President Obama's Monday inaugural address included an impassioned global warming pronouncement allegedly supported by the "overwhelming judgment of science." Darwinists often sound just as authoritive. In both cases, however, scientific evidence supports skepticism about the party line. Let's take a closer look at the climate section of the president's address in order to analyze its claims and its authoritative posturing. We shall find interesting similarities between Darwinian rhetoric and the persuasive strategies of catastrophic anthropogenic global warming (CAGW) advocacy.
Here is the environmental paragraph in the president's speech.
We, the people, still believe that our obligations as Americans are not just to ourselves, but to all posterity. We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations. Some may still deny the overwhelming judgment of science, but none can avoid the devastating impact of raging fires, and crippling drought, and more powerful storms. The path towards sustainable energy sources will be long and sometimes difficult. But America cannot resist this transition; we must lead it. We cannot cede to other nations the technology that will power new jobs and new industries – we must claim its promise. That is how we will maintain our economic vitality and our national treasure – our forests and waterways; our croplands and snowcapped peaks. That is how we will preserve our planet, commanded to our care by God. That’s what will lend meaning to the creed our fathers once declared.
Perhaps thinking that the "judgment of science" is beyond the conceptual reach of many Americans, the president appealed directly to the American experience of the "devastating impact of raging fires, and crippling drought, and more powerful storms," which "none can avoid." But there is no documented long-term trend in the frequency or strength of landfalling hurricanes, as explained here and here. In fact, there is no documented connection between human emission of greenhouse gases and the frequency or severity of any extreme weather events. Organizations such as the Cornwall Alliance and the International Climate and Environmental Change Assessment Project (ICECAP) help distribute accurate information about the scientific complexities of climate change, and the ideological agenda that drives simplistic CAGW advocacy.
Douglas Gregory, Research and Policy Analyst for the Cornwall Alliance, wrote of another major setback for CAGW (coming a month before Obama's inaugural address):
The UK Meteorological Office (Met Office) quietly released on Christmas Eve a shocking report: instead of rising to 0.54 degree Celsius above the 1971–2000 mean five years from now, as predicted in 2011, global average temperature is now expected to be only about 0.43 degree Celsius above that mean—a level it has already reached, which implies no significant warming for the next five years.
Since the globe has not warmed in the last 16 years, Dr. David Whitehouse, science adviser to the Global Warming Policy Foundation, commented, “That the global temperature standstill could continue to at least 2017 would mean a 20-year period of no statistically significant change in global temperatures. Such a period … will pose fundamental problems for climate models. If the latest Met Office prediction is correct, then it will prove to be a lesson in humility.”
Although future climate trends are difficult to predict with precision, we do have a fairly good handle on the history of major global temperature changes going back over 400,000 years. Astronomer Guillermo Gonzalez and philosoher Jay Richards explain in the The Privileged Planet (Regnery, 2004) the unsually accurate capacity of Earth to record its own history in a form that is discoverable by humans (a mark of a well designed system). Ice core samples and other data tell us of multiple past ice ages (periods of widespread glaciers) over the past 420,000 years. The present warm period, having lasted since the last ice age 12,000 years ago, is the longest highly-habitable period of the last 420,000 years of Earth history (p. 41). They suggest that human technologies that release carbon dioxide might help sustain a high level of habitability on Earth by postpoining the next ice age.
How much human activity actually changes the average global temperature is hotly debated today. In any case there is no "overwhelming judgment of science" in favor of CAGW. At best, the president appears to be misinformed on this subject. And yet, the New York Times recognized the global warming statement as the president's "most prominent policy vow" in his inaugural address. Similarly, the Wall Street Journal noted: "One of his most passionate moments was even devoted to addressing 'climate change,' of all things." But agressive policy vows and passionate speech without a sufficient factual basis will not serve us well. Rigorous scientific investigation, not environmental activism animated by dubious CAGW assumptions, is what we need to guide our responsible use of energy resources.
