The Changing Climate in Science and Religion

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The famous New York Yankees catcher Yogi Berra once quipped, “The future ain’t what it used to be.”

The future—I love to think about what’s to come, and specifically, what’s trending in conversations about science and religion. As Yogi Berra warned us, the future certainly isn’t always what we expect. So how would we know where we’re headed? One of the best ways is to talk with emerging adults (18-30 year olds) and see what issues energize them. Because they will be, and many already are, the thought leaders for our culture, they help us see the contours of the future.

As we’ve highlighted through these newsletters, Science for the Church is convinced that relationships lie at the center of integrating mainstream science and the church. This means, as a late Baby Boomer, I don’t want to be stuck in my own generation’s biases; rather I want to learn from fresh, new voices. And so, over the past seven years, as a university lecturer, I’ve listened to my undergraduates, and I’ve also engaged in intentional discussions with 640 emerging adults, surveys of 120, and in 45 hour-long interviews to find out the topics they believe are critical in science and religion.

Here’s what I’ve found: one of the most important topics—for many the topic in religion and science—is global climate change.

What Does That Term Mean?

Many have heard of global climate change, but we may not entirely grasp its essence. The best scientific data indicate that Earth as a whole is warming and thus that the climate, in various regions, is changing. In fact, I write this from Chico, California, where the devastating Camp Fire in next-door Paradise—at cost of $16.5 billion, the most expensive natural world disaster of 2018—was influenced by climate change effects that increasingly created tinder dry fuel in what we call “the North State.” This fire’s speed shocked not only us residents, but even the pros at Cal Fire. At its fastest, it spread at a rate of around 80 football fields per minute.

As you can see, this topic is personal, and that fact returns me to my conversations with 18-30 year olds. I have daughters in their twenties, and I know that emerging adults are listening to the vast majority of climate scientists who themselves read a variety of data and conclude that climate change really exists and that human beings have caused it. While there are multiple causal factors, it’s especially the production of carbon dioxide through burning fossil fuels like coal and petroleum that create a planetary blanket, trapping heat and gradually warming our planet.

What’s Our Response?

As Christians, we know that the Bible calls us to stewardship. I’ll have more to say about that in the next post, but for now, I do want to note that God commanded Adam and Eve to care for the Earth. Eugene Peterson paraphrases this passage in the first pages of the Bible so beautifully:

“God spoke: ‘Let us make human beings in our image, make them reflecting our nature.
So they can be responsible for the fish in the sea, the birds in the air, the cattle.
And, yes, Earth itself, and every animal that moves on the face of Earth.”
Genesis 1:26-28, The Message

Our responsibility to care for creation implies several responses. First of all, let’s learn what climate scientists say. I’ve linked some sources above, and we will have future posts on this topic from specialists. Second, let’s make individual change. Let’s reduce our carbon footprint. Let’s buy locally to reduce food miles, commute by bike or mass transit, and reduce food waste. (The latter is actually one of the best ways to combat climate change.) And, as much as we can, let’s reduce our airline travel—this is a tough one for me because I love to fly—it is also one of the biggest sources of pollution. Third, individual change is not enough. We need to join together with others inside and outside the church, which is a key theme for next week.

For now, I’ll close with this: climate change is a scientific topic that can sometimes veer into an apocalyptic note. As people talk about it in our country, the tone can become alarmist. And I think that’s the wrong approach. Let’s instead be given over to “rational hope” as climate scientist and evangelical Christian Katharine Hayhoe directs us. Or perhaps, let’s commit ourselves to faithful hope because we know as Christians that God is with us in caring for this glorious and beautiful creation.


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