God, Man and Global Warming

Why do global-warming activists get so angry?

My Jan. 4 column noted that there is ongoing debate among serious scientists about the extent and particulars of global warming. Contrary to some assertions, the science is not settled, say numerous scientists, including President Barack Obama’s own former Undersecretary of Science Steven Koonin, who is a prominent Caltech physics professor with a Ph.D. from MIT.

Nonetheless, I suggested that we should take the issue seriously, investigate it thoroughly and, in the meantime, conserve our resources and seek renewable ones.

And, I implored, let’s put aside the ugly personal attacks and not get sanctimonious about it. We’re all in this together.

The column generated 208 online comments on The Aspen Times website. Countless others were emailed to me. Many on both sides supported my conciliatory tone.

But many of the comments by global-warming activists were hostile. Some of them ignored the science. In fact, the most vociferous activists were apparently unencumbered by any background in science.

Rather than conduct a civil and scientific discussion, some did exactly what I decried in my column. They personally attacked me, Koonin, and other commenters. They brought a lot of heat to the discussion, but not much light.

Why do they do that?

Well, I have a theory. It might be due to religion.

Anthropologists say that religion is as old as humanity. Unable to understand nature, early humans concluded that nature was not natural but supernatural. They concluded that Earth was a deity, and they literally worshiped it.

Humans later evolved, and so did religion. It eventually confronted our most basic question: Where did everything come from?

Religion’s answer is that creation was created by a creator of some sort. As a matter of logic and semantics, it’s hard to argue with that.

Scientists don’t disagree. Scientists say that before the event that cosmologists call the Big Bang, about 13.5 billion years ago, there was no matter, no space and no time.

Stated another way, scientists say that in the beginning, there was nothing. Then out of the nothingness, scientists say, creation was created.

The rest of the creation debate is not about what, but how. How did a creator create creation? What sort of force made everything out of nothing? No one knows.

Some believers believe that humans are in the image of that creator. Since ancient times, they believe, that creator has told humans how to behave in his/her/its universe.

Some of these ancient behavioral rules have proved valuable, timeless and universal. Some have even been endorsed or adopted by secular ethicists: Treat others as you would have them treat you, don’t lie or steal or murder, don’t covet your neighbor’s belongings.

Some of these rules are radically humanistic. “Love your enemy,” spoken two millennia ago, is a profound idea.

Which brings us back to the angry global-warming activists. Many (not all) of them proclaim themselves atheists. They don’t believe that a creator created creation. They instead believe that the universe is an effect without a cause.

But humans innately need religion. So is it possible that these “atheists” aren’t really atheistic, but that the object of their worship is something other than a creator?

Is it possible that they’ve gone back to the old religion of Earth worship?

Religion could explain the fervor of their doomsday predictions. Like a street corner zealot with a sign reading “The end is near,” they solemnly and sanctimoniously shout that the world will end in the next decade unless we sinners repent. And then when we don’t, and it doesn’t, they shout again — with equal solemnity and sanctimony — that it surely will end in the decade after that and this time they really mean it. And so on, decade after decade.

If indeed this is their religion, then maybe they perceive others’ doubts about their recycled apocalyptic prophesies as an assault on their faith. Maybe they hear the point that sea levels aren’t rising much in the way that a Christian might hear the point that dead people don’t rise much. Maybe they vilify a scientist who asks questions about global warming because they see him as a heretic.

I generally respect other religious beliefs and I’m willing to respect Earth worshiping too. But I would note two things.

First, as religions go, Earth worship is primitive. The Earth cannot tell you who created it. It won’t help you decide how to live your life. It won’t love you back. And it won’t tell you have to deal with people who disagree with you.

Don’t get me wrong. I revere, treasure and guard the Earth. But I don’t worship it.

Second, if you are indeed worshiping the Earth, fine, that’s your prerogative. But please don’t call it science.

Published Jan. 18, 2015 in The Aspen Times at http://www.aspentimes.com/opinion/14665240-113/beaton-god-man-and-global-warming

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