Atheists have frequently written about the bigotry of people who believe in God and refuse to accept a fact that contradicts their religious belief. In the January 2018 issue of Scientific American, atheist Michael Shermer devotes his monthly column to this skeptical or religious bigotry.
In the article, Shermer quotes Asheley R. Landrum, a psychologist at Texas Tech and an expert on the factors influencing public understanding and perception of science, health, and emerging technologies. Studies conducted by Landrum showed how people look at data concerning climate change. The study showed that Republicans and Democrats reacted in very different ways to the content. A study that was skeptical of climate change data was not read by many of the Democrats while it was much more readily accepted by the Republicans.
Landrum concluded that, “We are good at being skeptical when information conflicts with our preexisting beliefs and values. We are bad at being skeptical when information is compatible with our preexisting beliefs and values.”
It has been my experience that the same thing happens when atheists and agnostics are confronted with data that supports the existence of God and the validity of Christianity. Trying to get some of my atheist friends to read scientific material by Dr. Francis Collins or Dr. Alister McGrath or even our own material has been almost impossible. It doesn’t matter if the authors are highly trained scientific researchers because they also believe in God, the material is off limits to many atheistic skeptics. In the same way, many of my religious associates have not read any of the scientific material produced by Richard Dawkins or Michael Shermer.
Frequently atheists have told me that they have no answer to a presentation that I have given. However, they don’t want to believe in God, and so they won’t believe no matter what the evidence is. Atheists with that kind of bias are not being skeptical, but rather they have built their own religion and don’t want to look at any fact that might conflict with it. Christians frequently do the same thing.
There can be no rational question but that our planet is experiencing a period of global warming. The data shows that warming is growing daily, but research is also showing that this is not an unusual situation. In the past, there have been periods of global warming far greater than what we are experiencing now. However, humans were not a part of the global warming issue then, but they certainly are involved today.
In the geologic period known as the Pliocene, carbon dioxide levels were similar to today’s. They trapped heat and raised global temperatures higher than what we are experiencing now. Temperatures in the Arctic were as much as 19 degrees Celsius higher than today. This warmth allowed changes in the living systems that were around at the time. In the Arctic, forests grew, and mammals like horses and camels became abundant. Wildfires roared across the landscape spewing soot into the air which further altered the climate of the area.
We are now seeing fires around the world which can alter climate. Russia had a fire that burned 283,280 square kilometers in 2012. In 2015 there were 20,230 square kilometers burned in Alaska. California has been experiencing some of the worst fires on record. Wildfires have broken out in Greenland, which is unusual. Scientists are investigating how soot from the fires is affecting the climate of the region.
During September and October of 2017, the New Mexico Public Education Department was embroiled in a battle over what was called The Next Generation Science Standards. Those standards were edited by the department to weaken the treatment of evolution, climate change, and the age of the Earth. There was a major outcry led by the National Center for Science Education against the attempts to weaken the standards.
This battle over science standards continues in state after state, with religious groups and creationist organizations trying to stop the teaching of these concepts. The battle is unnecessary, and the attempts to stop the teaching of these subjects is misguided. The opposition is often based on denominational beliefs that are not biblical, and a poor understanding of science. Taking the three subjects that were the focus in New Mexico:
Evolution: The subjects being taught are factual change in living things which is the basis of agriculture and animal husbandry. The Bible speaks about these things in the story of Jacob and Laban in Genesis 30. There is little if any emphasis on theories about human history in the standards, and atheistic concepts are not in the textbooks.
Climate Change: The climate of planet Earth is changing, and it has changed in the past. Much of the area where Jesus walked and taught is different climatically today than it was in His day. Global warming has happened in the past, and all evidence shows us it continues to happen. The Bible makes no statements about climate change. The fact that humans have caused much suffering by our mismanagement of what God has given us is not contestable. This certainly includes the wastes that we put in our waters and our atmosphere.
