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Selective science

In an age of skepticism, some reasonable debates are off limits

Selective science

A protest outside of Trump Tower in Chicago. (Christopher Dilts/SIPA USA/Newscom)

When President Donald Trump announced the United States would withdraw from the Paris climate accord, the president of France offered a sweeping assessment: Trump made a grave mistake for the future of the planet.

Trump’s assessment was less apocalyptic: He argued it would be a serious mistake for the United States to remain bound to an international agreement that burdened our nation more than it bolstered the future of humanity.

Cal Beisner of the Cornwall Alliance—a network of Christian scholars and scientists—pointed out the costs versus benefits: Fully implementing the Paris accord would cost the world about $1 trillion a year from 2030 to 2100. The United States would bear the highest financial burden.

The most optimistic outcome for spending tens of trillions of dollars: 0.3 degrees Fahrenheit of cooling. “It’s no bargain,” Beisner wrote. “It won’t slow sea level rise. It won’t reduce hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, droughts, or heat waves. It won’t save human lives.”

In some circles, that analysis is heretical. Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., asked how Trump would explain to his grandchildren “what he did to the air they breathe—assuming they breathe air.”

Such ironclad faith in fallible models designed to predict the future is ironic in an age of deep skepticism. Over the last decade, books trumpeting doubts about God skyrocketed on bestseller lists: Reviewers hailed biologist Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion and Christopher Hitchens’ God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything.

A few years later, they praised another bestseller: Darwin-follower Bill Nye’s Undeniable: Evolution and the Science of Creation. The message was clear: The existence of a Creator is refutable, but evolutionary theory is undeniable.

The same faulty logic seems to apply to climate change.

When conservative Bret Stephens wrote his first column for The New York Times in April, he noted that a modest, 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit of warming of the earth since 1880 is indisputable and that human activity influenced that warming.

But Stephens added that models predicting the future effects of climate change are a matter of probabilities, not irrefutable science. “To say this isn’t to deny science,” he wrote. “It’s to acknowledge it honestly.”

It’s also to invite outrage: The newspaper met an avalanche of fury from readers demanding the Times fire Stephens for suggesting that predicting the future isn’t a sure bet.

Climate change isn’t the only area where scientific debate is anathema. When a group of physicians or psychologists questions whether it’s healthy to give puberty blockers or cross-sex hormones to children confused about their birth sex, critics accuse them of bigotry and hatred.

That’s ironic given that the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recently published an excerpt of a study about the cognitive development of children: The report argued children under 14 aren’t cognitively capable of crossing a busy street because “children lack the perceptual judgment and physical skills needed to consistently get across safely.”

But the same group argues that children who can’t cross the street safely are capable of making monumental decisions about whether to live as a boy or a girl—and whether they’re willing to forgo biological children of their own in a grave transition process they surely can’t comprehend.

This selective defiance against skepticism has broad implications. For example, the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services recently announced it wouldn’t place children in foster care homes with families that won’t affirm transgenderism.

Radical responses to climate change without debate have broad implications as well. Beisner points out that spending trillions of dollars uses money that could be spent on “providing electricity, pure drinking water, infectious disease control, sewage sanitation, industrialization, and lots of other things that lift people out of poverty, disease, and premature death and enable them to adapt to any future climate—warmer or cooler.”

Reasonable questions could lead to reasonable solutions. Ignoring reasonable questions could lead to disaster. (That’s why WORLD Editor in Chief Marvin Olasky trains writers to ask: How do you know you’re right? What happens if you’re wrong?)

For Christians, discussions about the environment shouldn’t provoke dread or disdain. We don’t panic over dire predictions of the future, but we also don’t dismiss our duty to take care of the creation the Creator has made for us to cultivate and enjoy. Even in the middle of the hot summer, we believe the Christmas hymn: “He comes to make His blessings flow far as the curse is found.”

Jamie Dean

Jamie Dean

Jamie is WORLD’s national editor based in Charlotte, N.C. Follow Jamie on Twitter @deanworldmag.


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  •  austinbeartux's picture
    Posted: Mon, 06/19/2017 08:06 am

    Please provide the ability to delete one's own posts.  Thanks.  : )

  • Web Editor
    Posted: Mon, 06/19/2017 05:20 pm

    Hi AustinBearTux: Thanks for writing. We hope to add this feature in the future.

  •  austinbeartux's picture
    Posted: Mon, 06/19/2017 08:04 am

    "For me the protection of Planet Earth, the survival of all species and sustainability of our ecosystems is more than a mission. It is my religion and my dharma."

    Rajendra Pachauri

    Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change chairman's resignation letter

    24 February 2015

  • Allen Johnson
    Posted: Mon, 06/19/2017 11:39 am

    To play off the second to last paragraph, WORLD editor-in-chief Olasky might consider training writers to avoid selective quotes. This essay is quick to hunt down Cal Beisner for a quote on climate corrective economics that might cost $1 trillion/yr. but avoids those who estimate much higher figures if massive sea level rise (among other catastrophes) would occur as most climate scientists suggest. How about interviewing climate scientist and evangelical Christian Katharine Hayhoe, for instance?
    Another flaw in this article is the convergence of physical science with social science under the "political science" rubric. Physics has its own irrefutable logic as Newton found out when a falling apple conked his head. Higher atmospheric concentrations of CO2 lead to higher global temperatures. The Paris agreement is faulty, no doubt. So what does WORLD recommend, doing what Beisner suggests and adding even more CO2 into the biosphere and letting physics take its course?
    Social scientists are dealing with human behavior, not physics, and often are in denial of human sin. So conflating transgender hormone replacement for kids, or crossing streets safely by solo kids, is quite a different beast than physics. Responsibility to children includes protecting them from stupidity, whether it is from our God-given responsibility to protect their bodies from nefarious hormone treatments or from a future inhospitable climate induced by our selfishly indulgent and short-sighted present generation.


  • Cyborg3's picture
    Posted: Sun, 06/25/2017 01:44 am

    Allen Johnson, you seem to have bought into the notion that the physics of global warming is well established. But is it? Being one who plays with thermal models for a living part of my time, I can tell you it is not cut and dry as you make it out to be. If you make the thermal circuit (similar to an electrical circuit) you will see the circuit is not simply one radiation resistance to space but you need to account for the many different wavelengths to space and from the many different layers. Also, you have evaporation continually occurring where heat is transported from the surface seas to higher in the atmosphere where the water condenses imparting heat to that atmospheric layer. There are flows of ions in the atmosphere too that transport energy. Also, there is convection and advection happening. So the problem is very challenging because there is a lot of physics going on which is not easy to model thermally with all the other physics going on. Even the plants tend to grow better with more CO2 in the air and you can see the change in the CO2 between winter and spring. Also, this problem is transient where each day and night different amounts of energy are allowed to escape to space. At the present time, I highly doubt the thermal models are even close to getting the right answer and with all the physics I doubt this will ever happen.

  • Jebby
    Posted: Tue, 06/20/2017 01:36 pm

    1) Pelosi is a D(this could mean a few things  I suppose), not an R

    2) Prove this: "Higher atmospheric concentrations of CO2 lead to higher global temperatures"...can't be done dude. It's not something you can test with an experiment.  Like Olasky said, how do you know you're right?

  • Web Editor
    Posted: Tue, 06/20/2017 03:02 pm

    Thank you. We have corrected Nancy Pelosi's party affiliation.