Why The Climate Change Debate Is A Good Example For Separation Of Church And State

Phil Plait has a great post about climate change on his Bad Astronomy blog. Climate change is disputed by the majority of Republicans mainly due to their conservative religious beliefs. They dispute climate change even in the face of overwhelming evidence and scientific consensus.

I am not going to get into the actual evidence for climate change; there are plenty of books and websites out there that present the clear and overwhelming evidence in support of anthropogenic global warming . I am going to simply insist, based on this evidence, climate change is a fact. This is real and there is copious evidence to support this view.

What I want to talk about is how religious beliefs have been allowed to influence government policy and public perceptions of this issues in particular and science in general.

During the administration of George W. Bush, we had the closet thing to a theocracy that we have yet seen in the country. During the eight years of Bush, science took huge hits in funding and support in critical areas of research such as stem cell and climate research.

At the start of the Bush administration, the U.S. was one of the leaders in embryonic stem cell research. This research has the potential to lead to treatments for everything from Parkinson’s disease to Alzheimer’s, diabetes to the repair of spinal cord injuries and more. Yet this funding was severely limited by the Republican congress’ and the Bush administration’s refusal to fund embryonic stem cell research. As a result, embryonic stem cell research was taken up overseas where it has flourished, leaving the U.S. a decade behind in research and development in this promising and critical area.

Why is the religious right against embryonic stem cell research? Because they believe that life begins at conception based on their religious teachings, even though the Bible has nothing to say about when life actually begins. Their belief is not based on anything real, but is based on their interpretation of texts written thousands of years ago by people who believe that the world was going to end in their lifetimes. They believe that supporting embryonic stem cell research would lead to the harvesting of stem cells from aborted fetuses. This is patently false. According to the National Institutes of Health:

Embryonic stem cells, as their name suggests, are derived from embryos. Most embryonic stem cells are derived from embryos that develop from eggs that have been fertilized and then donated for research purposes with informed consent of the donors. They are derived from eggs fertilized in a woman’s body.

The stem cells are not collected from fetuses at all, but from fertilized eggs in a laboratory. They never come close to reaching the point of being a fetus, but merely a collection of embryonic cells in a nutrient rich medium.

This is a classic example of the right ignoring, if not misrepresenting, the facts to suit their religiously motivate ideology.

The religious right’s opposition to climate change is similar, although there is an economic and political side to their arguments as well as a religious one. They argue that reducing greenhouse gas emissions will hurt American businesses. All you have to do is look across the ocean to Europe where business there are thriving despite heavy government regulations to see that this argument is spurious. What they really mean when they say that it will be bad for American business is that it will be bad for their vested interests; those energy and oil companies that supply so much of their campaign cash and in which many of them have significant investments.

But there is also a religious reason why they oppose efforts to curb greenhouse gas emissions. They cite the Bible verse of Genesis:

1:26 And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.

They use this verse to justify using (or misusing) the earth for whatever purposed we wish. But with dominion doesn’t there come responsibility? If I am running a company, doesn’t it make sense to run it responsibly so that I get the maximum use for the maximum amount of time from it rather than running it into the ground in the quest for short term profits? Once again, their reasoning is flawed. Sure, we can do whatever we want with the earth, there is nothing to stop us from doing that, but the real question is should we do this? Is heating the planet up and changing entire ecosystems in the long term the right thing to do. I suppose it is if you only care about the here and now, and not future generations.

And that leads us to a really frightening aspect of the religious right’s theology: the idea that we are living in the end times. When you look at climate change from this point of view, then sucking every last resource, damn the consequences, actually makes some sort of twisted sense. Why bother cutting greenhouse gases if we (“we” being good Christians) are going to be raptured into heaven soon anyway?

This is where the irrationality of this kind of warped theological thinking become horrifyingly apparent. There are many people in our government who honestly believe that we are the last generation on earth and that because of this we can throw caution to the wind and ignore climate change, start a war with Iran that will start a world war that will usher in the Apocalypse and bring on the second coming of Christ. Very scary. Of course, the one question they can not, or will not, answer is, “What if you are wrong?”.

This is why religion must be separate from government. Government must rule for all people, not just the ones who believe in end of the world prophecies. We must base our policies on the best that science, not superstition, has to offer or else there will be hell to pay here on earth, but it will be a hell of our own making.


3 thoughts on “Why The Climate Change Debate Is A Good Example For Separation Of Church And State

  1. Can you please cite one example of a Republican using a religious context to deny global warming. You assert it, and quote the bible, but you don’t actually provide any evidence.

    • These are just a few I found in 15 minutes of searching. Mostly from the same NY Times article.

      “‘It’s a flat-out lie,’ Mr. Dennison said in an interview after the debate, adding that he had based his view on the preaching of Rush Limbaugh and the teaching of Scripture. ‘I read my Bible,’ Mr. Dennison said. ‘He made this earth for us to utilize.’” Norman Dennison, founder of the Corydon Tea Party.

      Lisa Deaton, a small-business owner in Columbus, Ind., who started We the People Indiana, a Tea Party affiliate, is supporting Mr. Young in part because of his stand against climate change legislation.

      “Being a strong Christian,” she added, “I cannot help but believe the Lord placed a lot of minerals in our country and it’s not there to destroy us.” Lisa Deaton, founder of We the People Indiana, a Tea Party affiliate.

      “[Pelosi] is committed to her global warming fanaticism to the point where she has said that she’s just trying to save the planet. We all know that someone did that over 2,000 years ago, they saved the planet — we didn’t need Nancy Pelosi to do that.” – Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minnesota, August 12th 2008


  2. You say:

    “The religious right’s opposition to climate change is similar, although there is an economic and political side to their arguments as well as a religious one.”

    Do you mean to say that all deniers on the right, do so for religious reasons? Or do you believe that people on the right, who happen to be religious, reject climate change for religious reasons.

    I can understand religious people who reject a lot of things on religious reasons, to reject climate science. I would suspect that most republican candidates, as opposed to voters and activists, reject climate change for scientific reasons, or at least political ones.

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