Would god allow climate change?

Woman at Raw Sugar

Giving testimony before a Congressional committee, former House Majority Leader Dick Armey argued that climate change cannot be a threat because god would not allow human beings to destroy the Earth:

Let me say I take it as an article of faith if the lord God almighty made the heavens and the Earth, and he made them to his satisfaction and it is quite pretentious of we little weaklings here on earth to think that we are going to destroy God’s creation.

By comparison, some religious individuals and organizations (including the Vatican and Archbishop of Canterbury) have argued that dealing with climate change is a religious duty.

Ignoring for the moment the question of whether any kind of supernatural beings exist, it does seem plausible to me that a fair number of people have a deep psychological assumption that something inherent to the universe would prevent the wholesale transformation of the Earth by human beings, at least if that transformation was a highly destructive one. For some, the balancing mechanism is a deity, for others ‘laws’ of technology or economics, and for others the (flawed) notion that natural systems are self-correcting. I recall a short story in which a man had the false belief that the fact that trains passing each other are drawn closer by the low pressure zone between them. He believed that the same phenomenon would help him stick to the train as he advanced up the outside of it. When it comes to environmental thinking, many people might be falsely comforted by similar misconceptions.

Dealing with climate change probably requires us to collectively appreciate that we have the power to totally unbalance the natural world, to an extent that our ecological niche could be threatened. Furthermore, we are actually actively doing so. As the proverb says, if we don’t change course, we might end up where we’re headed.

Incidentally, if there were an omnipotent, omniscient, benevolent god, it would be rather difficult to understand what it could have had in mind in setting up the relationship between fossil fuels, greenhouse gasses, and climate change. It’s a bit like leaving poisoned cupcakes out where your children will find them. Providing such a potent and easily accessible form of energy, but with dire long-term consequences that people took a while to figure out, seems like cruel game-playing. Of course, it is very hard to look at what happens in the world and believe that there is an omnipotent being out there looking out for us.

Author: Milan

In the spring of 2005, I graduated from the University of British Columbia with a degree in International Relations and a general focus in the area of environmental politics. In the fall of 2005, I began reading for an M.Phil in IR at Wadham College, Oxford. Outside school, I am very interested in photography, writing, and the outdoors. I am writing this blog to keep in touch with friends and family around the world, provide a more personal view of graduate student life in Oxford, and pass on some lessons I've learned here.

28 thoughts on “Would god allow climate change?”

  1. It’s a bit like leaving poisoned cupcakes out where your children will find them.

    Kind of a dickish thing to do, really.

    Of course, it’s a bit more complicated. In the poisoned cupcake example, the same people get the tasty cupcakes and the deadly poison. With climate change – at least so far – the people who’ve done best on the cupcake scale have been offloading a lot of the poison on those doing worst.

  2. I guess if you are a believer, you have faith that you will move to another realm after you die and that God is fully capable of creating another world in the future. Believers believe that God created perfection and has given people free will. If you accept the idea of free will, than humans solely are responsible for making bad choices. Of course, the bible talks about armageddon and thus many people feel that our present time is simply a fulfillment of a prophecy. I think that both environmentalists and religious people would agree that humans have caused the earth’s woes. What God could/would do to save the earth is another question.

  3. It’s a bit like leaving poisoned cupcakes out where your children will find them.

    What about a ‘poisoned’ apple?


    Let us hope that the international community and individual governments will succeed in countering harmful ways of treating the environment. It is likewise incumbent upon the competent authorities to make every effort to ensure that the economic and social costs of using up shared environmental resources are recognized with transparency and fully borne by those who incur them, not by other peoples or future generations: the protection of the environment, of resources and of the climate obliges all international leaders to act jointly and to show a readiness to work in good faith, respecting the law and promoting solidarity with the weakest regions of the planet. One of the greatest challenges facing the economy is to achieve the most efficient use — not abuse — of natural resources, based on a realization that the notion of “efficiency” is not value-free.

  5. “But of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God hath said, Ye shall not eat of it, neither shall ye touch it, lest ye die.” (Genesis 3.3, KJV)

  6. A god is very useful if you don’t have control over the weather and other natural disasters. Believing in a god, say 3 thousand years ago, helped to both establish some individual control over your environment (by making offerings to persuade them to help you) and also an entity towards which you can direct your frustrations and feelings of helplessness (if your offerings aren’t ‘accepted’ by the god).

    It is pretty unfortunate that in a situation where we have finally reigned in control of our environment in a very tangible sense, we still pass responsibility onto a god figure.

  7. But, you know, God told us to subdue the earth. We’ve done a pretty good job of that.

    God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”

    I guess you could argue that when God said he wanted us to rule – he assumed that we would rule with the desire to have something to rule over, and not destroy it all.

  8. I think a common mistake made is to move from positing some kind of super-natural force, to assuming that force is all-powerful and all-benevolant. It might be impossible not to posit some kind of super-natural force, if super-natural just means “beyond nature” only a culture that perfectly grasped the world as natural (which means, comprehended everything) could expunge the super-natural. But, it is certainly not necessary to assume that the super-natural force, which might just mean the force that you don’t understand, cares about you, or likes you.

