‘Climate Change’: A Leap of Faith?

Christianity isn't a blind-faith religion. But climate change dogma? Its disciples sure behave like it is.

By E. Calvin Beisner Published on April 5, 2016

Tomorrow night at Duke University there will be a panel discussion titled “Climate Change Not a Leap of Faith.” Among the event hosts is the group Young Evangelicals for Climate Action, an offshoot of the Evangelical Environmental Network.

They and the Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions, the Nicholas School of the Environment, and the Kenan Institute for Ethics are bringing in the Nicholas Institute’s Amy Pickle, the Nicholas School’s Megan Mullin, the Kenan Institute’s David Toole and Katharine Hayhoe, an associate professor of political science and director of the Climate Science Center at Texas Tech University, to discuss why Christians should care about climate change.

That’s a fine idea in principle, but that title — “Climate Change Not a Leap of Faith” — got me wondering: Is that meant to present “climate change” as somehow in contrast with religious faith in general, or maybe Christian faith in particular?

Nineteenth-century Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard, among the earliest Existentialists, famously taught that Christian commitment is a “leap of faith,” embracing Christian teachings without — and even contrary to — evidence.

Although that understanding of the Christian faith was antithetical to the main body of Christian teaching for the previous eighteen centuries, it caught on, and today many who call themselves evangelicals understand their Christian faith that way. They embrace it by Kierkegaard’s “leap of faith,” sometimes even calling it a “blind leap of faith.”

Such a message would have shocked the Apostle John, who wrote that John the Baptist came to bear witness [which denoted testimony in a trial to establish fact] to Jesus (John 1:6–7) and that “Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:30–31).

It would have shocked the Apostle Peter, who urged Christians to “regard Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you” (1 Peter 3:15).

And it would have shocked Luke, who began his Gospel, “Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us, it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught” (Luke 1:1–4).

Likewise, Luke began his second volume, the Book of Acts, “In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach, until the day when he was taken up, after he had given commands through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. To them he presented himself alive after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God” (Acts 1:1–3).

What lies behind that choice of title for this Wednesday night’s panel discussion? Was it, as I asked above, to present belief in climate change as reasoned and evidence-based, in contrast with the “blind leap of faith” of Christianity? Indeed, do those who devised that title know that the word faith, as used in the Bible, denotes not an emotional but an intellectual response: assenting to the truth of a statement or doctrine, and not just speaking with the lips but believing, honestly, with the mind or heart (the Bible uses the terms interchangeably).

I suppose we may never know.

But this much we do know. The panel’s organizers ensured that those who attend will hear only one side of this subject, though it is a subject characterized by enormous scientific, economic, political and ethical controversy among bona fide experts in all four fields. All four panelists clearly believe in dangerous, manmade global warming and the imperative of seeking to mitigate it by reducing carbon dioxide emissions by reducing fossil fuel use — although doing so would slow or stop economic development in much of the world, trapping billions in poverty and condemning them to short and disease-ridden lives.

The only climate scientist among them — Dr. Hayhoe — has proven unwilling to dialogue with other evangelical climate scientists who disagree with her.

When in 2013 she led a group of 200 evangelical scientists (only five of whom were climate scientists) in issuing an open letter urging Congress to take action on climate change, two Senior Fellows of the Cornwall Alliance, Dr. Roy W. Spencer, Principal Research Scientist in climatology in the University of Alabama’s School of Earth and Atmospheric Science and winner of NASA’s Exceptional Scientific Achievement Medal for global temperature monitoring work with satellites, and Dr. David Legates, professor of hydroclimatology, precipitation and climate change, and computational methods in the College of Earth, Ocean, & Environment at the University of Delaware, concluded their critical response:

We challenge them, or other evangelicals of their choice, to a formal public debate — with a scientist, an economist, and a theologian on each side — at an evangelical college of their choice. Up for debate would be the magnitude, causes, and consequences of recent and foreseeable global warming and whether fighting it by reducing CO2 emissions would cause more good than harm to the poor.

To date neither Dr. Hayhoe nor any other evangelical who agrees with her position has ever responded to this challenge — which still stands.

Might belief in dangerous manmade global warming be more like Kierkegaard’s “leap of faith” than skepticism? Why might one think so?

So, to answer the question in this essay’s title — and the panel discussion title notwithstanding — belief in “climate change” (shorthand for dangerous manmade warming that must be mitigated even at the cost of trillions of dollars and potentially trapping billions in poverty) really is a leap of faith.


Calvin Beisner, Ph.D., is Founder and National Spokesman of The Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation and former Associate Professor of Historical Theology at Knox Theological Seminary and of Interdisciplinary Studies at Covenant College.

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