Creationism and Climate Change Denial

I’ve noticed this more and more: people lumping “climate change denial” and “evolution denial” (creationism) into the same category. The argument is that both of these are the result of the same religious conservative “anti-science” movement. In a very narrow sense, this is true; creationists generally do not seem to believe in anthropogenic global warming (AGW), for the same bogus reasons they don’t believe in evolution. But the reverse is not true: many (most I would say) AGW skeptics are not creationists. Lumping these two things together allows the environmentalists to dismiss any criticism of the established climate change narrative as the ravings of anti-scientific religious nuts. But there are some very significant scientific and economic arguments around climate change that are most definitely not in the same class as creationist arguments. Time for some de-lumping.

One major difference between climate change and evolution is how the evidence is understood and presented. It is now a familiar experience to see someone on TV telling us we need to immediately reduce emissions to avoid climatic catastrophe. In the rare event that such a person is asked to provide evidence of a human cause, the most common answer I’ve observed is along the lines of “ice caps and glaciers are melting, and the scientific consensus is that human CO₂ emissions are to blame.” Now, when was the last time you heard someone asked for evidence supporting evolution to respond with “life forms adapt to their environment and the scientific consensus is that Darwinian evolution is the cause.” This is not a small point. The fact that “consensus” is so regularly rolled out to support AGW, but is never used to support evolution shows that the levels of scientific understanding and debate are completely different.

No one talks about the “scientific consensus” for evolution because there’s no need to: evolution has a mountain of cold hard facts on its side, all confirmed by independent observation countless times. Climate research is very tough by comparison: our observational capabilities generally aren’t good enough to falsify competing theories. Instead, we have the IPCC saying that since we can’t establish the facts by direct observation, we’ll establish them by consensus. You can’t take the IPCC publications, repeat the experiments and confirm their results, because at the end of the day it’s just opinion.

My point here is not to show that the IPCC is wrong, but simply to show that the scientific process that it follows is fundamentally and necessarily different to that of evolutionary biology, or any other hard science for that matter. Questioning the consensus-derived “facts” of climate research is not the same thing as questioning the empirically verified facts of evolution.

Another difference I think is worth pointing out is how politics is so commonly mixed with climate science, in contrast to evolution science. Tell me if this scenario sounds familiar: well credentialed scientist goes on TV and says “my research shows that climate change is likely to significantly damage coral reefs…” and barely pausing for breath continues “so it’s clear we must act to cut CO₂ emissions.” This casual connection of minor scientific research to sweeping reorganisation of the world’s energy production is now so common place that people don’t find it remarkable. And if you accept the climate change problem but doubt the solution you’ll likely still receive the “denier” pejorative. Evolutionary biology simply isn’t political in this way.

Skepticism regarding climate change is not comparable to the denial of the established facts of evolution. Climate research has a long, long way to go before it achieves the level of confidence we have in evolution. It is very wrong to think that all opposition to the climate change narrative is driven by Biblical literalism.

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