Saturday, March 7, 2009

Denialism = Conspiracy Theories

I've been noting for quite some time the common bonds between the science denialists, be they concerned with evolution, global warming, AIDS/HIV, or the holocaust. One parallel I hadn't quite put together yet was the connection of global warming with fundamentalist Christianity. The fundie aversion to evolution is obvious, by how does a warming earth conflict with Jesus' teachings? Here's one theory:

One possible reason that global-warming denialism is more prevalent in the U.S. than elsewhere is that more Americans than Europeans are Biblical literalists. That involves believing that all biologists and paleontologists are either massively incompetent or deliberately trying to mislead the public about the central facts of their disciplines. [The alternative theory, held by some, is that the entire fossil record is a trick by Satan, intended to deceive those whose faith isn't firm.] I haven't seen any data on the overlap between global-warming denialism and creationism, but thinking about Sarah Palin and her fans you'd have to guess at a strong correlation between the two beliefs.

Global-warming denialism is a special case, of course: the policy implications of the facts about climate change threaten some very large economic interests and some dearly-held political beliefs. So global-warming-denialist brochures are printed on glossy paper. Other than that, though, it's fairly standard-grade fringe pseudoscience, not much different from the folks who write endless papers full of gibberish proving that Einstein was wrong.

1 comment:

G. Silva said...

I've never heard anyone make the claim that global warming goes against Jesus' teachings. It seems to be a strictly Old Testament connection. Jesus himself was such a forward thinker that when New Testament enthusiasts want to support their conservative agendas, they end up having to quote Paul.

It's interesting how you used the phrase in your latest entry Catholics and Episcopalians and all the other liberal sects. When I first read that, I did a double-take. I come from a Catholic heritage myself, and, oh man, the twists and turns this society is experiencing are extraordinary! Only 60 years ago, Catholicism was considered seriously hardcore. Vatican II moved the church leftward toward the Episcopalians and Methodists, and the evangelical extremists now make Catholicism look downright liberal!

I'm not arguing with you; I think you have a good point there. Catholicism's official acceptance of science as a whole and evolution in particular make it seem more liberal than the denominations who preach against science. Those denominations are distinctly more Old Testament than the Catholics, and therein, I believe, lies the difference. The pastor of my childhood was a particularly liberal Catholic, and I grew up on warm, fuzzy Jesus stories with hardly a mention of the Old Testament. If you'd asked me then whether Jesus thought human activity was damaging the planet, I would have said 'yes' without hesitation.

(There was also very little of this 'Pro-life' politicking nonsense that now totally grips the church.)

There may be a large contingent of people who have no problem with the workings of science and still call themselves Christian. They may genuinely not know what Dawkins, Myers, et al are talking about when they say science and religion are incompatible. That's because there's a long-standing tradition of going through the motions and enjoying the community aspects of religion, but not letting it reflect too heavily on the practical aspects of life. My whole family is like that. They all believe in global warming. But now they're being told they must choose between their (potentially fictional) religion and rational thought - a demand they've never had to face before. Maybe the clergy have had to have true faith in Jesus and Mary and the saints, but the average, ordinary Catholic schmuck has never had that same requirement. And now even the Pope is in on it. Gah, I hate Benedict. There have been Catholic nonbelievers as long as there has been Catholicism. He should stop trying to forcibly 'out' them and leave them alone.