Age of the Earth: There are major Protestant denominations that have a doctrinal position called dispensationalism. This doctrine teaches that the planet has seven dispensations that are each roughly 1000 years. The doctrine is that Jesus will come to Earth to war with Satan, and establish a political kingdom in Jerusalem on David’s throne for 1000 years. This denominational teaching does not take the Bible literally and contradicts what Jesus said His kingdom was about. (See John 18:36.) For a review of this teaching see “Destructive Dispensationalism” in our journal for November/December 2008, page 11.
We have just passed the autumn equinox and what we call “the first day of fall.” It will be late December before fall officially ends at the winter solstice. On the first day of fall here in Michigan, it was unseasonably hot, and people were griping about “where is the cool fall weather we are supposed to have?” Long before the first day of winter on December 20-21, we will have snow. Is there something wrong with the seasons, or is the trouble with our understanding?
“Equinox” suggests that the length of the day is equal to the length of the night. The Sun is overhead at the equator, and from now until December 20 it will be directly overhead at progressively greater southern latitudes until it reaches just past 23 degrees south latitude. Here in the north, the Sun’s elevation above the horizon will get progressively lower, meaning that less and less of the Sun’s energy will strike the Earth’s surface so the weather will get cooler.
The problem with this simple picture is that there is a lag in the seasons. During the summer months in the Northern Hemisphere the lakes and oceans warm from the sunshine. Water has a high specific heat, so that heat is stored and is released slowly. That means we stay warm longer than expected in the fall. In the Southern Hemisphere the picture is complicated by the fact that the Earth is closer to the Sun during their summertime, so the radiation is more intense. That might be a problem except that the Southern Hemisphere has more water than the Northern Hemisphere because oceans cover more of the southern Earth’s surface. With that greater storage and absorption capacity moderates the temperatures in the Southern Hemisphere.
It was the world’s largest snake. Fortunately, it is extinct. The computer-generated picture shows what it might have been like if a human had ever confronted a Titanoboa (Titanoboa cerrejonensis).
One thing that many creationists and evolutionists forget is the fact that Earth’s climate in the past was much different from what it is today. To produce animals of massive size, Earth’s climate would have to be much warmer. The temperatures would have been so high that mammals could hardly survive. Cold-blooded (ectothermic) animals in tropical areas today tend to be larger than ectothermic animals found farther from the equator.
While giving lectures in Colombia, South America, we learned about the snake named Titanoboa. Fossils of more than two-dozen of these snakes were discovered in coal mines in northern Colombia. The name means “titanic boa,” and that seems fitting because it measured 48 feet (14.6 m) long and would have weighed 2500 pounds (1,135 kg). For a snake of that size to live, the climate must have averaged 90 degrees F (32 degrees C). It is difficult to comprehend how any mammal, especially humans, could survive in such temperatures.
This ministry is all about evidence. Science is knowledge, and that means evidence. We can all make our own interpretation of the evidence, but the evidence remains factual and is real science. There are people on all sides of the issue of climate change voicing opinions as facts. Christians should be concerned about the well-being of our fellow humans, and we should not be exploiters and abusers of what God has created.
When Paul wrote to Timothy, he said to avoid “oppositions of science falsely so called”(1 Timothy 6:20). Any opposition to the Bible or to belief in God will be false science because it will be opinion and not science.
Since 1873, when record keeping began, the average temperature of the planet has been 57 degrees Fahrenheit. That is an average, so in some places like the poles, it was much colder and in places like the tropical deserts it was much hotter. The last decade in which the average global temperature was colder than 57 degrees was the 1970s. In the 40 years since that time, the average temperatures have been over 57 degrees. In 2016 the average was the highest ever recorded. That number was only 1.69 degrees higher, but that is a significant amount of change.
Climate change is a fact, as we have noted before. However, we have also noted before, that climate change has taken place in the past, and that humans are not the sole cause. Much of the media hype has been based on reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The problem is that the general public has no way of checking the alarmist claims of that group. Some of the dire predictions of what climate change would bring seem to be unjustified. The problem has been that because of limited data or no access to unbiased information most people had no choice but to believe what they were told.
