As another Earth Day arrives, a wide gap exists between white evangelicals and Americans of other religious backgrounds concerning the issue of global warming.
An 2008 analysis by the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion and Public Life reports that while 71 percent of the U.S. population thinks solid evidence exists showing the earth has been warming over the past few decades, only 58 percent of white evangelicals agree.
Among those who believe global warming is a reality, 47 percent of the general population blames the warming on human activity, while only 34 percent of white evangelicals lay the blame on manmade causes.
Fully 31 percent of white evangelicals dismiss the notion of there being hard evidence to prove global warming is happening, compared to 21 percent of the U.S. population.
And the numbers when comparing white evangelicals with Americans who list their religious membership as “unaffiliated” are even more at different ends of the spectrum, though the overall percentage of Americans who say the earth is getting warmer has decreased from 77 percent in since January 2007.
Why the differences? One often-heard criticism among evangelicals is that the secular media sways public thinking by printing misinformation.
At least one evangelical leader on the global warming issue thinks the real reason behind the Pew Forum research numbers lies elsewhere.
E. Calvin Beisner, a former professor of social ethics at Knox Theological Seminary, is one of the leading evangelical critics of the validity of global warming. Among his primary answers for the “global warming gap” is that evangelicals are critical thinkers who demand strong evidence before they will believe what the world is telling them.
“We’re not absolute skeptics, but we’re fairly skeptical ... which helps explain why evangelicals have not jumped on the global warming bandwagon,” Beisner said, pointing to the apostle Paul’s admonition in 1 Thessalonians 5:21 to “test all things; hold fast which is good.”
Also setting evangelicals apart from the mainstream is their preponderance to view everything through a Biblical worldview, Beisner said.
Beisner explained that contrary to much of the scientific study conducted and presented by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the earth has natural, God-given methods of climate control that keep everything in balance.
“Evangelicals, because of their world view, would naturally look for such mechanisms and would expect to find a self-correcting system, but those who don’t think God created the world would expect a system that is fragile,” he said.
Beisner questioned the current relevance of the Pew report, citing its year-old information – the survey polled 1,502 Americans last April and was part of a larger study that also looked at gender, race and political affiliation – as reason to wonder why the results were released last week. He said that newer surveys show evangelicals are even less ready to affirm manmade warming than the Pew poll suggests.
“Which is really saying something, considering (the Pew survey analysis) indicates that only 34 percent of evangelicals believe there’s solid evidence for manmade global warming.
Not all Christians agree with Beisner that global warming is more myth than reality. White mainline Protestants (67 percent), white non-Hispanic Catholics (64 percent) and black Protestants (75 percent) told Pew they think global warming is real.
Ben Lowe, a 25-year-old Christian activist and author of "Green Revolution," believes that all followers of Jesus should be working to make sure the planet is as healthy as possible.
As a student at Wheaton College, Lowe says was confronted with facts and truth that he could not shrug off simply because many in the evangelical camp dismissed the global warming issue as liberal bias.
“I talked to some professors and read a textbook by Sir John Houghten (of the IPCC) on global warming and started reading other articles ... and coming through all that my viewpoint is that we’re called to be good stewards, and that means making the best decisions based on the best information we have at this point,” Lowe said.
“God does not expect us to be all-knowing,” he continued. “We may find information down the road that makes us change our minds. He will give us the information we need. We’re supposed to be faithful, not all-knowing. My job is to be a faithful Christian.”
Going against the white evangelical grain can be risky, as Richard Cizik learned when he came under fire from the National Association of Evangelicals, of which he vice president, for his outspoken views on the negative effects of global warming.
While Lowe acknowdges he is not the expert on global warming, he disagrees with those who act as though it does not exist.
“Let’s say your stomach was really hurting and the doctor did tests and said it’s probably stomach cancer and you need an operation to remove it,” Lowe said, presenting an analogy why thinks the way he does about global warming.
“You go get a second opinion and a third and you visit 100 doctors and 99 say they’re pretty sure it’s stomach cancer and that you can’t wait long. But maybe 5 percent say it could be indigestion and tell you to take pain killers and come back later and reassess. The question I have asked is what if you were that person and got that diagnosis? Which set of doctors would you believe? Clearly you’d want to believe the ones who say it’s indigestion, but what set are you actually going to act on?”
Beisner, however, counters arguments for the existence of global warming by again turning to the Bible, explaining that God promised that he would not allow the world to tumble into climatic chaos until heaven and earth have passed away.
“The promise of God is that all cycles will be sustained, which means all life on earth,” Beisner said.
“Even if you assume the IPCC is right and that we have global warming, which at least for the last 30 years has been primarily caused by human activity ... if you do the economic studies and the cost benefit analysis – how much benefit you get per dollar spent – then what you find is every dollar invested trying to control surface temperatures gets us only a few cents. We lose 97 cents of every dollar,” he said.
Conversely, putting money into implementing water purification systems, developing micronutrients and AIDS prevention yields a much higher rate of return, he said.
“What it means is that it makes more sense to promote economic development to help more and more people adapt to (their environment),” he said. “Because climate always changes. It’s always varying around a mean.”