Ever since Copernicus proposed that the earth was not the center of the universe, people of faith have been at odds with people of science. Whether true or not, the story of Galileo challenging the church’s official position that the earth was the center illustrates the conflict dramatically.
According to the legend, Galileo was trying to persuade a church leader that the earth really did revolve around the sun. He urged the leader to view the moons of Jupiter through Galileo’s telescope as proof. The churchman refused saying, “I may see something I am not allowed to believe.”
The latest battle in the war between science and faith is being fought over the environment. For the past several years a growing number of evangelicals have become convinced that science is right about global warming. Citing the biblical mandate for humans to care for God’s creation, these believers have argued that it is a Christian duty to seek solutions to a problem we are partly responsible for creating.
This past February, however, the National Association of Evangelicals, the largest such group in America with a reported 30 million members, declined to make a statement regarding global warming. Even though several high profile evangelical pastors and educators, including Rick Warren, author of the best-selling Purpose Driven Life, urged the group to adopt such a statement, the faith group chose to remain silent.
The Reverend Ted Haggard, president of the NAE, reported to the Washington Post that the best they could come up with was an acknowledgement of the ongoing debate concerning global warming, and “the lack of consensus among the evangelical community on this issue.”
Interestingly, when it was reported that there might be a formal statement from the NAE, a letter was sent to Rev. Haggard urging him not to adopt any “official position” on global warming because “Bible-believing evangelicals disagree about the cause, severity and solutions to the global warming issue.”
The letter was signed by several of the big guns of the religious right: Charles Colson, James Dobson, D. James Kennedy, Richard Land, Donald Wildmon and Oral and Richard Roberts. These fellows not only have clout in evangelical circles, they are also shakers and movers in the Republican Party.
Which brings us to another piece of the conflict between faith and science. In his book The Republican War on Science, journalist Chris Mooney argues that Republican administrations for decades have dismissed the findings of science, preferring ideology to legitimate research. In other words, if scientific findings suggest some course of action that is bad for the economy or for business, it cannot be true.
This faith-based rejection of science, both from the world of politics and from the world of faith, leaves us vulnerable to a growing crisis. By simply choosing to ignore the findings that our climate is growing warmer and that human activity is most certainly involved, we close down avenues whereby we might actually be able to do something about the problem before it is too late.
All we have to do is look through the telescope, that is, consider the findings of thousands of reputable scientists who argue that our climate is warming, the effects of this warming will be catastrophic, and human activity is part of the problem.
Why won’t we look through the telescope? Because we may see something there we are not allowed to believe.
James L. Evans is pastor of Auburn First Baptist Church in Auburn, Ala.