Some scientists have formed an organization called the Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate (NIPC). This group maintains that the reports of what climate change will bring are grossly exaggerated and based on bad data and shoddy science. They have released a book titled Why Scientists Disagree About Global Warming.
In our day of concern over carbon emissions and global warming, it is always good to see something positive taking place in the environment. Every day there is a new view in space posted by NASA at the website apod.nasa.gov. On April 24, 2017, there was a photograph taken from space of the Black Sea showing a bloom of coccolithophores. So what are they and why should you care? Coccolithophores are phytoplankton, tiny organisms that live in the large bodies of water such as oceans and seas around the world.
Why should you care? The answer to that has to do with carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. There are also viruses called coccolithoviruses that attack the coccolithophores. To protect themselves, they absorb carbon dioxide from the air and combine it with calcium to make shells of calcium carbonate–chalk. The White Cliffs of Dover are made of this chalk material that was produced by coccolithophores. In the process of protecting themselves, these organisms remove carbon dioxide from the air. It appears they may have been the agents that allowed oxygen to rise in our atmosphere to the level where animal life could exist.
The “hot button topic” for a wide variety of people today is the issue of global warming. It is easy to understand why political figures want to use this issue to manipulate their followers, but followers of Jesus Christ seem to be getting swept up in the paranoia also. Jesus said, “Take care that no one misleads you. For many will come claiming my name and saying, ‘I am the Messiah’; and many will be misled by them. The time is coming when you will hear the noise of battle near at hand and the news of battles far away; see that you are not alarmed. Such things are bound to happen; but the end is still to come. For nation will make war upon nation, kingdom upon kingdom; there will be famines and earthquakes in many places. With all these things the birth-pangs of the new age begin” (Matthew 24:5-8 NEB). We need to be informed, but global warming is not of eternal significance. Some people try to make a religion of climate change. We can get involved scientifically or politically if we so choose, but let us not get involved religiously.
So what are the facts?
#1. Climate change is happening. Anyone can look at climate data worldwide and see the changes on a global scale. This is global–not local. We just had the warmest winter here in Michigan that I can remember, and I have lived here almost 60 years, but that is not directly due to global warming.
#2. This is not the first time. The Earth’s rocks show periods of warming and cooling. Natural processes cause changes in the Sun which affect the Earth. Geologic events such as volcanic eruptions can affect climate for long periods of time.
#3. Humans have altered the planet. This isn’t even worth commenting on, and what we have done has effects that are still unknown. God told us to “take care of the garden” (Genesis 2:15), and as custodians of the planet, we need to take care of it. Releasing greenhouse gasses indiscriminately would seem to be failing to do that.
#4. There are consequences to what we do and what we don’t do. As an example, cancer is mostly caused by human actions. The list of diseases human actions have caused or catalyzed is enormous. Not managing Earth’s resources well has cost us dearly in the past, and it will do so in the future.
In our age of scary stories about global warming when alarmists are warning that humans are destroying the Earth by our huge carbon footprint, it is always good to hear something positive. That is especially true when that positive thing is something people have held up as negative for a very long time. I have stood on the edge of a huge swamp in the southern part of the United States and wondered what possible use an area like that would have. You can talk about providing a home for insects, birds, or rare tropical plants, but the swamp still looks like a wasteland with its mile after mile of muck and dead vegetation.
Imagine a swamp that covers 56,000 square miles and has a depth of 20 feet of ugly black muck. Why would God create a place like that? What possible use can it have? That huge swamp is the Cuvette Centrale peatlands in Africa’s central Congo Basin, and it has been accumulating for nearly 11,000 years. We now know that this particular swamp is a huge carbon sink. Recent measurements by scientists show that this one swamp holds about thirty billion tons of carbon. That’s the equivalent of 20 years of United States fossil fuel emissions. Satellite measurements have shown this swamp is sixteen times larger than previous estimates. Chemical studies show it is highly acidic and devoid of oxygen so it traps carbon that would otherwise escape into the atmosphere.