    It’s easy to charge religious nutbags with this mistake – but I think you are right to point to those for whom this super-natural is the ” ‘laws’ of technology or economics”. The notion that a certain kind of human development is good for humans, that the invisible hand watches over us, is just the same kind of unargued assumption as to posit God’s being as all-powerful and all-good. Sure, we observe this hand, but we never observe it as entirely beneficial (without rose coloured glasses), or as ultimately powerful (there are no free markets anyway).

    So, maybe the neo-cons are just as Abrhamic as the bible-thumpers, they just have a different name for God.

  9. I guess you could argue that when God said he wanted us to rule – he assumed that we would rule with the desire to have something to rule over, and not destroy it all.

    Such questions are more easily answered when one accepts the likelihood that god(s) is/are fictional.

  10. I scares the whatsit out of me when those in power say we don’t have to worry about taking responsibility for the conseqences of our actions.

    Particularly ironic when it is Republicans, normally all for taking the full consequences of actions at an individual level, effectively saying that the more severe the consequences of the choice, the less one has to worry about assuming responsibility and taking compensatory action.

    As pointed out elsewhere here, free will (whether innate or God-granted) carries the duty for intelligent adults to bear the consequences of their actions, as the law usually recognises. Those denying abdicating responsibility for attempting to soften the impact of climate change on the planet and its populace are implicitly denying at least one of three assumptions behind this (that they are adult, intelligent, or that they possess free will).

  11. Nodding @Matt, Milan (fruit warning) and Tristan.
    ‘it is certainly not necessary to assume that the super-natural force, which might just mean the force that you don’t understand, cares about you, or likes you.’ My longstanding stance. I’ve always thought it odd to assume that a being possessed greater understanding and power than us would share our understanding, or even our concepts, of what is good for us, in the unlikely event that it actively wished to do us good. Abrahamic religions assume this only in that they posit God made man in his image, and wants to elevate man, but God didn’t make man so close an image as to be equal to God. Obviously so much was left out that nobody can rely on any particular aspect of humans (especially not of individual assessments of ‘benefit’) as giving a reliable guideline.

    As for ascribing the hand of careful custodianship to theories of economics etc… even the Gaia theory is now being reinterpreted (by some) as resembling Medea more closely.

  12. “Asked how he reconciles that realization with the wonkish content of the book, Gore at first seems stymied. But then, when I prompt him, he points to pages on the spiritual dimension of climate change, the idea that God gave man stewardship over the earth, and that preserving it for future generations is a sacred obligation. Then he opens his laptop to show a commercial by his Alliance for Climate Protection, in which the Revs. Al Sharpton and Pat Robertson make an odd-couple plea for “taking care of the planet.” Gore allows that he’s been tailoring the slide-show training he gives to faith-based volunteer groups. “I’ve done a Christian [-based] training program; I have a Muslim training program and a Jewish training program coming up, also a Hindu program coming up. I trained 200 Christian ministers and lay leaders here in Nashville in a version of the slide show that is filled with scriptural references. It’s probably my favorite version, but I don’t use it very often because it can come off as proselytizing.””

  13. Pope: Global Warming Will Not Starve the World
    by Katherine Gustafson

    Monday, on the opening day of the World Summit on Food Security, Pope Benedict XVI tried to put the panic about global-warming-induced food crises to rest.

    According to the UK’s Times Online, the Pope said that the Earth can produce enough for everyone despite the ravages climate change might inflict. It is greed, he said, that has driven up prices and increased hunger in the world.

    His remarks emphasized that food should not be treated like any other commodity, especially because “there is no cause and effect relationship between population growth and hunger.” Nobel Prize-winning economic Amartya Sen has long commented that hunger is not a problem of production but one of access.

  14. Personally, I think that is a silly and perhaps irresponsible thing for the Pope to say.

    If we get 6°C or more of warming by 2100, it is quite legitimate to ask how much starvation it would cause. By providing the unjustified perspective that climate change won’t cause mass starvation, the Pope may well diminish how much action people take on the issue.

  15. Of course, this is a man who believes that condoms are evil, the world was created by a benevolent god who cares about humanity, and that priests actually turn bread and water into flesh and wine. He may not be the best source of information on scientific matters.

    That said, given the number of members in his church, it is likely that his statements have real consequences in how people live their lives and devote their efforts.

  16. “His remarks emphasized that food should not be treated like any other commodity, especially because “there is no cause and effect relationship between population growth and hunger.” Nobel Prize-winning economic Amartya Sen has long commented that hunger is not a problem of production but one of access.”

    This is just a fallacious string of thought. If population growth increases demand for food, which increases the price, which limits access, then population growth can be a cause of starvation even if it is still true to say the problem is with access rather than production.

    The real problem, as usual, is capitalism.

  17. Catholicism is a problem too, insofar as it helps prevent women from making the kind of reproductive choices they want to.

    Hampering the efforts of governments and NGOs that promote family planning is one of the more objectionable things done by any religious organization.

  18. The Pope is my #1 go-to guy when I need the advice of an abstinent old man who believes that his every word is infallible.

