Used with the permission of John Clayton, of Does God Exist?, who wrote this article
Because we live in a time when virtually all of our information comes from news sources that have an agenda, it is hard for anyone who is not a part of the media to know what is real and what is not. This is not just true of political news, but also true of religious news and in matters related to faith and doctrinal issues. There is no area related to science and faith where we see this better than in the case of global warming. We have politicians who maintain there is no such thing as global warming. We have religious groups maintaining that global warming is an attack on religion. We have ecological alarmists who claim that global warming is about to eradicate life on this planet, and creationist groups who maintain that global warming is just an evil scientific attack on the Bible to justify evolutionary theory.
The facts are obvious. Detailed records of climate exist for the past 2,000 years, and direct measurements of temperatures are available from the early 1800s. There are four “climate epochs” known to climatologists. They are:
- The Roman Warm Period from A.D. 1 to 300.
The Dark Ages Cold Period from A.D. 400 to 800.
The Medieval Climate Anomaly from A.D. 800 to 1200.
The Little Ice Age from A.D. 1300 to 1850.
One of the features of these epochs is that they did not occur at the same time in all areas of the Earth. Northwestern Europe and southeastern North America got their lowest temperatures during the 17th century, while the eastern part of the Pacific Ocean was coldest during the 15th century. Another interesting fact is that low temperatures occurred when there were major volcanic eruptions. The facts are clear that spikes in temperatures in the past have been regional and not global. It is also clear that the temperatures go up and down. After a period of warming, there is always a cooling.
Starting around 1900, this whole picture changed. Instead of the temperatures going up and down and being relational, the temperature records have produced what is called “a hockey stick” pattern that is global. By the end of the 20th century, 98% of the Earth's surface set temperature records, with the South Pole being the exception. Instead of going up and down as has been the pattern in the past, the AVERAGE temperature of Earth's surface has gone up and up and shows no sign of going down.
The collateral damage from this increase in temperature over 98% of the Earth's surface is undeniable. We all know that a very hot, quiet day will usually produce a thunderstorm, and we understand that increased heat causes rapid evaporation, which leads to all kinds of weather issues. It is undeniable that water levels worldwide are rising, and the melting of ice and an increase in evaporation is the source of much of this water. In the United States, Miami, New York City, New Orleans, and Tampa have all had flooding issues. They have spent and are spending billions of dollars to combat the increase in water levels and are planning for the eustatic rise in sea level that is coming. Even in the Great Lakes, we see record elevations of lake water levels.
We have spent all this space in this article just dealing with factual information. You cannot deny the fact that average temperatures on this planet are rising, and you can also not deny that this rise is affecting human lives. The question is, “What is causing this, and what implications does it have for believers in God and for atheists?” The issue is not only how it affects the concept of God and creation, but what implications it has for faith and how we live.
The cause of the current rise in temperature and climate changes that are coming from it is a source of debate. Is human abuse of the environment the whole reason, especially human exploitation and pollution of the sea and rainforests? Are emissions of carbon dioxide and methane from cars, cows, and factories the cause? Is the natural release of quantities of carbon dioxide from inside the Earth causing the problem? Is there an astronomical connection to the Sun or a natural atmospheric cause? Is everything we have mentioned in this article so far a hoax, contrived by dishonest immoral scientists who are trying to destroy Christianity? We can dismiss some of these explanations out of hand. I personally know some of the scientists making these measurements and observations, and many of them are believers in Jesus as God's Son. This is not a hoax or a vindictive act of a few individuals. Measurements of the Sun and the atmosphere are available on websites for anyone to see. There is no question that there is more than one cause for the temperature rises we see. Humans may be only part of the picture, but they are part of it, and we can do something about that part.
So what is the connection of faith, the Bible, and God? In simple terms, there is a minimal connection. Global warming does not denigrate God in any way. The fact that the planet is still habitable after thousands of years of humans exploiting is a testimony to the wisdom and design that God has built into the Earth. Those natural causes of global warming are not weaknesses in Earth's design. The Bible is clear in telling us that God created the Earth for us to live in, and he put us in the garden “to work it and take care of it” (Genesis 2:15). Isaiah 45:18 says it well: “For this is what the LORD says — he who created the heavens, he is God; who fashioned and made the earth, he founded it; he did not create it to be empty, but formed it to be inhabited … .” Zechariah 12:1 adds, “The LORD, who stretches out the heavens, and who lays the foundation of the earth, and who forms the human spirit within a person, … .” It is up to us to maintain the place God created for us to live. If we pollute the ocean, we cannot expect God to miraculously clean it up. If we cause cancer by the way we put chemicals into our air and water, we cannot expect God to eradicate the disease any more than we can expect him to void the consequences of promiscuous sex. From a Christian perspective, it is up to us to correct whatever we do that causes the pain we suffer. Christ opposed greed and selfishness and we see that emphasized from Matthew to Revelation. Greed and selfishness have caused many of the bad things that have happened.
From a purely atheistic standpoint, the view is exactly the opposite. If I believe this life is all I have, and that my total happiness depends on being the fittest in a world run by “survival of the fittest,” why would I make sacrifices that will not directly benefit me? From the atheistic viewpoint, it makes no sense to lower my standard of living by giving up whatever is causing the temperatures on the planet to increase. Why would I give up anything that brings me comfort and pleasure? There is no altruistic motivation in atheism. We see that in looking at who is giving aid to those negatively affected by global warming. Jesus told us “by their fruits you will know them,” and the fruit of atheism is oriented towards self, not the overall benefit to humanity.
Global warming has no direct connection to evolution. We have pointed out in this journal many times that God built the capacity to change into every living organism. Our current realization that some forms of life are going to become extinct due to global warming shows that there is a limit to their adaptability. It is hard to comprehend why some religious writers have tried to relate global warming to atheism or attacks on Christianity. God is not the cause of global warming, nor is the design of the Earth at fault. Humans certainly contribute to this affliction, but we may not be the total cause.
As the effect of global warming becomes more apparent, we see humans impacted by the rise in temperature and the phenomena this rise brings. One thing that Christians can do is to be of service to those who are negatively impacted. The essence of Christianity is stated clearly as Christ pictures the judgment scene and says: “Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty, and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger, and you invited me in. I needed clothes and you clothed me: I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me” (Matthew 25:34-35).
Global warming will be just one more opportunity for Christians to serve and to do what Jesus calls us to do.