February 16, 2010

Climate Change and Evolution, Stewardship and Responsibility

Materialist’s Foundational Position

Biology is meant to Adapt or Perish. While an individual organism or ecosystem can be fragile, life as a whole thrives on change. Climate has shifted radically in the past; with the extinction of species, the continuation of life as a whole, and the opportunity for new species. While this latest climate shift is manmade, man is not above the natural world (nothing is) so it becomes a natural consequence, just like every other climate shift in history.


Materialist’s Actual Position

Man is responsible for the current change in climate. Since a radical change in climate will cause the destruction of species and some ecosystems, and because we cannot predict all the consequences of such a change; it is ultimately a bad thing. And because it is the result of our actions we are responsible for trying to stop it and mitigate its effects. (I don’t see this position to be entirely inconsistent, but rather it is consistent in a weaker way than the “foundational” position since it focuses on the fragility of life rather than the adaptability/resilience of life)


Christian’s Foundational Position

God created man to steward life on the Earth. Man therefore has been given power and responsibility over the created biological order. Man is theoretically responsible for the current change in climate. Since a radical change in climate will cause the destruction of species and some ecosystems, and because we cannot predict all the consequences of such a change; it is ultimately a bad thing. And because life has been entrusted to us (and the climate shift might be the result of our actions) we are responsible for trying to stop it and mitigate its effects.


Christian’s Actual Position

Since the Materialists are pushing an agenda of climate change, our position will obviously be opposed to it. Whether there is evidence out there or not, we will not look at it. Climate change is made up and not supported on scientific grounds (look it’s snowing). Oh and we forgot to mention that the measures that we need to take in order to reduce climate change are bad for business.

To be fair, none of these are realistic of the complexity of any individual’s actual views on the subject; I just thought that when reduced it was a nice example of how reactionary positions can lead to a denial of one’s original belief system foundations because the position of the opposition is not always entirely holistic itself. Put simply, reactionary positions tend to turn around and bite you in your philosophical ass.


Jacob Haynes said...

For some reason Joshua couldn't post a comment so I will relay his comment below. If anyone else has problems let me know.

"Nice summary Jacob.

I think it rests on a couple of misnomers, or at least some questionable assumptions.

For example, since it is unknown what the consequences will be of current human agency upon the environment, it is fallacious to conclude that current agency is good or bad. One cannot reason from an unknown to a known. Therefore, one must presuppose that our agency is presently good or bad--that is, whether it conforms to a pre-established standard of conduct.

The Christianity has such a pre-established standard set forth in God's Word, whereas evolutionary materialism cannot, by its own definitions, presuppose such a standard.

It is also quite tenuous to conclude, on the basis of current research and current research assumptions, that the present human agency is primarily responsible for climate change. Indeed, while not reducing human responsibility over Creation, the Christian position fundamentally recognizes that all things are directed by God's Sovereign will, such that any climate change presupposes Divine, intellectual direction, rather than random, or humanly autonomous, direction.

One reason that Christianity has legitimate cause to react to materialist arguments, is that materialists attribute a principle causality to human agency that not only begs the question, but predetermines the absence of Divine determination.

On the other side, Christians must consider whether present human agency is in conformity to the Creation mandate set forth in Scripture. I think a very strong case can be made from Scripture that we've overstepped the bounds of Biblical care-taking and cultivation of Creation in many areas.

~Joshua "

Jacob Haynes said...


I agree that the Christian’s position recognizes the Sovereignty of God but this recognition is never an excuse for reducing human responsibility or action (which you claim you didn’t do). My point was that we are charged by God with the caretaking of creation (whether we created climate change or not). This is my big assumption, as it is not something that is clearly Biblically spelled out (I took an agglomeration of Genesis, Corinthians, and Romans).

I agree that we do not know for certain the consequences of our carbon footprint. But, at the very least, we should be trying to learn as much as possible about the consequences (and not as Skeptics). And if those from a Christian worldview are not going to do the data gathering legwork or the processing of the data for a foundation of interpretation, then at present I have no choice but to trust those from the materialist worldview as to the needs of the world’s ecosystem. Doesn’t mean I have to agree with their motivations as to why we should be meeting those needs.

“I think a very strong case can be made from Scripture that we've overstepped the bounds of Biblical care-taking and cultivation of Creation in many areas.”

At your leisure I would be interested in reading your case for this. I’m interested in both how you define “the bounds of Biblical care-taking and cultivation of Creation” and what Scripture you would base it on.

pyrrhadox said...

It's belated, but I just read Joshua's response and feel compelled to weigh in on this, as the member of your readership most likely to identify as a "materialist."

(As an aside, I must point out what an unfortunate, pejorative term that is. I'm not entirely comfortable associating myself with it, but I won't quibble too much about it at the moment.)

My major semantic quibble is with the use of good and bad as they may or may not apply to a materialist world view. I'm aware that this was a summary and some allowance must be made for imprecise word use, but to use terms as weighty and inherently subjective as good and bad is starkly in contrast to the precise, (ostensibly) rational, and (supposedly) objective approach taken by materialism. You can't use expressions that pivotal and leave them so ill-defined. (I suspect there's a decent, succinct Biblical definition that could be invoked, but to define one worldview by the other is presumptuous, fallacious, and just plain rude.)

