Photo: Religious right's rejection of science is baffling

So there you have it. The economy matters more than the environment, and God won't let puny humans damage "His" 6,000-year-old creation anyway. (Credit: Tarique Sani via Flickr)

By David Suzuki with contributions from David Suzuki Foundation Editorial and Communications Specialist Ian Hanington.

Is the world getting nuttier? Looking at recent events in North America, it's hard not to conclude that humanity is taking a crazy step backwards. I recall a time when science and scientists were taken seriously, but lately they've been getting knocked around, especially in the U.S. and Canada.

The State of Tennessee, for example, passed a law that allows teachers who don't believe in evolution or human-caused climate change to challenge existing scientific theories. Yes, students should be encouraged to think critically and to question everything they are taught but, given the current political climate in the U.S., this is likely to lead to misinformation. In the 1920s, a Tennessee school teacher was tried, convicted, and fined for teaching evolution.

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Meanwhile, candidates vying for the Republican presidential nomination reject the overwhelming scientific evidence for human-caused climate change. Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich once held rational positions but have since capitulated to the fossil fuel lobby. Rick Santorum just seems out of touch on every issue, from rights for women and gays to the environment. "He's referred to climate change as a "hoax" and once said, "We were put on this Earth as creatures of God to have dominion over the Earth, to use it wisely and steward it wisely, but for our benefit not for the Earth's benefit."

Some of these people put their misguided beliefs above rational thought. Republican senator James Inhofe, one of the more vocal and active climate change deniers in U.S. politics, recently said, "God's still up there. The arrogance of people to think that we, human beings, would be able to change what He is doing in the climate is to me outrageous."

That statement is in keeping with the Cornwall Alliance's Evangelical Declaration on Global Warming, which has been signed by a range of religious leaders, media people, and even some who work in climate science, such as Roy Spencer, David Legates, and Ross McKitrick. It says, in part, "We believe Earth and its ecosystems — created by God's intelligent design and infinite power and sustained by His faithful providence — are robust, resilient, self-regulating, and self-correcting, admirably suited for human flourishing, and displaying His glory. Earth's climate system is no exception." It also states that reducing atmospheric carbon dioxide and fossil fuel use will "greatly increase the price of energy and harm economies."

And then there was this claim from Arizona Senator Sylvia Allen: "This Earth's ... been here 6,000 years, long before anybody had environmental laws, and somehow it hasn't been done away with. We need to get the uranium here in Arizona so this state can get the money from it and the revenues from it."

And so there you have it. The economy matters more than the environment, and God won't let puny humans damage "His" 6,000-year-old creation anyway. That's not to criticize religion; only those who let it blind them to science and who would use it to advance agendas that don't even reflect the spirit of their own traditions.

Lest we get too smug in Canada, we must remember that we have politicians who hold similar religious views and are just as anti-science, although Canada has so far managed to keep religion largely out of politics. But recent cutbacks to government scientific research and staff show that many of our leaders also believe that the environment should take a back seat to corporate interests, and that any science that gets in the way must be hushed up or discredited.

Never mind that the environment is real and that we depend on it for survival and that the economy is a human invention that can be altered to suit the times. Never mind that a long-term healthy economy depends on a healthy environment and that placing all our bets on non-renewable and polluting fuels is folly. These people want to ignore both the problems and the solutions for the sake of short-term and short-sighted benefits for a relatively small number of people.

Whether they justify it with religion or political ideology, it still doesn't make sense.

Note: Last week's column contained information about coal used for electricity in Canada. Those figures, from the Natural Resources Canada website, were not up to date. In fact, Ontario got 2.7 per cent of its electricity from coal last year.

March 29, 2012

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Mar 11, 2016
7:39 PM

What created us? What made us intelligent? What sustains us? What destroys us? Ultimately, nature. The definition of nature for me spans beyond the earth to include the universe, everything within it and perhaps even beyond the known universe (i.e., things we don’t know yet or will never know). For me, the answer to the question of God is very simple. Nature is God and science helps us understand it. Nature also gives us the ability to create things and how we choose to use those things is up to us. For example, we can choose to save our planet, or destroy it because we have enough intelligence using the things we’ve created from nature to have that kind of impact on our planet.

On another note, I don’t believe in religion but I have nothing against people who do. This is simply because I’m comfortable with what I believe God is and every fibre of my being tells me I’m right. After having had many brushes with death and having had two organ transplants now with the very high risk of dying in the near future due to a variety of complications, I’m at complete peace with myself and what I believe in at this point in my life. I accept that nature is in control for better or worse and that I’m just along for the ride. I don’t blame Nature or God for my suffering either. It’s just a part of nature.

Jul 13, 2012
10:39 PM

I believe in God, but I also believe that climate change is real and we are at fault. Oh, and I think Earth's been spinning a lot longer than 6 g's! Is that confusing?

