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Creationism and Climate: The Birth of a New Pseudo-Science | Righting America

by Paul Braterman

Paul Braterman is Professor Emeritus in Chemistry, University of North Texas, and Honorary Research Fellow (formerly Reader) at the University of Glasgow. His research has involved topics related to the early Earth and the origins of life, and received support from NSF, NASA, Sandia National Labs, and Scripps Institution of Oceanography. He is now interested in sharing scientific ideas with the widest possible audience, and was involved in successful campaigns to perusuade both the English and the Scottish Governments to keep creationism out of the science classroom. He is a regular contributor to 3 Quarks Daily, and blogs at Primate’s Progress, paulbraterman.wordpress.com.

This post originally appeared at Panda’s Thumb. The post appears as a shorter version of Braterman’s longer article, “Creationism in the Service of Climate Change Denial” at 3 Quarks Daily.

A young-earth creationist timeline from AnswersInGenesis that distorts Earth's chronological history
A young-earth creationist timeline from AnswerInGenesis in 2006. Where is the Ice Age? Copyright 2022, Answers In Genesis. Used here under Fair Use.

We are all too familiar with creationist life science (theory of kinds) and creationist Earth science (Flood geology). As I explain in an article at 3 Quarks Daily, recent decades have seen the emergence of a creationist climate science, which is a direct attack on the “secular” climate science of climate change. Creationist climate science rejects, as it must, the palaeoclimatology that helped establish the existence of positive climate feedbacks, and from this draws the inference that our present concern about human effects on climate is unbiblical, unscientific, and exaggerated. This fits in directly with the agendas of the organisations opposing fossil fuel restraint, and even involves some of the same people. We need to pay attention.

Creationists cannot avoid accepting a single Ice Age, which they have to regard as more recent than Noah’s Flood. So with great imagination they have devised theories that make the Ice Age an actual consequence of the Flood, and in the process they come to believe that their own theories are biblical. They can then call into play the entire creationist rhetorical apparatus, invoking arguments about biblical versus secular, God’s word versus man’s word, and a conspiracy of secular scientists deliberately hoodwinking the public by ignoring the biblical evidence.

But it is this secular science that lies behind our models of the climatic effects of human activity. In particular, the ability of the Milankovitch cycles to cause such large changes in Ice Age climate shows the existence of positive feedbacks, as further confirmed by detailed ice core studies. The creationists, whom we must not to dismiss as ignorant or ill informed, are well aware of this, and draw the implication that the appeal to positive feedbacks is an artefact of the secularist viewpoint, and should be rejected. They argue from this that current concerns about where the climate is going are misplaced. As I show in my 3QD article, all this is explicitly spelt out in the creationist literature, which links directly to the Cornwall Alliance’s climate change denial literature. This is no accident. The director of the Cornwall Alliance is an active contributor to Answers in Genesis, and the right wing political philosopher Jay W. Richards, who over at the Discovery Institute pours scorn on evolution science and global warming concerns alike, is a senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation, and a former adviser to Cornwall.

For all these reasons, I regard creationist climate science as a much more pressing threat than the usual annoying creationist nonsense. How should we respond?

420,000 years of ice core data from Vostok, Antarctica, research station. Current period is at left. From bottom to top: insolation at 65°N due to Milankovitch cycles (connected to 18O); 18O isotope of oxygen; levels of methane (CH4); relative temperature; levels of carbon dioxide (CO2). From Wikimedia Commons, public domain