How Does Religion Contribute to Views on Global Warming? April 17, 2009

How Does Religion Contribute to Views on Global Warming?

This guest post is by Jesse Galef, who works for the American Humanist Association. He usually blogs at Rant & Reason.

The Pew Forum is a reliable source of interesting surveys. This most recent one shows how strongly various religious groups believe that global warming is occurring and if so, whether the warming is caused by humans or not.

One number that does puzzle me is that 36% of Black Protestants believe that the Earth is warming, but due to natural patterns and not human activity. It’s twice that of the US population as a whole, and triple that of the unaffiliated. Why would that be?

But otherwise, the findings don’t surprise me. The most likely group to believe that humans were causing a global warming? Those unaffiliated with a religion, at 58%. Those least likely? The self-identified White evangelical Protestants, at 34%.

I’m guessing there are confounding factors — perhaps White evangelical Protestants are more likely to get their news from one particularly biased source or perhaps it’s a geographical effect.

But when Congressman John Shimkus reads from Genesis in a congressional hearing and proclaims that “The Earth will end only when God declares it is time to be over. Man will not destroy this Earth, this Earth will not be destroyed by a flood,” it’s difficult to dismiss the idea that religion is a contributing factor to their disbelief in man-made global warming. Perhaps their faith in that promise is so strong that they don’t believe the mounting scientific evidence.

On the other hand, we have to ask: why are these Hong Kong Christians building a full-scale replica of the ark?

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  • LeoPardus

    This would have been an impossible survey for me to respond to. The correct answer is:
    Yes. In part because of natural patterns, and perhaps also because of human activity, and perhaps also due to unknown or unthought of causes.

    Most of the time I hate surveys. They’re so poorly put together too often.

  • Devysciple

    [I]t’s difficult to dismiss the idea that religion is a contributing factor to their disbelief in man-made global warming.

    Maybe you are over-interpreting the data. Maybe it’s just plain ol’ stupidity. 😉

  • It’s a very tricky question to answer… Are things getting warmer? Warmer than what? Warmer than the 1970s, the 1500s, when? Why are natural patterns and human activity contradictory?

    Are we polluting way-to-much? Yes. Should we be moving to renewable energy? Yes.

    “The Pew Forum is a reliable source of interesting surveys.” maybe, but I’d guess it’s not “The Pew Forum is a interesting source of reliable surveys. “

  • I would guess that the correlation is mostly mediated through political affiliation. For example, evangelical protestants are more likely to be more conservative, and conservatives are more likely to believe that climate change is false, or believe that it is not caused by human activity.

  • If you’re interested in the survey, the link has more information about it. Here’s the question’s wording:

    “Question wording: From what you’ve read and heard, is there solid evidence that the average temperature on Earth has been getting warmer over the past few decades, or not? [If “yes,” ask]: Do you believe that the earth is getting warmer… 1 – Mostly because of human activity, such as burning fossil fuels, OR 2 – Mostly because of natural patterns in the earth’s environment? [options rotated]”

  • Morgan55

    I actually asked each of the lead weathermen on the 3 major local TV stations if global warming was real, and if so, did human activity contribute to it. I got 3 completely different answers:

    1 – The AMS (American Meterological Service) agrees that global warming is happening, and it is caused by human activity.

    2 – We are in a warming cycle, but solar activity may determine what happens from here on out. Many factors are at work here.

    3 – “I believe that the entire manmade global warming doom and gloom will someday be shown to be one of the great frauds of our lifetime.”

    In all fairness, these guys are meterologists and NOT climatologists. They sometimes struggle to get tomorrow’s forecast right. But it doesn’t take Sherlock Holmes to pick out the Xtian in this group, does it?

  • Vic

    The evangelical people I work with are definitely not global warming believers. They only real opinion they have on it, though, is that the world is a large place and it would be “arrogant” to think we could change it. No a real scientific response. I expect this from the masses, but I work with some pretty bright engineers. They never seem to apply their knowledge to areas outside of their field, though.

  • llewelly

    Yes. In part because of natural patterns, and perhaps also because of human activity, and perhaps also due to unknown or unthought of causes.

    What ‘natural patterns’ are you thinking of?

    There is currently no long-term trend in solar output; it has been stable since about 1950. Nor in cosmic rays, nor in geothermal heat.
    There are many cyclic weather patterns which move heat around in the climate system, but they do not make the climate system as a whole warmer or cooler.
    Natural forces are very important in explaining short term variations – but because none show a long-term trend, they are not capable of explaining the warming which has occurred since 1950. (Prior to about 1950, some natural forces were comparable in effect to human-caused forces.)
    Nor is there any trend in natural sources of greenhouse gasses.

