Who cares what Jesus would drive?
The knee-jerk reaction among those who have been trying to haul Christians aboard the environmental movement -- desperately, and usually futilely, looking for ways to reinterpret the Biblical directive to "have dominion over the earth" and that sort of thing -- is one of lament. According to the Washington Post, the leadership of the 30 million-member National Association of Evangelicals "will not take a stand on the issue, disappointing environmentalists who had hoped that evangelical Christians would prod the Bush administration to soften its position on global warming."
Bless their hearts, but those environmentalists are wasting their time. Even worse, they're undermining honest efforts to keep religion out of the development of public policy based on sound science. We've got enough troubles with a president that can't keep faith out of his Supreme Court nomination criteria, thank you very much.
That puts me in the somewhat awkward position of agreeing with the 20-odd signers of a letter to the NAE membership urging them not to adopt an official position on climate change. Among those questionable allies are Watergate criminal Charles W. Colson, founder of Prison Fellowship Ministries; ultra-disciplinarian James C. Dobson, chairman of Focus on the Family; the Rev. D. James Kennedy of Coral Ridge Ministries; the Rev. Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention; Richard Roberts, president of Oral Roberts University; Donald E. Wildmon, chairman of the American Family Association; and the Rev. Louis P. Sheldon, chairman of the Traditional Values Coalition.
The bottom line for those who care about the separation of church and state should be keeping religion in its place. Now, I recognize that telling a preacher not to stray into matters of science and public policy is a tall order. Limiting Sunday sermons to purely spiritual concerns would probably turn what can be dozy affairs into intellectual anesthesia. But there's a good reason why the IRS isn't supposed to let ministers tell parishoners how to vote. The same logic applies to questions of science.
Far too many people already turn to the pulpit for answers to questions that have nothing to do with matters of faith. If you want some guidance on choosing between the new hybrid Camry and low-emissions diesel Jetta, there are plenty of accurate and honest resources out there assembled by sincere automotive engineers. If you're having problems figuring out whether the U.S. will benefit or suffer from an eight-degree increase in average temperatures over the next century, ask a climatologist. James Dobson is not an expert in global carbon cycles, and there's no reason to expect him to become one any time soon. He's too busy telling you how often to spank your kid.
This is a serious problem, and it's not just evangelicals who are muddying the playing field these days. The theme for next week's Darwin Days celebration at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, is "Science and Religion, and why these subjects are not mutually exclusive." Among the alleged highlights is a talk by an "evolutionary theologian" (whatever that is) who will explain "Why Jesus Loves Darwin and You Could Too."
From the flyer announcing the Feb. 7 lecture:
Evolutionary theologian Michael Dowd explores how an understanding of recent discoveries in the sciences can broaden and strengthen our experiences of Ultimate Reality (in a way that theists and atheists can both celebrate!) and open the future to hope. Using simple, easy-to-understand analogies and illustrations, Rev. Dowd shares a deeply inspiring perspective on the coming of age for both religion and science.Sorry to break it to the faculty at UT, but all the available evidence suggests that science and religion are far from compatible at many levels. I'm not arguing that you can't be both a scientist and a person of religious conviction. First, it's easier on the brain if you try not to believe six impossible things before breakfast. More important are the fundamental differences between the two that defy reconciliation. For one, religion relies on revealed wisdom in the form of scriptures of some sort. Science prefers verifiable facts.
Unless my studies of the great monotheistic texts were sorely lacking, I think it safe to say there's nothing in the Bible or the Koran that tangentially or even metaphorically addresses the possibility of the failure of thermohaline ciruclation, methanogenic positive feedback loops or the Kyoto Protocol. Neither is there any suggestion in the New Testament as to Jesus' inclinations regarding natural selection and other mechanisms of the modern evolutionary synthesis. And even if there were, I'd be very suspicious
Getting back to the evangelicals, here's what the climate-change abstainers had to say in justification of their argument against climbing off the fence: "Bible-believing evangelicals ... disagree about the cause, severity and solutions to the global warming issue." In best rhetorical tradition, that sounds like a reasonable position. It's almost what you'd expect the average climatologist might say.
Almost, but not quite. There is indeed considerable disagreement in scientific circles when it comes to details like severity and solutions. There is, however, little if any disagreement on the cause, with the general consensus being that humans are responsible for at least half the recent global warming trend.
Poor evangelicals. Can't even get it right when they're explaining why they're not qualified to offer advice.
If preachers would stick to religion, we'd all be better off. In the case of climate change, I'd be happy if the NAE issued an official position in favor of the formulation of a federal science policy consistent with the prevailing scientific consensus and leave it at that.
Come to think of it, if they did that, I'd be ecstatic.