William M. Briggs

Statistician to the Stars!

Your Belief In God Is Causing Your Denial Of AGW

Update Simon Donner has a blog post on this paper, which links back here. Since all comments are closed after 8 days (to battle spam), I’m moving this post to today so that more people have an opportunity to comment.

The title of this paper should have been, “They Won’t Believe Us Because They Believe In God.”

In his upcoming, peer-reviewed Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society paper “Making the climate a part of the human world” University of British Columbia geographer Simon Donner argues that religion is the cause of global warming denial.

Donner says that there is an “overwhelming consensus in the scientific community about the human influence on the climate system.” So his mind boggled that “Doubts about the scientific evidence for anthropogenic climate change persist among the general public.”

He knows how smart he is, and he knows the vast brain power that lies behind the creation of general circulation models. A lot of—but not all—intelligent folks are telling the Great Unwashed the consequences of these models. Yet people don’t listen.

It does not make sense that the rabble should not heed their betters—worse, that these poor folks should directly challenge scientists!

It can only be, he attests, a deep-rooted belief in the “divine control of weather and climate” that causes the ordinary to reject the arguments of the extraordinary.

Donner acknowledges that other factors beside religion may cause the sheep to stray: there are organized efforts (read Big Oil) to promote skepticism, political pressures, and just plain stupidity (couched as “cognitive biases”).

God of ThunderBut he ultimately blames those darned “hunter gatherers” and their lingering cultural belief that “the gods manage the weather.” In the battle for hearts and minds, climatologists always lose to the God of Thunder.

His evidence is built with faux-sophisticated, amateurish theology, for example in sentences like, “The weather god, who reigned supreme in early polytheistic belief systems, often emerged as the sole deity in later monotheistic religions; for example, the god ‘Yahweh’ of the Old Testament has been traced to a weather god from a particular region of ancient Palestine .”

In a table, the Book of Job is quoted, where Donner was surely delighted to find the words “clouds” and “lightning bolts.” Thank Yahweh for concordances!—tools which can be used by anybody to mine the depths of the mind of the Lord.

Donner’s suspicious that insurance companies used to blame “Acts of God” for disasters. Donner must therefore be pleased how far we’ve come when any maloccurrence is an act of (a rich) Man: even the 2004 Indonesian tsunami was blamed on human agents (specifically, George Bush).

Strangely, Donner sacrifices his main argument by admitting that in “secular communities, a broad sense that forces beyond humans control the climate may partly explain” denialism (emphasis mine). He also negates his point by allowing that some religious groups “present climate change in apocalyptic frames.”

He is guilty of theory overreach when he ascribes religious motives to non-religious “‘radical’ environmental groups.” And then there’s his other counter-to-his-own-theory argument that “religious groups have expressed concern about the effects of human activity on the climate….based on the Biblical concept of stewardship.” What makes these folks, whose minds are saturated with religious thought yet who do not deny, different than those who do?

Anyway, what’s the Solution? Why, education; what else? Fill the heads of the addled religious with cute, global-warming-is-true stories, because folks learn more “easily or more rapidly from personal or cultural experience than from numerical or statistical evidence, which require greater interpretative skills and effort.”

What Donner wants, though he does not use these words, is to Raise Awareness. There are sillier slogans of the modern world, but not many. Only those approaching zealotry are convinced that persuasion follows trivially from mere exposure to slogans, such as those provided at “interactive dialogues or forums.”

Yet once more our author sabotages himself when he suggests

humility on the part of the scientists and educators. Climate scientists, for whom any inherent doubts about the possible extent of human influence on the climate were overcome by years of training in physics and chemistry of the climate system, need to accept that there are rational cultural, religious and historical reasons that the public may fail to believe that anthropogenic climate change is real, let alone that it warrants a policy response.

Donner’s main problem is to fail to acknowledge the complexity behind “belief” or “denial” in man-made global warming. Admitting that mankind influences climate is far different than agreeing that the effects of a changed climate are known with high certainty, that these effects will be universally deleterious, and that only the solutions offered by the left to “save the planet” are viable.

When a citizen is asked if he “believes” in AGW, it’s safer to say no, since it’s not clear what the question means, and since he won’t be certain the person who’s asking him isn’t using the question as an excuse to latch onto his wallet.


Thanks to Willie Soon for suggesting this topic and for the title.


