31 March 2009

Climate Change and Trust

As I have pondered, studied, discussed, and debated the various scientific, political, economic, and theological aspects of climate change, I have realized that the most important issue driving these debates is not science, politics, economics, or theology. As far as I can tell, the most important issue is trust. I have arrived at this conclusion via a number of discussions and comments, most recently a panel discussion at Following Christ 2008 in the Natural Sciences and Mathematics Track.

In all of these sources, those who are skeptical of climate change (or a wide variety of scientific claims) simply do not trust scientists and vice versa. Thus, no amount of evidence or argument will be persuasive because the source is considered untrustworthy. This distrust can take on a political or religious cast, and the two are usually intertwined.

From the political perspective, the title of the film Global Warming or Global Governance speaks for itself. A similar argument is made in The Great Global Warming Swindle, which accuses scientists of committing fraud by falsely claiming evidence of anthropogenic global warming. The purpose of this fraud, so the argument goes, is to advance the agenda of anti-capitalists to increase government control of the economy and the world's citizens.

From a more religious (specifically Christian) perspective, the most important Biblical passages for understanding skepticism are those that contrast divine with human wisdom, such as I Corinthians 1:25-27 and I John 4:5. Distrust then allows any evidence for anthropogenic global warming (AGW) can be dismissed as a fraud (as described above), regarded as fatally flawed human "wisdom" that God is putting to shame, or both.

Of course, distrust and hostility flow in both directions. One need only read the works of Richard Dawkins or similarly-minded scientists to see that. From this perspective, conservative Christians (and religious believers generally) are irrational people who reject established or strongly demonstrated facts in favor of a comforting fantasy.

All of this has led to two entrenched camps that distrust and strongly dislike each other. I am a devoted Christians who has been convinced by the evidence for AGW, and this environment sometimes makes me feel like my brain is being sheared in two. It is tempting to join one camp or the other and launch angry tirades at those who disagree with me, especially when carefully thought out and respectfully presented arguments seem to have no effect.

However, false is the idea that Christians and scientists are mutually exclusive groups of people. Thus, joining the fray would perpetuate this false dichotomy between Christianity and science. I believe that one of the reasons God has placed me in this field is to rebuild trust between Christians and scientists and show that people can commonly be both. That is a fine and worthwhile goal; methods to achieve it have been mostly elusive.

The best bridge building I have encountered was in the form of a round table discussion between evangelical pastors and scientists from the vicinity of Columbus, OH; it was one instance of a projected called the Friendship Collaborative. Most of the scientists worked at Ohio State. One of the evangelical pastors who organized the event was Ken Wilson, pastor of the Vineyard Church of Ann Arbor, MI; he wrote about it on his blog. One of the organizers from Ohio State's InterVarsity Graduate chapter also wrote a nice article. I pray that more events like this will continue to bring scientists and Christians together and, like Pastor Wilson, that the Holy Spirit will be present in them.

Humility is an important part of such gatherings and of building trust generally, which is a lesson I have sometimes learned the hard way. Humility includes the willingness to ask for and accept new ideas. So, do any of you have any ideas for how to build trust between skeptical Christians and climate scientists?

Jehovah's Witnesses

On Sunday, Mar. 15, I experienced my first unsolicited proselytizing at my apartment in Bloomington. Two men wearing suits and ties knocked on my door after I returned from church. After a brief discussion, I found that they were Jehovah's Witnesses. We had a rather interesting theological conversation. I do not know much about the Jehovah's Witnesses, so I am only recalling here what we discussed.

While we all claimed to be Christians, we had two main points of theological disagreement. First, they claimed that the battle in which Satan is cast out of Heaven (Revelation 12) took place in 1914. I responded that I saw no evidence to support this claim. They gave me a booklet which explains, among many other things, how this conclusion was reached. I have not had time to read it yet.

The other major disagreement was over the nature of Jesus. They claimed that Jesus is an angel, specifically that Jesus and the archangel Michael are the same person. They supported this claim in part with their translation of John 1, which says "the word was a god" instead of "the word was God," as in other translations. 

In their translation, I turned toHebrews 1, which is an argument, based mainly on the Old Testament prophesies, specifically against the claim that Jesus is an angel. When I pressed this point, the Witness doing most of the talking said, "I will have to think about that some more." Shortly after that, they left amicably. They asked if I would like them to return in the future for another conversation, but I politely declined.

30 March 2009

Statistics, Economics, and the NCAA

One of the professors with whom I work found an article on a New York Times blog entitled "When Losing Leads to Winning." He presented it to one of his undergraduate classes and asked them to evaluate the procedure and whether the evidence supported the conclusions. In particular, he focused on the graph below. I decided to present it to those of my readers who might be statistically inclined.

14 March 2009


I just finished filing my taxes. I will receive refunds from the US and Ohio. I owe a balance on my city taxes of $1. Is paying that balance really worth the cost to the city of processing it?

10 March 2009

Video Tour of My New Apartment

Update: Photobucket truncates videos at 5min, so my original video was incomplete. I have posted the remainder as Part 2 below.

Part 1

Part 2