Mr. Obama would like us to think that he knows "how we will preserve our planet, commanded to our care by God." E. Calvin Beisner of The Cornwall Alliance responded to such God-talk with this:
Mr. Obama’s creed is not the creed of the Bible. It’s the creed of environmentalism, which sees people as consumers and polluters, not producers and stewards, using up resources and poisoning the planet in the process ... “carbon footprints,” a “cancer on the face of the Earth,” “human viruses.”
Evolutionary biologists today rarely invoke God's authority to justify Darwinism or its public policy implications like President Obama did for his environmental agenda. But strategic God-talk is employed at the leading Darwin-only science education advocacy organization, the National Center for Science Education (NCSE). The NCSE launched a religious outreach program in 2004, called the Clergy Letter Project, which has garnished more than 11,660 clergy signatures in support of this statement:
Within the community of Christian believers there are areas of dispute and disagreement, including the proper way to interpret Holy Scripture. While virtually all Christians take the Bible seriously and hold it to be authoritative in matters of faith and practice, the overwhelming majority do not read the Bible literally, as they would a science textbook. Many of the beloved stories found in the Bible – the Creation, Adam and Eve, Noah and the ark – convey timeless truths about God, human beings, and the proper relationship between Creator and creation expressed in the only form capable of transmitting these truths from generation to generation. Religious truth is of a different order from scientific truth. Its purpose is not to convey scientific information but to transform hearts.
We the undersigned, Christian clergy from many different traditions, believe that the timeless truths of the Bible and the discoveries of modern science may comfortably coexist. We believe that the theory of evolution is a foundational scientific truth, one that has stood up to rigorous scrutiny and upon which much of human knowledge and achievement rests. To reject this truth or to treat it as “one theory among others” is to deliberately embrace scientific ignorance and transmit such ignorance to our children. We believe that among God’s good gifts are human minds capable of critical thought and that the failure to fully employ this gift is a rejection of the will of our Creator. To argue that God’s loving plan of salvation for humanity precludes the full employment of the God-given faculty of reason is to attempt to limit God, an act of hubris. We urge school board members to preserve the integrity of the science curriculum by affirming the teaching of the theory of evolution as a core component of human knowledge. We ask that science remain science and that religion remain religion, two very different, but complementary, forms of truth.
Although there are elements of truth in this statement, most of these clergy are simply taking it on faith that the Darwinian establishment has "overwhelming evidence" for its position. But such faith is not supported by the actual scientific evidence. Furthermore, most leading Darwinists express disdain for theistic religious belief (unless, of course, they are testifying before a school board and wish to sway liberal religionists to support a Darwin-only educational policy).
Similar rhetoric and similar ideological components undergird both global warming environmental activism and Darwin-only educational policy advocacy. This makes sense of the decision of the NCSE to expand its mission last year from Darwin-only lobbying to Darwin + CAGW. Both Darwinism and catastrophic anthropogenic global warming viewpoints should be taught in schools critically, including the arguments and evidence both for and against those respective ideas. Perhaps then the American public would be more discerning about political agendas that assume one thing or another about these two controversial topics.
Postscript: Darwinism and CAGW is not all about "right vs. left."
Casey Luskin recently analyzed the error in framing the scientific debate over Darwinism and CAGW as merely "right vs. left."
For myself, I have never seen the debate over origins in these political terms. Yes, there may be certain statistical correlations between certain political viewpoints and certain beliefs about origins, but those correlations are far from absolute. There are plenty of left-leaning supporters of intelligent design (ID), and I am aware of some vocal critics of ID who are pretty right-wing in their political views. In fact, some ID-critics on the right adopt precisely the anti-free-speech tactics of what Berezow and Campbell call "the anti-scientific left." As I explained in A Friendly Letter to the Heartland Institute and Other Advocates of Free Speech on Global Warming:
Don't assume that it's just conservatives or Republicans who support free speech and open debate on global warming. Lots of rank-and-file Democrats and liberals -- who aren't activist types ... actually stand with you in demanding open scientific inquiry on these issues.