Becoming Someone’s “Hate-Watch”
Many of us are familiar with the habit we can fall into of spending time on things that we hate. For whatever evolutionary reason, we are drawn to things that generate a strong reaction in us and so while there is nothing better than sitting down to read the new book from our favourite novelist or the next series of a tv show we have loved, in moments of boredom we find ourselves almost as gladly opening a podcast we despise or a columnist who draws our ire just to see how bad these things can be.
At a few public events in the last few months I came to realise that the work of the JCFJ is a sort of hatewatch for some people. Although they are almost actively uninterested in our theologically-informed policy analysis, like an itch they love to scratch, they get drawn back to us. This is one of the explanations for the surprisingly regular occurrence of arriving at a destination to talk about climate collapse, biodiversity breakdown, and the Christian obligation to care for our common home, only to be met by climate denial. We show up hoping to have a lovely conversation about letting church gardens rewild a bit and they find themselves in attendance because they can’t believe just how bad our ideas can be!
Friendly folk that we are, we often find ourselves chatting with the denialists after the event. Something was bugging me about these conversations, in how they always seemed to take the same sort of shape. The volume of confidence varies – in most cases we encounter the “I’m just asking questions”-stance but have sometimes found the full on brazen conspiracy thinking. But there was an order to the conversation that seemed weirdly familiar each time we would have them.
And then before Christmas I realised where the resonance was coming from. Conversations I have with climate denialists today are the exact same as the conversations I used to have with evolution-deniers 20 years ago.
Some readers might not realise that this was ever a thing. It has receded in recent years. But for a long time there was a noisy and agitated minority of people who rejected the reality of natural selection. Its prevalence seems now to be considerably diminished. Maybe it is facing extinction! Though there remains an infamous site of touristic pilgrimage in Kentucky, where you can discover how dinosaurs lived with humans and tour a to-scale model of Noah’s ark!
This movement does not like to call itself anti-evolution, preferring instead the term “creation science” and when I used to encounter its proponents (they won some adherents within Irish evangelical churches for a spell), I would notice a set structure to their rhetoric.
How Creation Science Arguments Work
First, their objections would trade on technical language. So when these anti-evolution folk found someone who would listen to them, they would say that evolution was a theory, not a fact. Most people do not understand the difference between a theory or a fact or a hypothesis and so the denialist can gain ground and apparently undermine the settled account of things by these kinds of language games. Of course, a fact is an observed reality and a theory is a framework to account for how that fact came to be, so it would be quite correct to say that “evolution” is a theory, not a fact. The development of the hypoglossal nerve in human beings is the fact, evolution accounts for it.
Then they would move on to connect evolution to atheism. Since atheism was meant to be bad, evolution became bad. You can imagine how this would go. “Did you know,” the sceptic would ask, “that the NAZIs made evolution the law of their policies?” The genuine shift that connects Fascists to eugenic “Social Darwinism” is passed over here as a sort of guilt by association is proclaimed.
All of these argumentative moves were intended to prepare the ground for the wrong-headed assertion that to understand the biological emergence of Homo Sapiens, we should turn to the first few chapters of Genesis. I love the book of Genesis. It is literally my Scripture. So it was this move in the “Creation Science” playbook that I found most offensive.
How Climate Denial Arguments Work
Now when I meet these Climate-change denialists, their first objection is always a play on technical language. They love to focus on the idea of models and challenge anyone they are talking with to declare “which of the IPCC’s scenarios is most likely”? The IPCC reports are compiled by thousands of scientists around the world. They lay out a series of scenarios because they are humble enough to know we do not know enough to know exactly what will happen in the medium and long term. But most people don’t know their IPCC from their tracker mortgages and the impression is created that something bogus is up. This bears a striking similarity to the opening moves of the Creation Scientists.
They then move on to the Guilt-by-Association trick, but now instead of talk of NAZIs, you’ll quickly hear them talk about the dreaded curse of the “woke”. Care for our creation in reality is the most moderate commitment you can imagine – what is more conserve-ative than wanting to keep seasonal transitions! – but it will now be bundled into some marginally-related but highly-contentious social issue and therefore discredited. Actual environmentalists think that industrial agriculture runs the risk of polluting our drinking water and we should have some sensible regulations in place to avoid that. But these figmentary environmentalists will be presented as if they are not calling for the preservation of eco-systems, but the legal destruction of all gender distinctions!
Creation Science folk twist themselves into so many knots evading the truth of natural selection that they end up discrediting the bible – which is the very text they were trying to support. And in a similar fashion, the goal of the Climate Denialists is the relentless perpetuation of the status quo, but to secure that aim they have to constantly lament how our present society appears to be in terminal decline!
It turns out that my realisation about the similarity of these movements is grounded in the fact that they operate within the same web of organisations.
One striking commonality between the Creation Science dudes and the Climate Denial lads is that they both want to appropriate the allure of the scientific method that they despise. They both consciously repurpose the vocabulary of their respective targets – Creation Scientists sound from a distance like biologists and Climate Denialists take on the technical lingo of environmental scientists. But ultimately both are not just fraudulent sciences, they are fraudulent religions. If religion is worth anything at all, it has to be true. Otherwise it is delusion. And a religion that insists the greenhouse effect isn’t in effect is a religion that isn’t interested in the truth. Christians should turn back to those opening chapters of Genesis, where we discover the origins of humanity – not in terms of cellular mitosis but in terms of vocation and meaning and telos – lies in the care and cultivation of the beautiful garden God has placed us within. Caring for our common home has been our calling from the very beginning and remains our primary work right now.