Evangelical climate scientists Katherine Hayhoe and Thomas Ackerman recently wrote a piece for The Christian Post challenging Rush Limbaugh's claim that one cannot believe in both God and climate change. That piece prompted one of the faith community's most ardent opponents of climate action, Calvin Beisner, to jump to Limbaugh's defense in a piece entitled God, Rush, and Global Warming.
Beisner writes "The Bible teaches that earth and all its subsystems – including the climate system – are the product of a God who is an infinitely wise Designer." Nothing to quibble with there, but he then concludes – as Limbaugh has – that an infinitely wise designer would not create something so fragile that mankind can mess it up.
That view is at odds with both Biblical scripture and physical evidence.
From the beginning, man's actions have had a profound impact on the earth, both good and bad. According to the Bible the first instance of human sin, when Adam and Eve disobeyed God, resulted in profound ecological changes.
Just as God has charged us with the responsibility to care for His creation, he has also granted us the ability to harm it. Man has demonstrated the capacity to level mountains, foul the air and water, drive animal species to extinction, develop weapons capable of mass destruction, acidify rain and damage the earth's ozone layer.
While nature is resilient over time, it is also intricate and fragile. The smallest bacteria or virus can kill the largest person or animal. A minute amount of airborne mercury can travel up the food chain and ultimately harm an unborn child.
Another climate-related viewpoint Beisner and others have expressed is that fossil fuels, such as coal and oil, are gifts that God wants us to dig up and use without limitation.
One must be careful when ascribing intent to God, especially when the claim appears to run counter to His design.
Part of that design is the carbon cycle, a miraculous process by which trees and other plants, animals, people, and the ocean remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and transfer it into the ground where the excess is sequestered. This is how the proper balance of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere is maintained.
The intended resting place for a significant amount of that excess carbon is deep underground in the form of oil and coal.
When we extract large quantities of oil and coal from the earth and burn it, we essentially reverse that process by releasing carbon from bygone eras back into the atmosphere.
Does it not then stand to reason that God, after designing the earth's processes to sequester excess carbon, might prefer that we respect His design and look for other ways to heat our homes and power our cars?
Beisner and Limbaugh, in peddling the notion that God designed the earth and its atmosphere to be immune from mankind's actions, are also implying that we can do anything we want to it without serious consequence.
Does that sound like something God would say?
Actually, it sounds a lot more like something the snake in the Garden of Eden would say.
Is there any aspect of spiritual or physical life where our actions are without consequence? Everything we do has consequences – and we can see every day that the earth's life-sustaining ecology was not designed to be immune from our actions and choices.
Now that we know our actions are altering the chemistry of our atmosphere, our duty is to find the best way to correct the problem, not to make excuses and try to explain it away.
The consequences of climate change are real and being felt by people today. This is about more than warming temperatures. Our oceans are becoming more acidic, which is already endangering shellfish populations that people depend on. A changing climate also means changing and more unpredictable weather – which impacts all of us.
Christian climate scientists like Hayhoe and Ackerman are taking their cues directly from the study of God's own handiwork. For Beisner and Limbaugh to argue that their findings, along with 98 percent of all other climate scientists, are invalid and inconsistent with Christianity strikes me as not only imprudent, but impious.
They would do well to consider the words of conservative author and poet T.S. Eliot.
He pointed out that, "Religion, as distinguished from modern paganism, implies a life in conformity with nature," and then he wisely concluded:
"A wrong attitude towards nature implies, somewhere, a wrong attitude towards God."