Jun 09, 2012
11:53 AM

What can we as individuals do to help mother earth? I so want to help our world and the humans who share this earth with all the other species…

May 12, 2012
12:38 PM

To Rick Santorum: I think "steward wisely" are the key words.

To Sen. Inhofe: God allows us to change all kinds of things. Why not the climate?

To the Cornwall Alliance: Human bodies are also "robust, resilient, self-regulating, and self-correcting, admirably suited for human flourishing, and displaying His glory." Yet we destroy them every day.

We agree on one thing: global warming has no place in God's plan. Christians have a name for that: sin.

Apr 01, 2012
7:43 AM

Caution: Brainwashing ahead! QUOTE:"Yes, students should be encouraged to think critically and to question everything they are taught but, given the current political climate in the U.S., this is likely to lead to misinformation."

So questioning everything and thinking critically should be suspended because it could lead to misinformation??

What sort of advice is this? Let's just blindly listen to David Suzuki and don't question what he says because it could lead to misinformation.

Apr 01, 2012
5:46 AM

i don't get it how can people think that god exists and that the world is 6000 years old, the oldest rocks are like 3.8 million years old. most christians are arrogant and stupid, actually most religious people are arrogant and stupid, disrespecting each other's beliefs, having wars and saying stupid crap like the world is 6,000 years old, thats absurd, if people thought about it god is as real as zeus, why did people stop believing in greek gods, same imaginary friends, except the worlds well being wasn't at stake, ya know, think about it, shannon mcarthur, you know something god really created that fucked us up, huh? war! yes war! war was caused when to nations accidentally met and couldn't agree on who's imaginary friend was real, so then people got stabbed tortured and burnt, causing loads of resent today. its all pointless its all screwing the world up because im only twelve and this is what i have to look at when researching climate change! so shut the hell up and tell your monkey head friends to stop saying lies about the world, and also i would also like to point out that smart people created god to suck the riches out of dumb people who then took it seriously and ended up starting wars and denying the truth about the world, you freakin christians are so closed minded aren't ya, so excuse me while i finish my homework.

Mar 31, 2012
3:26 PM

Cornwall Alliance is probably right in that the earth is self correcting. It will eliminate the sources responsible for its pollution. Us, along with every other living creatures dependent upon clean air and water..

Mar 31, 2012
1:48 PM

I can't believe we as a proud group of Canadians are allowing this to happen. We love the outdoors!! Am I right??

Mar 30, 2012
9:18 PM

Is what David Suzuki promotes really about science or ideology? Perhaps he is afraid of a different point of view in his opposition to critics of evolution!

Mar 30, 2012
1:09 PM

Opinion: I haven't been aware that religion is the basis for letting big business pollute the environment. I think that the basis is excessive materialism and insufficient sincere spirituality. Destruction, in the name of religion, is not religion. Political ideology is controlled with money. Allowing people to sell their public trust influence needs to be curtailed. Idea for a quiz game show: "Is it religion or ideology, or is it money? Thank you.

Mar 30, 2012
11:00 AM

Don't say "This is not to criticize religion"! Of course we must criticize those ignoramuses with all our hearts, with all our reason, and with all the arguments and whatever tools we have — and you and I know that religion is the only motor that drives them to disregard science in this way.

Mar 30, 2012
9:33 AM

At the Miss USA pageant last year, one of the questions asked of contestants was 'should evolution be taught in schools?'. Representatives of 50 out of 52 states got it wrong. You can see the stunning answers on the viral youtube video about it. In response, myself and many other female science colleagues across Canada and the USA made a youtube video explaining why evolution SHOULD be taught in schools, and the video received a lot of positive attention. Link here:

Mar 30, 2012
8:49 AM

The question of whether we affect the climate adversely can be answered clearly by reviewing the quality of life in cities back when we used horses and coal. Choking on the effects made us change our ways… Do we have to learn the hard way again? God can only do so much without our cooperation. He works through us and with us — opposition and stupidity can kill us all.

Mar 30, 2012
5:55 AM

We cannot afford to sit idly by and let politicians continue to make such foolish decisions about our country's future, our world's future.

There is only one way to stop Harper's government and that is to elect a new one. In the meantime, swamp him with protest mail.

Mar 30, 2012
5:43 AM

To group all religions into one belief system just doesn't cut it. Yes there are those that do not understand science, that is true — but to say religion judges a certain area of life cannot be true. As there are so many belief systems in religion — and so many people that differ. This article does not make sense to me.

Mar 29, 2012
8:53 PM

Religion and a dime won't even buy a cup of coffee. How much "benefit" could man have derived from the Earth without science? The religious right position holders seem a little like dogs biting the hand that feed them.

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