Recently on his nationwide talk show, host Rush Limbaugh said, "If you believe in God, then intellectually you cannot believe in manmade global warming."
Two evangelical climate scientists took him to task in The Christian Post. "Rush Limbaugh doesn't think we exist. In other words that evangelical scientists cannot subscribe to the evidence of global warming," they said. "… Rush's uninformed rhetoric is demeaning to Christians who care deeply about what humans are doing to God's Creation and ignorant of the consequences that future generations will face if we don't respond quickly to the challenge of climate change."
Ironically, these climate scientists-Katharine Hayhoe and Thomas Ackerman-acknowledged at the outset, "Talk radio personalities often make hyperbolic statements …." Why is that ironic? Because, having acknowledged that, they then took Limbaugh literally-precisely what one must not do with hyperbole-and castigated him for meaning something they acknowledge he didn't.
No sane person, for instance, takes Jesus literally when He says, "The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his field. It is the smallest of all seeds, but when it has grown it is larger than all the garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches" (Matthew 13:31–32). By Hayhoe and Ackerman's reckoning, Jesus was wrong, because mustard is not the smallest of all seeds, and while it grows larger than many (not all) garden plants, it doesn't become a tree. But Jesus used hyperbole to get attention and drive home a point: the kingdom of heaven unexpectedly starts small but grows large to encompass multitudes.
So, what was Limbaugh's point when he said, "If you believe in God, then intellectually you cannot believe in manmade warming"? Not that no theist can believe that human emissions of greenhouse gases can contribute positively to earth's temperature. Rather, that it is difficult to reconcile belief in the infinitely wise, infinitely powerful, and infinitely faithful God of the Bible with belief that a minuscule change in atmospheric chemistry-raising CO2 from 27 thousandths of 1 percent to 54 thousandths of 1 percent of the atmosphere-is likely to cause catastrophic harm to human and other ecosystems. It's that latter belief that's encompassed by the shorthand "global warming."
Was Limbaugh right? Arguably, yes.
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, an infinitely powerful Creator, and an infinitely faithful Sustainer. It teaches that when God finished creating the earth and everything in it, He declared it "very good" (Genesis 1:31); that He created it by His infinitely powerful word (Genesis 1:3, 6, 9, 14, 20, 24; John 1:1–3); and that He sustains it "by the word of His power" (Hebrews 1:3).
Now I ask you, does an infinitely wise designer plan something to be so fragile that a proportionately tiny stress will cause it to collapse? Does a good architect, for instance, design a building so that if you lean against a wall, the rest of the building reacts by magnifying the stress of your weight until the building collapses?
But that's what's assumed in the theory of catastrophic, anthropogenic (manmade) global warming (CAGW): that a proportionately tiny stress can cause catastrophic consequences. The theory is that CO2's rising from 27 thousandths of 1 percent to 54 thousandths of 1 percent of the atmosphere-which itself is a relatively tiny part of the entire climate system, which includes the oceans, land masses, all living things, and even energy from the sun and cosmic rays from stars in distant galaxies-will raise earth's temperature so much as to threaten catastrophic harm to human and other life.
Such a result would come only from a design that made positive feedbacks vastly outweigh negative feedbacks. In other words, it would make the rest of the climate system magnify rather than offset the warming effect of CO2. Yet natural systems are dominated by negative rather than positive feedbacks-otherwise they'd all have collapsed long ago.
So God's wisdom in designing earth's climate system is hard to reconcile with belief in CAGW.
Likewise, belief in CAGW is difficult to reconcile with belief in God's power and faithfulness.
The Bible records God as making a promise to Himself after visiting the earth with catastrophic judgment in the flood of Noah's day: "I will never again curse the ground because of man, for the intention of man's heart is evil from his youth. Neither will I ever again strike down every living creature as I have done. While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease" (Genesis 8:21–22).
The poetic structure of verse 22-"While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease"-called merism, involves naming opposites to encompass everything of the same category. The thrust of the verse is God's promise, having nearly destroyed them by the flood, to uphold henceforth all the cycles on which life on earth, especially human life depends.
A group of evangelical theologians used precisely this argument in their contribution to the major study, A Call to Truth, Prudence, and Protection of the Poor: An Evangelical Examination of the Theology, Science, and Economics of Global Warming. Perhaps Limbaugh's not in such bad company.
So, does belief in God make belief in CAGW utterly impossible? No. But it's very difficult to reconcile the two beliefs. Perhaps Hayhoe and Ackerman have done that to their satisfaction. But when other, equally qualified climate scientists offer scientific evidence against CAGW, or when someone like Limbaugh points out, even hyperbolically, the tension between belief in God and belief in CAGW, prudence suggests a different response from Hayhoe and Ackerman's.