I would recommend replacing them with advantageous and disadvantageous. They're still rather malleable (there's an obvious "for whom" just begging to be defined), but I believe they express the philosophy a bit more accurately. This invalidates the need for a presupposed standard, as advantage contains a temporal element and can be narrowed to "this week," "over the past two millennia," or whatever unit is pertinent to the question at hand. I'm not entirely familiar with the rules of formal logic, but if for the sake of this argument it is assumed fair to define Christianity by Christian terms, I hold that it is only just to define Materialism by material standards.

What is advantageous for a particular individual (or collective) is a subtle, shifting thing, but we can and do attempt to quantify it according to the tools of observation available in the moment. A critique of the philosophy of scientific method is appropriate at this point, but unfortunately I have neither time nor knowledge to do that justice. (Not to mention I've done more than enough speaking with borrowed authority for one post.)

Anyhow, thanks Jacob for sharing your thoughts (in such a wordy manner, no less), and Joshua, if you make your way back here, for taking my response as just my perspective, not any kind of an attack. Pedantry is an unfortunate side effect of studying a liberal art. Speaking of, I've got poetry to get back to.

Joshua Butcher said...


Genesis 1 and 2 provide the Biblical warrant for man's responsibility to caretake Creation. In Genesis 1:26, God gives mankind dominion, and in Genesis 2, when God brings the animals before Adam in order for him to name them, it is evidence that He has given Adam authority over them.

Science is guided by presuppositions, and when the politics of the findings is volatile, the nature of the studies takes on a decided partiality on both sides. For example, two separate, and ostensibly reputable studies, may conclude on opposing ends: one arguing human agency, another solar agency is the major cause of climate change; one irregular, the other a regular part of the environmental fluctuations. One can only resolve the issue by assuming some standard of regularity not readily apparent in the data (since it all depends upon what data you consider relevant and significant).

I consider it far better to begin and end with Scriptural commands regarding our responsibility. I'm not prepared to exposit a complete Biblical account of environmental care-taking, but the Scriptures are not silent on the matter, I assure you of that much.

I'm not sure why you think materialist is a pejorative term, considering that most of our culture operates upon materialist assumptions.

I'm also unclear what definition of "materialist" you are assuming. My comments assume the traditional philosophical definition; that view which denies spiritual reality, supernatural causation, and non-mechanist explanation of the natural world. Given this definition, the Christian is compelled to consider materialism "bad," for it is incompatible with Biblical doctrines touching the very nature of God and all of Creation, including humanity.

Also, materialism is far from objective, although it does strive to achieve something normative. And while common use of the terms "good" and "bad" may be rather subjective, that is hardly "rational" or "objective" support for denying that "good" and "bad" are absolute categories, which can be applied both rationally and objectively in an analysis. The critical concern is by what authority, or according to what standard.

Furthermore, exchanging "good" or "bad" with "advantageous" and "disadvantageous" does not alter the fact that criteria must be determined according to some authority or standard. That your choice of words could cause people less emotional reaction may be granted, but then we aren't concerned with "rational" or "objective" in that case. It would be interesting to know how many materialist scientists have considered the possibility that the elimination of earth might be an advantageous thing for the universe as a whole, for example.

As a last word, I also inhabit a liberal arts discipline myself, and I hope you'll accept that everything I post on Jacob's blog has been written with a most dispassionate and truth-seeking intention toward those with whom I interact.

Jacob Haynes said...

Joshua, I was more interested in “the bounds” in your statement for we both agree that God gave man responsibility for the caretaking of creation. Personally I see man as having very little limits as to what he is able to accomplish when it comes to the physical aspects of the Earth and likewise he has little limits on his responsibility as caretaker.

I also am in agreement that when interpreting empirical data that has been gathered, science (as of late) has interpreted it in light of their materialist viewpoint. But to return to my whole point of this post: I do not think that most materialists are entirely consistent in their worldview (they assign value and responsibility where ultimately there is none in their larger system). Because they are inconsistent, those of us from a Christian worldview cannot automatically assume that their interpretations are wrong. In fact I would argue that they are inconsistent precisely because they see the truth of God in the created order and cannot deny it no matter what their bigger system is telling them. So they find a way to rationalize it (something we all do at some point or another).

Kari, I realize that “Materialist” can be a pejorative term if it is being applied to the whole of the “Atheist” community. That wasn’t my intention, I was being very specific to people with a strict materialist worldview, those who would deny any spiritual or immaterial reality. Also I know that “bad” is imprecise, but it gives room for people to offer “good” comments on better words (at least I think I’m funny). Thanks for offering a differing position and that you managed to incorporate semantics into it is really not that surprising.

Joshua Butcher said...


I haven't put in the study to determine what bounds that Scripture puts on our caretaking. It wouldn't be too hard though, considering that the 10 Commandments form the basis of our responsibilities before God and men. Whatever we would do with the environment that did not conflict with those laws (either in breaking them, or failing to conform to their positive aspects) would be acceptable and good.

I also agree with you assessment in the second paragraph. Inconsistency does not entail that all observations are false, and it does demonstrate that unbelieving materialists cannot escape the way God has made them--to recognize His wisdom, power, and glory in Creation and that we are called to respond to it in a positive way.