Can you be a Christian and a Climate Scientist?

November 14, 2011

Last week, we heard from Barry Bickmore on a conservative Mormon’s journey from climate skeptic to climate realist.

Katharine Hayhoe is an evangelical Christian as well as a climate scientist concerned about the impacts of global warming. She tells us how the science informs her faith, and vice versa.


10 Responses to “Can you be a Christian and a Climate Scientist?”

  1. Martin_Lack Says:

    I would only quibble with one statement that so much misinformation is targeted at the community of which she is a part. Surely it is generated by that community, or at least the “Jesus is coming back soon so we can trash the planet” part of it…

  2. Part of the perception problem that Christians can’t ‘believe’ in climate science (- parse that phrase) is painting us all with the same evangelical brush. There are Christians of all political persuasions, but “evangelicals” are assumed to be Republicans, and therefore anti-science, thanks to the sound-bite world promulgated by the dumbing-down of the media.

    Visit the Clergy Letter Project to see more about faith and science as related to evolution:

    My very own Synod (region) of the ELCA is mentioned on the front page.

    That said…I still have family who think that CO2 couldn’t possibly be harmful because it’s such a small percentage of the atmosphere and it’s plant food. God-fearing, church-going, Jesus-loving people who get their science from Fox News. So sometimes faith and science don’t intersect and I blame faith for that gap.

    I remember that scripture says, “You will know the truth and the truth will set you free.” Sometimes the truth will give you nightmares. I just finished ‘Six Degrees’. Hell and High water indeed!

    On a related note, if you want to hear a point of view from a gardener whose faith informs his practice, and provides more than a modicum of hope for feeding our world in a changing climate, check out this film FREE online at:

  3. neilrieck Says:

    The title of this post is a little ambiguous since there are many kinds of Christians (some estimate at least 400 different sects).

    1) Eastern Orthodox (a.k.a. Greek Orthodox) do not believe that Jesus was literally the Son of God or rose from the dead (he was just another prophet). Jesus’ use of the name Abba (father) for God means that all of humanity can be considered the sons and daughters of God.

    2) Roman Catholic and most derivatives (including most Protestants) do believe Jesus was literally the Son of God and rose from the dead. In this second group, people are unevenly split between fundamentalists who profess a literal belief in the bible vs. people who interpret the bible figuratively.

    All Christians should read the words of Saint Augustine who wrote: “lest Christians appear foolish, whenever the Bible is found to be in conflict with science, Christians must reread the Bible to find an alternative interpretation” (paraphrased)

    • Martin_Lack Says:

      Dear neilrieck, That is a very interesting summary of what is undoubtedly a very complex subject (aka Chirstian theology). With regard to your reference to Saint Augustine, you may like to visit my Falsifiable Theology page on Blogger
      Cheers, Martin.

      • neilrieck Says:

        Quote from your blog: “I’m a Christian and a Scientist, but – although a scientific Christian – I’m not a Christian Scientist!”

        Very Cool!

        On a related note, I have many religious family members including one who graduated seminary then took up preaching. I’m not “accusing or criticizing” anyone’s personal choice here because everyone needs to find their own path. That said, there comes a time when I tire of discussions with religious people (as opposed to religious discussions) because many religious people like to apply different filters to the topic at hand. For example, when discussing topics like cosmology, evolution, geological uplift, radiological dating, etc., many religious people are very skeptical. (nothing wrong with this since “skepticism is the basis for all scientific progress”). But when discussing religion or religious materials (Bible, Qur’an, etc.) they tell you “all you need is faith”. Well, the dictionary definition of “faith” is: “belief that is not based on proof”; “e.g. He had faith that the hypothesis would be substantiated by fact”

        BTW, note the inclusion of contradictory words in the second phrase đŸ™‚ People of science know that a proven “hypothesis” is given the word “theory”. (e.g. “Atomic Theory”, “Theory of Gravity”, etc.)

        Just food for thought…

  4. @neilrieck – not to take away from your point, but Orthodox Christians actually DO believe Jesus was the son of God AND that he rose from the dead. They confess this in their creeds.

    Muslims believe Jesus was, as you say, simply another prophet. For them God is one and could not have a son or a separate spirit – this is shirk, or heresy.

