Fostering denial in the Church of England
Longstanding readers of this blog will be aware of my previous exchanges of emails with the retired vicar, Rev Philip Foster (author of While the Earth Endures: Creation Cosmology and Climate Change). They will also be aware of how, after a lengthy exchange of views, I was forced to conclude that Rev Foster thinks that overpopulation, climate change, sea level rise and mass extinctions cannot happen – simply because God will not allow it. For those that are unaware of this back-story, please read ’The Three Monkeys – Monckton, Foster, and Peiser’ (20 August 2012).
All but very recent readers should also be aware that, over the summer, I attempted to get some sense out of The Rt. Rev. Peter Foster, the Bishop of Chester (no relation to Philip so far as I am aware) who is on the Board of Trustees of the Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF). In my email to the Bishop, I asked (as politely as I could) what scientific background he had (if any); how many other Bishops share his views; and how he can dismiss the concern of the vast majority of Christians on the planet. I also asked (somewhat impertinently) if he could do this without reliance upon:(a) scientific-sounding arguments that conflict with the generally-accepted Laws of Physics; (b) invoking conspiracy theory to dispute the reality, reliability and reasonableness of the modern-day consensus regarding what is happening to our climate; and/or (c) claiming that climate change ‘sceptics’ are like Galileo (fighting against the Establishment).
In his initial response, he advised me that his first Degree was in Chemistry; claimed not to know how many bishops share his views; and said he did not “dismiss” any concerns of other Christians. Apart from this, he provided me with a copy of an article he had published in the Church of England’s own newspaper, the Church Times on 21 October last year (i.e. ‘Look to Adaptation; not Alarmism’ posted online [mostly behind a paywall] on 19 October). When I pointed out to him that he had failed to comply with my request (to respond without invoking a, b, or c), he expressed disappointment that I had not actually responded to the content of his article. However, when I did so, he thanked me for sharing my views and suggested we end our exchanges: Am I the only one to see this as a win-win scenario for the Bishop? He criticised me for failing to respond in detail and then ignored my refutations of his arguments when I did..!
In my comments to Bishop Peter, I suggested that, since he has is not an active climate scientist, his article appeared to be a lengthy restatement of a litany of contrarian arguments that have been repeatedly falsified elsewhere (e.g. in peer-reviewed literature and/or on the Skeptical Science website). Am I being unfair? Well, I invite you to decide based on the evidence of his own words. Or rather, I would, were it not for the fact that the Bishop has declined to give me consent to publish what he sent me (which may be different from what the Church Times published) – although he acknowledged that he cannot stop me publishing my opinions of what he wrote.
Therefore, because I think this is such an important issue, pertaining to the public understanding of science and respect for scientists, I believe that there is an over-riding case to be made for illustrating the ways in which Bishop Peter’s article is full of opinion but devoid of commonly-accepted scientific fact. However, since I cannot do this without quoting from what he sent me, I must therefore rely on the fact that Copyright law includes a “fair use” clause, which stipulates that “the quoted material is justified, and no more than is necessary is included”…
As can be seen by following the link to the Church Times website (above) – where the first few sentences are visible for free) – Bishop Peter begins his attack on the scientific consensus regarding anthropogenic climate disruption (ACD) by citing the conditional nature of all scientific knowledge – effectively claiming that climate change “sceptics” are like Galileo. However, as I said to Bishop Peter in my comments, this is an entirely spurious and fallacious argument. Furthermore, the Church of Rome is thankfully not the arbiter of scientific truth today; and the so-called sceptics are not fighting against an anti-scientific and obscurantist establishment. In fact, they are probably helping to preserve one; it is called the fossil fuel industry.
Bishop Peter then cites the case of the Royal Society, which was criticised by a minority of its members (i.e. not climate scientists) for endorsing the consensus view of ACD. He quotes the views of Lord Broers (another non climate scientist) disputing the link between CO2. This is therefore an endorsement of the marketplace of ideas fallacy – that all opinions are equally valid – enabling anyone to pick and chose which commonly-accepted scientific evidence they will and won’t accept.
Having given you a taste of what is to come, I will conclude my review of the Bishop’s almost 1000-word article tomorrow. For now, though, I would like to leave you with a few thoughts on the alternative to what both Philip and Peter Foster are peddling. This peculiarly Christian form of denial is, in effect, a theologically-driven form of libertarianism, which is founded on the belief that it doesn’t matter what we do to the environment because God is in control and/or Jesus is coming back soon.
However, even for the most devout, sincere and/or evangelical Christians – and everyone else too – there is an alternative to this utilitarian “use it up and wear it out” nonsense. You don’t need to be a tree-hugging fanatic who likes to dance around stone circles at sunrise on the longest day of the year in order to believe that we humans should be good stewards of the environment. If we just go forth and multiply in order to subdue the Earth and have dominion over it, the fairy tale will not have a happy ending. It is time for us to put away such childish thinking; accept that we do not have an inalienable right to have our needs met; that we are exceeding Nature’s ability to meet those needs; and that – unless we change our ways – this selfishness is going to have severe adverse consequences.
I think it really is time for Plan B. However, if you remain to be convinced, please come back tomorrow and see what a ludicrous position Bishop Foster’s Plan A really is…