idea that climate changes can be due to natural causes,” and that it is plausible that “man is not to blame.” To that end, Zichichi explained how the motor of meteorology depends on natural phenomena. He gave as an example the “energy sent by the sun and volcanic activity that spits out lava and enormous quantities of substances in the atmosphere.” He also reminded those present that 500,000 years ago the Earth lost the North and South Poles four times. The poles disappeared and reformed four times, he said. Zichichi said that in the end he is not convinced that global warming is caused by the increase of emissions of “greenhouse gases” produced through human activity. Climate changes, he said, depend in a significant way on the fluctuation of cosmic rays.”

    Zichichi is widely acknowledged as THE roman catholic scientist. He’s against evolution and global warming; Pope Benedict XVI and his “friend”, the infamous cardinal Shonborn, are listening to him attentively.
    Take care.

    Marco

  27. #27 Jon Winsor
    May 2, 2007

    Yeah, getting religious leaders and intelligentsia to talk to the communities they influence–that’s good. Those leaders buying into crackpot ideas (if that’s what’s happening in this case)–not so much.

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