State of Fear

Michael Crichton is a canny writer whose books both entertain and inform readers of scientific and technological possibilities. You can’t write for any length of time, however, without at least a few of your own private opinions becoming public knowledge. For instance, his opinions on foreign ownership of American high-technology companies becomes pretty clear in Rising Sun.

I lately stumbled upon his book, State of Fear, at a used book sale and bought it. What I found unusual in a book of fiction was the extended appendix and bibliography. His research into global warming science convinced him that global warming is a pseudo-scientific ideology that is most assuredly not proven scientifically. Of course, Crichton is not a scientist, so he could certainly have misunderstood the evidence. This was an interesting enough idea that I thought it worthwhile to examine the evidence in his bibliography.

By no means did I exhaust the bibliography, but I found myself persuaded that all was not well in the world of climate science with respect to global warming. Perhaps the most persuasive short piece in the collection, a peer-reviewed article by geoscientist David Deming, will illustrate the problems with the theory.

In brief, even if the world is in a current warming phase (which is far from proven)it is not a new phenomenon, either in duration or degree (or degrees!). Even within historical times there have been periods of warming and cooling that are both scientifically and historically documented.

Much of the general public has heard of something called the “Little Ice Age” that effectively shut down transatlantic exploration after the first Viking voyages to North America in the 1000’s AD. Less well-known by the general public was the warming period called the Medieval Warm Period that warmed up the 1300’s and 1400’s causing swamps to drain and improving crops during the entire Medieval period following. Rates of plague and other illness fell during the warming. Overall human and animal health improved. Crops improved in quality and quantity due to longer growing-seasons. Transoceanic travel again became relatively safe and profitable. The prosperity engendered by this warming trend allowed human ingenuity to thrive and eventually blossom into a true scientific age.

This documented warming trend produced temperatures that seem to have been higher than current temperatures, suggesting that the gloom-and-doom scenarios of desertification, habitat destruction, rising oceans, etc. were more-than-survivable by societies with much lower technology than our own. His paper is available online at the Journal of Scientific Exporation and its title is Global Warming, the Politicization of Science, and Michael Crichton’s State of Fear.

It is certainly true that the truth or falsity of the claims of global warming science will have no effect on salvation. So, why bother a group gathered for a religious purpose with a scientific debate unrelated to their faith?

The theory of global warming is used to highlight the main theme of both Crichton’s book and Deming’s article: the politicization of science. The problem is not so much whether global warming is true or not, but rather the role scientists are being asked to play in the political arena. Scientists are being asked to formulate political or social policies or back certain political actions. The intent is to add the credibility of “science” to the political agenda of the party or movement.

This seems scarcely different in kind from adding the moral voice of religious concerns to a political agenda. The constituency being appealed to is different, but the attempt to co-opt remains the same. Instead of a moral crisis being the issue, it becomes an environmental crisis. Our world seems to have become a collection of crises that change flavours every week or month or year. It seems to have become, in fact, what Crichton calls the “state of fear.”

Leaders of political and religious movements have long known that fear is the most consistently powerful motivating force of human nature, so it should not surprise us to see it being used as a force to mould social organization and polity in nations and states. Whether it is fear of everlasting torment in hell or fear of global catastrophic climate change makes no difference to the movers and shakers in the political arena, so long as it can be used to motivate people into following their agenda.

There are a number of reasons for pointing these things out. The first is to help us notice that not everything labelled as scientific fact by the media has been proven beyond a doubt. This means that appeals to the morality of fossil-fuel use or conservation on the grounds of supposed prevention of global calamity should be viewed with scepticism. Carbon dioxide is not actually a pollutant. It has not been proven to contribute to global warming. Attempts by governments to clamp down on its use by increasing prices may be motivated by reasons other than altruism.

A second reason to note this debate is to highlight how easy it is for well-meaning human beings to get roped into political agendas that are not necessarily in the best interests of themselves or of their field of endeavour. This means that science is not substantially different than religion in that respect. Both fields are populated by very human people who are not immune to coercion or intimidation, or just plain bad judgment. This is not to say that the majority of scientists do not attempt to objectively seek truth. It is simply that they are equipped with the same human nature as the rest of us, and this human nature creates blind spots in the discernment of truth or values.

A third reason is to suggest the scary side of this debate for purposes of faithful followers of Jesus Christ. If the community of the best critical thinkers in the world can be fooled by pseudo-science, what about Christians? Can we be fooled by a pseudo-Christ?

Do we know our Good Shepherd enough to know His voice when things seem to be going strangely all around us? Can we tell when our teachers are following His word instead of another spirit?

All we need to do is look at the warnings of Jesus and His disciples to see that discernment is not automatic for believers.

Scientists need to remind themselves of the scientific principles of objective observation, experimentation and reproducible results to remain true to their calling as objective seekers of truth.

So also must believers remind themselves of their timeless spiritual and moral foundations through meditation on the Scriptures and through prayer to the Father in Jesus’ name.


About John Valade

I facilitate and teach in Wascana Fellowship. I have been married to Wanda since 1984. M.Div. from Briercrest Seminary, SK in 2011 and B.R.E. Canadian Bible College (now Ambrose University College) in 2000.
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