We are reviewing the book, Mere Science and Christian Faith, by Greg Cootsona, subtitled Bridging the Divide with Emerging Adults. Today we look at the two case studies at the end of Chapter 7- Give Technology a Break– Two Case Studies: On Global Climate Change and Sexuality (Where We’re Tempted to Ask Science for Things it Can’t Deliver). I wanted to deal with these separately, as I didn’t think they fit with the flow of Chapter 7.
We’ve discussed Global Climate Change before at InternetMonk, for example: here. The excellent graphs provided by Bloomberg here are a good summary of the pertinent data, as they cover natural causes such as solar output, volcanic output, atmospheric ozone changes, and greenhouse gas output. Let me repeat what I said about the difference between weather and climate:
The difference between weather and climate is a measure of time. Weather is what conditions of the atmosphere are over a short period of time, and climate is how the atmosphere “behaves” over relatively long periods of time (see here). So climate change is the change in AVERAGE conditions over longer periods of time. It is not the inherent variability in weather from year to year. That is why it is nonsense to say, “If they can’t predict the weather 10 days in advance, how can they predict the climate years ahead.” A trend can be graphed and projected, the caveat is that the causes producing the trend stay relatively consistent.
So as a geologist, I was initially skeptical of climate change. After all, 20,000 years ago, Indianapolis was covered by a mile thick sheet of ice. At the end of the Permian period, it is estimated that average global temperatures may have been as high as 140° F. But as the data continued to accumulate, the conclusion has become increasingly firmer.
As shown by the Bloomberg graphs, average global temperatures have been trending up:
And the apparent cause is the accumulation of man-made greenhouse gases:
Some questions have been raised because between 1998 and 2012, there appeared to be slowing or leveling of the upward trend, termed by some as the “Global Warming Hiatus”. However, according to the UK Met Office, that hiatus is over, and the upward trend has resumed.
The reason Cootsona raises this issue has to do with the generational gap in evangelical Christian’s acceptance of the science. The emerging adult population views climate change as a critical issue that needs to be addressed. A 2015 Pew Research Poll, the most recent on the subject, found only 28 percent of white evangelicals believed that the Earth was getting warmer because of human activity — by far the lowest percentage of any religious demographic in the survey. Part of this reluctance on older evangelicals is the Genesis 1:28 “dominion” theology viewpoint that the earth is given to humans to use as they see fit. There is also the influence of dispensational theology, as commenter HUG would say, the “It’s all gonna burn anyway” attitude. Emerging adults tend to reinterpret the Genesis 1:28 theology as one of stewardship or “creation care”. Atmospheric scientist, professor of political science, and director of the Climate Science Center at Texas Tech University, Dr. Katharine Hayhoe (born April 15, 1972), who is also an evangelical Christian says this:
“If I say that I respect God, that I love God, and God has given us this incredible life-giving planet, then if I strip every resource at the expense of my poor sisters and brothers — one in six of whom die because of pollution-related issues, who are suffering and dying today — then I’m not somebody who takes the Bible seriously,”
Most emerging adults are taking the position of Dr. Hayhoe, which I see as a good thing. Cootsona concludes:
Global climate change represents a pressing issue that we cannot avoid, but global stewardship involves much more. We need to concern ourselves for the poor who bear the brunt of the effects of climate change. We also need to think about the future, for our children. What earth will be leave for them? When the planet over which we are stewards is threatened by our actions, we have to reevaluate all our calculations.
Cootsona then brings up the sexuality issue in regards to the Lesbian-Bisexual-Gay-Transgender-Queer (LBGTQ) concerns. He notes that traditional positions on same-sex marriage seem questionable to emerging adults, not merely because of contemporary trends, but also in light of science. In other words, science (as the argument goes) has offered definitive proof for sexual ethics by demonstrating LBGTQ people are “born that way”. I don’t want to repeat the excellent series by Mike Bell on “Why I am an Ally”, nor do I wish to enter the issue of exegesis of the relevant scriptural passages. I do want to give my opinion on what science has actually shown on the “born that way” argument and agree with Cootsona when he says that science can inform, but cannot dictate ethics.
First of all, has science proved homosexuality is genetic like eye-color or left-handedness? To properly answer that question, I believe one must understand the difference between “inherited” and “heritable” characteristics. Inherited means directly determined by genes (a gene is a locus [or region] of DNA that encodes a functional RNA or protein product, and is the molecular unit of heredity). Common examples of inherited traits include hair, skin and eye color, hair type, finger and toe length, dimples, freckles, body type, height, hand dominance, and ear shape. A heritable trait is most simply an offspring’s trait that resembles the parents’ corresponding trait. It is a predisposition; a liability or tendency to suffer from a particular condition, hold a particular attitude, or act in a particular way. Let me illustrate with an example.
· We conduct twin studies and find if one twin is a BB player the other is statistically likely to be one too.
· We do a family study and find BB playing runs in families.
· Autopsies on dead BB players find their brains are different.
· There is a high concordance rate of BB playing in twins.
· Family studies show BB playing “associated” with certain genes (tallness, long arms and fingers, quick reflexes, muscular-skeletal structure for good jumping)
· Brain studies show a difference in BB vs. non-BB brains.
We call Sports Illustrated and say: “Our research indicates BB playing is strongly heritable and associated with certain genes.” But they write: “New research proves BB playing is inherited and caused by genes.”
A similar situation has occurred with homosexuality. For example, researcher Gene Hamer (July 1993 in Science) conducted a “linkage study” of families. He looked for variation in genes and determined whether that variation was more frequent in families that share the trait. He correlated a particular genetic structure with a behavior trait. But then the Media reported a “gay gene” was found.
Hamer was asked if homosexuality was rooted solely in genetics, he replied:
“Absolutely not. From twin studies we already know that half or more of the variability in sexual orientation is not inherited. Our studies try to pinpoint the genetic factors… not negate the psycho-social factors.” Scientific American, November 1995, page 26.
Simon Levay (1991 in Science), did autopsies on men’s brains and reported an area was twice as large in the brains of homosexuals. However:
· No validation of sexual orientation was conducted
· No control of drug use vs. non-drug use
· Scientists now know the brain’s structure changes with use – just like athletes have bigger muscles.
Some people claim twin studies show a >50% concordance rate (more than half the time if one twin is homosexual the other is too). However, identical twins have identical genes so concordance should be 100% if the trait was inherited. Also the “50% concordance” study was a “recruited” study where twins were recruited from GLB associations. But “registry” studies (where the cohort or group was random and observed) showed a concordance rate of 38%.
So the bottom line is that, while science shows there is no “gay” gene that one inherits, there is a genetic predisposition to same sex attraction; it is not simply a “matter of choice”. No one chooses to have same sex attraction, it a complicated mixture of heritable characteristics and environmental and psycho-social factors, that are still, by no means, completely understood.
Which means, as Cootsona concludes, and I agree, ethical deliberations should not look to science as the final arbiter of truth. To integrate faith and science doesn’t mean a monologue of science. Same sex attraction should be put into the larger context of biological predestination. Are we “nothing but” our genes? Do our genes fully determine our behavior? Cootsona says that genetic determinism, especially given the freedom Christ promises us, is insufficient for a Christian sexual ethic. Again, I tend to agree. The LBGTQ issue for evangelicals cannot be adjudicated by science alone. As Mike Bell has set the example, it will be by gracious understanding, seeking to act Christ-like, scriptural exegetical honesty, and above all, the humble intent to treat one’s neighbor as oneself. Any other attitude will assuredly cause loss of interest in the majority of emerging adults in that expression of Christianity.