  19. In the GOP’s House, God won’t allow global warming?
    By Stephen Stromberg

    Just how radical is the Republican House going to be? Part of that depends on the chamber’s new committee chairmen. I’m already worried about what Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) might do as the House’s chief inquisitor, particularly when it comes to his promise to “investigate” climate science. Now Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill.) is campaigning to chair the House Energy and Commerce Committee next year. He’s been on the committee since 1997, and he says he’s “uniquely qualified” for the job. For example, the Toronto Star reports, Shimkus claimed in 2009 that we don’t have to worry about global warming because God promised not to destroy the Earth. No — really.

  20. Fairy tales and global warming

    I would like to make a few comments about the recent increase in warmings and threats about global warming. “If” the temperature increases the ice caps will melt and cover the whole world with water. How much money has already been wasted on this false information?

    First of all, what can mere man do, if the ice caps melt and this planet Earth is covered in water? Can we build a freezer big enough to refreeze the ice in the North and South Poles?

    Just think of all the cold weather we have had this past winter; it was 50 degrees below zero in Russia less than a month ago. Europeans were freezing to death according to the news reports. So which report should we believe?

    Did you ever read the story of how Hennypenny tried to convince all the animals in the forest that, “the sky was falling,” just because an acorn fell on her head? She caused such a flurry of panic among all the other animals they all ran around like chickens with their heads cut off. The sly fox though, convinced all the animals, mostly poultry, to come into his lair and he would save them. However, he had them all for lunch instead. I hope we are not all chickens in Canada.

    Is that where this lie is coming from? So that some brilliant leaders can make every nation in the whole world pay taxes? To pay for something no one can do anything about anyway?

    If people would read the Bible in Genesis, chapter 8, verse 22, God made a covenant with Noah and his family after the flood which destroyed all living creatures except the ones who were saved in the ark. In verse 22, God says while the Earth remains, seedtime and harvest and cold and heat, summer and winter, and day and night will not cease.

    God also promised in verse 11 of chapter 9, the world established a covenant with man, and there would not ever again be a flood to destroy the Earth. That was 4,365 years ago. So far, no global floods have destroyed the whole Earth at the same time. God was true to His promise.

    I think God is true and every man a liar. Just imagine how much money could be saved to do better things in this world, feed and clothe the nations of people who are hungry and destitute as we read this.

    If the nations of the world would eliminate the atomic weapons and bombs as they used to in the past, along with better forest management, maybe the Earth’s environment would be safer for human habitation.

    I certainly hope that Canada will not be duped into believing this trick, giving place to the world government so that they will gain control of more of our money and independence.

    Frances Guillemette


  21. Churches speaking out on Northern Gateway pipeline project
    United Church considering motion to oppose pipeline construction
    The Canadian Press Posted: Aug 6, 2012 10:52 AM ET Last Updated: Aug 6, 2012 10:51 AM ET

    Churches across Canada say they have a religious duty to speak out on the proposed Northern Gateway oilsands pipeline.

    Next week, delegates at the United Church of Canada general council meeting in Ottawa are to debate a resolution that calls on the church to reject construction of the $6-billion Enbridge project that would take diluted bitumen from Alberta to the British Columbia coast.

    The resolution was drafted in support of aboriginals in B.C., who worry a spill would poison the land and water, and directs the church to send the results of its vote to the federal, B.C. and Alberta governments and the media.

    Mardi Tindal, moderator of the United Church, said care of the Earth is an important part of the faith and the church can’t shy away from the pipeline just because it is controversial and politically divisive.

    “People care so much about this. People understand that you cannot separate economic health from ecological health,” she said from Toronto.

    “The church has a responsibility to contribute to the conversations that make for the best public policy for the common good.”

    The United Church of Canada is not alone.

  22. A Republican congressman said last week that, were the impacts of climate change to become a “real problem,” God would intervene.

    “I believe there’s climate change,” Rep. Tim Walberg (R-MI) told constituents at a town hall Friday, as seen in a video of the event posted online. “I believe there’s been climate change since the beginning of time. I think there are cycles.”

    “Do I think that man has some impact? Yeah, of course,” he continued. “Can man change the entire universe? No. Why do I believe that? As a Christian, I believe that there is a creator, God, who’s much bigger than us. And I’m confident that, if there’s a real problem, he can take care of it.

  23. Why don’t Christian conservatives worry about climate change? God.

    A key bloc of Trump’s supporters think solving the problem is out of human hands.

    “As a Christian, I believe that there is a creator in God who is much bigger than us,” Rep. Tim Walberg (R-Mich.) told constituents last week at a town hall in Coldwater, Mich. “And I’m confident that, if there’s a real problem, he can take care of it.”

    Among conservative evangelicals, that is not an unusual opinion. Nearly all evangelicals — 88 percent, according to the Pew Research Center on Religion & Public Life — believe in miracles, suggesting a faith in a proactive God. And only 28 percent of evangelicals believe human activity is causing climate change. Confidence that God will intervene to prevent people from destroying the world is one of the strongest barriers to gaining conservative evangelical support for environmental pacts like the Paris agreement.

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