  1. GoneWithTheWind

    25 August 2011 at 11:48 am

    Ironic when you realize that belief in AGW is based on faith. This is our 33rd global warming since the last ice age. The Warmies would have you believe this one is different even though there is no proof. The last global warming was much warmer then this one and allowed the Vikings to farm, ranch and grow grapes on Greenland. That global warming was followed by the 32nd global cooling since the last ice age. The global cooling created all the glaciers the Warmies point to as “proof” that AGW is true. Some of those melting glaciers have exposed towns built 1000 years ago but engulfed by ice 500 years ago. How difficult is it to understand this is cyclical and natural. Perhaps the 33rd naturally occurring ice age will wake them up. Beware the minimum…

  2. Isn’t it interesting (from a sociological perspective) how Belief is what counts, and that one belief is intruding on another belief.

    Absent an overt admission that BELIEF in Antropogenic Global Warming (AGW) is itself a type of religion, a clearer admission is hard to find that AGW BELIEF IS A RELIGION. That’s what this paper is saying, if perhaps unwittingly & not overtly. When the author asserts the issue is a conflict between Belief in AGW vs. Belief in a Divinity he is presenting a clash between two incompatible polytheistic types of belief systems.

    This is distinct from a scientific clash vs. religion as is observed with evolution vs. creation, or, Big Bang vs. 6000/10,000 year old Earth/universe.

    Note that there’s precious little emphasis on truly altering one’s behavior — and many in the AGW activist groups flagrantly engage in behaviors that they must concede, but refuse to discuss, contributes to AGW much more than the usual citizen, believer or not. Hypocrisy is alive & well there too (and hypocrisy is a common trait associated with outspoken activists in all arenas, including religion).

    Further, even if we tried there’s precious little we can do to alter our behavior to any real effect (at least while maintaining a civil society). Hansen, Pope of AGW, conceded as much in a court hearing that included a “denier” (Spencer? Christy? someone else??) — where the “denier” noted, and Hansen as much conceded, that if all reasonable actions were taken to reduce CO2 output, the net effect in a few years would barely, if at all, be beyond the margin of error of the instruments used to measure. I forget the details, but they are ‘findable’ on the internet.

    Why that particular fact [that human action to curtail CO2 emissions are doomed to being ineffectual] is not repeated over & over to the “believers” & others I don’t understand — it emphasizes their emphasis on belief rather than science…even as they assert (usually with hubris) the science is credible.

  3. The man said, “They Won’t Believe Us Because They Believe In God “. Does Donner not understand that he just confirmed AGW is a religion? His statement about an “overwhelming consensus” shows that he cannot discuss science. There’s a disconnect, here.

    Donner is supposedly an educated person. Maybe the ascent of the Donners of the world is a sign of the end times of education as we know it. I keep reading about the education bubble. Donner is without a doubt one of those pricks that will burst the bubble, exploding the entire system.

    OK. My rant is over.

  4. Wow, just wow. I don’t know how you could muster the courage to wade through all his nonsense. Donner obviously doesn’t know much about either AGW skeptics or religion.

  5. The thing that gets me is the lack of historical content. One of the drivers of my skepticism is the “Global Cooling” claims of only 40 years ago with the same list of causes. What? Now they suddenly got it right yet claim that the evidence (and analysis) of that cause and effect are older than 40 years? Gimme a break. If they got it wrong once how is it they are getting it right now? Now I find out that isn’t the real reason for my skepticism at all. Instead, it’s my nonexistent firm belief in God. Yeah, yeah, that’s the ticket.

  6. Er, context; not content

  7. Brother Donner should have realized by speaking out that way his lack of theological comprehension would clearly be noticed. So if he doesn’t know what he’s taking about on one subject, why should others believe him on others? He could unwittingly be the poster child for Rumsfeld’s unknown unknown’s? Fortunately, when one says “A brain is a terrible thing to waste”, it seems not to apply to Donner.

  8. Hi Matt,

    Did Donner mention or contrast the near religious belief the ‘consensus’ has in the infallibility of the global climate models? I don’t think he was being fair if he didn’t.


  9. I am both a climate sceptic and an atheist, a combination of views I know I share with large numbers of other people. Whereas just to take one prominent example, Sir John Houghton, former IPCC chairman, is an avowed Christian who has written a book attempting to reconcile science with faith.

    I have also been told recently that my “denial”is due to my being a “conservative white male”, which is both untrue and ridiculous. This is just another pathetic attempt to explain why so many people have viewed the evidence, and come to a different conclusion to the warmists, with reference to ANYTHING other than the evidence itself.

