Connection ?

Thoughts from Steven: What is the Connection between Evolution and Global Warming?

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There is a very peculiar connection between global warming and the theory of evolution. It is just something I have noticed several times, but global warming and evolution are often cited together as examples of ideas that are settled in the scientific community but the general population has not wholeheartedly accepted. Take, for instance, the article “America doesn’t trust its experts anymore” by Peter Weber. This article appeared on-line in The Week on October 7, 2014. Weber discusses several topics that are agreed upon in the scientific community but are only partially accepted by the general public. Such topics include vaccinations, admitting children to public schools, and fluoridating water. However, two of the larger topics he mentions and discusses are global warming and the theory of evolution. Why are these two highlighted while most of the other topics are briefly mentioned?

Peter Weber’s article is not the only place I have seen this connection. Many times, when scientists or science advocates want to rail against the ineptitude of the general population to accept the conclusions of scientists, global warming, and evolution are often mentioned together.

This connection is uncanny, but why does it exist? Why are these two ideas mentioned in the same breath and both treated as “gospel science” which should never be disputed? I have several ideas that I would like to float, and as we shall see, these ideas are all closely related.

Before I get too far into this discussion, I want to clarify what I mean by “global warming.” It can be demonstrated that there has been a warming trend over the past 50 years, a warming trend that has likely been occurring over the past 100 years at least. I accept “global warming” only if it means that the global average temperature is increasing. However, in this discussion, I am specifically referring to the idea that all or the vast majority of the warming can be directly attributed to man and that if this trend is not reversed right now, then the increase in global temperatures will accelerate and destroy or drastically alter ecosystems and habitats. Think Al Gore and drowning polar bears when I say “global warming.” If it helps, this idea can be called “catastrophic anthropogenic global warming,” but that is a mouthful so I will shorten it to “global warming.”

Firstly, both the theory of evolution and global warming rely on the idea of actualism. “Actualism”” is the idea that processes that can be observed and described are capable of providing an explanation for everything that has happened in the world. If it helps, think of actualism as uniformitarianism without the need for constant rates. The rates and scales of events can change, but the process itself must be something that can be observed and tested.

I can attest that the theory of evolution is based on actualism. It is necessary to accept that mutations, natural selection, and other processes that we can observe today are capable of creating the genetic variety that we see throughout the natural world. While I can not speak as strongly on the topic of global warming, it also appears to be based on actualism. For one thing, the threat of global warming is dependent upon the idea that man has intervened in nature. Natural processes were humming along just fine on their own (“actualism”) and then humans began pumping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and messed up the balance. For another, models of global warming often utilize geologic data about “deep time” in order to predict how warming will affect the planet. Thus, the warming trend in the Eocene (a period said to be between 56 to 34 million years ago) can be used as a model for warming today. The long age models needed to get dates such as 56 to 34 million years ago are based on actualism.

The last point in the previous paragraph is also the second general point. The theory of evolution relies on long ages to allow the time needed for natural processes to create varieties and information. Long ages are also necessary to highlight how catastrophic global warming will be. For instance, the 2015 IPCC report states that greenhouse gases “are at levels that are unprecedented in at least 800,000 years.” Such a statement not only makes the current warming sound drastic, it would also indicate that we would have to look back at least 800,000 years in order to anticipate what the effects of global warming will be. I do not think that global warming can exist in a world that was created a mere 6,000 years ago, experienced a global flood around 4,500 years ago, which was shortly followed by an ice age. Those three events show that drastic changes have occurred on a very short scale, a scale at least 100 fold less than the last time greenhouse gas levels were this high, according to the IPCC. If you take a young earth look at global warming, it just is not that big of a deal.

Finally, evolution and global warming minimize the uniqueness of humans. The theory of evolution nestles man among the primates, which are nestled among the mammals, which are nestled among the amniotes, which are nestled among chordates, which are nestled eukaryotes, which are nestled among all life on the planet. We are just a twig on a branch on a limb on a trunk on the tree of life. In global warming, man’s relationship to the environment is more complex. On the one hand, man is capable of drastically altering the climate of the whole globe simply by manufacturing and driving SUVs and trucks. On the other hand, once the climate gets too drastic, there is nothing that man can do to stop it. Many politicians (for example, Al Gore) have predicted a point of no return, a year after which it would be impossible for us to bring climate change back under control. While these two ideas, the strength of a man to change the climate versus his inability to stop it, seem contradictory, they are reconciled (in the mind of a global warming advocate) because it is the climate that has all the strength. Man tosses a rock which starts an avalanche. The man started the avalanche, in the sense that he tossed the first rock, but once it started, the man was subject to and potentially overpowered by the avalanche. The real power is in the avalanche, man is just a random trigger than could stupidly initiate the process. In fact, one must have a rather low view of humans, thinking of us as nothing more than one cog in an enormously complex biosphere. This is in contrast to Biblical thinking which puts man as the caretaker of the earth. As caretakers, humans should be careful of the earth’s resources, but man is in a unique position as a master over the earth rather than as simply one part of the earth.

In summary, both the theory of evolution and global warming are based on the idea of actualism, both rely on long ages, and both view man as a mere part of the world. The latter two ideas spring out of actualism. Long ages can only exist if natural processes are essentially the same today as they were in the past. Humans have no special place in the world because they were created by the exact same processes that created everything else in the world. While actualism is the root connection between evolution and global warming, I believe that long ages and the trivial nature of man, especially the latter, are the two manifestations of actualism that today’s scientists believe must be accepted by the general public. Because these ideas must be accepted, global warming and evolution are two significant battlefronts in the “education” of the general public.

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