    But even Muslims and Jews, along with other monotheistic religions, and for that matter Buddhists who don’t believe there is a God, all have strong ethical directives to care for creation.

    • neilrieck Says:

      With all due respect, the big schism between Greek orthodox and Roman Catholic occurred when Catholics inserted “and from the sun” into the Nicene Creed in 589 AD
      This is the whole basis for “the Trinity” (a word and/or concept never discussed in the bible). It also made Jesus divine in the eyes of those who engineered the change and all those who came later. In the bible, Jesus always referred to himself as the “son of man” so most scholars are convinced that he was a child of god in the same sense as the rest of us (figuratively). On a related note, anyone forced into religious education (as I was by my parents) will know that “heresy” is the opposite of “orthodoxy”. If the other team is known a Greek Orthodox (or Eastern Orthodox) then that makes the rest of us “heretics”. Using only the crusades and inquisitions as an example, I know this to be a fact.

      Time for us to stop discussing religion and start discussing science. The 20th century was the bloodiest one so far and it seems to me that god was an absentee landlord. Only our god given intelligence will help us now.

  5. This is one of the follow-up links for the video in this post. I want to read the book she mentions.

    To begin with, I think the title of this post is right on target, because that’s the question she answers in the video(s).

    Secondly they don’t let you leave Seminary – at least mine didn’t – with a Masters of Divinity without understanding the ‘filioque’ clause. First year stuff. Heck, I even teach it to my students, and they’re 7th graders. But orthodox Christianity, greek, coptic or otherwise, is still a branch of Christianity and they DO believe and teach that Jesus rose from the dead and was the son of God.

    But I also teach the kids about climate change. Yes, climate change in catechism class. And peak oil. They may not remember all the details, but they’ve at least heard of Ghawar or Cantarell and M. King Hubbert. I teach these young adults to ask good questions and seek answers from both science and scripture.

    Can you be a Christian and accept Climate Change as human caused? Absolutely. But just like you’ve got to get your facts straight on climate science, you’ve got to know your church history as well. Very little of that is up for debate.

  6. neilrieck Says:

    Food for thought: what people believe seems to have very little in common with what their particular church teaches. On top of that, people attending seminary usually study the bible from a devotional point of view rather than an academic and/or historical point of view.
    1) one of my colleagues is Muslim and is fond of saying stuff like “the Qur’an say this or that” so one day I asked him if he could read Arabic (because most sects consider non-Arabic translations profane) and he responded with “I have never read the Qur’an, my Imam tells me what it says”. This places the religion of Islam in the same place as Christianity before the protestant reformation where the bible was written in Latin and the priest told you what it said.
    2) many Christians believe that you go to heaven a soon as you die (I heard this at my mother’s funeral) yet I remember being taught (for 3 hours every Saturday morning over a 3 year period) “that the dead waited in the grave for the day of resurrection”. I asked my (Lutheran) minister for a clarification and he told me I was correct but my family members did not want to hear the truth.
    3) After 9/11 I read a few books on Islam to try to understand where Muslims were coming from. The historical roots of the Qur’an will shock anyone with an open mind so I’ll leave that exercise to those who wish to learn more. But then just to be fair, I read a number of books on Christianity (“Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why”, “Jesus, Interrupted”, to only name two) and came away thinking that no religion has got it correct and that people who speak with certainty on any religious topic are most likely deluded. They certainty shouldn’t be advocating inquisitions, crusades, etc.
    4) I read a book a number of years ago (forget the title) which claimed that Constantine proposed Christianity as a state religion to better control the people of his vast empire (although this did not happen until Theodosius). This same book talked about tampering in the New Testament with one example being the order of books. If you reorder the books chronologically you will notice something peculiar: there are no mention of miracles in the first books, then miracles slowly creep in until all kinds of magic is happening near the end with Revelation being almost incomprehensible without a side course in eschatology and/or symbolism.

    So here is my final position: if it is true that all the miracles were just made up, including rising from the dead (both Josephus and Tacitus mention Jesus but not his miracles), Christians would still have enough materially with which they could support a religion: “Sermon on the Mount”, “Lords Prayer”, all those parables, interpreting Jewish Sabbath laws liberally, etc.

  7. […] posted Katherine Hayhoe’s first video, “Can a Christian be a Climate Scientist?”, last week.  Here are further elaborations of what the science is telling a devout […]

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