  10. Peter: “Viewed the evidence.” Really? Explain, please, what evidence you’ve viewed (though you didn’t specifically claim to have viewed it, the implication is clear), what background you bring for its interpretation and how you interpreted it.

    So many of the claims and implications in the comments are simply false that it’s too time consuming to enumerate them one by one. But I’ll point out an example: the “in the ’70s they said we were headed for an ice age” canard. There were certainly popular press sensationalizations of a couple of scholarly papers, but the vast majority of published climate papers indicated that warming was expected. Said warming followed, of course.

    Dr. Briggs: it’s ironic that you sarcastically chastise Donner for allegedly disrespecting the “unwashed” when they hold an opinion that contrasts with that of people who have spent the required years acquiring the tools and knowledge to have a degree of understanding of the physics of climate (i.e., become experts) while holding yourself out to be an expert in another field that requires years of study and toil to become an expert.

    And who is claiming that “the effects of a changed climate are known with high certainty, that these effects will be universally deleterious, and that only the solutions offered by the left to ‘save the planet’ are viable”?

  11. Dammit, “he missed the tag.” That is, the /b to end the bold font. Sorry.

  12. Rob

    I would be interested to know which purported evidence for AGW you might believe that, in nearly a decade of closely following this debate, I may have missed. And which line of evidence you could present me which would lead me to “see the light” over AGW. I’m not for a moment suggesting such is impossible, but if it exists. why is it such a secret? The conceit that all we deniers need is to open our hearts and minds to the evidence which has obviously convince you is, well, conceited – much like evangelists who think a few lines of scripture will lead me to enlightenment. I’m not convinced by AGW for the same reason – transparently weak evidence and circular reasoning.

    And I’m old enough to have been a starry eyed young environmentalist in the 1970′s, and I can assure you that, regardless of your weak attempt to re write history, the dominant climate meme at the time was the impending ice age. It was settled science then too, among those who have “spent the required years acquiring the tools and knowledge to have a degree of understanding of the physics of climate (i.e., become experts)”

    The problem with your “appeal to authority”reasoning is that, in this instance, there is zero evidence to suggest that those holding themselves out as “experts” have any in depth understanding of the phenomena they are studying. When they can point to the same degree of accuracy and effectiveness that the hard sciences can, they may deserve to be taken seriously, but to date they have failed totally. If you are going to appeal to authority, you need to demonstrate that your authority has some expertise, which the climate science establishment has signally failed to do.

  13. Rob, Rob, Rob, Rob. Please do not attempt to rewrite history. It’s not becoming of you to shill for “history deniers”. I was there. My sister was there. My cousin was there. We all heard and saw what Peter Wilson heard and saw. For several years.

    “The Ice Age Cometh.” “It is settled science.” “Prepare.” The doomsayers parading before the cameras night after night were not talking heads from the networks, they were real-life scientists who even then were far too certain of themselves and so obviously enamored of their academic achievements they lacked common sense. Live with it.

  14. How does he explain the positions of either a sceptical atheist or a Christian advocate? Is he guessing as to the religious demographic of the sceptical public, or has he cherry-picked a cultural niche to exploit his prejudices?

  15. Dr. Donner reminds me of all those progressives in the 1920s and 1930s who knew that Marx was right and that the Soviet Union was the model for the future.

  16. Studying this post’s title it dawned on me the contrary was just as plausible, “Your Denial of God Is Causing Your Belief in AGW,” a point others have implied. But I might be wrong

  17. Ah yes, climate change skeptics all right-wing christians who don’t know any science.
    Except for those of us who are left-wing atheists with PhDs in mathematics.

  18. How does one logically disagree with statements containing the word “MAY” ? Wouldn’t the interpretation of the word be laced with prejudice?

    Copy and Paste from the paper:

    “The public uncertainty may be rooted in the belief,

    Even in secular communities, a broad sense that forces beyond humans control the climate may partly explain the persistence of the argument that natural forcings…despite overwhelming scientific evidence to the contrary.

    Attitudes about climate change among evangelical Americans may be influenced more by support for conservative politicians and by the evangelical organizations urging rejection of climate science…

  19. As God asks Job, let us ask Mr. Donner, “Have you entered the storehouses of the snow or seen the storehouses of the hail…?” (Job 38:22).

    The larger point being: where’s the evidence that makes you think you know it all, or anything at all, you puny little thing? Oh, the hubris…

  20. AGW is a wonderful example of POMO, the belief that reality is just a social construction i.e. a matter of opinion. That’s why they keep repeating the mantra “scientific consensus” as if the number of people that believe in AGW make it real. Consensus has to do with politics, not science so any time you see “scientific consensus” you know it’s politics masquerading as science AKA pseudo science.