    Known influences on climate do an excellent job of explaining nearly all of the warming trend since about 1750. In long term trends (>30 years) there is little left of unthought or unknown causes to explain. Climate scientists continue to search for new influences (finding surprising influences is how scientists get famous) but right now there is no reason to expect any large influences remain to be discovered.

  • llewelly

    Why are natural patterns and human activity contradictory?

    Human activity and natural patterns are not contradictory. However, starting in about 1750, human influences on climate began increasing exponentially. It’s the nature of an exponential curve to have slow to moderate growth in the early phase. In this case, that phase lasted until about 1950. From about 1750 to about 1950, natural forces (notbally variations in solar output) and human influences were of comparable magnitude. But solar output has been very stable since about 1950, and, more importantly, human influences have increased so much since 1950 that they are now overwhelmingly larger than any natural influences known to have occurred since the end of the last glaciation.

  • JGG

    Hmm, why isn’t short term change possible? Look at the climate shift that’s usually called the Little Ice Age (starting at aroud 1250 AD, lasting to about 16th / 17th century [explainging why you see alot of European winter paintings all of a sudden]). Or the Medieval Warm Period (10th to 14th century or so). Granted, those are usually changes over a period of 100+ years, but it shows that dramatic and relatively short-term climate change does in fact occur naturally.

  • Eskomo

    The Little Ice Age and the following warm period were for only for northern Europe, which is less than 2% of the surface of the Earth. The rest of Earth showed essentially no change. Could have been the Gulf Stream acting up.

  • LeoPardus


    Caveat: I’m a scientist, but not a climate scientist. So asked to name natural forces, I’m not gonna come up with an extensive list. Solar variance and volcanic actions are two that pop to my mind. I don’t know if any, small changes in the relative positions of planets and the sun are in play. … Just some thoughts.

    I do know is that the temperature of the earth has varied hugely throughout history. I expect it to continue to do so, even if all us silly humans hop in a space ark and head for Betelgeuse.

    On the info you mention of solar variance, I find it odd that the claim is running about that there has been no variance since 1950. Whilst, at the same time, there is the fact that variations in solar radiance were below the threshold of detectability prior to the time we were able to get satellites in orbit to measure them. Perhaps I’m missing something?

    Honestly I do try to read the climate literature a bit. What bothers me about it is that such strong, certain statements are made for this science in which there can be (by the very nature of what is being investigated) no controls. In a more controllable arena of science, like cell biology, most of the kind of stuff done in climatology would be called observational. And the hypotheses would be advanced much more tentatively.

    One other thing really bothers me about climatology. And you can tell me if (and if so, why) this is really just comparing apples and oranges. We all know that the climate cannot be predicted with any serious accuracy for next week (just look at the weather reports) and that it can’t be predicted with any accuracy for a single year. So why is it that so many folks are insisting that they can predict it with considerable accuracy over decades? [And that’s not just a jibe. It’s a dichotomy that truly makes no sense to me.]

  • How could they not survey Pastafarians, followers of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, which is the only religion whose gospel explicitly deals with global warming!

    Perhaps the rise in Pirate activity will offset other human contributions.

  • @LeoPardus


    I note that of white evangelicals only 31% don’t believe it at all – but don’t let that stop you from creating a post hoc correlation that white evangelicals are global warming deniers.

    Also, why would it only be religious affiliation that influences someone’s opinion on climate change?

    You know, religious people actually have their own opinions outside of church and faith. I mean doesn’t it get ridiculous to start assuming every preference someone has is because of their religious belief? Like they don’t hold some bias and prejudice independent positions of their own that just so happens to match someone else’s?

    I know more agnostics and atheists who are skeptical of global warming than Christians – but maybe it’s because I have the privilege of not being American, I don’t know.

  • Lex Fear – “Also, why would it only be religious affiliation that influences someone’s opinion on climate change?”

    It wouldn’t be. That’s why I mentioned that there are likely other factors at work like geographical location, and Miller suggested political views. But I’m suggesting that religion is also one of the factors affecting belief or disbelief in global warming.

  • Ken in Tucson

    One part of the Climate Change debate that meshes itself with geology that leads the faithful from not believing, is the fact that heat trapping gases have not been this high within the context of human exsistence on this planet. If you believe in the mythology of Adam and Eve or the story of Genesis; you believe we have always been here. So in turn if you believe in climate change it’s also pretty hard to believe in the rest of the fables of earth’s history that religion proclaims.

  • Three areas of debate guaranteed to bring out stupidity in copious dosages:

    1) religion vs. atheism

    2) climate deniers vs. scientific consensus

    3) GOP “borrow and spend” vs. Dems who want realistic and fair taxation/pay as you go.

    All these debates generate far more heat than light. The reason is that there is a near perfect correlation between intelligence, education levels, and which “side” of these debates you’re on.

    Draw your own conclusions.

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