Business or the Bible? Thoughts about Science and Evangelicalism

I don't think I'm surprising anyone when I say that evangelicals have a troubled relationship with science.

For most of evangelicalism's history, the conflict has been about evolution. But more recently, the issue has been with how evangelicals approach the science of climate change. As with evolution, we see evangelicals displaying greater resistance to the scientific consensus when compared with other demographic groups.

That similarity, I think, has caused many to assume that evangelicals are just plain antagonistic toward science generally, across the board. And that may be, but I think the situation is both more complex and more damning.

Let me start by saying something surprising: I sympathize with why evangelicals struggle with evolution. I don't agree, but I sympathize.

I sympathize because, if you are committed to reading the Bible as literally as you can, I can see how your reading of Genesis 1-2 creates conflicts with science. And as a Christian, I can also sympathize with why you'd want to embrace the Bible over any human consensus, even if that consensus was scientific.

So again, I sympathize with Christians who reject evolution. I disagree, but I can see and sympathize with how they connect the dots. I appreciate the desire to honor the Bible.

But when we turn to climate change, things are a bit different.

Here's the biggest difference: There's nothing in the Bible that conflicts with climate change science. Climate change science poses no Biblical or hermeneutical crisis for the Christian, forcing you to choose the Bible over facts.

This makes climate change wholly different from how evangelicals have approached evolution. Yes, there is science denialism at work in both instances, but that denialism has to be coming from two different places. We know the Bible is the source of resistance to evolution. But where is the resistance coming from when it comes to climate change?

I think the answer is obvious. Resistance to climate change science is rooted in a resistance to a regulatory state, especially regulations over industry and markets. If climate change isn't "real," or is real but isn't "man made," then it is illegitimate for the state to regulate industry and markets to help heal and restore the climate.

Basically, climate change denialism is rooted in a free market ideology.

And this is why climate change denialism among evangelicals is so damning. I can see the defense of the Bible in their resistance to evolution. And as a fellow Christian, I can even respect that position. More, a Creation museum is pretty innocuous. Believing in a literal seven day creation doesn't hurt anyone.

But with climate change, we see evangelicals defending free markets. But even worse, this denialism isn't innocuous, like believing in a literal seven day creation. This denialism causes damage and affects our neighbors.

In short, the heart of my observation here is to draw attention to the different sources of science denialism at work among evangelicals, and what that reveals about evangelicalism. The evangelical conflict with evolution is about the Bible. The conflict with climate science is a free market ideology. And that reveals a lot about what evangelicalism has become in recent decades, less a Christian movement than a political one.

A concluding note, for those who would like to push back and debate the science of climate change.

I'm willing, for the sake of my argument, to put a question mark around the science. If we bracket the scientific question, what we'll see is that my argument is really a sociological observation. Specifically, there is no Biblical reason why evangelicals should deny climate change more than any other demographic group. So something else has to be driving that opinion. And if it's not the Bible, then what? Well, again, I think the answer is obvious and brings me right back to my conclusion:

Evangelicalism defends politics as much as it defends the Bible, making it less a Christian movement than an ideological one.

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