  21. Michael Larkin

    26 August 2011 at 1:40 pm

    In a way, Donner might be right about there being more climate sceptics amongst religionists.

    My hunch is most of us tend to feel a need to believe in something. If we get our quota of belief-need filled by a particular ideology, then maybe we can feel comfortable being sceptical in areas other than that.

    I think science is the genuine attempt to enquire into the nature of reality, without bringing preconceptions about that nature to the table. I think I’d define spirituality in exactly the same way. Both true scientists and truly spiritual people spend a lot of time questioning their own preconceptions. Both take the conscious decision to forego ideology, and accept as true only the very little they know they know, everything else being moot.

    The lives of both are filled with uncertainty. We might as well give them the one name: non-ideologues; and a true scientist is implicitly spiritual, just as a truly spiritual person is implicitly scientific. Both are necessarily sceptical about everything they know they don’t know, i.e. eschew their belief-needs. Incidentally, I think spiritual people can be agnostic or even atheistic.

    On the other hand, ideologues, who think they know a great deal, have lives filled with a feeling of certainty. By habit, they bring preconceptions to the table – about science or spirituality, for example. If they are getting their quota of belief-need satisfied by “spiritual” preconceptions (an oxymoron), then they are practitioners of religion. If they are getting it through “scientific” preconceptions (also an oxymoron), they are practitioners of what has been dubbed “scientism”. In either case, the preconceptions are often indoctrinated, i.e. dogma, hence their close similarity.

    If Donner knows he knows as little as he actually knows, then he wouldn’t be talking in the terms he does. He’s missing the possibility that a religionist, having satisfied his belief-need with religion, may be thereby be able to approach climate science with a genuinely open mind. He’s also missing the possibility that his feeling of certainty arises out of his own scientism, which is causing him to project his own ideological close-mindedness onto others.

    I don’t mean to imply that there aren’t also ideological so-called sceptics who project their own particular brand of close-mindedness on others. My opinion is that there are relatively few, whether or not they have any scientific training or expertise, who are non-ideologues in the climate debate. Or in other debates, like the one about evolution, for example. There isn’t in fact much of a debate going on; I see it as mainly a war between two ideological camps, neither of which knows arse from elbow.

  22. Michael Crichton and many others have noted how closely modern environmentalism re-maps the old Judeo-Christian narrative of an Edenic past and The Fall; sinning against Nature, etc., so the unintentional irony of Donner’s confused and confusing little screed is delectable.

    With that in mind, I find Briggs’ comment that “He is guilty of theory overreach when he ascribes religious motives to non-religious “‘radical’ environmental groups.” more than a little bizarre, although I haven’t read the paper & perhaps am missing the larger context.

    At any rate, here is a topic which is way overdue for rigorous, scholarly investigation: The faux-skeptical, God-scoffing modern pseudo-sophisticates and their substitute religions . . . which reminds me – I haven’t visited Stuff White People Like in a while.

  23. My religious take…

    Christ said: “Ignore the priests, form your own relationship with God” and the Bible tells us that “God is Spirit” for which the nearest modern equivalent is “God is mind”. The secular interpretation of “Ignore the priests, form your own relationship with mind” is then simply to ignore those who preach and think for yourself.

    You see Christ was “anti-religion”. He wanted people to think and not believe so religious belief driven people are anti-christian, and as many have noted over the years, especially self declared christians.

    They made a religion out of him to hide the truth.

    AGW? Another religion promoted by priests.

    A priest is one who sells belief. Its all so desperately obvious.

  24. BTW my last post I mentioned the secular interpretation of “Ignore the priests….”. What you may ask is the devine interpretation? How do you form a relationship with the divine mind?

    The answer obviously requires the ability first and formost to perceive the divine mind. Without this perception first there can be no relationship. So what do you need to be able to do this? I’ll give you a clue:

    “Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God”.

    As we go through life we often come across the “…the dull and ignorant…” whom when we listen to them often find a greater level of understanding than our own even if more simply expressed. The great advantage that those with “learning difficulties” enjoy over the rest of us is that they are much less susceptible to belief than those who soak up supposed knowledge like a sponge. The priests can’t sell them anything. They are unfettered by belief.

    “Blessed are the poor in spirit for they shall be called the children of God”

    Anyway, that’s the end of my take.

    Please don’t believe a word of it.

