The Disposable Planet: Notes from a Climate Denial Sermon

April 21, 2023

A reader sent this along, which I had not seen before, and frankly, though I wish very much to imagine the time is long past for this kind of nonsense, but Twitter, and my personal experience working and recording across Middle America, shows me that is wrong.

In advocating for clean energy, one still cannot assume in every forum that climate is an issue that persuades. The argument for clean energy has to proceed on topics of economics, benefits to farmers, local economies, schools, roads, and public services, as well as energy independence, freedom from fossil fuel black mail, clean air, clean water (which are very much of high value in every situation), property rights for farmers and landowners, and American technological leadership.
Fortunately, there is a powerful story to tell on those points.
Climate as an issue is there, in the room, but not yet the central concern. But people watch the news, and they do have eyes, and, when events like last week’s deluge in Florida, 26 inches of rain in 8 hours, keep happening, I see subtle signs that the barriers are coming down.

The sermon itself was posted in 2014, but according to the article, the speaker himself has been consistently a science – and more recently, covid, denier right up to the present.

Paul Braterman in The Conversation October 12, 2020:

Every so often you come across a piece of writing so extraordinary that you cannot help but share it. One such piece is a sermon on global warming by American pastor John MacArthur. Full of beautifully constructed rhetorical flourishes, it is forcefully delivered by an experienced and impassioned preacher to a large and appreciative audience.

For me, as a man of science, it is the most complete compilation of unsound arguments, factual errors and misleading analogies as I have seen in discussions of this subject. But it’s important because climate change is a big election issue this November in the US, where there is a growing movement of evangelical Christians who deny its existence, while Joe Biden promises a “clean air revolution”.

The minister of the COVID-denying, law-defying Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, California – which has encouraged worshippers to congregate as normal despite state COVID-19 restrictions – MacArthur is an impressive figure whose Study Bible has sold almost 2 million copies.

He regards the infallibility of the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation, as essential to his faith, and his sermon about global warming can only be understood in that context. MacArthur’s rejection of the science is shared by other major US ministries and organisations such as Answers in GenesisCreation Ministries International and the Discovery Institute.

In this sermon, MacArthur paraphrases “a scientist at Cal Tech” (except not a scientist at all, but the novelist Michael Crichton, best known for Jurassic Park), as saying in a lecture:

Consensus science is the first refuge of scoundrels … invoked only in situations where there is a political, social, financial agenda but no scientific support.

The reverend has the most serious reasons possible for rejecting the scientific consensus concerning the age of the Earth, the origins of humankind, the history and prehistory of the ancient near East and the peopling of continents: it is totally incompatible with the Genesis account of creation, Adam and Eve, the flood and the dispersion of peoples from the Tower of Babel.

As for global warming itself, the reverend channels standard climate change denial, but all his arguments are unsound and have been convincingly refuted to the satisfaction of an overwhelming consensus of climate scientists (see in-depth discussion at Skeptical Science). He understates the amount of global warming, incorrectly describes the full record as dating back only 30 years, and cites the Little Ice Age as evidence that the changes currently taking place are natural. There’s more:

Here’s the key, friends, this is the real deal. Legitimate science recognises a close correlation between sunspots and climate change … The sun is the source of temperature changes because of its infrared variations. … There is absolutely no evidence that CO₂ contributes to warming. On the contrary the opposite is true. Warming produces CO₂ … It’s the other way round.

Here we have a collection of half-truths and misunderstandings, typical of denialists claiming to represent “legitimate science”. As the graph below shows, the 11-year sunspot cycle is a minor deviation, and the temperature increase since 1980 has occurred despite the fact that over that period the amount of solar energy falling on Earth has gone down slightly. Incidentally, this solar energy input is concentrated mainly in the visible, not the infrared, region of the spectrum, and it is the roughly balancing heat outflow from the Earth that is in the infrared.

MacArthur offers a false dichotomy between saying that CO₂ warms the oceans, and warmer oceans release more CO₂. Unfortunately, both these statements are true. There is a positive feedback loop: human-released CO₂ is the primary driver, but its effect is amplified by the fact that yet more CO₂ is then released from non-human sources. Regarding CO₂ itself, MacArthur seems to be even more confused:

By the way, plants produce CO₂. What man produces is marginal … Industry doesn’t affect CO₂ in the environment or atmosphere. 

Plants do produce CO₂ but they absorb more than they emit. However, when it comes to humans, their activity may cause only a small imbalance each year between CO₂ emission and natural uptake, but this imbalance is cumulative. CO₂ levels are now 50% above pre-industrial, and subtle atomic differences clearly show that fossil fuel is the source. But according to MacArthur, “There is no scientific reason to believe that ice caps are melting”.

Despite the Arctic Monitoring and Assement Programme’s video on this subject, the reverend does not think that the evidence for ice-cap melting is scientific, and that other factors are at play:

This is all political [and] financial agendas, class warfare, class envy … By the way, US$100 billion has been spent to make a case for global warming … driven by the socialist mentality … even some of the feminist mentality that resents male success.

All is now clear. Talk of global warming is part of a politically motivated conspiracy. But US$100 billion? That’s 600 years’ worth of all federal climate research spending. Clearly, those pesky socialists and feminists are formidable fundraisers. However, none of this matters because environmentalism is fundamentally misplaced. As MacArthur puts it, citing Revelation and the integrity of scripture: 

God intended us to use this planet, to fill this planet for the benefit of man. Never was it intended to be a permanent planet. It is a disposable planet. Christians ought to know that.

And that is a statement that would leave anybody who cares about this world speechless.


3 Responses to “The Disposable Planet: Notes from a Climate Denial Sermon”

  1. Stephen Schneider posted a transcript of Crichton’s 2003 Caltech speech, probably because he was referenced.

    Click to access Crichton2003.pdf

  2. renewableguy Says:

    To the denier, this talk is heaven sent. Proof that facts and consensus are seperate.

  3. ubrew12 Says:

    I don’t get my Science from Men of God, anymore than I seek absolution from Men of Science. This article labors hard to refute the points MacArthur is making. Why? He’s a Pastor! If his flock want to take his advice on, say, brain surgery, then that’s on them. If he ends up lobotomizing them, they can hardly be any worse off than they are now.

    MacArthur is basically saying “God exists and therefore climate change doesn’t”. I feel no need to comment other than to point out that the logical disconnect is about what you would expect from a person whose ego has caused him to step wildly out of his area of expertise. But I would point out that if it turns out that climate change does exist, it might cause not a few people to question whether God does too. At least the God imagined by ‘His Holiness of Sun Valley’.

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