In an interview with Guernica, Katharine Hayhoe, a climate scientist and Evangelical, discusses why attempts to reconcile faith and science can’t always take the long view:
Here’s the thing: if you can frame climate change as an alternate religion, or as one more of those issues where the pointy-headed liberal atheist scientists are trying to discredit the Bible, then you’ve already got a ton of people on your side who are concerned about heresy, other religions, or teaching evolution in schools. Some people—very well-meaning people in the [scientific] community whom I genuinely respect—have said to me, “Well, let’s just focus on getting people on board with the science. We have to reach out to churches and schools and help people understand science, and we have to build rapport between scientists and people of faith. Then once we get that understanding and rapport built, then everyone will be on board with climate change.”
I’m involved in some of these efforts myself, and I believe they are important. But I’ll tell you, we don’t have a hundred years to fix climate change. We don’t have a hundred years to wait until we’ve built all these bridges and rapport and scientific understanding and so on and so forth. We have to fix climate change with the people we have right now, and to a large extent with the perspectives we have right now as well.
My faith is an enormous motivator for me to engage … because climate change is not just an issue that affects the entire planet, it is one that disproportionately affects those who do not have the resources to cope with this change—those whom we are explicitly told as Christians to care for. We are called to help, to make people healthy, to love. When I look around, the biggest way in which we are failing to care for those in need is through ignoring climate change and acting like it doesn’t exist. As a Christian, I believe that is something the church needs to know.
On a related note, William Saletan profiles Jeff Hardin, chairman of the University of Wisconsin’s zoology department and an Evangelical who claims that “God authored the emergence of life and humankind but that evolution explains how this process unfolded.” When he tries to convince his co-religionists to be less skeptical of science, one thing he emphasizes is humility:
“Truth and absolute certitude are not the same,” says Hardin. The proper Christian attitude is that truth resides in Jesus. The believer’s job is to follow Jesus, not to assume that the believer knows the route. Hardin cites the Apostle Paul’s counsel that God “works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.” One way God works in people is through science. They learn that their initial conclusions from scripture—computing the age of humanity, for example, from the number of generations recounted since Adam—are clumsy and naive. To allow God to work in them, Christians must remain, in Hardin’s words, “epistemically open.”
Christians who believe that the world was created in six days, or that the Earth is only a few thousand years old, think they’re reading the Bible literally. But in reality, they’re projecting modern notions of time and narration onto their ancestors. Hardin shares their aspiration to be faithful to the Bible, but he argues that to achieve this, one must approach the text the way one approaches science: with empirical rigor. Scripture is a real thing. It was written and preached for a lay audience in a historical context. Those people weren’t scientists or journalists. So it makes no sense to treat the text as a tight chronology, nailing down timelines or the process of speciation. Instead, evolutionary creationists advocate what Hardin calls “literary-cultural analysis”—asking, in layman’s terms, what each passage was meant to convey to an ancient Hebrew.
Previous Dish on climate change and faith here.