By now it’s old news that Donald Trump plans to pull the United States out of the Paris climate change agreement. I’m not writing another article explaining why that’s a bad idea (even though I think it is because of this, this, and this). Instead, I’m going to address the religious arguments that support climate change denial.
The week before Trump’s announcement, Rep. Tim Walberg (R-Mich) said in a town hall meeting, “I believe there’s been climate change since the beginning of time. I think there are cycles. Do I think that man has some impact? Yeah, of course. Can man change the entire universe? No. Why do I believe that? Well, as a Christian, I believe that there is a creator in God who is much bigger than us. And I’m confident that, if there’s a real problem, he can take care of it.”
First I want to give credit where credit is due. Yes, there have been cycles of climate change since the beginning of time. The first link above begins with NASA stating “The Earth’s climate has changed throughout history. Just in the last 650,000 years there have been seven cycles of glacial advance and retreat, with the abrupt end of the last ice age about 7,000 years ago marking the beginning of the modern climate era — and of human civilization.” So Rep. Walberg and the majority of the scientific community agree on that one. And I’m glad to see he acknowledges that humanity does have some impact on our environment. But the word “some” hides a multitude of sins. How much impact? By what means? In what ways? Rep. Walberg doesn’t address these questions because in his opinion humanity can’t “change the entire universe,” meaning we can’t be a real threat to our environment.
He’s correct that human activity can’t change the entire universe. It can’t even change the entire galaxy, or even our entire solar system. Science doesn’t disagree with that. But we don’t have to change any of those things to be a threat to our environment. We only have to change the climate of our own planet, and we are doing that.
Science doesn’t give much weight to the assertion that God is bigger than us, but I do. I’m also a Christian, and I believe in the same God that Rep. Walberg does. I believe that God is just as powerful as Rep. Walberg claims he is. But I don’t believe he’s in the business of cleaning up our messes. There’s a big difference between ‘can’ and ‘will,’ and in regards to God fixing climate change, I see nothing the biblical record to suggest that he will. Quite the contrary, the bible shows me a God who expects and commands people to act with justice, kindness, and compassion, but allows the suffering and carnage that result when people don’t.
Rep. Walberg’s appeal to Christian belief to deny or minimize humanity’s impact on the earth’s environment is neither revolutionary nor a product of Trump politics. Back in 2012 Senator James Inhofe (R-OK) gave an interview to Christian Youth America’s radio program Crosstalk with Vic Eliason, in which he cited Genesis 8:22 as the source of his belief that human influenced climate change is impossible.
“As long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night will never cease.” Genesis 8:22 (NIV)
In regards to that quote he said, “[M]y point is, God’s still up there. The arrogance of people to think that we, human beings, would be able to change what He is doing in the climate is to me outrageous.”
What’s so outrageous about that? People have been taking what God has given them and perverting, destroying, or changing it all along. In the first chapter of Genesis God gave Adam and Eve paradise, including “every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it,” but as a result of their actions God changed what he was doing and told Adam:
“Cursed is the ground because of you; in toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. Both thorns and thistles it shall grow for you; and you will eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you will eat bread till you return to the ground.” Genesis 3:17b-19a (NIV)
If two people could change God’s plan for creation with a single act, I can’t see why several billion people can’t change that same creation by deforesting the earth, destroying the ground in the search for and extraction of fossil fuels, and burning those fuels in large quantities.
Senator Inhofe also used Genesis 8:22 to make the case that “God is still up there,” tying the endurance of the earth to God’s existence. But that’s not what the verse says at all. It ties the days, the seasons, and the agricultural rhythm of life to the endurance of the earth. What happens when the earth ceases to endure? One can only assume that days, seasons, and life will end with the earth. And God will still be up there.
It’s important to remember that Genesis 8:22 is the promise God gave to Noah after he and all the people and animals with him left the ark. A few verses later the covenant continues:
“I establish my covenant with you: Never again will all life be destroyed by the waters of a flood; never again will there be a flood to destroy the earth.” Genesis 9:11 (NIV)
God doesn’t promise to keep life on earth safe from calamity for all eternity. He doesn’t even promise to never take an active hand in destroying it again. God’s promise, which is repeated again in verse 15 of that same chapter, is that God will never again destroy the earth with a flood. There are so many ways in which God can still destroy the world without breaking his promise, and there’s nothing in that covenant that prevents us from destroying ourselves.
I would also like to point out Psalm 102:25-27 to Senator Inhofe:
“Of old You founded the earth,
And the heavens are the work of Your hands.
Even they will perish, but You endure;
And all of them will wear out like a garment;
Like clothing You will change them and they will be changed.
But You are the same,
And Your years will not come to an end.” Psalm 102:25-27 (NIV)
The earth and all of creation is finite. God is not. “God is still up there” is no guarantee that life on earth will continue. It’s not arrogant to claim that human activity can negatively impact God’s creation. It’s arrogant to claim that we can do whatever we want to God’s creation and God will save us from the consequences of our actions.