  25. Nice post, but it makes me wonder—there is no way we will ever know, but the mind boggles at the amount of money and even more, human time and effort, that has been and continues to be spent dealing with the world created by a few “climate scientists” who decided ca. 1990 to lie and exaggerate about AGW. Billions of dollars a year, surely, but also this post, for example, did not write itself and is necessary only because others choose to lie and then many are gullible enough to believe them.

    All very sad and very revealing about why we are in the trouble we’re in–millions of people preferring to live in a liberal, childish dreamworld rather than reality, leading to incredibly wasteful actions, and then come the consequences, which we have only just begun to reap.

    Anyway, my take re AGW:

    1. Is the world getting warmer? Probably, whatever “the world” means–surface? lower troposphere? upper troposphere? stratosphere? seasonal variations? time of day variations? geographic variations? You get different answers to each, but on the whole, yeah, “the world” is probably getting warmer over the last 200 years or so as we come out of the Little Ice Age.

    2. Unprecedentedly so? Clearly not; surface temps in much of the world were quite a bit warmer as recently as 600 years ago; as the Greenland ice sheet retreats it is uncovering Viking settlements that were abandoned ca. 1400. There is no real evidence that the overall rate of change is out of bounds, either.

    3. Cause? Who knows? Everything is well within the bounds of historical time, let alone archeological or paleontological time, so it could be that man has nothing to do with it. OTOH, we are spitting a lot of CO2 into the atmosphere, but its effects diminish with concentration, and over evolutionary timescales the CO2 level has at times been far above its current level and not always associated with extremely hot periods.

    4. Is it a bad thing? Depends on where you are and what, exactly, is changing. In general, cold is more dangerous than heat. Cold shortens growing seasons and leads to famine, not to mention death from exposure. Heat can cause problems but for most people in most places an Ice Age (long overdue some would say) would be far worse than even several centuries of warming at the current pace. People in Calgary might not mind a 2-degree increase in average temp, esp if concentrated in winter.

    5. If humanity wanted to make the world cooler, could we? Yes, get aerosols into the upper atmosphere, for example, which could be done and probably not at outrageous cost.

    6. Could we do it without adding more stuff to the atmosphere, but adding less (CO2)? Not at any reasonable cost. Tell the 4B people in the Third World they are condemned to poverty, and tell the rich world their living standards must come down to almost Third World levels, and see where that gets you. The cost of mitigating any heat-related problems are probably orders of magnitude less than the cost of CO2 reductions (viz Lomborg).

    I have yet to read any AGW argument which refutes any of that. Some try, but they fail and in ways that make you suspect their competence and/or honesty (viz Stern Report).

    Yet the AGW people still want to impoverish my children and grandchildren. Must be religious fanatics.

  26. Any paper published in an academic journal should have a novel thesis, with a clear argument. In an empirical science that might take the form of data confronted by statistics. In theoretical science, clear mathematical derivations. In theology, clear and appropriate references. The peer review process should check that this is the case.
    The religious sceptics in the USA are predominately Conservative Christian Evangelicals.
    Donner quotes studies of ancient religions and of religious practices of tribes in Papua New Guinea and Fiji. He has one quote from the Old Testament but nothing from the New Testament. To not identify the major religious group, nor discuss their beliefs, but imply they are the same as small groups on the other side planet is clearly wrong. The review process has failed.
    More importantly is the impact on those Christians who do not know who to believe. They may not be able to judge whether Michael Mann or Steve McIntyre is right on the Hockey Stick, or whether the Himalayan Glaciers disappearing was an isolated instance, but they do now know that a climate scientist does not know what he is talking about, and some of the his peers could not spot the glaring error.

  27. Peter Wilson 25 August 2011 at 9:00 pm

    Peter, I’m pretty much in the same boat as you.

    Such a dichotomy invariably leads to some pretty strange discussions.

  28. Is it not deliciously ironic that “Donner” is the name of the pagan Germanic god of weather and thunder? Are you sure this whole exercise does not come from The Onion?

  29. Count me as a secular AGW skeptic.

    I’ve been following this issue for 20 years, looking carefully at both sides. There are good arguments and good evidence for global warming, but little evidence for AGW.

    The lack of skillful prediction form the general circulation models that have large known unknowns, the predilection for warmists to overstate, obfuscate, and hide their data….leaves me skeptical.

  30. Donner is the Christo of sociloggical arm chair theorists. Come to htink of it so are AGWers.

  31. PaulM;
    You are now a right wing Christian. You have been identified as such by one who is more enlightened than thou.

    Line up over there with the rest of the rabble please.

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